TV Review – “Babylon 5: Signs and Portents”

I’ve seen shows like Buffy which essentially require the viewer to see virtually all previous episodes for anything in the new episodes to make sense. This is the first series I’ve seen that also requires the viewer to watch all subsequent episodes for everything to make sense, and I think I like it that way.

Cast

Michael
O’Hare
as Jeffrey Sinclair.
Claudia
Christian
as Susan Ivanova.
Jerry Doyle as
Michael Garibaldi.
Richard Biggs as
Stephen Franklin.
Andrea
Thompson
as Talia Winters.
Mira Furlan as
Delenn.
Bill Mumy as
Lennier.
Peter Jurasik as
Londo Molari.
Stephen Furst as
Vir.

Andreas
Katsulas
as G’Kar.
Caitlin
Brown
as Na’Toth.

Crew

The full cast and crew can be found at this IMDB page. The
most notable entry is the series creator and frequent writer J. Michael
Straczynski
.

Original Airdate

This season originally aired in 1994.

Synopsis

The administration of the Babylon 5 space station have their hands
full keeping the place running, while an undercurrent of something
very significant begins to build.

High Point

Chrysalis, the season finale. I suspect that the season
finales of all seasons will become that season’s high point; this show
was planned from the outset to build up and pay out over a five year
period.

Low Point

The DVD transfers of the first few episodes. Some are just bad, but
Soul Hunter is downright ugly, with bad focus, visible film
scratches, and other problems.

Special Features on the DVD set

The DVD set contains all 22 episodes of the first season and the
trailers for them, as well as commentaries by J. Michael Straczynski
for the episodes Signs and Portents and Chrysalis,
an introduction to the entire season by J. Michael Straczynski, old
and new documentaries on the series, a virtual station tour, and some
extra background data. I watched the interview, and JMS seemed to
assume that the viewer was one of the people who watched the series in
its initial run. Since I’m one of the few who will be following the
series on DVD without watching the initial broadcasts, I have chosen
not to watch the other special features since they could very well
contain spoilers for episodes I haven’t seen yet.

The Review

Some of the ideas on screen in this season are not particularly
original. The plot devices have been used before a few
times, especially the ones in the early episodes. I do have to give
the show credit for one thing, though; it’s the only ongoing series
I’m aware of that planned out its entire run before the first episode
was even filmed. That alone earns it some bonus points, so I’ll give
it 5 out of 6.

The effects were cheap. Some looked nice, but others just
look cheap. Also, I’m positive the prosthetic used for Londo’s
appendage during the poker game was the same one used for the brain
sucker in Grail. This show had a great concept and some very
nice ideas, but it didn’t have the budget to really do them properly.
I give it 3 out of 6.

The stories told in the early episodes were often weak,
covering just enough plot to introduce the important characters. The
writing started to really build half way through the season, though,
as the characters were established and the ongoing plot could be
brought to the forefront. I give it 4 out of 6, and I expect
subsequent seasons to do better than this.

The acting took a few episodes to reach its full strength, as
is common on TV shows while the cast becomes comfortable in their
roles. It topped out on a high, so I’ll give it 5 out of 6.

My emotional response from the early episodes was as weak as
the acting and writing, but it was a somewhat necessary establishing
period. By the time I reached the season finale, I was hooked. I’ll
be waiting for subsequent season sets almost as anxiously as the
people who’ve already seen the episodes. I give it 4 out of 6.

The production hit the same budgetary brick wall the effects
did. The lighting was unimaginative, the sets looked like sets, and
the direction and editing were adequate, but not really impressive. I
give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, this is an entertaining package that can overcome
enough of the monetary flaws by the writing and acting by the end of the
set to get me interested in any future sets that may be produced.
(Rumour has it that the second season is on tap for the spring, with
the third season due later this year. The fourth season is expected
around this time in 2004.) I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Babylon 5 Season One: Signs and Portents receives
30 out of 42.

4 replies on “TV Review – “Babylon 5: Signs and Portents””

  1. OrangeCarrot says:

    Everything Gets Better With Age
    The production and acting in this show improve over time. Don’t be at all turned off by the first season (it doesn’t sound like you’re turned off). You must suffer through those first few bumps and bruises however to get a handle on the rest of the story. It’s amazing how JMS and his team weave this thing.

  2. UncleJam says:

    Oh, hell yeah!
    As a certified B5-ophile, let me welcome you to the club!

    Just wait until you get into the later seasons and begin to see all the payoff of the stuff that may not have made a whole lot of sense in the first season.

    Speaking of which, does anyone know when the next season is supposed to come out?

    • fiziko says:

      Re: Oh, hell yeah!

      Speaking of which, does anyone know when the next season is supposed to come out?

      Nothing’s been announced officially yet, but rumour has it that the original plan was to release seasons 2 and 3 this year, but impressive sales of season 1 have convinced Warner to increase the number of extras and try to get season 4 out in time for Christmas.

  3. DarkInfo says:

    Effects

    Having watched all the special features since this is my 4th run through the series, I can say that the crew did comment that they didn’t like some of the makeup; they wanted to create more detailed and varied aliens (as opposed to series like ST, where 90% are human and most of the other 10% vary only in forehead design), but sometimes, you just run out of time, esp when JMS is holding scripts back from you so NOBODY knows the plot arc. :)

    Also, the CGI was simply amazing. Consider that this was 1993-94 when this was airing. ST only ever used models, and only a handful of movies had used CGI. To do that much CGI on a regular basis for a TV show was unheard of… so I can’t agree with a 3 out of 6 for effects.

    The DVD transfer was a little disappointing; I’m hoping it gets better… and more extras would be nice, although I could certainly see the value in a WARNING: SPOILERS for them.

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