So if I am going to officially blog about a show instead of just musing about it in a blog, it might as well be one that went off the air a decade ago–that way, I have few competitors and no pressure to perform. The mere novelty of someone writing about it ought to be bring praise, in a keeping-the-dream-alive sort of way.
So it was the dawn of the third age of high-speed Internet access, and I learn about Hulu.com from a helpful online friend at Northern Attack and my idle time hasn’t been the same since. I’d always sort of been aware of Babylon 5 when it was on TV, but I never heard about anyone watching it. If it was on when I was in college, well, we had no cable connections and relied entirely on the Pacific Ocean to be our antenna. It got past me. And then some people at the Skeptic’s Guide forum were comparing the best sci-fi television series ever, and this one came up. Considering that the first two seasons were available for free, online, at a site endorsed by the production company and network (as opposed to in the murky gray areas at the edges of cyberspace with Chinese subtitles), and that there was a writers’ strike, I started watching it.
Now, Febo at SGU suggested that one start with season two, watch seasons three and four, go back to season one, and then watch everything in order through season five. It was probably a good idea that I didn’t follow. Season One was very, well, silly. First of all, it looked strange. I don’t want to say that it looked cheap, because it didn’t, but it looked like Ugly Betty in space. That’s a very hard thing to watch, unless it is a program that is explicitly spoofing the colorful world of high fashion and magazine publishing. Don’t get me wrong–I love Ugly Betty! But aliens in gold brocade walking through purple-lit hallways is hard to stomach. But like the Borg, I adapted–I mean, Danielle Rousseau is in it! I love Rousseau on Lost and had already vowed to watch her in anything. Plus I’d looked her up online once and read all these amazing and horrific things about what had happened to her for speaking out against genocide, and she became immediately twice as interesting.
I focused next on how badly everyone acted, as a skill, not a behavior. The actors playing humans, anyway. The aliens were taking their roles quite seriously and doing a rather fantastic job. Probably not a coincidence is the fact that they are all European. I started to get the impression that the European alien actors felt extremely privileged to be a part of this ensemble on a show that had a lot of money and prime time timeslots in the United States, and that the European director could recruit excellence. In contrast, the Americans human actors are terrible, as if they floundered about getting people to commit to a Star Trek knock-off and could only find stand-ins and extras. The thing is, these actors are professionals with resumes, who probably are good at acting, but they are being told not to, or no one is paying attention, or they feel silly addressing aliens with such silly accessories. (Londo’s hair? Come on!)
And then there’s Winnie Cooper with no hair at all:
I was still intrigued, though, by the fact that the director of the show, J. Michael Straczynski, had intended the show to be a novel on TV and had been given permission to develop a five-season story arc. I love TV these days, with the long stories and the complicated plots. Perhaps Babylon 5 wasn’t the first to have a fixed end date, but I don’t remember watching anything like it at all. 24 was the first show I noticed to be crafted in the long-term, and I was hooked season one! So to discover something with this device so much older makes me feel a little bit like a media archaeologist, without actually knowing anything about the history of television or the craft of producing a show.
It was about 75 percent of the way through season one that I figured out exactly what made the show so strange. It felt like watching a stage show, and the actors were interacting with each other as if they were on stage. Either I’m used to it now, or everyone has fallen into their roles, or else they know enough about future story arcs to know how to act them out, but it’s less uncomfortable to watch. I’m definitely going to watch all the episodes.
Still, even with careful planning, there’s some sloppy details. I forgot for long periods of time that Sinclair had a deep love romance with Catherine, Planetary Surveyor Extraordinaire. I forgot she’d become a millionaire. In fact, I had so forgotten about her that I was starting to see Sinclair have a thing for Ivanova, who wears way too much eyeliner in every single episode. I think it’s funny that Garibaldi can tease/threaten Ivanova about the coffee plants she’s growing on the basis of scarcity of space and luxury vegetables, yet the space station has a hedge maze.
Then again, I love G’Kar and his assistant, Na’Toth. I love Londo and Garibaldi’s scenes together, and I was very moved (in a manipulative, sentimental, totally constructed TV way) by the episode where the parents reject a surgical procedure that will save their boy’s life, and kill him after the boy undergoes it anyway. I am finding the mysteries sufficiently intriguing, and I am enjoying making predictions about what plot elements will reappear. For example:
- Will Londo be reunited with his beautiful little Dancing Girl?
- What is the hole in Sinclair’s head?
- What’s up with that planet that requires a person to inhabit its core?
- What’s the prophecy the Mbari are so concerned with?
- What’s behind the mask of that one ambassador whose name I forget?
- How could they build one of these space stations in ten years, much less five?
- And some other stuff I can’t remember right now.
I recently watched all of Firefly on Hulu, and was smitten with that program, so it is another benefit that Garibaldi reminds me in many (superficial) ways of Jayne.
The cameos have been pretty funny, too, like Danica McKellar (pictured above), Walter Koenig, and that guy that plays E.B. Farnum on Deadwood. And for all that science and technology have come along quite a bit since 1994, I haven’t noticed any particularly outrageous oversights or glaring assumptions-that-have-been-proven-impossible.
Without really thinking about it I knew that Delenn wasn’t going to spend too much time in a cocoon, but even though I haven’t seen season two yet I have seen images from it. I’m so glad that of all the important physical and metaphysical and prophetic changes that she undergoes while in the Cocoon of Great Significance that one of them includes growing luxurious hair.
So all in all, not a bad twenty-four hours of television watching, especially considering I can drag my laptop throughout the house, including into the bathroom, where I have watched many minutes of programming while taking a shower. But a hedge maze? Really?