TV Review – “Babylon 5: The Coming of Shadows”

This, the second season of Babylon 5, picks up where the first season left off, continuing to build to a climax that’s still a few seasons away.

Cast and Crew

Bruce
Boxleitner
as John Sheridan.
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 Mollari.
Stephen Furst as
Vir.
Andreas
Katsulas
as G’Kar.
Mary Kay Adams
as Na’Toth.

Jeff Conaway as
Zack Allen.
Robert Rusler as
Warren Keffer.

The most influential member of the crew was series creator and
frequent writer J. Michael
Straczynski
.

Original Airdate

This season originally aired in 1995.

Synopsis

Babylon 5 gets a new Captain in time to prepare for war.

High Point

Episode 16, In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum.

Low Point

The third season won’t be available until August 12th, $DIETY damn it!

The Review

This is a breath of fresh air compared to other recent sci-fi shows.
That other franchise had its own space station show, but it took it
years to gain the focus it finally had, and even that seems to have
simply been going where this series had gone before. In this series,
a plague that threatens to wipe out an entire race has a very real
chance of wiping out an entire race. Alien cultures don’t fall at the
feet of humans and emulate their behaviour, while the humans go
unaffected by others. The long-term planning means that the show
marches steadily to its ultimate conclusion every week, not just
during the sweeps week episodes. I seriously doubt that there are any
unimportant scenes or characters. Nobody is safe. This laid the
groundwork of long term stories on television, moving beyond the
X-Files model of touching on a complicated story that’s being
made up as you go along and progressing to a model where the entire
saga is laid out before a single frame lands on screen. Mutant Enemy
seems to be the current champion of long-term planning on television,
but even that doesn’t touch this. The individual ideas were sometimes
used on other shows, but I’ve never seen this combination with this
level of complexity anywhere else. It’s not just “good guys” versus
“bad guys,” it’s “good guys” versus “evil guys” and several factions
of “self-serving guys” who could still end up on either side of the
major conflict. I give the originality a 6 out of 6.

The effects were made on a budget that barely allowed them to
produce images they wanted, and the images still looked like CGI most
of the time. It’s still distracting at the end of the season. I give
it 3 out of 6.

The story is a well crafted piece of a much larger epic. The
pieces are falling into place, the characters experience genuine
growth and changes, and the individual episodes have enough story to
stand on their own. I give it 6 out of 6. I haven’t seen anything
else written like this on television before or since.

The acting was excellent. The cast plays with subtlety and
conviction. It’s not just the regular cast, either. The guest cast
(such as the alien doctor in Confessions and Lamentations) do
an excellent job as well. Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik don’t
even seem to be acting; if I hadn’t seen them in other material, I’d
wonder if they weren’t simply playing themselves on screen. I give it
6 out of 6.

The emotional response this produced was substantial this
time around. The first time this series aired, it conflicted with my
work schedule, so I didn’t watch it until mid-way through the second
season. I remembered watching Hunter, Prey the first time,
but it didn’t seem like anything special. On it’s own, it doesn’t
seem that special. However, with 34 episodes worth of background
material, it’s a very compelling episode with remarkable implications
for the world. This goes back to the writing; the characters are
written without the unrealistic exposition we see on so many other
shows. The past is mentioned when relevant, but if everyone in the
room knows what happened at a given time and place, then there is
little or no discussion about the details of that event. Vir,
Linnear, Morden, G’Kar, Londo, and Garibaldi all have incredible
moments on screen. (Vir’s wave to Morden still cracks me up.) I give
it 6 out of 6.

The production was, again, limited by the budget. Some of
the close ups were out of focus, as though the original shoot had used
a shot from a greater distance, and the close up was made by zooming
in on that film. Dirt and film scratches from the original masters
are frequently visible. The musical score is good, as is the
editing. I give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, it’s a very entertaining piece of television. If
this show had managed to pull in the viewership it deserved in its
original run, it would have had more than the budget it needed to meet
the aspirations of the crew. Those of us who missed it the first time
around should hang our heads in shame for this. Our penance is to
follow the show in its DVD release, and lament what we missed when we
had the chance to really make a difference. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Babylon 5: The Coming of Shadows receives 36 out of 42.

11 replies on “TV Review – “Babylon 5: The Coming of Shadows””

  1. Unholy_Kingfish says:

    And So it Begins
    I originally didn’t like the show. I caught an episode here and there for the first two seasons. I didn’t get it. But I heard that this was a show with a 5 year story arc, with biblical and Shakespearian influences everywhere and you had to watch the episodes in order to get the true meaning of the show. I started watching when TNT took it over, but at the same time SciFi started showing the series from the beginning. So I caught up on the first season, which was one big back story and some setup. Then the second season hit, I was beyond hooked. I made sure I could get home from work in time to see the show at 7PM. Yes, I could have taped it, but I didn’t want to wait. The second season was an amazing thing. Every show has some influence on the future. Foreshadowing, alluding, and outright telling us (Londo’s death, Sheridan’s death.).

    Even though this was a “low budget” SF show, it rocked. This is a show that should not be missed. If you haven’t had the pleasure, borrow season one from a friend, go out and buy it. Then get season two and you will HAVE to get the 3rd and 4th. Season 5 was a bit of a let down for me. It was cool, to see where things went after the wars and setups for possible futures. Too bad Crusade tanked. I like it, except for the music. I only wish that there would be a series on the telepath war. Now that would be cool.

  2. visionary_coward says:

    lurking
    For those who haven’t found it yet, check out The Lurker’s Guide to Babylon 5. This site has lots of information on the show. The episode guide does a good review of each episode, and includes comments from JMS about that episode (Check out the episode listed as 245 for a sample.)

    • mbourgon says:

      Re: lurking

      (Check out the episode listed as 245 for a sample.)

      ROFL! That’s priceless. I assume those are actual JMS quotes? *laugh* *laugh* *gasp*

      • cb says:

        Re: lurking
        Yup. During the series run JMS was a frequent presence on Usenet. I believe that rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated was created so people could post questions and discussion for him but NOT story ideas that might get him in legal trouble if it matched too closely with something he already had planned.

        Anyway, the Lurker’s Guide is full of quotes culled from his postings. I’m 99% sure all the JMS quotes on this particular page are from the pages for other episodes.

        I’ve long wished something like this existed for every show I’ve ever liked, Doctor Who most of all.

        -cb

        • joe__gee says:

          He’s still there …

          Yup. During the series run JMS was a frequent presence on Usenet. I believe that rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated was created so people could post questions and discussion for him but NOT story ideas that might get him in legal trouble if it matched too closely with something he already had planned.

          Answering questions and complaints, sharing snippets of upcoming works. The Jeremiah discussions were heated the last time I looked. I haven’t checked into that newsgroup in a while.

          -Joe

  3. smeep says:

    One of the few great shows out there
    I had watched most of the original run. I say most because the channels that did show it, shuffled the darn thing around the schedule so badly. There were many a Saturday night at 2 am that I was up watching this show. I have bought both DVD sets so far and I plan on buying the rest when they come out. The only thing I’m not crazy about in the sets is that the transfer wasn’t done very well. Some scenes were very grainy, while others (most of which were CGI) were quite nice. Speaking of CGI, I’ve noticed a lot of complaints about the CGI in the series. You have to remember when this first came out, we didn’t have great CGI that really tricked the eye (still don’t IMHO). It was good for its day, especially given that it is television.

    As for the second season itself, there’s only one complaint I had. The pilot, Lt. Keffer, hanging out with the command staff? Please! I felt his character was more a plot device. Oh, okay, two complaints: the music on episode 4, whenever Maynard’s ship was arriving, leaving, whatever. Hated that.

    Watching this again, knowing how it all ends, I really noticed alot of things that come to fruition later on. If you haven’t watched the series yet, do yourself a favor and get it.

    • sirgeek says:

      Re: One of the few great shows out there

      As for the second season itself, there’s only one complaint I had. The pilot, Lt. Keffer, hanging out with the command staff? Please! I felt his character was more a plot device.

      Watch the DVD’s.. That was WB’s request to have a “Hot Shot” pilot.. JMS’s first words.. Fine.. I’m gonna kill him

      Poor Keffer though.. He NEVER new that JMS was going to kill him off.

  4. is says:

    interesting…
    I’ve only seen an episode here and there but the stuff posted makes me very curious about the show. $80 per dvd set is a lot of money though… Ido wish I knew someone who owned season one so I could watch it and get hooked.

    This is the first show I’ve heard of with the pre-made 5 year storyline and to me it seems like a genius idea. I don’t know why other people don’t do shows like that.

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: interesting…

      This is the first show I’ve heard of with the pre-made 5 year storyline and to me it seems like a genius idea. I don’t know why other people don’t do shows like that.

      1. Because it’s difficult to keep things co-ordinated, and it’s easier for writers to not have to think of everything else that came before.

      2. Because an arc is like a violin: it’s great when it’s played well, and monumentally awful when it’s not. Poor handling of a story arc turns your show turns into a soap opera, where every episode consists of a snail-year-length section of the arc. Consider Buffy… When the story arc was something underlying several episodes which were worthwhile in and of themselves, it was one of the show’s strengths. In the last couple seasons– certainly, in the last– the arc was the only thing that mattered, so individual episodes were often a waste of time, and the series itself became incomprehensible to new viewers.

  5. SteveB says:

    Widescreen Production
    The one significant flaw I find in the B5 DVDs are that they had to cheat on some scenes (magnify and crop the top and bottom) to produce a “widescreen” image. My recollection is that the filming was done to work in both 4:3 TV and widescreen ratios, but the effects were only rendered for the former. The most obvious example is the “subliminal message” in “And Now For A Word”.

    It’s only really noticeable for a small number of scenes, but when it is noticeable it makes me think that they should have just transferred the 4:3 image to DVD.

  6. nulldevice says:

    Uh, the acting?
    I loved B5’s big story arc. I in fact was often annoyed when they did non-arc shows.

    But I had a few issues with the series overall. I never took issue with the FX; hey, I grew up watching Dr. Who. But the acting? Ugh ugh ugh. Okay, Jurasik and Katsulas were brilliant, and Fuerst wasn’t bad either. But pretty much everybody else resorted to either soap-opera melodramatics or wooden reading. Pat Tallman addressed every emotional scene looking like she was going to cry. Bruce Boxleitner was a big step up from Michael O’Hare, but he’s not going to win an Academy award with that sort of delivery. It probably wouldn’t have been so noticable had not Jurasik and Katsulas been so darn good at their roles.

    The other problem – JMS didn’t seem to have the knack for writing good dialogue. Contrast Neil Gaiman’s “Day of the Dead” episode with most of the ones written by JMS. All the JMS ones had great story – really dramatic, sweeping plots – but horribly cartoonish dialogue liberally peppered with soapboxes and speechifying. There are other ways to convey subtle internal struggle than having your mind read by a riddle-speaking alien. The foreshadowing could get horribly leaden, esepcially when they flashed *back* to a *foreshadow* to explain some character development. That works to great effect in a comic book, but not so much whenyou have real people with lines and body movements and dynamic facial expressions.

    Oh, and I thought the 5th season was a little weak, but probably only because they’d wrapped up the major threads in season 4 to prep for a cancellation that never came. They were left focusing on those renfest-reject telepaths, which wasn’t the greatest.

    B5 was was a really good show, and was great sci-fi. But a few things kept it from being a great show overall, not just a great specimen of the genre.

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