Public Service Announcement 49 of 2012: Fringe, Chicago Fire, Scandal

This week’s bumper-pack of new stuff continues tomorrow (Wednesday) with the final season of Fringe kicking off at 10pm on Sky 1.  Now, I stuck with Fringe for a very, very long time, but even Pacey Witter couldn’t keep me watching as season 4 became denser, duller and just plain dud.  There is only so much punishment I can take, you guys.  The show’s small but dedicated fanbase – including the Fox execs who kept renewing the show in the face of quite spectacularly bad viewing figures – are devoted to it, however, multiple universes and all, and, regardless of how I feel about it, it’s heartening that this type of complicated sci-fi with grand ambition is being allowed to finish its story, even if it doesn’t have mass appeal.  All I want is for Peter and Walter to end up happy but, on past experience, I’ll not hold my breath.

At the other end of the scale as regards complexity and ambition, meanwhile – the jury’s still out in terms of ratings – Wednesday (9pm, Sky Living) also sees the debut of Dick “Law and Order” Wolf’s latest procedural, Chicago Fire.  The clue’s in the – depressingly or comfortingly, depending on your point of view – literal title: the show follows a team of firefighters in, surprise, surprise, Chicago.  It’s Jesse Spencer’s first post-House gig and Taylor “Lady Gaga’s boyfriend” Kinney from The Vampire Diaries also stars, so if you’re looking to watch Fireman Chase and Uncle Mason glower at each other while they run around burning buildings, looking buff, this may be right up your fire escape.  In all honesty, it looks terrible but in a completely watchable, cheese-on-toast kind of way, so it should be good for at least a leer look and maybe a laugh, anyway, although I very much doubt I’ll make it past a couple of eps.

And finally, if Fringe is too dense and Chicago Fire too shallow, More 4’s new US political drama Scandal is probably somewhere in the middle. From the Shonda Rhimes stable which brought us Grey’s Anatomy – the soapiest, most melodramatic and irritating medical drama on tv – Scandal stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a former White House Communications Director turned chief of a crisis management firm. You might well worry that this will involve Ms Pope regularly uttering lengthy, histrionic speeches, over-identifying with all of her clients given that all of their problems will serve as handy metaphors for her own and her staff’s, and consistently splashing her private life all over her workplace in a manner that would get you fired and possibly sued in real life, but hey, it’s not like 9 seasons of Grey’s should be any sort of guide, should they?  Anyway, reviews have been reasonably positive and Henry Ian Cusick’s in it, “brotha”, so I might give it a shot – 10pm, Thursday if you want to do the same.

Fringe s4 ep 11

Peter and Olivia investigate a serial killer who can see the future.  Astrobot Other Astrid comes over to meet Original Astrid for no sensible reason other than to give her something to do.   And Other Olivia continues to get on my nerves.  Nothing to see here, except a load of filler.

Fringe s4 ep 10

The show takes a break from shapeshifters and alternate universes this week to focus on a teenage girl who repeatedly sketches her visions of strangers’ imminent deaths, haunted by her inability to prevent them.

Fringe Division would obviously have been interested in the poor kid anyway, but it all has a special resonance for Olivia as she broods about the Observer’s prophecy of her own death.  It doesn’t have any special resonance for me, though, as, while the basic concept is a decent one, the execution is ponderous and predictable, not to mention familiar: The X-Files tackled similar ground much more powerfully in Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.

Fringe s4 ep 9

Fringe has to work pretty hard to please me these days, but, surprisingly, I quite enjoyed this.  I say surprisingly because it was set in the alternate universe, the loathsome David Robert Jones was in it, the shapeshifter conspiracy guff was front and centre, and – yet again – someone senior was revealed to be a mole.  Bleh.  I usually hate all that stuff.  Ok, I still hate all that stuff, but thankfully it was more than offset this week by the touching interactions between Peter, Walter and Elizabeth; as is usually the case when a Fringe episode works, the emotional kicked the procedural’s ass.  Although, by the by, I did enjoy Peter getting one up on that smug Jones geezer.  ‘Bout time somebody did.

Fringe s4 ep 8

Back to the alternate universe we go as Peter seeks Walternate’s help to get back to a place where he’s properly appreciated – Peter, that is, not Walternate, although this episode seemed to suggest that Secretary Bishop may have been misjudged too.  Hmm.  I’m not convinced.

Anyway, I love Peter, as you know, and teaming him up with Lincoln was a fine idea in theory, as was having him meet “his” mother in the form of a welcome re-appearance by Orla Brady.  Unfortunately, though, Fringe is now so far up its own rear end that even those characters weren’t enough to rescue the episode from the tiresome baggage of the overall story arc: hybrid shape-shifters, alternate universes, po-faced observers with pointless prophecies (Isn’t EVERYONE eventually going to die, observer?  Why does Olivia have to have that confirmed for her?) and – joy of all joys – too many Olivias.  Don’t even get me started on the return of one of the most irritating villains in all the universes, either.

As a result, I found myself actually counting the number of episodes I had to sit through to get to the end of the season and possibly the end of the show.  I care about Peter and Walter and I’ve come this far so I really want to cross that finish line now it’s so close.  However, even my masochism has its limits: if they announce a 5th season, I’ll be quitting Fringe and its many worlds immediately.

Public Service Announcement 9 of 2012: Fringe

Just a quick heads-up: after its mid-season hiatus, season 4 of Fringe resumes tonight (Wednesday) in the UK at 10pm on Sky 1. There’s a lot of speculation that the show will finally be cancelled this year, so ardent fans (and people like me who’re only watching for Pacey and Walter) might want to get their fix of nigh-on impenetrable sci-fi while they still can….

Fringe s4 ep 7

Olivia’s having migraines, Lincoln can’t sleep, Peter’s trying to build the machine to send himself back home and a chameleon man’s running around de-pigmentising people to death.  Another week in Fringe division: another oddly pedestrian episode.

For all I’m sure that Olivia, Lincoln and Peter’s issues are all connected in some deeply complicated, ponderous way, and for all the invisible man who just wants to be seen was a good concept with some poignant undertones (which would have been a lot more affecting had he not been a remorseless serial killer), this was a fairly run-of-the-mill way to finish up for the mid-season break.

In truth, Fringe and I have always had a rocky relationship with me regularly threatening to bail out, but I’m really not loving this season: thanks to the bizarre timeline change, the vibe is all wrong, so once again, this was competent but I was bored.  It was a big mistake to separate Peter from the main action (his scenes with Lincoln were lovely, but far too short) and the cliffhanger should have shocked me to the core, but I suddenly find I genuinely don’t care what happens to Olivia.  Not the teensiest bit.  Peter, yes, Walter, yes, Lincoln, yes – Olivia, no.  She has always been my main problem with the show but being with the Bishops humanised her a lot, and now those relationships have been re-written and effectively destroyed, we’re effectively back to the beginning.   What is the point of making Lincoln re-do all the work Peter’s already done – and we’ve already been through – with her?  Maybe we’ll find out when the show returns in the new year, but I doubt it.