One mark of the way TV has matured as a storytelling form is that you can now be equally happy to hear that a show you love is getting renewed and that it’s going off the air. As dramas in particular tell more ambitious stories—ones that need to play out over years but that also need to have a definitive ending—it’s often as essential that a show get a definite end date to plan for (see Lost, The Sopranos and now Breaking Bad) as that it not get cancelled prematurely.
So fellow Fringe fans, rejoice: the show is going to die, but it’s getting a final, 13-episode season to do it despite less-than-fantastic ratings, Fox announced yesterday. I haven’t loved season four as much as the previous season—the process of erasing, then re-introducing Peter felt like a detour that cost the show some momentum—but the overarching story is still strong, and last week’s excellent episode flashing forward to the age of the Observers proved that the show can still amaze. (And good Lord, I loved the badass version of Walter we saw there.) You can argue that the show should have gotten more time or that you’ll miss it when it’s gone, but I look forward to what it can produce with a concentrated, cable-length season to wrap up its war of the universes.
And credit where it’s due belongs to Fox here. As I’ve written before, the network has a long history of getting punished by fans for cancelling adventurous, risky shows without getting credit for picking them up when no other broadcast network would have in the first place. Yes, Fox made a hash of Firefly, say, but Arrested Development got a longer run than I would have expected, and at some point even the most passionate fan should recognize that it’s not a matter of “But they scheduled it the wrong night” or “They just need to promote it more.”
Fringe could have tried to extend its life by becoming a broader, sci-fi anthology show and ditching the involved long-term story, which requires an investment that only a certain number of fans are going to be willing to make. Instead, somewhere toward the end of its first season, it became the weird, swing-for-the-fences show it needed to be, and good on Fox for letting it go out that way.