Fringe and the Difficulty of World-Building

One of the most important aspects of running a show is establishing the world of the show. This task can be quite simple for some shows and exceedingly difficult for others. The more ambitious your show is, the more difficult it is to establish the world of the show. Ambitious shows expertly consider all the details of the world and are anxious to get it right. Even shows that don’t put themselves together well (See: Revolution) still garner intrigue just because of the production gymnastics that are required to put together such a place.

Fringe is another example of an ambitious show dead set on stratospheric levels of world-building. From the very beginning of the serious, the show quickly showed us a place where anything is possible. They drew the characters for us quickly and expertly while introducing us to some compelling side characters whose motives were uncertain. Now in its fifth season, Fringe is giving world-building another go. After creating two (or was it three?) worlds very effectively, the show has aimed incredibly high this season. An alternative universe isn’t a picnic, but television shows really struggle with dystopian futures or other strange, bleak surroundings (It’s the one place where films have the edge over TV as a medium). It’s shocking how often television shows fail when trying to create these types of worlds. How’s Fringe doing? Let’s take a look using the TV Czar World-Building Matrix:

Introduce Compelling Characters
 

This is one area where Fringe is quite fortunate. Because they still have Walter, Peter, Olivia, and Astrid, they’re in good hands. We’ll even get some more looks at Broyles and Nina Sharp as the season progresses. However, the new characters are getting mixed results. We haven’t gotten a large sample size of Etta on the whole, but what’s been put out there so far isn’t that incredibly interesting. Georgina Haig is credible enough as an actress, but given that she was just dropped into our lap late last season, she’s not going to catch on within 13 episodes. If there were more seasons to come, they could’ve explored far more interesting avenues with her, but now she’s just another world-saving tool.

The other big new character (supposedly) is the head observer, Windmark. Given his appearances on the Fringe promos before the season started, I was expecting a lot more than we’ve gotten to this point. He’s pretty good playing creepy, but he seems to lack multiple gears. The lead villain needs to portray a sense of menace, whether overwhelming or subtle. Windmark only projects creepiness. I understand that Observers are understated (to put it mildly), but we need one, just one, visceral reminder of how much danger our heroes are really in. Until then, he’s just a bald dude with some interesting mental abilities.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Licorice Sticks

Give the Audience a Sense of Place
 

fringe season 5 etta trailer

At the beginning of the season, we are much like the people being freed from the amber: Peter has to grab us and tell us that we’re in the year 2036. Oh yeah, and it sucks. Still, we have increasingly gotten more details as the season has progressed (egg sticks?). Though Etta is giving us some details as we go, we’re in the same position as our heroes: We’re figuring things out as we go. Along the way, some impressive looking shots of abandoned buildings and ambered areas of the world give us some idea of what the world of 2036 looks like. However, it would be nice to see the resistance get a little more expansive. A fun trip past Pennsylvania Dutch Country aside, our final season has a decidedly northeastern feel. What’s going on in other parts of the country? Or the world for that matter? Hopefully the Walter Bishop scavenger hunt leads them away from depressing Boston.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Licorice Sticks

Make the World Accessible for the Audience
 

When shooting for the moon with world-building, a show still has to make sure that the world is accessible for its fans. Here’s where the continued investment in the Bishops (now featuring Olivia Bishop!) really helps out Fringe. The show doesn’t need to do a lot of work to make it accessible. Fans who have stuck with the show for this long will continue to gravitate towards their personal favorites. The only thing Fringe has to do here is make sure the actors get put in the proper situations to be successful within the show’s new construct. It hasn’t been difficult for a show like Fringe to this point.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 Licorice Sticks

Now it’s your turn. How do you think Fringe is fairing so far this season? Let us know in the comments.