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Fringe‘s Executive Producers on the Family Drama That is Fringe – Part III

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Last week’s Season 3 premiere of Fringe has left fans as usual panting for more. I have received many requests to post the next part of the interview with Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman, so much so that I am posting this a few days ahead of schedule.

Let it not be said that I’m cruel!

The fact that Fringe’s preferred storytelling technique is akin to eating a rich truffle – i.e. a slow process during which you savor every step – doesn’t make it any less exciting to watch, all the more that it’s about a family drama of such proportions that one tends to almost enjoy the anguish of having to wait yet another week to see who will find out what and how they will react to the news.

During the conference call interview Fringe’s executive producers gave last week, it was mentioned yet again that the show is “very much like a family drama masquerading as a science fiction, or a procedural show and family drama”, as Pinkner puts it. “We want the theme of the story we’re telling to play against the big backdrop. We want it to be a story that a broader audience can understand and appreciate, because we think the things we’re talking about are universal and have great appeal”. He then gave yet again the example of licorice, in that “not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice and we’re thrilled to be licorice”.

Wyman pushed the idea a little further: “we realized early on that the more science fiction in our opinion becomes good is when they become more about universal truths and things about morality and what it’s like to be a human and live here. The red licorice analogy is interesting because sometimes, it takes a certain type of person to say “Hey, I like Sci-Fi.” We’re hoping that we get all those people because we love them. But we also want to get those people that say the show is science-fiction at its best because there are real stories that are identifiable for these people living here, now”.

The family drama at the heart of Fringe is, of course, that of Walter Bishop and his son, Peter Bishop. The team works closely together at various levels of production, and so what John Noble did with the character of Walter Bishop (for which I still think he should have won an Emmy) deeply influenced where the story and the character are going to go next. As Pinkner explains it: “What John Noble did last year with the character of Walter Bishop always left us breathless. He really transcended everything we had written. Both the character and the relationship became heartbreaking. The story played itself out in a way we are very happy with: the breakup of Peter and Walter.”

It brings yet another level of complexity to the work of the actors in question: “So what becomes a challenge is how to get John Noble and Joshua Jackson to play something we haven’t seen before. That got us thinking: “How is this going to begin to resolve?” I say begin because it’s when we look at the relationship like a real, when things break down in a relationship they are not easily put back together. People go through very strange feelings when they are trying to reconcile. There are barriers between them, perceived and real. There are so many difficult, muddy, ugly things in a true father/son relationship that once we started looking at that portion realistically, we realized we had a lot to play with. We realized that we could give John and Josh something to really chew on this year that is another shade of what happened last year.”

Making Walter and Peter’s relationship reflect reality rather than science-fiction (pun totally intended) will of course mean much more drama than previously anticipated gracing the story: “So what’s going to happen is: they are going to be okay one minute, and then they are not going to be okay. Then things are going to be solved for a minute and then further complications are going to come up. Because the lie that was perpetrated against Peter and what Walter has done, if you take it for face value and you really look at it, it’s the quintessential kidnapping story”.

But never fear, Fringe fans, this only means good things for all your favorite universe-hopping friends, as situations such as this one are bound to bring forth great personal development for all: “So this season is a journey of self actualization for all these characters; these people are going to come into their own. Peter is going to sort of demonstrate things apart, emancipated from his father for a certain amount of time and definitely emancipated emotionally. He’s going to self actualize and figure out where he plays, who he is, who he thought he was and all these things.”

“Walter, by the same token, will do the same. He will get to the point where he realizes that he has to go through insanity to sort of get to the place he needs to be okay. So we can promise there’s going to be some really nice drama between them and a next, I guess, our impression of a real relationship and how those conflicts play out.”

The fact that Peter found out at the end of Season 2 that the machine Walternate asked him to work on reacts only to him is going to play a huge part in his journey to self actualization. As Pinkner explained, “that’s a major thing. Last year was the season of secrets. Peter did not understand the secret. Everybody else knew and he didn’t know. So he’s sort of like has huge revelation at the end of the season that gave the production team a lot of gasoline for the season for him.”

“But now, that’s different. This season, when he comes in, he is the person who knows more than anybody and wants more than anything to find out how does he fit into this. Why him? What does this mean? Why did this thing? These questions become really ultimately his core want is to figure out some form of answers that nobody on his team actually is qualified to answer. That’s going to be a big part of his self actualization. There’s a lot of answers that we think are compelling and mysterious and interesting this season that he’s going to start to put together a really nice sized jigsaw puzzle that will be eventful at the end of the season.”

It might seem like a big bite to take out of the proverbial apple, but, again, Fringe’s chosen storytelling style seems to fit the profile perfectly. Taking the time to lay out the story one step at a time has allowed for the stage to be set in such a way that, if the team keeps it up, will not leave for much confusion or frustration – eventually, as all the pieces of said puzzle are put together. Pinkner and Wyman are both quite aware of the delicate balance between keeping their audience’s attention and not frustrating them to the point of no return: “One of the things that we’re really trying to attend to and that we both learned from experience as viewers and as storytellers is that plot devices, like the weapon, are only as important as how they affect the characters and how it drives them and changes their emotions. The other thing we found that works for us is to ask questions, then give answers and play the consequences of those answers.” This allows them not to frustrate anybody and yet keep their attention fixated on the show – something I must say that has been working very, very well.

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  • Elliot

    ?Not to frustrate anybody? LOL. The agonizingly slow reveal on Peter last year, the glacial pace of Peter and Olivia, the hideous P/FO setup, and 8 weeks to get Olivia back—–that’s a lot of frustration. But it WILL be grand for Peter to finally get a storyline where he is not the lost umbrella. I look forward to that, and to his reunion with the only Olivia I am interested in… the original, real Olivia.

  • Blue Sunflower

    “The family drama at the heart of Fringe is, of course, that of Walter Bishop and his son, Peter Bishop.” ~ BS. The family drama at the heart of Fringe is that of Walter Bishop TALKING about his son, Peter Bishop. You can’t have a family drama between two characters when you don’t even use one of the characters, and you cut the actor who plays him down to near zero screentime. I love how the producers keep trying to feed us this BS then wonder why no one watches the show and ratings are in a freefall. Whatever.

  • martisco

    Blue Sunflower, you seem to want Peter to have all kinds of talky-crying “dramatic” scenes but for someone who claims to like him so much, you don’t seem to notice how Joshua Jackson squeezes every ounce of drama out of every scene he has with John Noble. Anything more, in my opinion, would be just a fanfic-writer’s wet dream instead of well written drama. The Walter and Peter story is perfectly clear, so I don’t know what your problem is. Sometimes the job of a good actor is to do subtle things. “Talking” is not necessarily good drama.

  • martisco

    PS, this show’s ratings are low because it’s pure science fiction. Shows like this are always going to be on the ratings bubble. To act like it’s because Joshua Jackson “doesn’t get enough screentime” is just silly. This show is as good as it has ever been.