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Babylon 5

A television show

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A modern epic: groundbreaking though of limited appeal

  • Dec 28, 2010

I am in the middle of watching B5 for the fourth of fifth time, this time with my seven year old son, and having recently read much in the way of early epics all at once (Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Penguin Classics), The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki (Penguin Classics), The Saga of the Volsungs (Penguin Classics), and the Mahabharata) as well as books on the epic format (Orality and Literacy (New Accents) and The Singer of Tales). Eventually I noticed that the format was not that of a movie or a novel (as the author and many fans tend to suggest), but rather of an epic (or rather as close to that of an epic that we get in these modern times). It's not "Casablanca in Space," but rather "The Mahabharata in Space" or maybe "The Illiad in Space."

The basic premise of the series is that a space station which has been built to be essentially a futuristic version of the UN and has a mission to prevent war becomes in essence a nexus for the coordination in the greatest war in a thousand years. The series lasts five seasons and (like the Mahabharata) includes a prolonged prologue and a prolonged epilogue. The "extended miniseries" format requires the audience to watch small stories suited to a single sitting but also connected and interwoven in a complex way, following a greater arc. Some have compared it to a soap opera but that's not a very apt description.

The acting does not start off as well as it might, although some characters do very very well from the beginning. As the characters settle into their roles, things become much, much better.

The series is full of mythological elements, and includes great commentaries on religious faith and sacrifice, as well as heroism, as much as these are generally lacking from sci-fi series generally. Each race has their own sets of religions: the Narn follow a system of prophets which reminds me of Islam, while the Minbari follow a religion that reminds me of modern Hinduism, and the Centauri follow a sort of henotheistic paganism based seemingly on Roman models.

In any event, the series leaves one to think about many of these things. Yet in the final analysis what makes a mark is the heroism that leads to undying fame on the part of several of the characters. In this regard it strikes me much more as an Indo-European epic, than it does a modern tale despite the setting.

Most people I have shared the series with have greatly enjoyed it. A few have not. YMMV. However, I believe that the word "great" hardly begins to cover this series.   It's something that is quite different from anything else I have seen in scope and approach.  Love it or hate it, it's worth watching.

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January 06, 2011
Yes I suppose Babylon 5 has limited appeal. It is not shallow enough for some people. It is just the best science fiction done for TV so far. .
January 06, 2011
The largest complaint I've heard from viewers who didn't like it was that the acting was of uneven quality. Some of this is misunderstanding (aliens aren't supposed to seem too human). And some of it is a reasonable complaint. This being said, I agree. It's the best sci fi TV series I have ever seen.
More Babylon 5 reviews
Quick Tip by . January 06, 2011
The evolution of the relationship between G'Kar and Londo is one of the most interesting things to watch over the series.
Quick Tip by . August 08, 2010
Best television show ever. Think of it as the worst show and you'll probably enjoy it.
About the reviewer
Chris Travers ()
Ranked #21
   I live in a haunted house Beneath a tall and mighty tree   With my wife Mia and my sons Wilhelm and Conrad   Where I write software and carve runes   It is a … more
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Creator J. Michael Straczynski's ambitious and complex futuristic space opera charts five years in the lives of those aboard the five-mile-long space station of the title, where personal drama plays out against a tense political backdrop of looming war between bitter enemies the Centauri and the Narn.
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