The Greatest Thing I’ve Seen This Week

Have you ever said to yourself “Man I wish there was a band consisting of Will Robinson from Lost in Space, the One Armed Man from the Fugitive, the hot mom from Freaks and Geeks, and Rousseau from LOST!” ?  You have?! Well than today is your lucky day, because I come bearing good news.  There is such a band and they are called The Be Five.  Something they all have in common is that they were also cast members of one of the best sci-fi shows of all time, Babylon 5.

Amazing.

Earlier this week a friend of mine, who is also a Babylon 5 fan, sent me a link directing me to the information about this album and my mind was blown.  Apparently back in 1998 Bill Mumy, Mira Furlan, Claudia Christian, Andreas Katsulas, and Peter Jurasik at the height of Babylon 5’s popularity came together to make an album, calling their group The Be Five.  I’ve known that Bill Mumy was a musician but I had no idea he ever got together with his other B5 comrades to make music.  Apparently Mumy wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album which are mainly blues/rock and the other cast members take the lead vocals on two tracks each.  As if that wasn’t awesome enough Patricia Tallman, everyones favorite Vorlon enhanced telepath, has several cameos on the album as well, as a backup vocalist.

Unfortunately the album was basically only available at various cons where one of the stars were making an appearance.  Later it was more widely distributed but not in great numbers and apparently it is still rather hard to find a physical copy of the CD.  Thankfully however this one and only album of The Be Five “Trying to Forget” is available for digital download on Amazon!  I would suggest checking it out and at least listening to some of the samples from the tracks.  Hearing Peter Jurasik who played Londo Mollari sing blues is simply golden and I was quite surprised by the dark sultry qualities of Mira Furlan’s singing voice.

I had no idea this thing existed, but now that I do I can’t get it out of my head.  This made my week, and you’d better believe it is now at the top of my list of things to buy!

Here are a few links:

About The Be Five

The Be Five on Amazon

That is all!

My B5 Mission

So here it is, another Babylon 5 blog post from me.  I’m sure you might be getting sick of hearing me go on and on about this defunct sci-fi franchise and I promise I will try and make this my last B5 post for awhile, but I just have a few more things to say about this series.

As I mentioned before I was overjoyed to hear that all five seasons of Babylon 5 are available to watch on Netflix now.  Unfortunately the show only saw a brief life in reruns due to some sort of distribution rights dispute that effectively shut down syndication of the series.  For years I relied on VHS tapes that I recorded from television with the commercials edited out in order to spread the word on the show.  Even that approach, or showing the series on DVD, requires finding time to meet up and watch all five seasons, episode by episode.  It’s often difficult to find a time when that works for both parties.  You of course can lend out your copies to friends and family, but as I grow older I more and more take the position of “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”  I know I still have movies and games floating around the house that I’ve borrowed from friends years ago, and there’s always a slight pang of displeasure when I am without a lent item for extended periods.

The Babylon 5 station

Now however, thanks to modern technology, all of that is a thing of the past at least when it comes to spreading the word on Babylon 5.  Ironically I myself do not use Netflix, the wife and I are currently crunching numbers in an attempt to save money, and though it isn’t that expensive, it does all add up.  It’s on our list however and I’m sure we will catch up to the rest of the world shortly.  This development though does mean that I can finally conveniently and efficiently urge my friends and anyone else I know with Netflix to watch the show.

I am taking up a personal crusade to prosthelytize Babylon 5.  I really believe there has not been a show to equal its scope and level of storytelling.  I love the franchise and the Babylon 5 universe, and unlike other major sci-fi franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek, Babylon 5 needs a bit of a fanbase boost because it seems to be slipping further and further away from the pop culture spotlight (doubtlessly due to the aforementioned lack of syndication.)  BUT I also do not want to overhype it.  I hate when that happens, when you get all pumped up for something listening to others talk about, and you go in with enormous expectations that can’t be met.  If you have never seen the show I don’t want you to take a look at the first season and think “What the fuck?  He was praising this?”  So here are a few things to keep in mind:

1-The effects, for the most part, are bad.  At the start of season 1, the special effects can be blocky, slow and a bit awkward.  You have to keep in mind though that this was an upstart low budget series.  This isn’t part of a big franchise like Star Trek where they can use the legacy of the show, and established fanbase for larger budgets for graphics and effects.  Like Babylon 5 itself in season 1, the effects department was just getting off the ground and starting from scratch.  Thankfully as time goes on the overall look of the show improves tremendously.

2- The show is dorky.  In case you weren’t aware the show is a sci-fi series which, on occasion, conforms to the stereotypes of the genre and has a few dorky moments.  A couple of bad puns here, an alien penis joke there, you know, those old chestnuts.  Though actually as the series goes on those lighthearted “dorky” moments really help reflect the heavier, darker, and more epically mature moments in later seasons.

The show does have a lot of genuinely funny moments

3- The show is thick with continuity.  Babylon 5 isn’t a show you can pick and choose episodes with, in fact I often compare it to LOST in that respect when talking with people about the show.  Sure you’ll get the idea if you just jump right into season three, but there will be plenty of moments where you find yourself completely out of the loop, asking yourself “Now who the hell is that guy, and why is everyone so pissed?”  Without following the continuity of the show you really lose a great deal in regard to the development of the characters which is crucial to the show, and which I’d say is the best part of Babylon 5.  Which brings me to the good things about Babylon 5.

This show is unlike anything else in television, as far as I’ve seen.  The characters in the show grow and evolve with each episode and through every season.  No character is static, or two dimensional.  They are given quite a bit to deal with on screen and there are a plethora of rich personal histories that are alluded to, and referenced which help flesh out the characters.  When I say “the characters” I don’t mean just the main characters, the stars, the heroes, I mean every character on the show.  The side characters, the recurring characters, the comic relief characters, they all evolve as the show goes on.  You find as you watch Babylon 5 that your opinions of characters drastically shifts, and are often completely turned upside down.  The entire Babylon 5 cast is made up of cast of complex individuals working through their issues during the intrigues and immense storylines of the series.

Aside from the characters, the setting for the show, the B5 universe itself, is also deep and well crafted.  There is a sense of history in the universe that is seen through the characters and the plot.  There are political tensions and feuds between various interstellar governments tracing back through these fictional histories.  There is a strong sense of realism, emotional honesty, mingled in through the high tech unreal world of Babylon 5.  In a way the political tones and issues portrayed in Babylon 5 were ahead of their time, I would go so far as to say that J. Michael Straczynski was the first television writer to capture the feel of the post 9/11 United States, before 9/11.  Which is a huge credit to the political savvy of the show.  Thinking about it now, with its themes of corrupted media, distrust of outside cultures, misuse of military power, government conspiracy, and so much more Babylon 5 is more timely now then when it was originally aired.

My last bit of praise for Babylon 5 simply goes to the writing.  The only word I can think of for the writing is epic.  The best description of the show I’ve read was that Babylon 5 was a novel on television.  That is exactly it.  A novel with a huge story arc, dozens of tangents, and varied and complex themes.  The show changed my expectations of television and of the sci-fi genre.  In a way the show changed how I viewed politics and science, encouraging a better understanding of both.  The best thing I’ve taken away from the show however are dozens of memorable chunks of dialogue.  From sharp tongued one liners to eloquent dramatic soliloquies, Babylon 5 has them all.

The character of Michael Garibaldi is one of the best examples of the series writing

So overall my mission now is to create more Babylon 5 fans out there.  Why am I doing this you might ask.  Because I believe in the show?  Because I respect the creators and actors?  Because I hope to share the series message of realism mixed with hope?  The answer is yes to all of those I suppose, but I believe it is all pretty simple, and much more selfish than that.  I’m looking for more folks to talk about the show with who enjoy it as much as I do.  Perhaps I hope to prove to myself that I have been correct in devoting my fandom to the series.  If others out there like it, then maybe that means I have been right to spend so much time following the adventures of a band of fictional warriors and politicians in space.

Isn’t that why fans of any ilk band together?  Whether it’s TV, movies, sports, don’t we all get together not simply to enjoy the subject of our fandom, but perhaps to reinforce to ourselves that we are not alone?

That is all!

My All Time Favorite TV Show, Still My Favorite

IGN recently released their list of the top 50 greatest Sci-fi shows which can be found here.

My all time favorite TV show is of course one in the sci-fi genre, and it is not surprisingly on this list. I would have liked to have seen it placed slightly higher (it came in 13th) because as TV series go this show had a set goal in mind from the very start, it only ever grew in quality of story and design, and it broke away from the genre stereotypes of the day, that is to say it wasn’t simply a Star Trek rip-off. I am of course talking about Babylon 5, the brainchild of one of my favorite television and comic book writers J. Michael Straczynski. I should first explain that I hate Star Trek, though I suppose hate is a bit much. As an enormous Star Wars fan I am diametrically opposed to Star Trek in all its forms. I can watch the original series for the great cast, and I enjoy catching an odd episode of the Next Generation here and there, but Star Trek has just never gotten it’s hooks in me and I do not at all seek to further investigate the mythos of the Trek.

Babylon 5 however did hook me. When it comes to large projects on either the big or small screens I don’t insist on huge budgets and witty, clever writing. I look for something with some ideals and some heart, which is exactly what Babylon 5 brought to the table, the addition of excellent writing just happened to be a bonus for me. I was introduced to the show when my father told me there was going to be some new made for TV space sci-fi movie on. He couldn’t remember the name of it at the time, but said it looked interesting. Being the angsty teen I was, I thought to myself it would most likely be a terrible, campy, bad effects, TV movie. If my dad thought it looked cool, then it probably wasnt’ cool. Then the title came up and it was Babylon 5: In the Beginning. Then I was really pissed, because of what little I knew about Babylon 5 before this introduction, I assumed it was another Star Trek spin-off series and had simply written it off as nothing more. However I didn’t immediately switch the channel and within the first five minutes I realized Babylon 5 was something all its own, something original set in a unique universe. The movie we watched, In the Beginning, was actually a perfect jumping on point. It was a prequel movie that encapsulated some of the history that would often be alluded to later in the show and introduced me to all of the main characters, if only in brief snippets. The movie was shown on TBS or TNT or something and was of course a cross promotion timed along with the start of Babylon 5 being shown on the channel in reruns from season one.

The original Babylon 5 crew lead by Commander Jeffrey Sinclair

I of course tuned into the show, I started the journey through the series from episode one faithfully following through the shows ups and downs to the end of season five, and beyond to the brief and mostly forgotten spin-off show. I could go on and on about why I love this series. The characters. The politics. The mysteries within mysteries. The idea behind the Babylon project. The galactic United Nations concept. The characterization of the cultures. The full deep history of that universe which was presented in a way that didn’t drown you in details but rather delicately hinted at its fully fleshed out complexities. This show without a doubt had some of the best characters on television, who not only made for great stories but who each had their own story, every character evolved, grew, changed and adapted as the show went on which was one of the major selling points of the series. I have so much love for this show it is difficult not to get carried away in praise of it, I will continue to press this show upon the uninitiated until the day I die. The only problem I can pin on this series is that it relied on the viewer to follow the story, to get to know these characters, and thusly became very dependant on its own continuity. The idea of a TV show doing that today is nothing new, what with DVR, Hulu, and seasons of shows coming out on DVD like clockwork it’s much easier now to catch up on a show. For a long time however that was a major downside to Babylon 5, it was hard to go back and rewatch episodes past. In fact I made it a mission of mine to spread the love for this sci-fi realm to the point that I religiously recorded each episode, edited out the commercials on my rig of two VCRs, and struggled to put them in proper chronological order (remember, such information was not yet as fleshed out on the internet in those days, I had to hope the reruns were aired in the right order and if not I had to try to figure it out from episode to episode.) I showed those tapes to as many friends as possible, and eventually formed a small band of my friends into die-hard B5 fanatics. We had many a long evening where we played the Babylon 5 card game, while eating oven baked appetizers, followed by watching as many episodes as we could before passing out.

The gang from Babylon 5 under the command of Captain John Sheridan

From the start of the Babylon 5 saga creator J. Michael Straczynski had a story arc in mind which would take place over 5 seasons. Mysteries were brought up, histories revealed, characters developed, intrigues lingered, and epic wars were fought. The last season ushered in a new era for the characters and wrapped up the overall story excellently. There were no loose ends, and closure was achieved. There were of course things that crept into the spinoff and with such a huge and well laid out universe there were of course more stories to tell, but Babylon 5 the show, and the station itself, finished it’s tale in a grand style. For the longest time I expected Babylon 5 to be dethroned as my favorite show by the highly awesome LOST (which heavily features Mira Furlan, a Babylon 5 heavy hitter.) I wisely decided to hold back crowning LOST as my favorite until the series ended and wrapped up it’s winding enigmas. Personally I believe LOST failed in its conclusion. That is not to say LOST is not an awesomely terrific show, but the build up, climax, and ending of Babylon 5 will, for me, remain the measure of a well thought-out, smart, and unique television experience. Hopefully one day there is a show that can top Babylon 5, but as for the direct future I do not see any such show on the horizon.

Anyway, believe it or not I was hoping to keep this blog entry brief, so that is all!