Tube Tops – Fringe, Human Target & Community

A year ago at this time, I was getting ready to begin my fourth and final year recapping Lost. I remember weathering a slight bit of writer’s block at the beginning as the daunting prospect lay before me. After all – those recaps represented the building blocks of this site – as I turned to the “day after” digestion of each episode as my go-to source for inspiration when I first started posting on these pages back in the Winter of 2006. While I came to this party a little too late and therefore missed out on Blogging about the series since its inception in the Fall of ‘2004, I truly feel like those Lost posts went a long way towards building this site into its current form.

This is my digital scrapbook. As the motto says, I promise to offer up what goes on in this Ed’s head – meaning you’ll get a healthy smattering of reports from the home front, especially when Colin or Aria let loose with the wacky “S#!t My Kids Say”. I also keep a close eye on pop culture, movies, TV and sports and whenever something dances across my orbs and fires a synapse, you can read all about it here.

On the TV side, I doubt I’ll ever go back to that long-form sustained show recap format. Lost broke me. It was a great experience and I pulled in a number of new readers that assured me more than those in my friends and family had bookmarked the site. But the whole prospect of breaking down a show, week by week, just doesn’t appeal any longer.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t plan on initiating the conversation. And with that, I’ve decided to debut a new semi-recurring series on the site called ‘Tube Tops‘ where I’ll just meander through whatever I happened to be watching that I feel bears mentioning. This could cover something I’ve seen in my regular appointment viewing or the latest Geico commercial or anything as long as it was viewed on my TV screen.

And while I only harbor a handful of shows that I’ll watch regularly, I do keep up with what’s going on out there in the vast wasteland through sites such as Hitfix and EW. So, while I may not be living in reality TV, if something happens that makes me think a little bit then I’ll surely jot down a few notes here.

My hope is that you’ll join the conversation and add your comments below. That was the beauty of the Lost posts. I tossed batting practice and you guys swung away; often for the fences. The fun was in watching to see where each post landed.

I have no real schedule for this post but recently I resolved to post three times a week. I’ve stuck with that so far (WOO HOO – Pat yourself on the back for such a momentous, one week accomplishment). Anyway, with those stern marching orders, my feeling is I’ll have one of these up at least every other week. So stop by often. Keep this place bookmarked.

AND TELL YOUR FRIENDS!!!

All right, enough about all that. Here’s what’s happening around the dial. (What the hell is a dial?)

Fringe Effect

If I ever were to regularly Blog about a show, Fringe would get the honors. In fact, when I was staring down the end of Lost and waxing rhapsodic about how all good things must come to an end (sorry – excuse me while I wipe these Brett Favre crocodile tears from cheeks) – anyway, I thought I might pick up the mantle with Fringe.

Fringe is a strange show – for me. On paper, it should have been my instant obsession. It was billed as an X-Files homage from JJ Abrams, the creator of Lost and Alias – two of my favorite shows of the last 10 years. The X-Files may be my favorite show of all time. That’s a recipe for a Reese’s Peanut Butter moment.

But I just couldn’t get into it at the beginning. In fact, despite its pedigree and the fact that it clearly, desperately wanted to follow in Mulder and Scully’s fog shrouded footprints, at the beginning it felt like it was afraid to traipse too far into the dark – to dance along the (ahem) fringe of reality.

I think this was a calculated move. At the time, Lost clones had come and gone – with the networks all taking a stab at sci-fi serialized storytelling. Threshold. The Bionic Woman. Invasion. All of them died early deaths. The conventional wisdom said that there was only so much room in our collective brain pan to capture so many disparate plot threads and puzzle through every last cryptic conundrum the writer’s could wish up.

Personally, I think those shows failed where Lost succeeded based on one simple fact – they gave us plenty of mystery to ponder but not one of them offered up interesting and more importantly – likeable characters. That’s the lightning in the bottle that Lost caught and the same that illuminated The X-Files. In order for a cult show to hit the mainstream, you need something common and approachable to please the masses. Without a strong anchor; you are left adrift.

Hell, they still haven’t learned their lesson. The less you ever discover about The Event, the better.

Fringe had great characters – commanded by some good actors – but they seemed afraid to let their freak flag fly. They had read the tea leaves and interpreted them incorrectly. The show’s producers seemed to think that viewers bristled at keeping track of complex narrative arcs, looking at one-and-done shows like CSI foradvice but I think that’s the wrong tact. Sure, you’ll reap a much larger fan base with a less complex mythology BUT this show, with all its freaky monsters-of-the-week, was never going to rope in the stereotypical Nielsen family. This is a niche show that was capable of grabbing the same healthy cult that stuck with Lost when it got weird and wild, and propped up The X-Files for close to a decade.

So, by the end of Season 1, the producers figured out that chasing boffo box-office was a fool’s errand and finally found their way… and since then, the show has been consistently compelling and inventive. In fact, it juggles its mythology better than The X-Files ever did. Yes, there are monsters-of-the-week but they never completely kick the over-arcing tale to the curb. Fringe’s fantastic tale of two universes is always present on everyone’s minds and so many of these weekly guest critters and their tales of woe often run in parallel; weaving in and out of the grand scheme.

In fact, JJ Abrams recently said the following at the Fox Spring 2011 Media Event:

“So if we’re going to fail, let’s go down having done the most badass, weirdest, interesting, sophisticated version of a series we can possibly do.”

Fringe returns on Friday January 21st after a brief winter hiatus. Usually, being relegated to the Friday Night Death Slot is cause for concern. After all, this is the very same graveyard populated with such notables as Firefly, Harsh Realm, The Sarah Connor Chronicles – and other ambitious genre shows that Fox put out to pasture. But, the crowded Thursday night lineups were doing Fringe no favors. In fact, I just read that 50% of Fringe’s viewership doesn’t even watch the show when it airs – instead opting for DVR.

It’s that sky-high DVR population that has kept this show on the air… and Fox’s president of programming was quoted this week as saying that if Fringe can merely keep the same viewership they get on Thursday nights, over on Friday night, that would be a huge increase in comparison to what normally airs on Fox at 9pm on Fridays. He cited the DVR numbers as gravy. Essentially, if they match their live viewership in their new slot (which means the same fans simply need to keep tuning in), then “they can run for years”.

By this point, all of the casual fans who popped in for a look-see have been chased away so those watching this show are truly invested. They’re hooked. They want to see where this thing leads. So, my guess is Fringe may be the first show since The X-Files to anchor that Friday night and live long. If you were ever interested in climbing aboard – Netflix those DVDs and catch up quickly. This is easily the best genre show on TV now and by the end of it, it may even best The X-Files in my book.

And that’s strength of character, right there.

Only Human

Continuing the theme of second chance viewing, I tried out Fox’s Human Target (Wednesdays at 9 pm) last year when it launched mid-season and never stuck with it. While it was a well-produced show anchored by some likeably leads, I thought Fox would pull the rug once the ratings never materialized. This is the same network that cancelled the critically acclaimed Lone Star after two episodes, after all.

During the summer, I decided to while away a few empty evenings by watching some reruns and I was hooked again. The news that it was coming back for a second mini-season (12 episodes) helped aid that decision.

And it’s one I’m glad I made.

Human Target appeals to me in the same way Fringe does. It succeeds where other shows don’t based on cast chemistry. Mark Valley, Chi McBride and Jackie Earl Halley just blend nicely; so for a show that first attracted my attention by spinning weekly one-hour action flicks, it ended up winning me as a viewer simply because I liked spending time with this trio of heroic rogues.

While watching the latest two-parter that saw our contrite assassin Chance staring down a cliffhanger, as he was shot out of the sky in South America, I made a connection. I was a huge fan of The A-Team back in the day and though I realized how ridiculous the plots were and I bristled at the fact that nobody ever got shot no matter how much ammo was expended – and there wasn’t a flaming chopper that intrepid stuntmen couldn’t climb out of to live and fight another day, that show succeeded based on strength of character. Murdock, B.A., Face and Hannibal were larger-than-life cartoons made real by the genuinely charismatic actors that essayed the roles; roles which were drawn to the strengths of the actors. Mr. T is no master thespian but he made one hell of a Bad Attitude Baracus.

Human Target is this generation’s A-Team; albeit with some necessary changes for the day and age. For starters – people get hurt; a lot. But at the same time, the violence exists on a larger-than-life level. This exists in a James Bondian reality. And while Human Target tells little one hour tales that typically impart a sense of finality at the end of each episode, there are threads to an overall arc – although it’s less of a complex mythology and more of a character quest towards self-fulfillment.

While Human Target doesn’t fare well in the ratings,  this is another show that benefits from DVR. Hell – I don’t watch anything outside of sports live these days – which explains why I have no idea why everyone seems to love the “I pick things up and put them down” ad. I’ve Googled it and can’t find it and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna’ go any slower than 4-speed as I whip through each commercial block. I’m sure I’ll see it 50 times during the Super Bowl now that exhorbitant ad rates prohibit anyone from actually producing those lavish ads we once got back in the day.

So, despite the fact that Fox seems to be burning through the remaining 4 episodes of this season with two hour blocks in order to clear the deck for American Idol, I hold out hope that Target will be back again next season. In fact, they ought to move it back to Fridays and let it feed off of the goodwill that Fringe will likely carry forth into its new perch. That’s a group of people I’d like to spend time with.

A Fine Community

As much as I love Fringe – and heady, cerebral thrillers of that ilk, comedies make my day – provided that actually make me laugh. Which is why I can’t wait for Parks & Recreation to return this month. P & R was originally developed as an Office spin-off before being taken in a new direction that I think has made the show better than it’s sister product. Of course, it’s young and while The Office has been weak of late, it did have a Golden Age – which is what Parks & Recreation broadcast in its second season last year.

Setting the table for Parks & Recreation is Community. Here’s that rare comedy that flies that freak flag high and the more in tune you are with pop culture, the better you benefit.

That being said, this season – while good – has made a couple missteps that I hope they learn from. I blame last year’s transcendent Modern Warfare episode; which used a college paintball competition to riff on every major apocalyptic action epic. That was a tremendous half hour of entertainment – more thrilling than most blockbusters that hit during the Summer of 2010 – and it lodged this show into the hearts of geeks everywhere who repayed the favor with thunderous applause at last July’s San Diego Comic Con.

This led to the producers to begin hitting the homage button hard this season – taking the show a bit off kilter. See, it’s always managed a deft balancing act; layering in the pop culture asides with comedic college observational humor. In a couple episodes this season, I feel they’ve tried to shoehorn the production into parodies that didn’t always mesh. The Apollo 13 episode had some laughs but seemed awfully contrived. As did the meta-episode where Abed becomes a religious icon.

That being said, this is more of an experimental show, and I found that the recent episode centered on Troy’s 21st birthday – which shined a harsh light on some of the characters – had some real human comedy and pathos. It wasn’t laugh a minute but it did nourish me in the same manner that good dramedy can. It felt a lot closer to life than Community ever travels. I don’t think I’d want that every week… nor do I need a zombie parody each week either… but when they maintain the balancing act, this is as good as television gets.

Comments now closed (6)

  • “Continuing the theme of second chance viewing,” hahaha… I’m the only one that gets that.

    Yeah, I was happy they brought Human Target back this season, but not so much that they tweaked the cast. Adding estrogen to the mix hasn’t been as awful as I thought it might be, but it does detract somewhat from the three amigos you point out. My feeling was FOX knew they needed something to fill time and they kept it around since they couldn’t do better. Would love for it to come back next season, but it probably doesn’t have much chance.

    Agree with you on the Apollo episode, it was horrible. I did really enjoy Troy’s birthday and most of others have been good as well (blanket fort, Christmas, Zombies–to my surprise). I almost feel like they had a great plan for the first season and then scrambled when there was going to be a second. Like they are experimenting to find the identity that fits longer term. If people like half hour comedy shows then I don’t know why they wouldn’t be liking this one.

  • @Sean – I figured you might be the only one who got that line. Sometimes I shoot for the masses… othertimes it’s purely inside baseball. : )

    I just finished catching up on Human Target (the holidays saw me waylaid) and the fact that Obama’s primetime memorial saw Fox replace the last eps of the season, does not bode well.

    But – who knows? If they don’t have much in the pipeline, maybe they’ll bite for another season. That last episode, with Ilsa pulled in a very dramatic direction, was top notch.

    I would love to see DirecTV pick this one up; as they recently did with Damages – and also did for Friday Night Lights back in the day.

  • I think they booted Kitchen whatever from its slots last Friday night and aired them. (According to Facebook page.) I set my DVR to record those since Comcast didn’t update program guide but I haven’t checked to see if they actually aired.

  • I just checked and nothing recorded on Friday, so who knows. In both our cases, it only records when the guide has the correct information. So either they didn’t update the guide or it wasn’t marked as new or they didn’t air it at all. I did just notice they are playing episodes on 1/31 and 2/2. Both are only hour long though, but could still be the ones that were preempted.