April 23, 2004

Before B5

The box set of the fifth season of Babylon 5 arrived today -- well, actually, it arrived a week ago and has been sitting at the post office since then, without the postman ever leaving a notice to that effect, but that's another story (another story which I have now told in full) -- and let me tell you, this whole Babylon 5 thing has truly been a test of my patience. But that's sort of always the way with B5.

When B5 was first on the air, a friend of mine essentially grabbed me by the lapels and told me I needed to watch it. I was skeptical. I tuned in to some mid-season episode (god knows which season) and was completely lost within two minutes. I didn't assume this meant the show was lame, just that I had come along in the middle of a storyline and would be better off starting from the beginning. So I waited.

After the 4th season of B5, the company that was syndicating it cancelled it, and TNT picked it up. As a prelude to the fifth season, they ran the previous four seasons all in a row, one every weeknight. I took my opportunity and tuned in.

This involved waiting of a different sort -- waiting until the show got better. The first few episodes of the show were a little undistinguished. I didn't like all the actors, some of the plots seemed like fairly run-of-the-mill SF plots...but I had been assured that the show was something special, so I stuck it out. And holy crap was it worth it.

The luxury of having a five-year storyline mapped out in advance gave the series creator the opportunity to feature things that are very rare in a TV series -- actual character development; plot twists that have solid foreshadowing, instead of coming out of nowhere (for the opposite of this, I refer you to "24").

After B5, a spin-off series, "Crusade", was born (starring Gary Cole, the "yyyyeah" guy from "Office Space"), and promptly scuttled by TNT. So we fans got to wait around again, hoping that the Sci-Fi Network or someone else would pick up that show. No luck. Then there was the waiting around for DVDs of B5 to be released.

And of course, nowadays, what with even freaking What's Happening being released on DVD, it seems like, well, every show ever made is going to get released on DVD eventually, why were you so worried about B5? Well, we had our reasons. First they released the show as individual episodes on VHS, and said it might eventually go to DVD if the video did well. But who wants to buy individual episodes of a show with a frickin' five-year arc? And later there was talk that the DVDs would be released in the UK, and, again, released in the US only if the UK ones did well. Contingencies and more contingencies.

So they finally committed to putting out the DVD sets here...but I didn't want to start watching them right away, because I wanted to be able to watch the whole show straight through, without having to sit on my hands and wait for the next season to come along after a big cliffhanger. So around February I saw that there were only two and a half months before season 5 would arrive, and 88 episodes before we were going to need season 5 -- so we could finally start. And, happily, Rose got equally hooked on the show. (And as it happened, my estimate was overcautious; we ended up falling off our one-episode-per-day average, so we're currently only in the early stages of season 4.)

But does that mean we are done with waiting? Oh heavens no. There's been talk of a new Babylon 5 project that was going to be announced in January...or maybe February...March for sure...actually, mid-May. I will be very pleased indeed if the B5 universe finally gets a chance to have its own Trek-like franchise.

(And if you're feeling like splurging, feel free to give me a massive commission by buying all five seasons of B5 at once.)

Posted by Francis at 02:38 AM