We’re counting down the Top 10 Dramas of 2011. Each pick will be revealed on Hulu’s homepage every day of this week. Selections 10-5 can be viewed here.
4 – Fringe
Every show eventually hits a slump—that point when the same old characters keep doing the same old thing. Sometimes it’s “Breaking Bad,” where every single episode is the one where the chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-dealer almost reveals the truth to his wife. (Oh, the suspense!) And sometimes it’s “CSI: Miami,” where the formula has become so repetitive that the audience embraces it as schtick.
In its second and third seasons, “Fringe” was falling into a comfortable place. The Fringe team would investigate a strange crime. Peter Bishop would unexpectedly know a whole lot about whatever they were investigating. Walter would work furiously in his lab, take a psychotropic drug and request an obscure candy. Or make milkshakes. The entire SWAT team would close in on the suspect, but somehow either Peter or Olivia would end up completely alone in an abandoned building with the bad guy, and the bad guy would turn out to be a freakish victim of some experiment Walter conducted 30 years ago.
Fringe could have stayed there indefinitely, stretching the show’s mysterious throughline over 7 or 8 seasons as the Fringe team investigates case after case.
“The X-Files” did that. To a lesser extent, “Alias” did that. But Fringe didn’t do that. And we’re so glad.
Last season, Fringe took us to the alternate universe, where every character’s personality and motivations were entirely different, and the show’s incredible ensemble cast was put through their Paceys. Ahem, paces.
Actors Anna Torv and John Noble, in addition to their perfect American dialects (both are Australian), had the task of reinventing their characters. Anna Torv’s alternate Olivia (we’ll call her “Faux-livia”) was cruel and calculating. John Noble’s amazing alternate Walter (“Walternate”) was slick, cold and ruthless, a sharp contrast from the bumbling, unkempt Walter Bishop of Seasons 1 and 2. Last season’s amazing cliffhanger ending saw Walter’s son Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) blink out of existence, the result of the team’s constant meddling in the space-time continuum. Brilliantly employing the classic time-travel concept of “The Butterfly Effect” (change one small thing and you change everything), this season Fringe became the sci-fi version of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” It presents a world in which Peter Bishop never existed, or to be more accurate, died at age 9. Season 4 is an amazing reboot. As an audience, we get to start fresh, trying to piece together the backstory and motivation of each character. Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) is now evil (or is she?), Olivia is lonely and confused, and Walter is a broken, terrified hermit.
It’s a stupefying outrage that John Noble has never been nominated for an Emmy. He’s a master of his craft. Noble and his fellow castmates are now playing the third (and sometimes fourth) versions of themselves. An ensemble with this kind of range deserves recognition. If you’re not watching Fringe, it’s time to rent some DVDs, stock up on TV dinners and catch yourself up.