If you somehow missed the Babylon 5 rumpus that's been taking place around here for the past week, fear not: all the links can be found right exactly here. Last Friday, I did an overview of the show. Monday was the show's best characters, Tuesday was its worst, Wednesday was its best aspects and Thursday and Friday covered its worst aspects. Today, we wrap up the whole thing.
It occurred to me while I was writing the 'worst things' posts that I might be grading Babylon 5 on an unfair metric. Comparing B5 to the three best sci-fi shows of the 2000s--Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who and Firefly) inevitably puts it at a disadvantage, and there are all kinds of mitigating circumstances relating to why it stinks at times. Its first four seasons aired on a network (PTEN) that was relatively unknown and probably doomed from its inception, its budget was poor, it was in an era of TV sci-fi that didn't have all that many standout shows, and so on. The best sci-fi shows of the 2000s benefited from ample budgets, well-known networks and better actors than B5 could muster.
I'm not so sure that's an excuse, though. Less than two decades after its release, Babylon 5 looks extremely dated. The bad CGI, the heavily made-up cast contribute to it and the pre-HD cameras contribute to it, but there's a certain look to the footage, sets and in the directing that just stamps the show as old-fashioned. (The camera basically remains at shoulder height for the entire series.) It gained a large cult following and is remembered fondly by many sci-fi fans, but against sleeker, more modern shows it just doesn't measure up.
Ultimately, it's hard to pin the show's faults on J. Michael Straczynski or on extenuating circumstances. The actors are wooden, the directing is ordinary and the dialogue is poor: is that Straczynski's fault, or was it the fault of the era? It's hard to prove one way or the other. Ultimately, though, the only real criteria upon which I can evaluate Babylon 5 is how it looks to me, a fan of sci-fi that came of age in the 2000s.
Viewed purely on its own merits, then, Babylon 5 falls short in most ways. As I've been saying throughout this weeklong review, the show is consistently mediocre. Straczynski often likened his creation to a novel, but it's not an exciting one if that's the case. Bad writing, a lot of bad acting, bad casting, bad set design and stories that took forever to tell drag this show down, and good acting, some good universe-building and a pair of good seasons resuscitate it. I think some of the show's appeal originally lay in its serialization and consistent mediocrity: you could turn on the TV every week and know what you were getting. It wasn't going to be more than occasionally good, but it wasn't going to be horribly bad either, perhaps because there was so little at stake.
If you're a fan of the shows I mentioned at the start of this post, Babylon 5 is probably not for you. It's not remotely in their league. If your standards are lower or you're a fan of '90s sci-fi, then give it a try.
More Or Less Arbitrary Grading Scale
Set Design: D
Character Development: A-
Average Episode Quality Relative to Itself: C
Good Villains: C- (good in seasons 2 and 3, terrible in 4 and 5)
Good Heroes: D-
Good Characters Who Are Both: A
Series Ending: F
Arc Continuity: A
Character Continuity: D+
OVERALL SERIES GRADE: C-