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Old November 16 2009, 11:25 PM   #1
Kegg
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So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

FX(UK), which generally has a good handle on TV shows (Dexter, The Wire) and sometimes sci-fi shows in particular (the unlamented, unremembered, but honestly rather good Charlie Jade), is actually airing Babylon 5.

I've never seen the series on TV before, ever, so I figured I'd knuckle down and take this opportunity, especially since I had a mind to rewatch it. If there's anyone else out there following the series on FX(UK), or who want to follow along through your DVDs or whatever, knock yourselves out. I'll avoid spoilers for anything prior to whatever episode we're at.

Anyway, we've just got up to "Parliament of Dreams", which has slightly restored my rather flagging hopes. In retrospect and with the long sight of years... Babylon 5 begins rather abysmally, it feels like a cheap, inept Star Trek knockoff drowning itself in kitschy sets and intrusive synth (which sadly also underscores the otherwise fine conclusion of this episode). While not absolutely terrible, this has been far, far from good to date and B5 does not seem to have aged that well to me.

And then we reached "Parliament of Dreams", which, well... I always rather liked Sinclair's relationship with Sakai. It's some of the best bits of character writing the series has had so far. It also kept the material fairly grounded with some nice bits regarding the main character aliens, which were invariably B5's strength - introducing Lennier and toying around with some Delenn and G'Kar scenes (Delenn never looks better than she did this season) was nice, even if the G'Kar plot itself was more than a little preposterously weak.

And I can only still smirk ruefully at the show's need to replace characters. I'm six episodes in, and we've had to replace Sinclair's love interest, the first officer, the doctor, the telepath, and G'Kar's aide. I know that's not the last of it, either. JMS does a game job trying to work that into the plot but it still feels a trifle forced.

Eh. I remember really digging the show by "Believers" when I first saw it many, many years ago, let's see if it still holds true now.

Oh well. Just call it sour grapes if you like coming off a Farscape-Battlestar Galactica high, both of which were much better at the outset and never look as cheap as B5 does on a routine basis.

More obnoxious rants anon?
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Old November 16 2009, 11:27 PM   #2
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

The first few episodes are on the weak side, no question.
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Old November 16 2009, 11:34 PM   #3
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

Also I'd forgotten how irritating B5's attitude to exposition is. There are far too many scenes of:

Character 1: Hey, you know that thing both you and I know about? Give me a moment to explain it to you.
Character 2: Gee, that's interesting! How about I explain this bit also?

I'm thinking chiefly of Talia Winters and Susan Ivanova in "Midnight on the Firing Line" here, where Ivanova actually goes to the trouble of reminding and spelling out to Winters what the three options for any telepath are. This could not be breaking the fourth wall more if she turned to the camera and said 'Got that, viewers?'

Though really it brought back nostalgic memories of ranting to B5 fans that Sinclair telling Lyta Alexander about the previous four Babylon stations was preposterous on so many levels. Fond, fond memories those are for some reason.
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Old November 16 2009, 11:39 PM   #4
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

If you're looking for solid production values, Babylon 5 won't have those until the third or fourth season. It doesn't help that the visual effects are cropped to match the widescreen image of the rest of the footage on the DVDs. May I ask, how is the series being presented by FX? Is it in the original 4:3, or is it the widescreen versions that appear on DVD?

The departure of Sinclair's love interest doesn't annoy me as much as, say, the swapping of telepaths. Sakai doesn't feel like a cog in the machine of JMS' master plan. On the other hand, the departure of Dr. Kyle is never made satisfying. JMS does some hand-waving to incorporate it into the plot later in the season, implying he was forced out by either the Vorlons or EarthDome, but that thread doesn't come to anything. As far as the First Officers go, I could take either. Takashima's history on Mars will never come to anything, but neither will Ivanova's secret revealed in "Eyes." Neither are particularly impressive actresses on Babylon 5.

The problems with exposition are partially JMS'. They're also linked to a styalistic choice not to have "previously on" montages, which means any pertinent information must be said by the characters instead (or provided by the black and white flashbacks, which I'm not a fan of).
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Old November 16 2009, 11:47 PM   #5
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

Harvey wrote: View Post
May I ask, how is the series being presented by FX? Is it in the original 4:3, or is it the widescreen versions that appear on DVD?
Widescreen.

The departure of Sinclair's love interest doesn't annoy me as much as, say, the swapping of telepaths. Sakai doesn't feel like a cog in the machine of JMS' master plan.
I'd actually say it's an improvement. The backstory JMS gave for Sakai and Sinclair's troubled relationship in "Dreams" is better than anything he had for Caroline.
On the other hand, the departure of Dr. Kyle is never made satisfying.
I forgive them because we get Briggs, who's likeable even through B-movie dreck like "Infection". I think he was the best acted and most interesting of the show's human characters.

The problems with exposition are partially JMS'. They're also linked to a styalistic choice not to have "previously on" montages, which means any pertinent information must be said by the characters instead (or provided by the black and white flashbacks, which I'm not a fan of).
Very true, but this is exposition about the world the characters are in rather than a 'previously on' tag. It's glaring because characters are either explaining things to each other they both clearly know (like Ivanova and Winters) or they should know (I'm sorry, but the destruction of four space stations built by Earth to be the next Geneva would be the sort of widely known stuff a fellow human like Lyta Alexander would know about).

It's universe building by having characters state what is to them obvious just to clue us in, and I was never keen on that. JMS's theatrical tendency for people to speak in monologues and so on is something I'm pretty fine with, though, which is a taste judgement I'll concede.
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Old November 16 2009, 11:52 PM   #6
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

It would have helped if JMS had written a viewpoint character, the Kyle Secor on Homicide: Life on the Street kind of guy who is no dope, but needs to explained certain information. But there's really no character on the series who fits into that role very well (and the speech, er, conversation between Sinclair and Lyta is one of the worst handlings of exposition on the series, no doubt about it).
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Old November 17 2009, 12:34 AM   #7
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

Yuck. Putting Farscape and BSg in the same category is a huge insult. Those shows have absolutely nothing in common...
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Old November 17 2009, 12:42 AM   #8
Kegg
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

Trubinator wrote: View Post
Yuck. Putting Farscape and BSg in the same category is a huge insult. Those shows have absolutely nothing in common...
Except for the following:

1. Good production values, acting and quality from the outset, to an extent B5 currently lacked.
2. I marathoned them fairly recently.

That's really the context I brought them up.
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Old November 17 2009, 09:42 PM   #9
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

Kegg wrote: View Post
Oh well. Just call it sour grapes if you like coming off a Farscape-Battlestar Galactica high, both of which were much better at the outset and never look as cheap as B5 does on a routine basis.
Not a fan of the new BSG but I did watch every episode of Farscape and liked that show a lot. Still love Babylon 5 and think it did a better job overall.

Harvey wrote: View Post
Takashima's history on Mars will never come to anything
Kind of hard for a character that appeared in a grand total of ONE episode to have her background become important to the plot.

Kegg wrote: View Post
It's glaring because characters are either explaining things to each other they both clearly know (like Ivanova and Winters)
Talia didn't know about the choices because she was raised by Psi Corps, which was stated in that same dialogue.
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Old November 17 2009, 10:14 PM   #10
Kegg
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

JoeD80 wrote: View Post
Not a fan of the new BSG but I did watch every episode of Farscape and liked that show a lot. Still love Babylon 5 and think it did a better job overall.
But B5 doesn't begin anywhere near as good as either show... it doesn't even begin as anything really any good, to be glib. That was my point rather than broad Bab5-BSG-Farscape comparisons (of which 'Scape naturally would be victorious, woooo).

Ahem. Of the three, Battlestar Galactica however starts by far the strongest, but I'd like Farscape better overall not because it's inherently a better show, it's just a more varied series (BSG is mostly tonally the same, and its token foray into farce was very awkward).

Maybe when I've finished B5 we'll revisit these rankings. When I last saw B5, there was not a nuBSG to measure it against.

Kegg wrote: View Post
It's glaring because characters are either explaining things to each other they both clearly know (like Ivanova and Winters)
Talia didn't know about the choices because she was raised by Psi Corps, which was stated in that same dialogue.
No, actually she replied rather glibly with 'That's the rule.' Which suggests she'd know.

If we're meant to think she didn't know, then it's of the same category as Lyta Alexander and the previous four stations: It makes absolutely no sense that she doesn't know that. Living and breathing the Psi Corps and going to the Academy would mean that the existence of these choices would be something she most definitely would be intimately familiar with, even if she hadn't seen them herself.

Anyhoo, "Mind War". The best part of this episode is of course, G'Kar's speech at the end, to which end the entire B-plot is basically building to (typical JMS, the climax to simmering anticipation is a monologue), but of course has little to do with the A-plot, which is the typical Ungodly Scientists Tinker In Things Man Was Not Meant To Know thing.

The other bits here are the murmurings about the Psi Corps arc, Talia's speech about telepaths making love, and, of course, Walter Koening.

Even so, the music, blech. Nothing now seems as ill-advised as the brassy synth. I don't remember if this gets better or not, but there is at least a stab at subtelty in this episode.
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Old November 17 2009, 10:28 PM   #11
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

Franke's music continues to rely heavily on synth, but his overall sound changes a bit beginning with the second season.

I rather like Mind War, although that's probably because of Koenig's Bester, one of the best recurring characters in the series. Oh, what am I saying. He's the best recurring character on the series. And better than some of the regulars (need I say Keffer?).
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Old November 17 2009, 10:40 PM   #12
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

Harvey wrote: View Post
Franke's music continues to rely heavily on synth, but his overall sound changes a bit beginning with the second season.
That's good to know. I do remember liking some of Franke's synth - the screeching bombast that begins the third season intro, for example. But again, it's been an awful long while.

I rather like Mind War, although that's probably because of Koenig's Bester, one of the best recurring characters in the series. Oh, what am I saying. He's the best recurring character on the series. And better than some of the regulars (need I say Keffer?).
Keffer counts? Hm. I didn't dislike Keffer, but then I never really thought of him at all.

Ironically (and quite unlike a certain rival) I didn't think B5 had a great many excellent recurring characters. But yeah, Bester was the Garak of B5's recurring ensemble.

However, yes, I also like Mind War somewhat for the reasons I've given.
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Old November 17 2009, 10:43 PM   #13
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

Kegg wrote: View Post
JoeD80 wrote:
Talia didn't know about the choices because she was raised by Psi Corps, which was stated in that same dialogue.
No, actually she replied rather glibly with 'That's the rule.' Which suggests she'd know.
You're right I remembered that conversation slightly wrong. But Talia didn't state that until after Ivanova told her. Ivanova asks Talia if she was raised by the Corps and when she said "yes" Ivanova goes into the rules because Talia never had to make the choice; and then Talia says "that's the law."

Kegg wrote: View Post
Even so, the music, blech. Nothing now seems as ill-advised as the brassy synth. I don't remember if this gets better or not, but there is at least a stab at subtelty in this episode.
The music gets a lot better farily quickly IMO. I like a lot of the season 2 stuff and in season 3 I think the music hits a good stride.
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Old November 17 2009, 10:49 PM   #14
Harvey
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

Zack Allen was recurring before he was a regular, so you might throw him in. I bet he had more appearances as a recurring character than Keffer did as a regular, but Keffer was studio-mandated, so it's pretty apparent why JMS was so reluctant to do anything with him.

Draal was fun, but not in many episodes (first due to problems with the make-up, and then when they recast, scheduling difficulties). Zathras is one-note, but that one note is fun (but he's only in four episodes). Brother Theo added an interesting character to the station in season three (he has three appearances), but he was never seen outside of that season.

William Forward was pretty good as Lord Refa in six episodes.
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Old November 17 2009, 10:53 PM   #15
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Re: So, Babylon 5 on FX (UK), why not?

Ah yes. I really liked Lord Refa in particular, but that may be for the role he plays. I wouldn't have counted Zack because of his future regular role, but even still I'm probably more partial to Bester.
JoeD80 wrote: View Post
You're right I remembered that conversation slightly wrong. But Talia didn't state that until after Ivanova told her. Ivanova asks Talia if she was raised by the Corps and when she said "yes" Ivanova goes into the rules
But Ivanova has no reason to assume Talia wouldn't know something that obvious. A converation would more go along the lines of 'You know the rules? Well she had to take the drugs', it'd organically skip over that bit of exposition. So it feels out of place.

In fairness, so too does G'Kar's earlier speech, the Things Are Not What They Seem one. Because a ship's captain trying to close a deal and who's just passed by on business really desperately needs to know that the Minbari and Centauri ambassadors have layers to them. But I give it a pass because I rather like it, while the exposition I've referred to here just feels painful and stitled.
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