The alternate universe in Fringe, which has been a lingering aspect of the show almost from the beginning but which we’ve only really begun to see in all its glory – and horror – after the second season two-part finale “Over There,” is flipping fascinating. It may yet prove to be the best-realized alternate universe vision since Watchmen – there, I said it. (Watchmen, of course, was an alt-verse in relation to real life; in Fringe, we’ve got two complex universes existing side by side. With the potential for more.) J.J. Abrams and Team Bad Robot like their alt-verses (Star Trek reboot shook up the Trek continuity like an Etch-A-Sketch, and Lost… okay, it didn’t turn out to be an actual alternate timeline after all, but don’t let’s start dissecting that one just now…), Fringe could very well be the most awesome and nerd-provoking of all.
In how many ways? Legion, kiddies – sociopolitical, technological (which is of course a key aspect of the show’s mythology)… and maybe it’s more of an amusement than anything, but the pop culture differences have been great, fun winks cast at us by the writers. I nearly fell off my chair laughing when the Observers, in an alt-1985 flashback, walked out of a movie theater bearing the marquee “BACK TO THE FUTURE, STARRING ERIC STOLTZ.” The apartment kept for Peter in the alt-verse for his inevitable return includes brilliant conceived, altered covers of classic comic book issues. And as our renegade heroes are stranded waiting for a bus in part one of the finale, we got this look at a billboard advertising The West Wing… still on the air! Who the hell are those people?!:
All this has had me geek-storming the possibilities for lots of pop culture differences. (Cyndi Lauper about to embark on another world tour, adopts another African baby; meanwhile, Madonna is kicking ass on Celebrity Apprentice…), but as a television nut, I’ve been focusing mostly on the boob tube. How would this alternate reality have been kinder, or crueler, to the shows we watch over here?
- What about Twin Peaks? – would a universe used to the concept of paranormal occurrences, as outlined in Walter(nate) Bishop’s ZFT text, retain interest such a willfully weird and awesome show for longer than we did? Could Agent Cooper have continued battling the evil in those woods for a few more seasons? I’d have faith that, at least, the writers over there would resist network pressure and keep the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer going for a lot longer than they did. Hey, it is David Lynch after all… he’s probably bound to be revered as weird in any context. (And with coffee supposedly in short supply in the Fringe altverse, Cooper might need something else to wash down the pie and donuts.)
- Even moreso than Twin Peaks, paranormal activity was the bread and butter of The X-Files, the show which Fringe gets compared to most often; presumably, with a publically active Fringe division in “real life,” characters like Mulder and Scully wouldn’t be conceived of as investigating bizarre happenings out of the basement. Their work would be commonplace… they’d be government-agent rock stars, more like Jack Bauer, fighting plausible (okay, maybe in later seasons of 24 that’s debatable) instances of terrorist threats. That’s a very, very different show.
- I suppose some genre shows with more distantly-conceived settings might not be affected – something like Battlestar Galactica, for example, with epic space battles and humanoid Cylons is still out of their realm of possibility. (At least for now.) But how would a show like that, which integrates a heavy undercurrent of theology into a science fiction text, be received by a much more technologically advanced society?; the Fringe altverse hasn’t fully explained its stance on religion yet, but I have a feeling their scientific advances have rendered many of discussions of spirituality, shall we say, out of fashion. (For the record, I’m not one of the BSG/religion haters; I’m an agnostic and a skeptic, but most of the time I thought it worked.)
What say you all, how else could so many of our beloved shows fare in the aggressive, techno-lovin’ parallel Fringe world? I’ll say this much – if Firefly is still on the air, I’m outta here. Catch you on the flip side. (Bonus if Two And A Half Men was cancelled after five episodes. No one over there thought that shit was funny.)