David Hines (hradzka) wrote,
David Hines

on the subject of learning from what's gone before

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.

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Tags: tv

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