By Paula Hendrickson
Two shows I really like are both entering what will be their final seasons. NBC’s 30 Rock and Fox’s Fringe both started the new TV season knowing it was the end. (It’s probably wishful thinking, but I haven’t given up hope that another favorite series, NBC’s Community, might somehow earn another renewal before the season is out.)
Knowing a long-running series is about to end allows writers and producers the luxury of tying up loose storylines, something that doesn’t happen with abrupt cancellations.
30 Rock has always attracted top actors, often casting them as recurring characters — Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Edie Falco, Elaine Stritch, Will Arnett, Sherri Shepherd, Jon Hamm, Susan Sarandon, Rip Torn, Elizabeth Banks and James Marsden, to name a few.
So, with the final episode fast approaching, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that after all these years we will finally get to meet Kenneth’s mother and her “special friend,” Ron. The amazing Catherine O’Hara (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) — who also co-starred with 30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin in Beetlejuice — will play Kenneth’s mother, with Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as Ron.
While Cranston is now best known for his dark dramatic work on Breaking Bad, don’t forget that as the bumbling dad, Hank, on Malcolm in the Middle, he would do anything for a laugh. Disco roller skating, for example.
30 Rock is a perfect blend of verbal comedy, physical comedy and visual comedy. They pack so much into each episode that fans have to rewind or watch episodes multiple times to get every joke.
However 30 Rock ends, it will be an entertaining ride. With Fringe, however, the end of the show could be apocalyptic.
When Fringe debuted in 2008, a lot of people considered it little more than a watered-down version of The X-Files. They were wrong. There’s no debating the fact that Fringe owes a debt to The X-Files, but Fringe did something The X-Files never did: it reinvented itself at every turn, constantly expanding the very mythology the series was built on. Instead of stringing fans along with big questions, Fringe answered the questions while bringing up entirely new questions.
What began as a series with characters investigating fringe science quickly evolved into a show consisting of two universes. In the first four seasons, pretty much every actor other than Joshua Jackson played (at least) two slightly different versions of the same character over the course of the show. Once viewers figured out the differences between here and there — the universe where the Statue of Liberty was bronze, dirigibles flew the skies and the twin towers of the World Trade Center still stood in the “Manhatan” (with one “t”) skyline — the bridge between the worlds was permanently collapsed.
As a series, Fringe has grown stronger each season. It both challenges and rewards viewers.
One episode from last season, “Letters of Transit,” took us to 2036 where Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Olivia’s (Anna Torv) daughter, Etta (as yet unborn in the present) was working as a resistance fighter in a world occupied by the Observers. The show’s fifth, and final, season is set in that world, with Peter, Olivia, Walter (John Noble) and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) recently freed from the amber they’d been encased (and preserved) in since 2015 and reunited with Etta (Georgina Haig).
Fringe is incredibly ambitious when it comes to storytelling. If you’re one of the viewers who discounted it as a re-tread of The X-Files, you’ve missed out on a great show. Tune in to the final episodes of Fringe, and you’ll see what can happen when producers control a show’s mythology instead of letting the mythology control the show.
30 Rock airs Thursdays at 7 p.m. on NBC.
Fringe airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on Fox.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to email@example.com.
From the Oct. 10-16, 2012, issue