I'm in a state of television confusion at the moment. It's May so that means a lot of great things are coming to an end (Lost), a lot of great things will go on a little longer before their hiatus (Glee), and a couple of great things are making a summer comeback (True Blood) but there's one show that hasn't gotten the love of any of the shows mentioned, but which should be on everyone's must-watch list and that's Fringe.
For those of you who don't know, Fringe could easily be called the X-Files replacement or the heir to almost any supernatural show because what it deals with, on the surface is just that, the supernatural. Every week there's a new shocking/intriguing/disgusting/astounding beginning that cracks the opening between this world and whatever else might exist out in the ether and yet, what is most amazing about this show is it's dedication on every level. This isn't show that introduces a man who can pass malignant growth tumors by touch or a woman who was turned in to a radioactive weapon just for the sheer joy of it. Of course, for the writers, there must be some sheer joy in coming up with the weekly shockers, but more importantly, it never interferes with the overall STORY of the show. It's what has been/will be missing from television in a matter of months.
While I might have made, or possibly could still make, the argument that television is on the decline, I couldn't support it with the fervor I might once have used. The older I get, the more I understand that the power of nostalgia can cloud just about anything, making everything look rosier than it truly was, but I feel like I was lucky to grow up when shows like Dawson's Creek, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, even Friends, were starting out. It was the first time that I really remember going from the sitcoms of the late 80s and early 90s and watching a story develop. Since then, Friends died a slow and painful television demise, Buffy was switched, mercilessly, to a network that didn't really care to continue developing it and Dawson's Creek had a graceful exit, one of the reasons it's still my number 2 show of all time, the story always came first, not the money that the actors made or the demands of the network.
Fringe is one of those shows, and right now, it's riding at the crest of the wave of great television. It doesn't hurt that Joshua Jackson is in it, and in the beginning, that might have been the draw for me. Between him and J.J. Abrams the combination seemed like a pretty good bet for the first season. While I enjoyed every episode of the first season, there was a sense, looking back, that they were playing it safe. And for a while, Fringe was one of those dreaded "bubble shows" that may or may not be on the chopping block. When Fox had the decency to renew the new series for a second season, I rejoiced, but was skeptical. How they've proved me wrong.
What we've gotten in the second season is a bar-raising like I haven't seen very often on television. The development of not only fantastic characters, but a consistently intriguing story line, along with intellectual writing that straddles the fine line of believable without pushing the boundary is as unique as things will get as soon as Abrams' other creation, LOST, goes off the air in a matter of weeks. What this illicits is an attachment to characters, perhaps none more than Walter Bishop, played brilliantly by John Noble.
While most should recognize Noble for his turn as Denethor, the troubled interim leader of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings, his portrayal of Walter Bishop is a revelation as a television character. He's ridiculously charismatic, believable as a man recovering his mental capacities, and contains the overwhelming ability to throw off shallow lines (like asking for soup in the middle of investigating a diner bloodbath) and reach in to the very depths of emotion (while pondering the repercussions of how his actions might have affected his son).
It's this emotional growth that has been the core of the second season, and which has forced every excellent actor in the ensemble to their best. Anna Torv as the emotionally troubled but driven FBI agent Olivia Dunham and the aforementioned Jackson as Bishop's son, Peter, are engaging and living up to the demands of the role, but it's the flashier Walter that is the star of this show. In much the same way that I consistently look forward to what Sue Sylvester's next snarky remark is going to be, I look forward to what Walter is going to say and do. He's an unlikely hero and one of the few signature characters on TV, like Hawkeye Pierce or Kramer.
While on the surface he may not seem to have a lot in common with these two, it's about the unique quirks, the complete individuality of the character, as embodied Noble, that keep the audience coming back. It's the idea that in Walter's mind, there's a world that only he understands, that we would all kind of like to be a part of. To have an actor that can throw off scientific jargon, while also conveying the combination of a child-like innocence and a world-weariness that elicits sympathy for a man who was responsible for some of the most dangerous scientific testing on everything from animals to children, is a demanding chance for any television series. But Noble does it and does it beautifully and effortlessly.
With the first half of the season finale just passed and the second half coming up next week, I'm both excited and sad. Excited to see whether Walter can succeed, hoping that he does and sad because it means it's the beginning of 3-4 months of Bishop-less existence. If you haven't watched Fringe before, Season 1 is out on DVD and Season 2 will inevitably be released in time to catch up before Season 3. Do yourself a favor and settle in for a weekend. I doubt you'll be disappointed. And, in the off chance that someone from the Emmys is reading this, will someone give this man a nomination at least!