Friday, January 15, 2010

On the Fringe of Mirroring The X-Files

Fringe on FOX is midway through a solid second season. I don't think we've seen the growth in the overall story arc that I would have liked to have seen by this point in season two, but it still remains one of the best shows on TV. Last night's episode about deformed people in a small NY town that could magically change appearance was very good. As in most episodes, the three leads Olivia, Peter and Walter (played by Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and John Noble respectively) carry the story and work very well together as a team.

My biggest criticism of the show right now is that it is becoming more and more like a carbon copy of The X-Files. Now this doesn't bother me too much because The X-Files is my favorite TV show of all-time and why not get more of a good thing? My problem is that I thought Fringe had the potential to be BETTER than The X-Files. The whole ongoing plot involving alternate dimensions, the Observers and Massive Dynamic is what makes this show unique and compelling. Last night I kept feeling that I was watching Mulder and Scully investigate a strange town as they've done several times before on The X-Files. I feel that we've had too many recent standalone episodes that feel too much like the spooky mystery-of-the-week episodes that The X-Files patented.

These standalone eps are well done and entertaining, but I find myself wanting to know more about Nina Myers, William Bell and the overall conspiracy surrounding the earlier works of Walter Bishop. I'm hoping that the writers have been taking it easy over the holidays and are just giving us a break from the meat and potatoes of Fringe. I would love to see season three contain less standalone episodes and focus more on the overall story arc. What makes Lost such a good show is that we don't really see any standalone episodes. Each episodes furthers the global plot and presents answers (sometimes) and questions that the audience craves.

I am so intrigued by the main themes of Fringe that the small episodes that take tangents like last night seem to take away a bit from the overall enjoyment of the show for me. Fringe started off so well this season with Olivia waking from her coma and we had a recent revealing Observer-centric episode. These gems are too few and far between that I'm concerned J.J. Abrams' sci-fi masterpiece will never amount to more than an X-Files clone. Hopefully once Abrams wrings his hands clean of Lost after this final season, he can concentrate more on steering Fringe to a new level that realizes the full potential of the show.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Geographical Taste in Movies

I came across a very cool Flash application last week that was developed by the New York Times. The app displays Netflix rental data on a heat map to show regional preferences in movie rentals from 2009 data. My first reaction was: Wait, the NY Times is actually developing innovative rich internet applications? Once I took time to mess around with the settings I became impressed with the level of effort put forth by a newspaper website.

You can browse 10 different regions across the country and highlight different zip codes to see what the top movie rentals are in a specific zone. What immediately becomes apparent when looking at the DC map is the regional split in movie taste based on the breakdown of race in the Metro area. While popular movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were rented frequently across the entire area, other movies like Obsessed (with Beyonce) and the Tyler Perry family of movies that target more of an African American audience show rental surges in Prince Georges County and areas of southeast DC. These movies show nearly no rental usage in Northern Virginia or Montgomery County. Alternatively, The Reader (a so-so Oscar nominated film from 2008 with Kate Winslet) was rented primarily in Northern Virginia and the northwest suburbs of Maryland but not in PG County. It's interesting to see how rental preferences can differ greatly in such a small regional sample.

This is a good example of clever developers putting publicly available API feeds to good use. It would be nice to see Netflix adopt this type of geographic rental representation on their own site. Go ahead and play around with the Netflix map yourself at the NY Times site.