Looking back as classic sci fi and fantasy shows that aired from 1949 to 2010.
What Is It? This show takes place on the massive space station Babylon 5 that acts as a neutral meeting place for the various races in the known galaxy. Over the course of the show’s five-year run, it chronicles a war with one of the ancient races as well as the immediate aftermath of that galaxy-wide conflict.
When Did It Air? PTEN & TNT, 1993-98, 5 Seasons Totaling 110 Episodes + 6 TV Movies
Created By: J. Michael Straczynski
Starring: Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Peter Jurasik, Andreas Katsulas
Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi TV? Absolutely. The CGI might not stand up as well to today’s standards, but this show delivered an epic story-arc and a grand space opera saga that has had few rivals on television. This counts as a Top 10, possibly Top 5, entry among sci fi shows.
The Skinny: With Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski set out to tale a grand story over five seasons and he managed to do just that. The series unfolded across each season as its story became more and more intricate, and it set the gold standard for the story-arc format on television, essentially introducing it to the genre. What made the story work so well was that Straczynski himself wrote the vast majority of the episodes, meaning that he had a great deal of creative control over how the story progressed. He also masterfully engineered his tale, setting up “trap doors” to deal with the departures of main actors and other unexpected changes. And unlike some later “story-arc” shows of the 21st century, he was not just making it up as he went along.
Of course, we must give credit to the cast as well who delivered such iconic characters as G-Kar and Mollari and Mr. Garibaldi and Ivanova and Delenn and many, many more. It’s true that the acting could be wooden at times, especially amongst the human characters, and the dialog often sounded stiff, but I blame that more on the stilted directing that was the result of hurried production to keep costs down. But the warts that you may find when you break the show down to its component parts are far out-weighed by the scope of the series and the greater story that it told (as well as some of its excellent stand-alone episodes). Babylon 5 delivered the grand space epic that sci fi fans crave, and while it may have suffered some from age (just like the original Star Trek and Twilight Zone), it still counts as must-watch sci fi TV and a game-changing entry for the genre on television.
Cancelled Too Soon? Almost. The PTEN network was struggling as the show was heading into its fourth season and J. Michael Straczynski was concerned that it might not make it to its fifth year. He therefore crammed as much of the main story as possible into the fourth season which included the series finale. When TNT rescued the show at the last minute, he shifted the finale episode to the fifth season (it takes place twenty years in the future, so that worked quite well). He then used the fifth season to explore some of the storylines that were pushed aside in the fourth season attempt to wrap up the major arcs.
Revival: The sequel series Crusade began the year after Babylon 5 wrapped up its final season, but creative differences between JMS and TNT lead to that one ending after only thirteen episodes. Later, the Sci Fi Channel aired the pilot Legend of the Rangers, but the network did not promote it well and it did not continue to series. The DVD-only movie Lost Tales was supposed to start off a series of mostly stand-alone stories, but no further releases resulted from that venture. There have been talks of a movie, but nothing substantial has come from that.
Should It Be Rebooted? Reboot, no. Revival, absolutely. Completely rebooting the show and trampling on the rich mythology it created would be a travesty. But picking up on the story at any point in its timeline would give a nice opportunity to revisit the universe of Bablyon 5. JMS already tried to carry on the story several times (see above), and he certainly has plenty more ideas for this universe. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. (the company that owns the rights to the show) has no plans to return to Babylon 5. They won’t even spend the money to do a high-def upgrade to the original series, so don’t expect a revival any time soon.
Interesting Fact: Babylon 5 aired on PTEN (The Prime Time Entertainment Network) which was originally envisioned as a fifth broadcast network that would air across the syndicated channels. B5 was one of its flagship shows along with Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (which lasted for four seasons) and Time Trax (which survived for two). From its ashes came UPN (which would air Star Trek: Voyager) and The WB (which would give us Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Angel), and those two would eventually merge together as The CW.
Where Can You Watch It? The entire series is widely available on DVD and economically priced, but it has yet to get the Blu-ray treatment nor does it look like it will happen anytime soon. For streaming, Amazon has the full series plus the original pilot available and that is included with their Amazon Prime service.
Available from Amazon.com: