April 23, 2014

Fringe goes Glee tonight: Details on the musical Fringe episode

Warning: Spoilers follow

It was bound to happen. Fox’s Fringe has gone to so many cool, weird places. There’s an alternate universe where the World Trade Center still stands. They went back to 1986. It’s about time they just did a full on musical. Producers J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner previewed tonight’s episode in a conference call with the media this week.

“It’s more of a fractured fairy tale,” Wyman said. “It’s more of an ode to sort of Willy Wonka than anything else I think, in the best sense of the way.  Of course, everybody knows the original classic.  We chose songs for specific reasons and they’re on very different ends of the spectrum.  Sometimes you can have one that’s a popular song and sometimes it can be a ‘40s, ‘50s song.  The object was to tell the great story and find the right music for each piece.  So, yes there is music in the episode and yes, characters will sing. 

Fringe won’t totally become Glee. They’re not just setting up dance numbers. “We didn’t let the song drive the storytelling,” Pinkner said. “We let the storytelling tell what songs from what period.  Hopefully, the songs play on several different levels.  They both advance the story and they give us insight into the character.  Walter, as a character from the moment we met him, has a deep connection to music, as do most.  This was important for John Noble because in his research, the scientist that he found and he respected had complicated and interesting relationships to music literally. He brought us all this literature about Einstein and his relationship to Bach, blah blah blah blah.  So, we’ve always played with this notion of Walter and his record collection and trying to remember things, using music as pneumonics, etc.  So, really the episode on one level is just Walter’s jukebox. There’s contemporary music in there as well because he’s not locked in any time.”

The time had to be right for Fringe to push the boundaries of it’s modern day science fiction into musical territory. After the dramatic conclusion of last week’s show, that time is now.

“The last episode that aired, Peter (Joshua Jackson) learned that he was not from our universe,” Pinkner said. “He learned pretty much the truth about his own identity and origin and confronted Walter about it and turned his back on Walter.  So we have this phenomenal actor in John Noble and this great character and we wanted to explore how that affects Walter before we sort of plunge forward into the end of the season. We came up with a narrative device to really explore Walter’s feelings.  The music really sort of supports the storytelling, and it takes us out of it in a fun way, but the whole thing is sort of a fantastical episode anyway.”

The fantasy realm of this week’s Fringe goes further back in time than the show’s alternate 1986 of last month. It’s a ‘40s style film noir. “Early in the season, we were graced with being on the cover of Entertainment Weekly,” Pinkner said. “They had Olivia and Peter sort of as ‘40s detectives noir look.  We knew we wanted to tell a sort of Princess Bride type story where Walter was relaying a story.  As soon as we saw that cover, we said, ‘Oh, it has to be a detective story,’ because one of the themes of our show is it’s not quite a procedural but Olivia (Anna Torv)’s a detective and in some ways Peter is the person. The show already lends itself to that sort of vibe and so we wanted to leap in wholeheartedly.  We took care in the episode to not make it 100% 40s noir.  There’re a lot of anachronistic things in it, which is sort of the ascetic of the show anyway.  But, it was really fun.  The actors get to play different versions of their characters, which was really fun for them, and it just sort of presented different version of the show, which stands on its own.”

So this episode is a musical. It’s a period piece. What kind of story can make sense of all that? “Noirs traditionally are morality tales and that’s kind of what we’re doing,” Wyman said. “We felt that that was a great way to get across Walter’s mind frame and where his head is at right now with his son missing.  From the point of view that you’re seeing, Walter’s relating this story, there’s a very good reason why it’s noir.  That’s because of his own history and things like that, which you’ll see next week, but that really meets Willy Wonka-esque kind of [material]. It gave us a lot of bandwidth to play it, but the morality was a big part of it because, to us, I think noirs work best when they’re morality tales.”

It gives the actors a brief chance to explore different takes on their characters, but you’ll still recognize Peter and Olivia. “They’re all like representations from Walter’ perspective,” Pinkner said. “I mean, it’s really cool.  At this point, to get people in a really fun way to understand what the emotional points of view are of each character and what a great way to do it is through telling a story.  Our Walter is letting everybody know where his mind’s at.  That’s great.  So, you get to see who the characters are of course, but they’re enhanced a little bit in his mind.  They’re not altogether different. Olivia’s inherently good and Peter is sort of something else in this episode, but he’s something else in the real show.  So we had a chance to examine different facets of their personalities and characters but all within the realm of who they are.”

This sort of complex episode is really the next evolution for Fringe. “All of our episodes, or our best episodes I think, are sort of metaphors or conditions in the world, which is the best of Sci-Fi,” Wyman said. “This episode is sort of a metaphor for a metaphor.  A lot of the storytelling is shorthand or themes that have arisen since the beginning of the show.  If this was the only episode you ever saw, you would understand emotionally where all the characters are enough to enjoy the last four episodes of the season.”

Fringe airs Thursday nights on Fox.

“FRINGE” MUSICAL EPISODE TRAILER

About Fred Topel

Fred Topel has been an entertainment journalist in Los Angeles since 1999, for websites like Daily Radar, About.com, Crave Online and Sci Fi Wire. Follow his celebrity encounters on Twitter @FredTopel.

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4 Comments

  • May 1, 2010 | Permalink |

    This was by far the worst Fringe episode ever.

    I wish I had not watched it and could just watch next week and pretend this never happened.

    Don’t compromise god shows for the sake of one crappy one (Glee). If we want to watch Glee, we’ll watch that. If we don’t, we can choose Fringe.

    I get the cross promotion, but use The Simpsons – their characters can carry it off.

  • May 1, 2010 | Permalink |

    was painful. all i can say. best thing about the show was that it ended.

  • May 1, 2010 | Permalink |

    sorry, i thought the web site line was my subject….

    this episode was a horrible attempt to gain popularity for the show based on the success of Glee. nothing more. All these explanations about it being character development for Walter are nonsense. That was awful. Period.

    Anyone remember any good X-files, Frasier, Star Trek (original, STTNG, DS9, Voyager), Battlestar Gallictica, or Seinfeld episodes that broke into song randomly during the episode? No. Why? Because they had integrity.

    This sort of thing has me questioning the integrity of the writers and producers behind Fringe, but when I was willing to give this sloppily written X-files drama a chance.

  • May 1, 2010 | Permalink |

    I will however, commend them for the bong foley work at the beginning of the episode, and Walter’s speech about his custom strain he named. Only thing worth watching.

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