Perhaps once in a generation there is a book, movie or television series that is a landmark, it breaks all the rules and sets a new standard for the next generation.
A few years ago, Ronal Moore, made the bold statement, that his version of Battlestar Galactica had been this, that it redefined television science fiction after the overly positive sickly sweet programs that had been STAR TREK.
Moore had been involved with the production of Star Trek the Next Generation and found himself dissatisfied by the kind of story telling that Next Generation did.
Although his version of Galactica did present a new view, it did not come close to being ground breaking. For all that Galactica did was turn heroes into villans, and force feed the same questions and views week after week year after year.
The characters were all hostile and lacked any sense of heroism and the stories were so dark if you weren’t a manic depressed person before you watched the series you were by the time it ended.
But this being said, their was a series that ran from 1993 until 1998, that was ground breaking and still holds up remarkably well nearly ten years later. The series premise was that the location, “Was the last best hope for peace…” or that was the premise when the series began. The series was “Babylon 5”.
Okay I admit it, I have been watching season two for the last two weeks, and I paraphrased the introduction of the series. That being said, it had been nearly ten years since I had last seen Babylon 5, The series has occasionally run in syndication, but usually it is buried on the schedule and you have to look for it at obscene times like at two o-clock in the morning every fifth Sunday in months with Q in them.
I am only partly kidding there.
However back to why Babylon 5 was so much a ground breaking series. When Babylon 5 came out you had only two other series in production. Both had very similar formats and character types and both were very upbeat series for the most part. Although one, would eventually break away from the predictable path that its’ forbearers had .*
Babylon 5 came out of the gate completely different, instead of leaving the main station and “boldly going” every week, during its’ five year run, the majority of the stories took place on the station. A character would arrive and set off a chain of events, that would run their course for several episodes or be the set up for the entire season.
One of the first things that you noticed with Babylon 5, was that these people were flesh and blood. The stations’ security chief Michael Garabaldi had been a raging alcoholic, who was tempered by his friendship with the stations original commander Jeffrey Sinclair. Over the first year we saw Michael battle against this demon, but he managed to always drink water and avoid the falling back off the wagon.
Characters who we had come to love in the first season, we began to wonder about, and ask how they could allow certain things to take place. Yet as hurtful as these characters became, we still watched, and hoped and prayed that they would some how turn things around.
We dealt with the fact that when season two began, we had a new station commander, a man who had been a hero for the Earth and dispised by the Mimbari, for his destruction of one of their main warships. A new actor, a new direction, something we had never dealt with before. We were used to one actor playing the lead throughout. William Shatner was Captain Kirk and had been from the beginning of Trek.**
There was an ambassador aboard B-5 whom in the 5 year run, never once did we see a face, he was inside an encounter suit the entire time and he spoke only on occasion, when he did, he said much in his short passages.
There were consequences for actions, and at one point the staff of B-5 all resigned their commissions and went to war with Earth, because of the political actions and the fact that the original president of Earth had been assignated by people in the Earth political system.
Babylon 5 was a dark series, but it always managed to have a sense of humanity and soul, sometimes it still managed to have some small moment of levity to bring the possibility of hope back into play.
It also allowed actors, who had spent the better part of their career playing an innocent dreamer, to show his darker aspect very successfully. One of the most powerful characters in the run of Babylon 5 was Mister Bester, a Psy cop. A man who was cold and distant, yet believed in what he did. This part was played by Walter Kenig, Pavel Checkov from STAR TREK, and Kenig showed the true depth he had as an actor.
In five years Babylon 5 rewrote the book, it had given people complex stories, and no easy answers. It presented hard stories, but did not lecture, it allowed its’ audience to discover the message and what it meant to them. It was contemporary, without slamming a set political view of current events down the audiences throat, like Galactica 2.0 did in every episode.
Even when our heroes went into dark places, we still rooted for them, we understood them and why they did what they did. We mourned when a character we had come to love, died or was dissected to discover why they were so different.
We were part of the story, not mere observers on the side like, we came to know these people, Captain Sheridan, Commander Ivanova, Mister Garabaldi, Doctor Franklin, who was perhaps one of the most believable doctors in any science fiction series. He spoke in a language that all could relate to, and as he had said, was told by many doctors, they appreciated his character because of how human he was.
There were the aliens, Kosh, they mysterious ambassador who was isolated inside his encounter suit, and when he spoke he conveyed depth, and sometimes set up a mystery that we did not understand until we saw the pieces come together as the stories continued.
Londo Molari, the Centari Ambassador, who wanted to see his world back as empire builders and conquerors of the universe. His aide Vir Cotto, who went from being a very timid sidekick to a strong and assertive character who confronted Londo more as the series continued.
The aliens were not just guest characters with a single appearance, they were the foundation of Babylon 5, and set in motion the twists and turns that we were never quite sure of what the consequences would be, until just before they happened.
Babylon 5 was ahead of its’ time in 1993, and now almost ten years later it still is. You can vilify a classic series like Galactica or Five-O, and belittle the original intent and call it ground breaking, but all you are doing is taking something, someone else created and ripping it apart for your own agenda.
To create a universe with unique characters, religions, political intrigue and romance while having a set path and seeing that you stay the course… well that requires insight and ability that some of the people in Hollywood today lack.
Babylon 5 was unique because it was a series that still today is fresh and one you can watch again and be excited all over again. It will not become dated and will not be one that will depress you to wondering if humanity has the right to survive. It will get you to think, and to expand your mind to seeing that each person has value no matter where they come from, and it will still surprise you.