Saturday, September 13, 2014

Babylon 5, The Complete First Season: Signs and Portents (live action TV series)

Babylon 5 is one of my all-time favorite live action sci-fi TV series. I wasn't a fan from the very beginning – I think I got hooked around season 3, and then watched reruns to get up to speed. Sadly, this was probably the best way to go. It took a while for this series to really get going, and this first season is not the best.

Season 1 was at least an improvement upon the pilot movie, Babylon 5: The Gathering. The makeup and prosthetics looked better, and J. Michael Straczynski didn't feel he had to cram quite as much info in all at once. The characters had more room to breathe, and they were one of the big things that kept me watching. G'Kar's behavior didn't make me cringe quite so much, Delenn was vastly improved, and Susan Ivanova was a nice addition. I enjoyed seeing Ivanova gradually thaw and become more comfortable on B5. Many of the characters played really well off each other. While I didn't always care for Garibaldi on his own, he was great when paired with Sinclair or Londo.

One of the strengths of this series as a whole is its “5-year arc” structure. Unfortunately, in this first season it wasn't always apparent what would be more important later on and what might get dropped. As someone who has seen the whole series, I enjoyed noticing how JMS was already laying the groundwork for various big events, some of which happened several seasons later. I had forgotten, for example, that Londo became involved with the Shadows in Season 1, and that there were so many early signs of Earth's growing xenophobia and shift in politics.

As a newbie to the show, though, I don't think I'd have known what to watch out for. Was that soul hunter in episode 2 important? What about the gift Talia was given by an old friend? Did the fighting on Mars even matter in the long-term, or was it like the raiders, thrown in to cause a little conflict and then forgotten later on? There was no way to tell – you just had to keep watching.

A lot of the longer running story threads didn't become really apparent until the last few episodes of the season. Unfortunately, to get to that point, viewers had to make it through too many “alien or alien thing of the week” episodes. There were some very good moments, but there were also a lot of really rough episodes. I wasn't a fan of many of the first few episodes for this reason, and I despised the episode in which Dr. Franklin ignored the wishes of alien parents and operated on their son – he became one of my least favorite characters of the season because of it.

All in all, while I love the series as a whole, this is probably my least favorite season, and I hate that this is where newbies are mostly likely to start the series. I can at least say that the last episode was great. Those who can make it that far will likely want to continue, just to see what happens to the characters next.

Extras:

Two episode commentaries by J. Michael Straczynski, a “Making of Babylon 5” documentary, a “Back to Babylon 5” newer documentary, and “The Universe of Babylon 5.”

JMS's commentaries were interesting, but more recommended for those who've seen the whole series. There were spoilers for things that happen in later seasons. Also, newbies might be less patient with JMS's tendency to mention that B5 was a groundbreaking series every couple minutes or so. He did briefly bring up Star Trek, mostly to say that he would prefer B5 not be compared to it and that its existence was one of the biggest obstacles in the way of getting B5 made. TV execs seemed to think that there could be only one sci-fi show, and the various Star Trek series were it.

The documentaries were nice, but, again, not necessarily recommended for newbies to the show. “The Making of Babylon 5” sounded like it was filmed during or after season 1, so it was fine, but “Back to Babylon 5” had some spoilers. I liked watching both of them, because it was nice to hear about the show from someone other than JMS. Also, it was kind of cool seeing some of the actors without their make-up and prosthetics – it was a shock to see Julie Caitlin Brown and realize she played Na'Toth.

“The Universe of Babylon 5” included information about characters, technology, the station, and more. Again, there were a few things I'd consider to be spoilers, but at least it limited itself to characters appearing in this first season.

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