Is 'Fringe' Worth the Effort?

And you know what I mean by effort. Like ABC's Lost, Fox’s sci-fi series, Fringe (airing tonight at 9 p.m. ET), is one of those peeling-an-onion shows, with a new layer to tear off each week. There’s a complex mythology going on here, complete with an alternate universe, a mad scientist (but why?), unexplained paranormal occurrences (called “the Pattern”), characters whose pasts are linked (unbeknownst to them), creepy, bald guys who are somehow connected to “the Pattern,” a global corporation that’s also involved, and a symbolic frog, and a coming war waged by “hybrids” from the other side.

Confused yet? If you haven’t invested precious time and brainpower to enjoy this show, week in and week out, then you probably are. Fringe is not an option for the casual TV viewer, especially one without a DVR. But if you are even a teensy bit curious about this show, tonight's episode is the one to watch.

Much of the back-story is explained, slowly and plainly, with a flashback to 1985. We see the above mentioned mad scientist, Walter (John Noble) in saner times, when he invents a “window” which allows him to see into an alternate universe. There’s an alternate version of everyone and everything in this universe, with slight differences. (At one point, you see a movie theater marquee displaying that year’s blockbuster, Back to the Future, starring Eric Stoltz.) For a reason explained in the storyline, Walter feels compelled to cross over to the other universe. His actions create terrible, paranormal repercussions.

Catching tonight's episode will make it easier for newbies to step into Fringe. And of course, Fringe wants its viewers to hang in there—and to keep attracting new ones—so it offers lots of help. Front and center on its web site is a video titled "10 Things to Know: The whole mythology broken down into a quick list." I must admit, it does bring you up to speed in a matter of minutes.

And while all this talk about mythology and parallel universes makes the series sound deadly serious, the characters themselves are actually quite funny. At times, the show has a whimsical feel to it, which will no doubt be reinforced during the April 29 episode: It's done as a musical.

So, is Fringe worth the effort? It might be. Check out tonight's episode--and then decide.

How do you feel about shows that require effort to keep up with them?


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