Fringe: one of the greatest sci-fi shows?

Last updated 10:10 08/05/2013

Back in November 2011, I asked what you thought the best science-fiction shows being made at that time might be - well, one of the most popular answers back then, Fringe, finished for good last night on TV2 (or back in January, if you're one of those downloadery people), ending a rather good fifth season and a run of exactly 100 episodes*.

20130508So now I'm wondering: where does Fringe sit among the greatest science fiction shows of all time?

An evolutionary X Files for the post-9/11 crowd, Fringe capitalised on modern themes of isolation and loss of identity, gave the "War on Terror" a supernatural edge, and (as with much sci-fi programming) toyed with the idea of technology being abused and/or misused.

It had a backbone of strong performances. Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson were well  suited to the roles they played, and when their characters' romance blossomed it didn't feel like a copout. It was John Noble, however, who was the heavyweight here; the man turned in a brilliant performance as mad scientist Walter Bishop, playing the eccentric side in perfect balance with the regretful, intellectual side of the role. Noble was absolutely robbed at the major awards ceremonies, never rewarded with a nomination in the Best Supporting Actor fields. It's a travesty.

The best episodes brought all these elements together to create a unique viewing experience. From the opening episode, in which a man kills everybody on a domestic flight by causing them all to solidify, through the final season - a 13-episode run set in a future where civilians live in fear of an enemy they don't truly understand - the show explored serious themes that allowed for strong characterisation.

But science fiction lives in the unknown, and most of the big-name shows work for these exact reasons. It might have been unique in its time, and it might have done a good job of bringing the traditional elements of sci-fi together and putting a reasonably fresh spin on them, but Fringe was hardly the first to do what it tried to do.

Perhaps the first step in figuring out where it belongs in the greatest sci-fi of all time discussion is to determine which shows are definitively better, and there are a few names that pop immediately to mind.

Doctor Who is generally considered the greatest ever. A quick Google search found a couple of sites that named it so, and it's hard to argue: The Doctor has been around for 50 years, and has probably taken on every theme I mentioned above at some point in its run. Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation are another couple of agreed-upon greats. Their impact on popular culture, and influence on many sci-fi shows that followed, is hard to ignore.

I think 2004's reboot of Battlestar Galactica is a superior show. It landed post-9/11 as well, and was able to explore many themes - an enemy that looks like us, the collapse of society at large - that Fringe tackled during its run. I'm a sucker for The X Files, which Fringe has been favourably compared to over the years. I also prefer Lost, though I'm not convinced that Lost should qualify as science-fiction, at least not in its first few years. You could also talk me into Quantum Leap and The Prisoner. Opinions vary on those shows, but they're in the discussion.

So, I've listed eight shows there, and I feel comfortable saying that Fringe belongs in that company, in the top 10 greatest sci-fi shows of all time. And if it's ahead of Quantum Leap and The Prisoner - and if Lost doesn't actually count - then it lands in a respectable sixth place. I reckon that's as high as it deserves.

Either way, we farewell a brilliant show - so long, Fringe.

What do you think: is Fringe one of the great sci-fi shows of all time? Where do you think it should land on the list?

(*) The number 100 is significant - television shows that reach 100 episodes are often easier to sell for syndication, meaning television studios can sell a show to anyone they like and, thus, make more money off that show. For viewers, easy syndication means we'll be seeing repeats of Fringe for years to come.

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