The season finale of Fringe this week did well, with 11.2 million viewers and a 4.5 share. This show by Abrams grapples with the complexity issue we addressed last time.
“I just got tired of hearing people say to me, over and over, ‘Yeah, I was watching it, but I missed one, I got really confused, and I stopped watching it.'" (in Itzkoff)
As Itzkoff of the Times says,
[Fringe] is also Mr. Abrams’s attempt to rectify the narrative (and viewer attention span) problems he faced on previous shows and to synthesize the many lessons he has learned from them into a series that is both complex and accessible, and that is capable of arriving at a determined conclusion over an undecided number of episodes.
To be sure, Fringe is delicious in the way X-Files used to be, and I use the same ritual for both, curling up with the cats on the couch, bravely prepared to being scared witless. Eventually of course X-Files became arcane. It was harder and harder to follow the plot "line" and I felt torn between bothering to put in the time and the belief that really it just didn't matter. Talk about suspending the suspension of disbelief!
The early days of Fringe has the same quality of a single show, with its own self contained universe, a wonderful little world, 60 minutes all to yourself. And then increasingly an over arching narrative began to creep in and I thought, "oh know, it can't be long before we get a visit from the 'cigarette smoking man'."
Here's the bargain I have for Abrams. As an active viewer, I am prepared to follow you anywhere you want to go in the course of 60 minutes. In exchange for which I beg of you this: don't ask me to follow these complexities from show to show. Don't give us an over-arching narrative. You can stage any complexity you want as long as it does not live on to torment us. If it was good enough for the Outer Limits, its good enough for us.
I would be pleased to hear of a television project that managed to introduce an embracing narrative without losing control of the narrative. But my guess is all meta-narrative eventually turns into kudzu (the import from Japan that has overwhelmed great portions of the American southeast). You let that meta-narrative in anywhere, and brother, it's going to end up taking over everything.
Hibberd, James. 2009. Finale ratings: 'Fringe' and 'Biggest Loser.' The Live Feed. May 13, 2009. here.
Itzkoff, Dave. 2008. “Complexity Without Commitment.” The New York Times, August 24 here. (Accessed May 12, 2009).
Wikipedia on kudzu here.