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Babylon 5


Alex W.
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I've just started on season 1, and aside from the awful music on the pilot it's aged really well. (It's still obviously a 1990s show though.) The antagonism between Lando and G'Kar is there right from the start, and little things which will only become important after a few series are already cropping up. I can really appreciate the show properly now I'm not 13. Wonderful. Who's going to join me in the love-in?

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I managed to get as far as mid season 4 last time I watched B5. I only caught the occasional episode when it was on TV.

The effects were mostly crappy but I liked the Vorlon and Shadow ships. Apart from Garibaldi, GKar and Londo I didn't give a shit about the characters and the scripts were pretty bad...

But

I thought as an attempt at something "big" instead of "alien of the week" it was a pretty solid effort - it kept me watching. Oh and the weird music in season one is great. Sounds like something from when they see V'Ger in Star Trek. It's like how an early computer would try to synsethize a guitar.

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I absolutely loved the show up to season 4, where things started to get a bit messy with the "cancellation" and stuff. The scripts weren't up to much, and the effects are really showing their age, but the story was pretty ace.

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I loved this show back in the day, and should really buy the DVDs.

JMS can't write dialogue for shit, and the show was filmed on the cheap, but it had several things going for it:

1. One of the first ever proper story arcs in a long-running TV show. As the plot for the whole 5 years was all pre-planned (with a few changes as the show progressed due to production and casting circumstances), nearly everything made sense, fitted together, and built up perfectly. The story itself, well conceived and epic, transcended the corny dialogue - B5 certainly led where the likes of 24, Lost and Galactica followed, and arguably did it better by knowing where it was going at all times.

2. Innovation in visual FX. At a time when Star Trek was struggling to deliver more than a few new model shots an episode, B5's extensive CGI showed a new way of doing things. Some of the FX sequences were, for the time, incredibly impressive, even more so when you consider the show's budget.

3. The acting. While there were a few cheeseballs in the cast, the likes of Peter Jurassik and Andreas Katsulas could read the phone book and make it sound good. Plus, a number of the characters were really good. From the almost Shakespearian figures of Londo and G'Kar to the oiliness of villains like Morden, the characterisation was excellent.

Shame about Season 5, but there you go.

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And it came at a time when Star Trek was king. Star Trek was the only such show which had a big budget, so other shows were always going to struggle to look as good. And studios didn't really want to risk taking on Trek because they pretty much thought it inevitable that they would have no chance. But B5 managed to be successful.

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I was going to say pretty much the same thing as Eighthours regarding the arc plot and visual effects. While Babylon 5 pioneered both to occasional ridicule - as well as pioneering the creater controlled show - today they're very much de rigeur, especially in genre television shows. Without it we probably wouldn't have the likes of Lost, Heroes, Alias or Buffy, and The X-Files would have been a very different series.

At the time I loved the show to bits and bought the first three seasons on video. Now I'm not sure if I could sit through the whole thing again. I watched some of the major episodes recently, as as good as they were, it's the arc I want to see. Some of the non-arc episodes delivered the kind of moral and emotional punch most science fiction TV series ignore, but too many of the others are the kind of hollow bottle episodes Star Trek Voyager specialises in. There's usually some foreshadowing somewhere in there that'll be picked up on two seasons later, but it's not worth watching through them just for that.

Even with that it's a fantastic show, though. It must have been amazing being a TV writer in the nineties, being consistantly told that everything you write has to be self-contained because the audience doesn't have the intelligence to follow story that unfolds week by week, and then seeing Babylon 5 breaking the rules completely.

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Arguably it's the new arc-driven format of today's hit TV shows that has made Season Boxset DVDs so popular, and changed the face of the way American TV is delivered.

When even shows like Lost are talking about ditching the "2 episodes then 3 week break, then 4 episodes then 5 week break" delivery that makes a TV season run from October till May but totally fucks the buildup of story progression, you know something big is changing in the market.

TV is changing for the better. Audiences have proven that, far from having no attention span, they will avidly watch a show every single week, which with the advent of Tivo, Sky Plus and the like, is now a lot easier to accomplish. Story arcs are here to stay, and I for one am incredibly glad that more shows are going down this route, where the "great big reset button" at the end of each ep is no more.

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When even shows like Lost are talking about ditching the "2 episodes then 3 week break, then 4 episodes then 5 week break" delivery that makes a TV season run from October till May but totally fucks the buildup of story progression, you know something big is changing in the market.

Yes, but what Lost failed to do was say right from the start, "It will go on this long, we know exactly how it ends, and when, and the TV networks will just have to live with that."

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Yes, but what Lost failed to do was say right from the start, "It will go on this long, we know exactly how it ends, and when, and the TV networks will just have to live with that."

Very, ver true.

However at least one of the executive producers has gone on the record in the past fortnight, saying that he wants to know exactly when the show will end so that they can plan out the story arc properly.

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Perplexingly one of the episodes (the last on disk 2 of season 1) goes into squashed 4:3 whenever there's CGI (or a scene with CGI added to it). The production quality's a bit uneven.

I think they did replacement discs for that. It wasn't a problem with the episode originally, just when they were putting the DVDs together.

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Perplexingly one of the episodes (the last on disk 2 of season 1) goes into squashed 4:3 whenever there's CGI (or a scene with CGI added to it). The production quality's a bit uneven.

In one sense JMS thought way ahead, in another he didn't.

The show was shot in widescreen when basically nobody was shooting in widescreen for telly. Original broadcasts were, of course, in 4:3.

However the FX were shot for 4:3, meaning that there were aspect ratio problems when making the widescreen DVDs. Things are made even more perplexing when you consider that any FX shots in the title sequences for each season were redone in 16:9. :(

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TV is changing for the better. Audiences have proven that, far from having no attention span, they will avidly watch a show every single week, which with the advent of Tivo, Sky Plus and the like, is now a lot easier to accomplish. Story arcs are here to stay, and I for one am incredibly glad that more shows are going down this route, where the "great big reset button" at the end of each ep is no more.

Indeed. Except I think that some shows are beginning to fall victim to having the appearance of a story arc that falls apart. The third season of Deadwood, the last half of Galactica S2 and pretty much all of the most recent seasons of the Sopranos and Lost were just kind of random because they just didn't have a central idea that summed up the season.

As for B5, I've been on an epic re-watch of it after 4-5 years since I last saw it, and actually it is quite bad in and of itself. It really broke a lot of ground, including foreshadowing and plot arcs etc, but the writing and acting of most of the cast is pretty bad a lot of the time. I'm just at the end of S4 now, and I have the movies etc to watch too.

So it's more of a milestone show than a timeless classic.

Still, rather have had it happen than not.

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I think SF fans can generally be much more forgiving of things like bad effects and bad writing, simply because to enjoy the genre, you usually have to. The same goes for literary SF – there are vanishingly few SF authors who can do the literary stuff as well as the ideas stuff. It's like looking for a footballer with a PhD. Being good at one discipline normally doesn't leave much time for being good at another.

B5's the same – JMS can do ancient alien races demolishing entire star systems, but he's got no idea how human beings talk to one another. But then neither did Isaac Asimov or Arthur C Clarke, I suppose. Not that JMS is in their league, but he's playing the same sport. Having said that, there are still bits that are so bad as to be unwatchable – that bit where Ivanova has to seal an agreement with an alien species by having sex with them makes me cringe just thinking about it. I couldn’t even watch it at the time, when I'd watch any old sci-fi bollocks.

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I only watched season 1 not so long ago so I jumped straight into season 2. Good move.

Londo laughing : 'Why don't you eliminate the entire Narn homeworld while your at it?'

Mr Morden : 'One thing at time Ambassador - one thing at a time'

Londo, G'kar and Morden could have carried the show on their own. Most of the characters were paper thin in every respect, but those guys were amazing.

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I quite like B5 but don't love it. Each episode, even in the better 3-4 series, is sub-par if I'm being honest with poor acting and a low budget. But the over-arching storyline more than makes up for it. It's weird.

This.

When even shows like Lost are talking about ditching the "2 episodes then 3 week break, then 4 episodes then 5 week break" delivery that makes a TV season run from October till May but totally fucks the buildup of story progression, you know something big is changing in the market.

It's off-topic, I know, but can anyone explain to me why they do that? Surely one 22-week run would be better for the network's scheduling and the audience figures?

What am I missing?

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This.

It's off-topic, I know, but can anyone explain to me why they do that? Surely one 22-week run would be better for the network's scheduling and the audience figures?

What am I missing?

It's the way it's always been done over there. It spreads your show out over a longer time period (typically, the breaks will include repeats of previous episodes) so that you don't have to commission as many expensive programmes, and can keep the audience buzz going for longer, as well as being able to blag more advertising.

And while programmes were completely one-off episodic (with the big "reset button") in nature, it worked perfectly as far as the networks were concerned. They could have a 4 week break in between 2 episodes, and during that break show a load of repeats completely out of production order. But now, with most of the big shows having story arcs, there's more of an audience need for the next new episode to keep up a show's momentum, and showing repeats out of order is pretty jarring and pointless. Hence we're getting the new improved system, where shows are able to build up a head of steam. It may seem obvious to us, but it's a big sea-change over there.

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Gotcha. Thanks for the info!

Now if shows would stop artificially extending the number of series, we'll be all set.

Damn you Lost!!

Back on-topic though, B5 is pretty awesome for the season and overall arcs, and I loved the designs at the time it was first shown, but watching seasons 1-4 again last year made me realise that in general, the writing, acting and direction was pretty ropey. (Notable exceptions have already been mentioned...)

Of course, saying that, my marathon B5 experience (saw seasons 1-4 in about three weeks) was still more engrossing than most of what's on TV now.

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I've got the first season on DVD and I was really enjoying watching the shows and reveling in the resultant wave of nostalgia. Then I got to an episode with a rabbi and a boxer and I can't be bothered sitting through it to watch the rest.

Either I'm incredibly anti-Semitic or I hate bloodsports as the DVDs have been gathering dust for the past six months.

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