B a b y l o n 5
You may have heard a little about this show recently, but if you haven't seen it, you're missing out on the best hour television has to offer. This part of my web page is not designed to be a fan page for Babylon 5, but rather is here simply to help explain a little about the show for those of you out there who have never seen it. Perhaps you might decide to tune in one day and take a look. If you do, you'll be hooked just as I was. I guarantee it.
Bablyon 5 is the first show of its kind done on American TV that is structured more like a book than a TV series. Unlike most TV shows (that continue on forever until the ratings falter), Babylon 5 was written to run for a set length of time -- 5 seasons (chapters), with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. The show recently finished its run with the airing of the final episode in November, 1998. Because of this multi-year story arc, it is unlike any show you've seen before. Foreshadowing (no pun intended :> ) of events to come start from the very first episode, and while there ARE stand-alone episodes, each one is still linked with the others. Helping keep up the quality of the show is the fact that one author has written almost all of the show's episodes. J. Michael Straczynski, the show's creator and executive producer, has written virtually every single episode since the end of the 2nd season, and the vast majority of earlier episodes as well. Before this, there has never been a TV show where one person wrote all episodes in any given season, but for Babylon 5, Straczynski wound up writing over 90 of the 110 total episodes, as well as authoring the four made-for-TV Babylon 5 movies. That's quite a feat, and one that does indeed make watching Babylon 5 like reading a book. Straczynski has also been quite active on the internet, taking time out to answer qustions and give a behind-the-scenes account of filming. This kind of two-way interaction has made Babylon 5 even more enjoyable to watch, and the show has won two Hugo Awards for science fiction. Besides the unique 5 year story arc, what sets Babylon 5 apart from other television dramas is that the show NEVER takes the easy way out. If you watch an episode of Star Trek, you know that no matter what happens, by the time the hour is up, everything will somehow be OK in the end (usually by way of trying yet another new, 'never-before-tested' theory), and you can bet your last dollar that all the main characters will be back again the following week to once more save the world within 60 minutes. Not on Babylon 5. Written as a good book, characters -- including the main ones, don't always survive -- and the world does NOT always get saved. Each cliffhanger on Babylon 5 is a real cliffhanger, because the viewer honestly does not know what the outcome will be. The show is never dumbed-down, and often, everything from Greek mythology to Shakespeare find their way into the story. The general premise of Babylon 5 is the story of a great war, but unlike other movies or mini-series about war, (which always seem to end with the conclusion of the war), Babylon 5 takes a different approach: that what happens AFTER a war has ended is often just as important (if not more so) than the war itself. So, the 5 year story arc of Babylon 5 contains the preambles to war, the war itself, and the aftermath and consequences of the war. Everything about this show is first-rate. The actors are fantastic, and not one actor is weak. Some episodes feature scenes that run for well over two minutes without a cut. Many of the show's veteran directors have since had their work noticed, and have been directing other TV shows recently. The effects each week are stunning as well -- done entirely on computers (all CGI, no models). Finally, each episode is immaculately studied for accuracy, and is presented in a very scientific, accurate way. It's no coincidence that Babylon 5 has become a staple of TV viewing over at NASA. Probably what's most amazing about Babylon 5, is that a person like myself -- one who generally dislikes the sci-fi genre -- can become so totally hooked on the show. The reason, I believe, doesn't lie with the TYPE of show it is, but rather in how GOOD it is. I've always believed that there's nothing quite like a great story, told well, and Babylon 5 certainly fits that description. Today, I can no longer stand to watch an episode of Star Trek (or most other TV shows). They all pale by comparison. Once one sees the standard Babylon 5 has set, it really is quite hard to tolerate anything else, and it becomes painfully obvious how bland, formulaic, and mediocre most television really is.
Hooked so far? Not so fast. Here's the problem. Unlike most TV shows, Babylon 5 really needs to be seen in order. You wouldn't read a novel out of order, would you? The problem is trying to catch the episodes at the beginning. In the USA, Babylon 5 currently airs on the cable channel SciFi (and on many other stations in countries around the world). Below, you will find a link to a web site called the "Lurker's Guide". This site lists all the episodes in order, along with their air-dates on SciFi. Use it to decide when to start watching. One last note about watching the show: if you start at the beginning, and are somewhat less-than-enthusiastic about the early episodes, don't worry. I never cared for most of the early episodes either -- but you need to watch them in order to understand the background of all the later episodes to follow -- and these later episodes (starting towards the end of the 2nd season) will blow you away. As a final tribute to how good this show is, after years of refusing to subscribe to cable (living where I do, off-air reception is just fine), I immediately got cable in order to watch, and tape these episodes off TNT (where it originally finished its run). Now that the show has finished its initial run, the cable is gone, but it was worth every cent of the bill. Finally, for those of you interested, Babylon 5 has been released on VHS (through Columbia House) and on LaserDisc (through Image Entertainment), thnough I don't know the current state of these releases. DVD releases have been announced as well (visit the Lurker's Guide page, link below). NOTE: SciFi is showing the show in a letterbox format (the way it was originally filmed, though up until this point, it was never shown letterboxed in the US).
Babylon 5 LinksThe best place to start is at a site called the Lurker's Guide. This has to be the most comprehensive page on B5, and has everything from schedules, to episode information, to comments by Straczynski on the various episodes. You also might want to check out The SciFi Channel's Webpage. Babylon 5 currently airs on TNT. Click here to return to the main page.