Monday, December 06, 2010

TVOD: Fringe, or Never Surrender

Fringe wrapped up its alt.universe mytharc this past Thursday with an absolute stormer of a conclusion. Cyberspace was glowing with recaps and round tables and hardcore Fringers were left gasping. Since its move to Vancouver last season the show has become the true inheritor of the throne left vacant when the mighty X left Sci-Fi City. But do Joe and Jane Q Couchepotateau care?

Probably not.

Although it absolutely stumps me that Fringe isn't a top 20 show, the real problem is the future of narrative. I don't know how many people pay any attention to the plotlines of these 40 minute police procedurals or whether the predictable rhythms they induce are simply a kind of comforting electronic narcosis. I don't know a single person that feels we're in a golden age of cinema and book publishing continues to wilt along with attention spans. I've long hoped that comics would ride in and be the savior of fictional narrative, and there are some hopeful signs that the long-held stigma against the form is finally melting. But the economics just aren't there yet.

And economics are the crux of the matter. In the past we had independent film and cable TV to ride to the rescue when the rot set in, but I see a supply and demand problem. Feed people nothing but McDonalds and that's all they'll have a taste for. Large swathes of the supply and demand ends of the chain are like monkeys in cages flinging poo back and forth; they make crap, someone buys it for a cheap thrill and pretty soon no one knows the difference. Caprica is a depressing example of this- the audience failed, not the show as far as I'm concerned.

I know some people will say I shouldn't bother with it in the first place but why cede the airwaves to comformist ennui and celebrations of authority? I think film and TV are far too powerful as persuasive mediums to surrender, which is essentially what some are suggesting. Why shouldn't there be something fighting for an audience that isn't Jersey Shore or Real Housewives?

The next couple of years will be key. I doubt we'll see another new wave of independent film like we did in the 90s- it's just too difficult to compete with the studios, no matter how cheap the technology is. Comics publishers are finally taking electronic media seriously and there all sorts of interesting comics/animation mutations that could signal a new age of storytelling. After all, evolution doesn't always mean bigger and bolder. A lot of times it means smaller, cheaper and faster.

Talk about Alchemy- look at what Magic
simple black ink on white paper can achieve

If Fringe does fall in the death slot I hope there's a serious effort to do it as a comic. Meaning not just the slapdash stuff we often see with TV tie-ins. Buffy and Angel are going strong as comics which might tell you where the future lies for that kind of storytelling once the inevitable network axe falls. It won't be the same without those great actors but it beats nothing at all.


  1. I've watched Fringe over the last month, culminating in my catching up with the epic Olivia return. The show was slow going at first but as you say, it has somewhat filled the X void. If Fringe goes I won't have a whole lot to look forward to on television. I actually enjoyed Caprica, but not many of my friends who were into BSG are on that page.

    I'd like to see the medium be reinvigorated, but who knows. I sure hope 3-D television has nothing to do with it, though.

  2. Something I notice in the UK (probably the same over there) is the press relentlessly promote the latest Reality TV nonsense with non-stop coverage. Sci-fi (or decent drama) will hardly get a mention - and certainly no front-page 'news' stories. Hence it seems the media are telling people what they should watch and viewers seem a bit herd-like in their behaviour - so will watch what other people are talking about... and they're talking about stuff they've read in the papers. Its ironic that in the 80s/early 90s talent shows were telly poison in England, but now thanks to the hype they're the best-rated programmes... is a shame about Fringe's ratings - Walter Bishop is the funniest and most interesting character around...

    Loved the end five minutes of Caprica. Tied it in nicely with the rest of BSG, although there are a couple of contradictions which they could easily address in the Cylon war series to come.

  3. One of the youtube frames shows Broyles & Walter in front of a Hot Dog cart. It is framed so it shows the words "Evil Dog"

    Whatever that means.

  4. Hi Chris,

    I wrote an even longer comment but, although still relevant... it grew... because I was trying to justify a plug for help Crowd Funding a web based conspiracy thriller called 'Strangers' (so no offence if you throw the post out).

    The key points I made were about the significance of mass media;

    "as much a dissemination mechanism for ideological persuasion as...a means of entertainment"; entertainments are "our most common agent of socialization, shaping and informing our collective ideas about people, politics and public policy." From 'Reality Bites back' by Jennifer Pozner.

    As well as the more subtle potency of persuasion within the medium of production (Marshall McLuhan, 'the medium is the message'). And my personal take on much of the mainstream as comfort fodder validating our deluded but established 'elders and betters'.

    Another support for my appeal to help make 'Strangers' is the suggestion that the opportunity is available (like never before) to challenge the established channels with new technologies. It's just that this will need an audience investment in both resources (networking and dissemination as well as donations) and then time.

    'Strangers' and Crowd Funding is one part of a (small scale) 'evolution' of the pre-sales model that built hollywood's dominance. And I'd argue very strongly that, by the nature of the business, even the (so called) independent productions that 'break through' are immediately stripped of any independent power by the 'McLuhan effect'.

    This then (trust me) leads quite nicely to... the view I take of conspiracy in the series, which is similar to that of Robert Anton Wilson (one episode will be titled to evoke Chapel Perilous) – and if you read Foucault's Pendulum (Umberto Eco), there are further similarities, and then there's my favourite quote (attributed to Hassan Sabbah) stating; Nothing Is True: Everything Is Permissible.

    The style will be fast paced, 'Michael Clayton' meets 'Bourne' (without the high octane stunts... at least to begin with) with some forays into X Files strangeness (the first 6 episodes are more political/financial). The lead character is an investigative journalist who knows too much and has to go on the run from unnamed authority figures who are out to get him.

    His task is to figure out which agency of authority wants him dead whilst holding on to the belief that his peril is real and not, as his girlfriend believes, an over active imagination bordering on clinical paranoia. She accepts the police want to interview him but is convinced it's as a witness to a 'drive by', not as the intended victim. She is a bit of a Scully to his Mulder.

    The key aim in constructing the series is a form of disclosure, the series doesn't hide or embed mythology and symbolism. Where relevant, it points it out and discusses it in an attempt to break down the potency and so the abuse of symbols and mythologies by business, politics and entertainment... by all the powers that wannabe. I'm aiming to offer a helpful as well as hopeful and entertaining point of view.

    My key 'persuasion' when asking for support is the contribution this would make to the building of new, and uncompromising, channels of entertainment. There is enough of an audience but it's spread thin...

    Best wishes

    John LeB

  5. There will always be an
    audience for strange media,
    it will trickle out through
    youtube and vimeo type

    The dark age is here so we
    will have to go back to old
    modes of storytelling...made
    by non-digital printing

    So I hear you about comics
    even though I don't read

    I am always preparing for the
    sudden removal of the internet
    as well as other conveniences
    through entertainment media.

  6. Please watch the opening of "Earth: Final Conflict". And the 1st season in a row if you have time. It has elements of MK ultra, the 2012, alien agenda, collective consiuness, microchipping people with virusbased implants, people killing themselves when being injected with metallic butterflies in an amish community, even reference to james cameron's avatar (in the first episode there's a screen where it says AVATAR MK),
    pyramids (ancient astronauts, during the series it gets clear these beings have been on earth before, in ireland of all the places), during one episode this william BOONe makes a composite of all ancient and holy pictures, he forms the picture of the Taelon's faces...You preivously also wrote about that maybe psychedelics being about some sort of alien OS for our brains, I came to the same conclusion a few years back myself and LOL'd after reading about it on your blog. Not to mention that E:FC was Gene Roddenberry's "testament", so it might contain more truth than any Star Trek stuff put together... Thank you for this interesting insight and sorry about my ramblings, you can delete this comment if you want.
    Omfalon Murado.

  7. Chris, Lordy,Lordy, I am in dis-agreement with you. The literary environment has never been as envolved as today. It is alluring to poist doom and freaking gloom. For me , I am forever going forth by day. All is good. Now. Too much TV is harmfull and dangerous the collective psyche. Tv's are theta waves? Bad Jus jus me thinks. Enjoy Sofia and smoke some holy ganja fire. Shineforth brave souls!!!. Dennis.

  8. Guys, I'm working up a post for tomorrow. I will catch up with comments ASAP. There's been a lot of great stuff the past few posts and I want to dig into it. Keep your eyes peeled!

  9. "Talk about Alchemy- look at what Magic simple black ink on white paper can achieve"

    One excellent observation there sir!

    Pencil / wand, what's the difference?

  10. Strong stuff as ever, Chris.

    Total agreement on your analysis of the weakening of mainstream TV by 'reality' programming. the problem with that stuff is that it's cheap and the Return on Investment (spinoff shows, albums etc) is huge. Plus, smart long-form TV requires a degree of investment (and, bluntly, intelligence) from its' audience which is, shall we say, mostly lacking.

    But there is hope. The cost of getting a hit ongoing show is dropping and there's some very successful experiments in making and continuing shows on (in relative TV terms) low budgets. Exemplar of these is a fun little con-men-do-Robin-Hood show called Leverage, which has become a minor hit for its' network while being mostly independently produced. Leverage is small, cheap and fast... and a hit. (Worth noting co-creator of the show John Rogers has a background in SF and comics, and was producer of the short-lived attempt to bring Global Frequency to the screen. There's a whole tale behind *that* show...)

    I'd disagree that the audience was Caprica's problem - rather, SyFy Channel's failure to promote the show, then a pointless six-month hiatus with no fanfare on its' return, were the major factors.

    I leave you with a reflection on your last point about the alchemy of comics... the late Harvey Pekar once said, "Comics are just words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures." This inspired Warren Ellis (writer of, among many other things, the comic Global Frequency...) to write a glorious sprawling look at creativity and the power of image called Do Anything. It's free to read online - and features a robot head of Jack Kirby...

  11. I think there is a demand though-- I mean LOST had a huge following and-- in my humble opinion-- LOST was way better than FRINGE.

  12. This week I rented and watched the last 3 episodes of Caprica 1.0.

    In my opinion, it is some of the best TV I have ever seen. The show's failure is a mystery to me, since the show included all the necessary audience pleasers - frequent sex, constant violence, highly attractive stars.

    Moreover, there was far more variety and intrigue in one episode of Caprica than in an entire season of Stargate SG-1. So why does the repetitive Stargate last a decade, and the innovative Caprica get quickly canceled?

    Even Battlestar was losing audience in its latter years. Which amazes me, since they too combined explosions and eye candy with thought-provoking subject matter like election rigging, oppressive working conditions, and black market economies.

  13. "I don't know how many people pay any attention to the plotlines of these 40 minute police procedurals or whether the predictable rhythms they induce are simply a kind of comforting electronic narcosis." - I like where you're coming from here - that the narrative rhythms of some types of drama reset the brain-patterns of their demographics (thus making them more susceptible to advertising ? lol) - sounds strangely plausible. Wonder if there's any research on this? All those post-CSI procedurals do seem to be derived from same dramatic template; women seem to dig them more than straight-up gritty police action-drama, so straightaway they prob. come front-loaded with certain types of slightly-softened character arcs / back-stories designed to induce a dual-gender demographic. Or something lol.