December 1, 2011

Babble On, part 1.

Of all the science fiction television that graced our screens in the 1990s, one of the most popular was easily J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5. Even at a glance it's not difficult to see why: it was a grand space opera featuring alien civilizations, intergalactic war, space combat and so on, but it also featured a pre-planned five-year story arc. I think it was Straczynski himself who described the series' aim as "a novel for television". Spaceships, story arcs, constant little Easter eggs that only science fiction aficionados or dedicated viewers would notice - Babylon 5 remains to my mind the most strategically directed show for hardcore science fiction fans ever produced.

And I hated the thing. Other science fiction fans around me loved it to bits, and I just couldn't see the appeal. Years of being treated like something of a nerd pariah (I'm being serious - getting told to your face "well it must be because you've got no taste" isn't very nice) led me to exaggerate my opinions to a ridiculous degree. I went from not really engaging with the series to disliking the series to actively trying to tear it to pieces whenever it came up in conversation. There was also the problem that the five year arc, as it played out on screen, is in my opinion a staggering disappointment. Actually it's more than that. It honestly felt like a slap in the face to any viewer dedicated enough to watch through the first 3 1/2 years of the show.

Recent events dropped a copy of Babylon 5's pilot and first season into my lap, and this led me to thinking: is the series really as bad as I remembered it? After all, I've only seen each episode once. I saw some of them more than 15 years ago. I had never rewatched them, knowing what was coming in the story, and able to recognise any foreshadowing or clever worldbuilding that might be hidden in the series.

Everything deserves a second chance, so over the next few months I'm going to start reviewing Babylon 5 right here. I'm trying my best to watch it with an open mind. I'm watching it with a particular eye to point out what's good, and what doesn't work. I don't intend to be brutal, but I do intend to be brutally fair - and that works both ways. If I like something, despite my preconceived opinions of the series as a whole, I'm damn well going to credit it.


  1. I've been meaning to gibe B5 another shot, so I might take this opportunity to do it in tandem with you.

    I've seen a good chunk of it, but never the whole lot. At it's best it was interesting and intelligent, but it suffered from a sense of pompousness, and some goddamn terrible dialogue. If you're more interested in character than concept, B5 may not be for you - "taste" does have something to do with it, but it's subjective, personal taste, not some failing of cultural literacy. I do find it amusing when genre fans who - I'm generalizing, of course - restrict their media diets to things that mostly fall into a very limited, predefined range start trying to act as arbiters of taste, though. Under-fucking-qualified, I feel...

  2. One thing I've already noticed (I'm up to episode 2) is that when he puts his mind to it, Straczynski knocks it out of the park with monologues. There are two in the pilot that are absolutely stunning bits of writing.


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