Tag Archives: fringe

How do you make mystery TV mysterious?

It can’t be easy making mysterious TV mysterious any more.  Sure, if it’s not popular you’ve got a chance, but as soon as it is popular you’re screwed.  In the old days, the folk in the house would talk about the plot and maybe they’d work out some of what was going on, but they wouldn’t know anything until the following week.  Perhaps someone in the house would work out Some Great Secret but you didn’t have any way of confirming it.

Maybe they chatted about it to a friend or two at work.  Perhaps students got together in bars and mused over cheap alcohol.  But eventually you had to watch and find out.  You had no contact with the writers.

Later, maybe magazines ran stories, and you could garner some information from those to share among your small circle of friends and you could enjoy yourselves discussing the possibilities.

These days, thousands of fans, maybe tens of thousands gather on forums and they pour over every aspect of the show.  The dialog, the scenes (frame by bloody frame if necessary), and they look for connections.  Connections within the show, within the other shows of the same writers and directors and producers.  They look for patterns and they talk and talk and discuss and theorise.

Writers are normal people.  They’re not super heroes with super writing powers.  They invent stuff and they research stuff and they bring to the front stuff they watched and remembered and enjoyed and twist the tale and deliver excitement.  But they’re normal folk.  So when you bring together 10,000 more normal folk they’re going to have some shared experience, some knowledge, some idea of what is going on, and when they brainstorm – well you should fear their collective awareness.

They will find every hole, they will spot every plot, they will dig deeper than you can imagine, they will invent stuff you love but never thought of yourself.

How on earth are writers ever going to deliver something interesting at the end of a mystery TV series these days?  Is there no hope?

Is Fringe doomed, lost in the shadow of the thousands of fans predicting every episode and digging beneath every mystery?  Did Lost lose it’s way when the fans described every possible explanation for the island there could be?  Do we need to use the approach from Push where our hero works out what to do and then has his mind wiped so no one, not even he, can guess where things will lead?

Will we end up with soap opera style TV series in which there is no long running mystery because how can any mystery survive the glare?  Will we have to live on a diet of 1 hour mysteries with no long running story line (and how long will they survive when we’re all wired in and talking to our 10,000 friends while the episode is on air).

I wonder how mystery TV writers with ambitions of long plot arcs will survive in the glare of the Internet and how fans will come to lament the loss of the mystery and the inevitable let down when the predictions from 10,000 fans come true in the final episodes.

Fringe Benefits

So I’ve seen 18 episodes of Fringe now, and a comment from Mark prompted me to blog about how it’s going.  I’m still compelled to watch each week (which is good), and while there are dips of ‘odd thing which Walter solves’ there are also highs of ‘really odd thing which explains some stuff and asks more questions’.

It’s worth saying again, this is not a programme which intends to depict fringe science as anything but totally made up.  The writers take a thread of what might be a possible thought about the existence of some concept in fringe science and then turn it into something totally outlandish.  Don’t watch it for the science.  It’s an FBI / Weird-Shit-Goes-On investigation programme.

So are we any nearer to knowing things?  Yes and no, during the season we’ve learned something things about Olivia, we’ve had some hints about Peter, both his past as a child and maybe his past as a young man.  We’ve learned a little about Walter, but mostly there are still many questions.  In the last few episodes it feels like we’ve had some deeper revelations but JJ could just be toying with us.  I’m pleased at how the relationship between Olivia and her boss (Phillip Broyles) has improved.  It grated on me that they didn’t trust each other at the outset.  I’m pleased as well that we’re seeing Olivia unravel to some extent, she’s seeing a lot of weird shit and it needs to have some impact if we’re to give it any kind of credibility.

If you like detail – then you’ll like the series.  Most of this goes over my head, I’m just in it for the story and the characters, but JJ makes sure there’s a lot of detail.  For example, the colour motif (red, yellow, blue) shows up for several episodes, several times an episode.  A line of M&M’s, a poster in a nightclub, lights in a room, even the gore on a body.  The fan forums are full of people discussing the deeper meaning of the tiniest things like that, I scan them every now and then but I don’t need them to enjoy the shows.

Threads sometimes get dropped and never resurface (we’ve not heard anything about the odd egg-shaped things travelling through the earth from an early episode), and sometimes they do come back (the glass discs).  Links are starting to appear, but as I said, JJ is likely to be messing with us on some level.

In general, I feel that it’s been worth watching, I’ve enjoyed most of the individual episodes for what they are, I’m starting to enjoy the arc that is forming and I’m interested in knowing where it goes.  I’m hoping that JJ won’t annoy the shit out of me with a huge cliffhanger ending to series 1, but somehow I think I’m going to be upset.

Fringe and Burn Notice

I promised you I’d write something about Fringe and Burn Notice.  With Criminal Minds and CSI (Vegas) being on a break, we’ve been scouting for stuff to watch.

Fringe

This series is either going to be awesome, or going to become totally annoying.  The pilot was intriguing and promised an X Files like experience without the stupid alien story arc.  Do not watch this show if you intend to analyse the fringe science, it’ll only annoy you and it’ll only annoy us when you explain how annoyed you are.  The show follows a female FBI agent investigating weird shennanigans with an elderly formally insane scientist who appears to have been involved in a lot of this stuff, and his son.  Clearly these events are tied together with some intricate back story and there are a range of supporting cast members all generating more questions and giving no answers.

The episodes so far (5 I think) are formulaic, typical of early episodes in a series of this kind.  Something weird happens, some people are injured or killed.  The team investigates.  The insane scientist admits he was involved in this kind of thing in the 60’s, comes to a conclusion, and they either save another potential victim or they catch or don’t catch the people involved.

The characters are interesting, which is critical since the formulaic story at the moment isn’t quite enough to keep me tied in.  Sure I want to know more about The Pattern (the link between all the weird stuff), and they’re clearly laying the groundwork for some subplots (the son, there’s something up with him).

The reason geeks are flocking to the show, is that it contains a huge amount of self referrential material, injokes, scientific references and subtle facts.  For example, in one episode a character looks at his watch and it’s 3:14 and 15 seconds (Pi).

We’ll keep at it throughout the first season and see how it goes.  We miss a lot of the references, so we’re just watching it for the characters and the obvious plot.

Burn Notice

This turned out to be exactly not what I thought it was.  We saw some teaser-trailers for it and set it to record on Sky+.  It looked like a spy drama, but has turned into a one-man A-team story.  Not that it’s bad, just that it’s not what we expected.

The simple premise is that an American spy has been burned by his agency and hence has no money, contacts or anything to do.  To add to his misery he’s essentially confined in Miami (he’s told early on if he tries to leave, he’ll be activley hunted by the police rather than being just watched).

Each episode involves our main character (can’t remember his name) trying to work out why he’s been burned and who did it, while also trying to fix a problem either a friend, a friend’s friend, his mother’s friend, or some random person is having.  For example, one week he helps an airport security guard who’s basically being blackmailed to ignore illegal weapon imports.  Helping him out in his endevours are his mother, his brother, an ex-spy buddy and an ex-girlfriend spy.  As I said it’s a one-man A-team.  It’s funny, engaging and entertaining, we’ll see where it goes.