Monday, March 7, 2011

'Babylon 5' Season One (1993)

Starring Michael O'Hare, Jerry Doyle and Claudia Christian
Created by J. Michael Straczynski

Babylon 5: The Complete First Season (Repackage)Everyone, of course, knows of my deep love of "Star Trek."  It is my firm belief that the best of the "Star Trek" series is "Deep Space Nine," (though my sentimental favorite is "The Next Generation").  About the same time as DS9, J. Michael Straczynski's "Babylon 5" premiered, a sci-fi series with a rather similar premise.  I'd seen bits and pieces of it here or there and was sort of generally familiar with it, but never sat down to really dig into it.

I kind of wish I hadn't.

Earth-Force Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O'Hare) assumes command of Babylon 5, a new space station constructed in neutral space to house representatives of Earth, the Narn, the Centauri, and the Minbari races... as well as the idiotically named "League of Non-Aligned Worlds."  The station's mission is to allow communication with all of these races in hopes of avoiding further wars.  In the past, the Centauri and the Narn have warred, causing a deep-seeded hatred on both sides.  A decade earlier, Earth was nearly conquered by the Minbari before the Minbari surrendered with no explanation on the eve of victory.

Sinclair commands Babylon 5 along with Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) as executive officer, Chief of Security Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) and Dr. Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs).  The station is also home to Minbari ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan), Narn ambassador G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas), Vorlon ambassador Kosh, and Centauri ambassador Londo Molari (Peter Jurasik).  They will face various threats to the station as well as to galactic peace.  While the Narn and the Centauri are often at each others' throats, Earth and the Minbari struggle with their own internal problems. 

Anti-alien sentiment is rising on Earth, leading to insurgent groups that will attempt to sabotage human-alien relations at home, on Mars, and on Babylon 5.  The Minbari, meanwhile, are struggling with prophecies that seem to be coming true, warning them of dark times ahead.

I'm gonna lay it right out there: "Babylon 5" pretty well sucks.  Much of the blame lays squarely on the shoulders of the terrible cast.  O'Hare seems thoroughly bored as Sinclair for much of the season, only coming alive at a select few moments here or there.  Jerry Doyle plays Garibaldi as a blustering fool.  And Claudia Christian... talk about flat delivery.  Andreas Katsulas plays G'Kar, supposedly a member of a Klingon-like warrior race, like a clown.  Peter Jurasik spends most of his time as Londo shouting.  Really, just shouting. 

To make matters worse, these terrible actors are saddled with godawful dialogue.  J. Michael Straczynski is a writer I've often struggled with.  I've sometimes enjoyed his work in comics, and other times, downright hated it.  His recent "Superman: Earth One" graphic novel is a terrible, terrible work.  But I've always found that Straczynski's strength is in the plots he conjures up, rather than the execution of them.  Here, too, there are some cool things rumbling around in "Babylon 5," but most of the episodes are flat out boring, and more than a few are truly bad.  Every time the series brings out a decent episode and starts to build up a bit of goodwill, it ruins it almost immediately when the next episode turns out to be truly atrocious.  You've got things like the League of Non-Aligned Worlds.  Just think about that one for a moment.  It's not the concept of it that bothers me, but the name.  By being in a league, you're aligned... with the other members of that league.  It's this kind of thoughtless stupidity that runs rampant through "Babylon 5." 

Even the technical production of "Babylon 5" bothers me.  The sets are, in a word, cheap.  Beyond the fact that the show simply looks like a low-budget production, there's the fact that the whole thing seems to be designed without a lick of common sense.  The doors on the station open at an angle, and more than a few times I saw the cast members have to contort their bodies to make it through.  This is, without a doubt, completely stupid.  Whoever designed such sets should've been fired the second he proposed them. 

I wanted to like "Babylon 5."  But after watching this first season, the best conclusion I can come to is that "Babylon 5" could only wish it were half as good as "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."  After an entire season, while I have some interest in the overall story arc, I don't give a damn about any of the idiotic characters than inhabit this station.