Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Worst Characters of Babylon 5

Brief introduction: this week I will be doing an extended review of the TV show, Babylon 5. For last Friday's preview/series basics, click here. For yesterday's overview of B5's best characters, click here.

John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner), Captain of Babylon 5

Yep. Their flagship actor, Bruce Boxleitner (fresh off a lead role in Tron), is just awful in B5. There’s nothing distinctive about him. He’s a leader, he’s able to build consensus and he’s irreplaceable in B5 politics, but the guy himself would fit comfortably into any good guy/leader role. In fact, you could probably swap out not just Boxleitner, but the entire character of John Sheridan with any other generic good guy/leader and not notice the difference.

Sheridan has no flaws. None. Seriously, go back and watch the series like I did, and tell me if you find one single character flaw. The worst thing he does is display loyalty to his dead wife. How exactly are viewers supposed to relate to a flawless character? Boxleitner’s acting is poor (he reminds me of George Washington’s face on Mount Rushmore) and the character is a total write-off. We are given countless opportunities to know, meet and understand Sheridan, and it’s not like they didn’t try to write in depth for him. We’re given insight into his minutest thoughts, quirks and habits, and given every opportunity to like both actor and character. It just doesn’t work at all.

Zack Allan (Jeff Conaway), Asst. Security Chief of Babylon 5
 A bit-part character in Season 2 who ascends to a starting role in seasons 3-5, Zack Allan probably should have stuck to occasional guest appearances. He's even less watchable than Sheridan, and Conaway's acting is worse even than Boxleitner's. Zack starts to show some emotion midway through Season 5, but that’s about all you can say for him. The guy is a featureless rock with a stupid accent who does nothing worthwhile on the show. Londo pegged him perfectly with the caustic line, “You have that vacant look that says, ‘Hold my head to your ear. You will hear the ocean.’”

Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs), Chief Medical Officer of Babylon 5
 For the third entry in a row, the character is uninteresting and the actor is poor. Biggs, Conaway and Boxleitner are given different qualities of material to work with, but all of them stink up the joint. Biggs just doesn't bring anything to the party in terms of acting ability, and his character suffers as a result, despite being given all sorts of material to work with. I didn’t always think this of Franklin; he handles a difficult science-versus-religion episode well, and is featured in the series’ most Star Trek-esque episode early in Season 1. But his emotionless patter, terrible delivery and lack of depth do him in. There is honestly a whole sub-arc in Season 3 whose sole purpose is to give Franklin some personality. After it’s over, Franklin picks himself up, dusts himself off and goes right back to being the same dull, featureless person he was pre-arc.

(Note: These three are highly visible, often-seen members of the B5 command staff. A lot of the good characters, many though they be, are stuck in more seldom-seen roles. Lennier is a minor character, Bester and Morden are occasional guest stars, etc. So although there are fewer of these guys, their crappiness has a disproportionate effect on the show at large.)

Virini (Damian London), Chamberlain to the Centauri Court
You have never met a more annoying character than Chamberlain Virini. He is fluttery, he is flighty and he is unconscionably stupid. You know those characters in anime franchises who are constantly behind on the plot, rarely to never understand what’s happening around them and run around screeching like demented geese whenever anything changes? Damian London is the live-action version of that, and it’s somehow even more annoying in this medium. London does a little better when he’s asked to be creepy in Season 5 (a lot of things improve in Season 5), but the rest of the time he’s just awful. I guess that’s just the role he was asked to play, in which case, this is the only time you’ll hear me criticize an actor for doing his job too well.

In the conversation: 
 Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman), Emperor Cartagia (Wortham Krimmer), David Corwin (Joshua Cox), President Clark (Gary McGurk). Tallman was ordinary in three seasons before blossoming in Season 5, when she was given an expanded role and more screen time. Krimmer wasn’t bad; his presence here is because he served as a walking reminder that you were watching a TV show. “How did someone so brain-twistingly insane become Emperor anyway? Oh, because it's on TV and someone has to be the villain.” McGurk I’ll deal with in the “Bad Things” note. As for Corwin, he’s here more as an indictment of creator J. Michael Straczynski than anything else. The guy appeared in 34 episodes as a member of the bridge crew, and in only one does he have significant lines or a subplot of his own. They could’ve done a lot more with him.

Tomorrow, we move back to halcyon times and contemplate the best qualities of Babylon 5.


Anonymous said...

Very good choice, of the worst roles. I would add Delenn (actress Mira Furlan) to this row. And not because the character was bad. But even when nothing is wrong, she overacts. With this whimpering tone, in her voice like she could break down at any given moment.

I would also like to add, Vir Cotto (actor Stephen Furst) what a annoying man to watch. If i see him, i think about a teenage comedy. Just a very annoying voice and character.

That being said by far best, was Londo Mollari. A very good strong developed character, and the actor fits those shoes !

Anonymous said...

For me the list of bad characters is as easy to write as the best

Delenn - her voice is the all time worst ever
Sinclair - the definition of wooden
Stephan Franklin - any of a number of reasons
Lyta Alexander - she really needed to be slapped. I could see making her the worst of the worst on any given day. She was given too much story and too much screen time and I very much disliked the way she was written (relates to needing slapped).
Morden - not a very scary bad guy

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