A Fringe-Sized Hole in Television

This post contains no spoilers.

I know our site/podcast is named FILMcast Without a Cause, but after going on a series of rants on Facebook, I've decided to compile some thoughts here.

As I write this, it's been literally less than 12 hours since the series finale of Fox's Fringe hit the airwaves.   I had been a fan of the show since the very beginning, instantly engrossed with the show's blend of gruesome case-of-the-week mysteries and mythology-heavy, world-hanging-in-the-balance season-long arcs.  Because it was a show born in the age of DVR and On Demand, the creators of Fringe made the decision to make the series rewarding to dedicated viewers: constantly folding in on itself and its format season after season, hiding little Easter eggs that gave clues to future mysteries, and constantly referencing events and characters that we may not have seen for years.  No doubt the 'exclusive' nature that I admired so much is the reason the show never found success with the masses.  To Fox's credit, contrary to--or maybe because of the fact that they are known to be a killer of genre television, they let Fringe survive for five low-rated seasons.   The fact that WB Television Studios probably gave them a good licensing deal in order for their show to reach the syndication-friendly 100 episode mark helped too.

I won't get into details on this final season or the show's final hours.  In short, I feel that the show may have peaked the previous year and that season's finale (produced without knowledge that the show would come back for the 13-episode Season Five) wrapped up the series' main arc and was just as fitting of a goodbye as last night's episode.  That said, I quite enjoyed this final season as an epilogue to one of my favorite series of all time.  And as  the show was ending, I was struck by a great sadness
not only because I was saying goodbye to these characters I’ve grown attached to over the past five years, but because I realized that as Fringe went, so did the last bastion of intelligent science fiction on network television.

Lost and Battlestar Galactica are long gone and sadly the shows that were created with hopes to replace them (V, Caprica, among many others) were not long for this world.  Even Fox and Fringe producer JJ Abram’s last-season attempt to create a Fringeplacement, Alcatraz, was dead in the water.  Now the only network science fiction show that instantly comes to my mind is NBC’s Revolution.  That show, also produced by JJ Abrams, has begun to show some promise, but it’s emphasis is more on survival adventure than heady sci-fi concepts.  On cable, SyFy cancelled it’s promising series Alphas this week and has begun importing most of its fiction programming from Canada (Primeval: New World, Continuum).

As science fiction fans know, there’s always (a new) hope.  Galactica show-runner Ronald D Moore is developing a cool-sounding show for SyFy, and SyFy’s upcoming Defiance (which has a curious/ambitious video game tie-in) shows potential with its Alien Nation meets Farscape vibe, and -heck- maybe those Canadian shows will become surprise hits down here (I do like me some Rachel Nichols).

Also, the Brits will likely keep giving us Doctor Who for a while.
And of course on the network side, King of the Nerds Joss Whedon is developing a SHIELD television show spinning out of The Avengers.  If a sci-fi TV show that’s tied to the biggest film of 2012 can’t find an audience, maybe the networks do have an excuse to give up on the genre for a while.

The truth is, it’s actually a good time for genre shows in general, they’re just not genres that have found real success in the past. Fantasy used to be a non-starter on television, left to the cheesy syndication playground of shows like Xena: Warrior Princess and Beastmaster,
but advancements in CGI have allowed Game of Thrones and Once Upon a Time to bring dragons to the small screen with acceptable production values.  Horror was always a challenge to do on television because of the difficulty of sustaining suspense over multiple episodes (as opposed to a 90 minute film), but two of the biggest shows on cable, American Horror Story and The Walking Dead, have proved it a viable- and profitable- enterprise.  Expect plenty of imitators of all these series in the coming years.  Genre on television is far from dead, it’s just not my favorite time-travel/spaceship/talking ape/killer robot flavor.  

Jacob Rosdail is a Documentary Filmmaker and Co-Founder of FWOAC