Friday, April 14, 2006

Babylon 5

As a geek I am absolutely, positively, embarrassed to admit that I have never watched Babylon 5. Yes, yes, I know, I have probably lost a few of my dedicated readers but then again by admitting that I’ve probably picked up a few. If you were like me you passed this seemingly low-budget space opera by the first time around because it delved just a little too much into geek land. I mean, sure I’ll watch Star Trek: TNG (That’s Star Trek: The Next Generation for the uninitiated.) I am also a huge Star Wars geek but in the early to mid-nineties, if you were like me at all, you were consuming mass quantities of beer and hanging out in cool joints that played only the most ironic alternative music. Nobody I knew was geeking out about Babylon 5. None of the girls I was trying to pick up while whipping my long mane around and brandishing my NIN (again that’s Nine Inch Nails!) t-shirt, were following the adventures of the last outpost of galactic accord.

The first breath I heard of Babylon 5 came from a former employer who was a huge science fiction fan. I mean, she collected Star Wars figures before ebay ever existed! She also had to hide the fact that she was a huge geek. I remember once, her speaking in whispers to a college of ours about the show and how the creator promised a five-year story arc, a virtual novel on television. If you remember the time when Babylon 5 was in its first run the television was owned by king Seinfeld, and rightfully so. The show had innovative comedy. It reinvented the sitcom the way Nirvana reinvented rock and roll. Seinfeld for all its greatness was not a science fiction show even if Jerry did have a fascination with Superman. When I heard that Babylon 5 had a long arc that spanned seasons and was not a reset show like Star Trek but a continuing storyline more like Star Wars, I was intrigued but not enough. I thought, that’s a great thing but it can’t happen.

How could a show have a five-year plan? Star Trek TOS (The Original Season) promised a five-year mission right up front in its prologue and you remember how that worked out. It seemed like a waste of an investment of my time since the show was bound to be cancelled. I mean the closest show on T.V. (Television) at the time with the hint of a story arc was the X-Files and those stand-alone episodes were painful to get through just to get to the ones dealing with the main storyline. I promptly forgot about my brief brush with Babylon 5.

Recently, I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic for the old sci-fi shows and find myself lingering longer in the TV series aisle at Best Buy looking at the economics of paying hundreds of dollars for a series I am only going to watch once. I always pick up the first season of B5 (That’s Babylon 5 for those of us in the know…) and then put it down. I had been a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but I came in around season five or six so I missed a lot. I went back and bought the entire series from start to finish plus the earlier theatrical release staring the girl from Skating With Celebrities. I went out and spent too much money for every season as they came out and promptly caught up on the entire series. I loved every minute of it. Joss Wheaton is a genius. He took the B5 idea of a novel for television one step further. I dare anyone to find one episode that doesn’t advance the arc. I dare you. He crafted a brilliant story and kept me hooked from season to season. It was like the second coming.

My biggest gripe with ST (Star Trek) was that it was episodic. Very rarely did one episode affect the other. Yes, they had hints and some characters did things that came to fruition many episodes later like when Q blasted the Enterprise out to Borg space and then the Borg found them many episodes later. That was cool but it took way too long for that to come together. Personally I’d have preferred an entire season dealing just with the Borg war instead of just a few episodes (which were the pinnacle of that series as far as I’m concerned.)

After rediscovering Buffy and Angel with their overarching storylines, I remembered my old boss and her little series Babylon 5. I remembered on the periphery that the show actually made it to five seasons plus some made-for-TV movies. But there was still the high price per season. I couldn’t justify the cost. First it was Buffy, then Angel, and now B5. But what about Farscape? I never watched that series either. Or what about Stargate? Or the second and third season of 24 that took the continuing story to a whole new level?

Then, G-d invented Netflix and I subscribed.

I had been avoiding Netflix in much the same manner that I had avoided B5. I heard it was not worth the money, the distribution was a problem, etc… But after hearing that Netflix had a superior selection of disks that surpassed Blockbuster, I acquiesced. On their site I found not only B5 but all the other series I had been looking to catch up on, in addition to the films I always wanted to watch or re-watch. It was a virtual goldmine of couch potato goodness. I promptly signed on for the three-at-a-time service. My queue is over 200 strong and I have every episode of B5 lined up, raring to go.

After finishing disk three which is approximately 12 episodes from the first season, I’m hooked. Sure the production is cheap and the acting, overacted and the characters a little cardboard so far, there is a hint of greatness there. The characters are starting to break out with their own dimensions becoming apparent and the conflicts are growing more intense and personal. I realize that the first season had more independent episodes and I hope the special effects get a little better but I am definitely in for the long haul. I even began thinking about rearranging my queue so that I only get B5 disks continually until the last TV movie is delivered.

Then I can move on to Farscape.


The Phoenix said...

I'm in the same boat...I've never watched one episode of Babylon 5, Farscape, and none of the Stargate series either. How do I call myself a sci-fi fan???

I did see the pilot episode of the new Battlestar Galactica, and I've heard critics rave about it. But I haven't picked it up since then.

The one new show I have really enjoyed was 2400. I was hooked from the beginning, and each episode is really a chapter in a very large novel.

I watched the first two episodes of The Dead Zone, but haven't since then. That was a great show with very believable characters.

Also, Doctor Who has recently been brought to the Sci-Fi channel. I used to watch the old series on TV when I was a kid. I've only seen two episodes of the new one, and it pretty good. Talk about nostalgia.

ObilonKenobi said...

I have yet to watch Battlestar Gallactica. I hear great things but it just hasn't fit into my schedule.

CrapholeIsland said...

Hello, fist time visiting! I enjoyed your post, glad you've discovered B5. I hope I don't sound too harsh with what's coming...

"Joss Wheaton is a genius. He took the B5 idea of a novel for television one step further. I dare anyone to find one episode that doesn’t advance the arc. I dare you."

First of all, it's Whedon, not Wheaton. Secondly, for someone who's seen every episode of B5 and Buffy, that's a bit unnerving. I promise you that an average episode of B5 advances the arc more than Buffy, even if it's hard to see at this point (you'll be going "wow, so that's what it meant back in season 1" in the future). I'm at a loss of words with your "one step further" comment. I promise you, it didn't. How can you even say that with your limited exposure to B5?

Buffy's season arcs pretty much end at the end of the season to make room for the next arc. Sure, there's character and plot development between seasons. And of course, that's why they're called season arcs. In B5, though, there's the _5 year arc_. There are (mostly) no "well, that's that" season endings, where everything gets resolved and the big bad is defeated. This is where you'll see that much talked about "a novel for TV" / 5 year arc thing in motion. Like in real life, your problems aren't going to be magically solved because it's the end of the year.

Yes, the effects, the acting, the writing, well, everything really is going to get better. As you're enjoying the beginning of the series, I have no doubt you'll be crazy about the show at the end of the second season.

The new Battlestar Galactica is also great. Something I'd been waiting since the end of B5, a serious sci-fi series that mostly takes place in space, that really makes you think any character could bite the bullet at any time. I love it, though it's still second to B5.

I think the phoenix means The 4400 (not 2400). I wish it had been like he makes it sound. While I did watch the entire first season (and didn't hate it, though surely didn't love it, either), the whole premise is just a flimsy excuse for a "mutant of the week" format, to me at least. Very light sci-fi for the average Joe. Nothing wrong with that, though.

ObilonKenobi said...

Thanks for commenting. I really have to adjust my spell checker to geek level so I don't make the Whedon, not Wheaton mistake. I have just started B5 so yes I may be blown away by the story more than Buffy but I still think that the Buffy series took things from season to season even though each story arc ended pretty much with that season.

I'm glad I picked up a fellow fan. I will keep chekcing in on my B5 progress so you can see how my opinion changes. So far, B5 phemon to me is heresay but I am putting in the time to see where it goes.

I have yet to include BG in my rotation simply because with work, home, kids, wife I have enough time to dedicate to only one thing at a time, unfortunately.

Keep reading!

ObilonKenobi said...

CrapholeIsland, how did you find my site? I am looking to see which promotions work the best. Thanks!

CrapholeIsland said...

Yup, I do agree with Buffy taking things from season to season, I just don't think it did it quite to the extent of B5.

And for clarification, I love Buffy (and Angel) as much as, and perhaps even moreso than B5 these days. I'm not actively watching them now that they've ended and there are other shows to watch.

Though I may have come off as some B5 nut, I haven't watched an episode for at least two years, probably more. These days my top-3 series' are 24, Lost and Battlestar Galactica.

I subscribed to your RSS feed, so I'll be checking your updates and hopefully commenting once in a while. Also hope to hear more from your experiences with B5.

Btw, good luck with Erosion! I hadn't read about it when I posted my previous message.

I found your site while testing out Google Blog Search at I entered "Babylon 5" for no reason, really, and stumbled upon your site. So I guess that's not gonna help much with your promotion research. :)

ObilonKenobi said...

It does help. I know that the google search works and that I need to pay attention to my post titles. if it attracted you it will attract more readers. I will be posting my comments to B5 as I finish each season. So far though B5 has not been showing me an arc I heard about. It's also the first season which I believe everyone says is the one with the least of the story.

As for the other shows, 24 used to be my favorite but I just don't have the time to sit and watch every week. I need to invest in DVR so I don't miss episodes.

The Phoenix said...

Holy crap, 2400? I guess I eliminated the other 2000 abductees.

I love sci-fi, but I also enjoy the less spacey form as well like X-Files, 4400, and Deadzone. I enjoy taking very ordinary, everyday Earth-bound people and suddenly having them thrust into a very extraordinary unbelievable world.

It makes for a great story and more three-dimensional characterization.

ObilonKenobi said...

I think that is the main thrust in any good scifi or even fantasy: Take good, well-rounded character and put her in a crazy situation.