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David Hines [userpic]

on the subject of learning from what's gone before

February 21st, 2012 (06:46 pm)

A friend came over the other night and we watched a few episodes of BABYLON 5. She'd seen later episodes, but had missed the earlier ones. I was a HUGE junkie for B5 back in the day, and so we watched four episodes from the first season over the course of the evening. (For the record: "Midnight on the Firing Line," "Parliament of Dreams," "And the Sky Full of Stars," and "Signs and Portents.")

Back in the day, you were either a B5 person or a DS9 person. I was a B5 person. I *liked* DS9, mind you, but Paramount money and guaranteed viewership was behind it, so it had more resources. B5 was the little show that could. And it was ambitious as hell, despite the fact that in its first season it sometimes appeared to have a budget of roughly thirty-five cents. Long-term arcs are standard fare on TV today, but they were out of the ordinary on SFTV, and B5 took long-term planning to a level that no television series had ever attempted. And they haven't, since. Shows like THE WIRE and THE SOPRANOS take a different, looser approach, and shows like LOST inevitably fall apart because it's really just tap-dancing until the next angle, the next gimmick. In some ways, B5 is less wondrous than it was at its peak, because we've seen so many running and recurring plotlines on SFTV. It's become the norm. But there is something that B5 did that has *not* been picked up nearly as much: its use of foreshadowing and repeated imagery. Characters called shots five years in advance. Scenes called back on scenes from previous seasons in ways that you wouldn't notice unless you'd been watching the whole time. The only show I've seen since that played with that kind of thematic reverberation to anywhere near that degree was THE WIRE. You really don't see it on mainstream SFTV, maybe because producers are more interested in going straight to the well.

I wish some showrunners would do more stuff like that. But it would be hard to do something like B5 again. I saw JMS in person a number of times during the show's run, and I was at a con in about year four or five when somebody cued up a pitch videotape that JMS and Doug Netter had put together when first trying to sell the show. Everybody in that room had seen JMS in person a bunch, too, and when the camera cut to him on the promotional footage there were audible gasps. Because he looked so much younger than everyone was used to, it was *scary.* Running BABYLON 5 had visibly aged JMS about fifteen years, in five.

Originally posted on my DW. | comment count unavailable people have commented there. | Do so yourself, if you like.


Posted by: 'rith (kerithwyn)
Posted at: February 21st, 2012 06:44 pm (UTC)

*deep breath* Okay, so--I am entirely irrational about my fandom of choice these days, so take that as a given. But when I talk about Fringe, trying to turn incoherent squee into an actual rec, a lot of times I invoke a comparison to B5.

(I was both a B5 and a DS9 girl. Is that possible? *g* But B5 was on a whole 'nother level, I agree.)

Fringe, to me, reaches that same level of foreshadowing and ongoing plot. Every case--every one!--ties into the overarching story. And minor details even from the first season's MotW episodes keep having relevance into the fourth season.

It does for me what Lost and Alias before that intrinsically didn't. Great characters, yeah, but as you say, tap-dancing from plot point to plot point without a firm eye on the overall structure. Fringe is the X-Files if the latter had ever decided what its real motivator was: black oil! aliens! bees! -- I lost track. Everything on Fringe ties into the main story. EVERYTHING. And into the fourth season, it all hangs together the way none of those other shows did, save B5.

*helpless flail* Plus John Noble. JOHN NOBLE, David. He will break your heart.

Two pimping links, to augment my inadequate words:



(Post is absolutely correct about the first half of season 1 being a red herring for the true plot...but even there, hints and foreshadowing abound.)

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: February 21st, 2012 06:59 pm (UTC)

Everybody talks about FRINGE. I will have to give it a look one of these days. (Work overseas, mostly fall far behind on TV.)

Posted by: A large duck (burger_eater)
Posted at: February 21st, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC)

I don't want to go into my opinions about B5 again (spoiler! not to my taste) but I will say this: According to internet factoid of unimpeachable veracity, the average life expectancy of a Hollywood producer is something like 57 years.

It's a really hard life.

Posted by: Geraint Thatcher (Geraint Thatcher)
Posted at: February 28th, 2012 04:32 pm (UTC)

The important thing I would ask is does the show still stand up in the present day. I tried to re-watch BUFFY not to long back and it was painful. Yet old Doctor Who episodes like Genisis of the Daleks did and do stand up. I would also add The SHIELD/ROME and the TUDORS to your list of the Wire of shows with long term stories etc.

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