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  1. #1

    TV|Shark 002: Babylon 5

    One thing I'm mindful of with these threads, and it's an easy trap to get drawn into, is them becoming mostly focused on a particular genre when I'd prefer they kept a broad eye across a multitude of show types despite how some shows draw out fans more than others. That being said we find our first stride into live action territory takes us to full on science fiction land with one of the early examples of a planned narrative arc that broke from 'of the week' programming mentality. This week we discuss J.Michael Straczynski's television epic:

    Babylon 5
    Ran: 5 Seasons and 6 TV Movies (1994 till 1998 primarily)
    Episodes: 110 plus 6 TV Movies
    With a pre-planned five year arc the show aimed to tell the tale of mankinds darkest hours from the perspective of the citizens aboard Babylon 5, the fifth and last of the Babylon stations. The show dove in deep on the political, religious and scientific themes of its numerous character arcs and beliefs with several strands also mapping out the future of the storyline via prophesised events that were later delivered on. At the time of the shows launch it was all too common for series to take a week by week approach with little in the way of progression, thus making syndication easier as networks could run any episode in any order but Babylon 5 had a clear roadmap that practically required the viewer to invest in the whole run.

    This proved harder to deliver on than expected however as the show often struggled with the network who looked at its somewhat niche audience and higher production costs (partly due to its investment in CG sequences) with much scrutiny when its network began to shutdown and as a result the show diced with cancellation resulting in alterations being made to the story arc to try and deliver an ending ahead of the rug being pulled. This led to much of the main arc being complete by the end of the fourth season, the fifth season mostly tying up the fates of its characters, plot holes and the ultimate fate of the station.

    Ran: 1 Season (1999)
    Episodes: 13
    Following on from the end of B5, the spinoff show was intended to follow another five year arc built from a remaining plot strand from early on in the main shows lifetime but it was ultimately cancelled before airing due to the network believing the brand no longer sat well with its other output.

    Share your thoughts on Babylon 5!

  2. #2
    I adore Babylon 5 and rewatched it maybe five years ago or so and it held up really well. It looks shoddy in places, the acting in the first season struggles and yet it builds a fantastic story. You've really covered the main issue - not only did the show really wrap up in the fourth season but it was before the end of the fourth season and the conclusion wasn't all that satisfying at the time. That said, I found lots to love even beyond there even when the fifth season had to push harder to get stories to tell.

    The core thing about Babylon 5 for me is the character development. These characters changed and grew throughout its run. They influenced each other and were affected by events and some stories were heartbreaking in how dark characters we loved went. A very strong show.

    The movies varied in quality starting strong but then, like the end of the show, seemed to struggle to find stories to tell. And Crusade was kind of interesting but a mess. If I remember correctly the show changed the order of episodes as it was being produced and that meant that arcs went all over the place. It didn't have the narrative strength of the main show. A bit of a shame as it had a good cast and had potential.

    Overall though, in spite of the weaker times, I think Babylon 5 is a mastercraft in long form television storytelling.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Dogg Thang View Post
    Overall though, in spite of the weaker times, I think Babylon 5 is a mastercraft in long form television storytelling.
    Inb4 someone quotes Spaced.

    I think when people look back at the history of television, anyone who knows anything about this will consider Babylon 5 in the same "landmark" category as Shogun.

    It's a difficult show to recommend these days. @Blobcat and I watched it last year after I'd mentioned it from time-to-time. I watched it in 2006, when it was already 10 years old, but I could see how it would've been a real leap when first on TV. I mean for starters, it was the first American show to be shot in widescreen (it was shot in a manner where the frame was composed so that it could later be cropped, meaning the widescreen version is the definitive version of the show). It was the first sci-fi show to really embrace use of the internet, where the actors and crew would regularly communicate with fans online.

    It is plagued with problems today. Some of them are purely visual; some of the CGI is very ropey (the major problem is that any shot which blends real and CG is very low-resolution for boring complex production reasons). Others relate to its difficult production problems; how they felt it was on the brink of cancellation several times which results in uneven pacing, or how one story arc had to be moved because a fan posted fanfiction which was too close to how the show was going and they had to pivot the plot. Also how some believe Deep Space Nine cribbed off it (as the producers had optioned the show years before), and as a result DS9 crushes it in terms of production quality (just because it had a higher budget). Also the aborted attempts to follow it, with several pilots and Crusade which was just dreadful.

    But when its firing on all cylinders? It offers glimpses of something amazing. Shows like Game of Thrones and practically everything Netflix make owe it a great debt, really, as it proved there was an audience for that kind of long-form entertainment. People fixate on its problems but I'm not certain they give it enough credit for its achievements.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Asura View Post
    Inb4 someone quotes Spaced.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Asura View Post
    It's a difficult show to recommend these days. @Blobcat and I watched it last year after I'd mentioned it from time-to-time. I watched it in 2006, when it was already 10 years old, but I could see how it would've been a real leap when first on TV.
    When I rewatched it a few years ago, my wife had never seen it. For much of the first season she grumbled about how it was just nostalgia and the show was pretty terrible. By the second season, she was campaigning to watch three a night.

  6. #6
    The visuals of the show and how they've aged are easily the biggest hurdle a fresh eyed viewer faces when coming to the show though when I last watched it through (probably sometime around 07/08) the characters still carry it a long way. I think I would still, to this day, struggle to come up with a season of television that is as strong and consistent as B5's third season where it was firing on all cylinders.

    I think the main issue the TV movies failed to live up to the show, or Crusade, is that the five year arc was its own undoing and by the end nothing worth telling was left on the plate. More so, it's almost surprising no attempt has been made by Warners to reboot it given the success of other franchises on TV and theatrically.

    I'd always hoped the spin-off that was Crusade had been of Babylon 4 instead

  7. #7
    I could never get into it.
    Oooh! Aliens! This should be exciting.

    No. It was 60 minutes of that scene in Star Wars Episode II where Jarjar talks to the Senate.

  8. #8
    I always found the fan tease funny.

    Vision of the Future Season 3: Omg! Babylon 5 will be destroyed!

    Tension and drama for two years...

    Season 5: Time to decommission following decades of long service

  9. #9
    I really enjoyed B5 when it was first shown and watched the HD repeats on Watch HD a couple of years back. Seeing it again does highlight deficiencies in the production compared to modern TV but that’s only to be expected.
    What does still stand out though are the overarching plots and the character development. It really is very well constructed overall. The first series isn’t great but once the whole war build up and story arc is properly in motion it is brilliant.
    Shame it kind of lost its way towards the end of series 4. But even the later seasons have some great episodes. I particularly like the Hidden Fortress style episode where the story is told from the viewpoint of the two janitors.
    As is typical with American shows of the era it’s not exactly full of great actors but they all seem to buy into it and try their best. The actors playing G’Kar and Londo basically steal the scene every time they appear but some of the supporting cast prove surprisingly capable too. Especially the chap who plays Vir. Special mention to the chap from Star Trek too who is brilliant in B5.
    And I totally had the hots for the red haired psychic girl when it was first shown....

  10. #10
    1993 they started showing this in the UK? I forget. We used to record it every week and after season 1 my mother got in on it as well and it officially became watchable in my house. I think season 2 is still my favourite for the diverse episodes and Walter Koenig's Bester.

    I actually used B5 as an example of good teaching practice, where each lesson is self-contained but also part of a grander scheme.
    (Then we had to find something more recent as everyone is too young to have seen it, and settled on Supernatural)


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