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Steven Furst’s role on Babylon 5 was a remarkable example of a sci-fi sidekick (theverge.com)
96 points by Tomte 120 days ago | hide | past | web | 42 comments | favorite

Babylon 5 should get way more love. It was ambitious in a way it's contemporaries weren't [1]. The fact that J. Michael Straczynski wrote the majority of the episodes is both unheard of and shows in how consistent and well-crafted the universe is. Pretty much every character is complex, motivated, and portrayed expertly.

It was the first TV show to regularly use CGI. Unfortunately, it hasn't aged well compared to Star Trek. If you can tolerate that, I can't sing the series's praises high enough.

[1] With the exception of Deep Space 9, and there's always that rumor that they stole the idea for DS9 from B5...

Few TV shows have had its depth of writing. The storyline on the growth of fascism on Earth explores and predicts post-9/11 hysteria as well as anything I've ever seen. The only show I can think of recently with such great writing was Breaking Bad, though I don't think I learned as much from it.

Also, personally found the CGI a problem only in the first season, mostly due to bad lighting. In the second season, after the lighting is fixed the designs of the ships for example, are quite lovely, with correct physics, even when looking a bit dated from other angles, such as resolution. No spaceships maneuvering like airplanes, yeah!

Definitely would be a great candidate to have the graphics redone, a la the Star Trek TOS.

Sadly, it'll never happen. The original (no effects) film is lost so any remake would need to both erase/repair the old graphics, and then put the new effects on top.

I've heard that the TNG remaster isn't recouping its expense on just DVD revenue, and B5 doesn't even have a tenth of the audience. It'll never recoup the costs.

> The original (no effects) film is lost so any remake would need to both erase/repair the old graphics, and then put the new effects on top.

Not sure I understand this paragraph. Is the live action lost or the CGI space scenes lost, or both? Worldmaker seems to think both.

> I've heard that the TNG remaster isn't recouping its expense on just DVD revenue.

I'm not surprised few people are buying DVDs anymore, or Blueray (for TNG?). Been watching the TOS remasters on Netflix and enjoying them.

The original rolls are lost?

The implications are Warner Brothers archives lost nearly everything. B5 was ahead of its time in anticipating HD (compare the shot composition of B5 versus DS9, for example) and shot everything for HD and figured with the digital files for the CGI backed up they could easily re-animate for HD.

Somehow Warner Brothers seemed to lose all the original film masters and all of the digital files for the CGI in just the two or three years for HD to actually arrive to televisions. B5 was supposed to be one of the first shows to air/re-air in HD, and that will certainly never happen now.

There was a lot to like about Babylon 5. But there was also a lot that you had to overlook even at the time (some pretty wooden acting even if other acting was pretty darned good, a storyline that was compromised by cancellation uncertainty) and special effects that really don't hold up well. (It's also one of those complex shows that you really have to commit to.)

I was very into it at the time. But a couple people I've recommended it to said it was one of the few times I really led them astray.

The effects didn't held up mostly due to the fact that the studio at the time thought it would be cheaper to redo the effects rather than store them on a proper master.

This sadly resulted in the effects (the purely CGI rendered scenes) being an interlaced crap fest on the DVD while the rest of show was in somewhat acceptable standard.

I've recently bought the boxset from Amazon for like 50 quid and rewatched it on a Sony 4K TV and the upscaling that Sony does made the show quite watchable still, not good but watchable.

That said the pre-remaster TNG releases are also an interlaced nightmare up to season 4 or 5.

I do agree with the rest B5 pretty much had to squeeze 2-3 seasons worth of content into Season 4 which meant that the 4th season ended up feeling rushed with most of the plot lines not getting the amount of effort they deserved considering the effort that was put into seeding them during the previous 3 years.

The 5th season under TNT was pretty much garbage, the last few episodes with the centaury falling under the influence of the Drakk were ok but honestly they should've just cut the entire Drakk plotline from S4 with the cancelation looming it would've saved us from having to watch Season 5, CTA and the horror that was Crusade.

B5 was a shining example of how a show can look like when the runners have the entire plot set up from the get go, too bad it's legacy got spoiled with Crusade, Legends on the Rangers, I'm not sure what happened my own personal opinion is that MJS probably needed much more help than he or the fans would admit.

Interesting! I love Babylon 5 and watch/re-watch it every few years. I've even watched it with several friends over the years and discussed it in depth with each of them.

It's definitely a strange show, but it's sheer story is like almost nothing I've ever seen. It's like a proto-BSG, where we're following many characters and their arcs through a very intense and far-reaching series of events with long-lasting consequences that may show symptoms only very slowly. Like I said, it has this in common with other shows, and it's great. But unlike almost any other show I've ever seen, the first three seasons comprise one cohesive story.

I've consumed other media with stories that are meant to span large volumes of content, but almost all of them end up wandering around a bunch before eventually remembering that they're supposed to be dealing with the larger plot (cough Wheel of Time cough). So to see such a long-reaching cohesive story, something I'd never seen on TV before or since, and have it actually be good, made Babylon 5 an amazing show for me.

First four seasons, not first three.

Also, I don't really think "proto-BSG" is especially reasonable, considering first that B5 isn't unrelentingly grim and miserable just for the sake of it, and second that, where JMS planned out the story arcs to completion before production began, Ronald Moore has come out and admitted that he was making shit up as he went along - rather say that BSG was an honorable, but ultimately vain, attempt to live up to the standard set by Babylon 5.

> So to see such a long-reaching cohesive story, something I'd never seen on TV before or since, and have it actually be good, made Babylon 5 an amazing show for me.

A benefit of JMS planning seven seasons of plot before starting and remaining a consistent part of the writing staff.

I think one of the problems is B5 is not really episodic, it's a serial story that you really need to be following. But back in the 90s, this was pretty hard to do over such a long period of time.

It's meant to be binged, or at least watched without missing an episode. And it's that good to be worthy of it.

G'Kar lives!

A Babylon 5 being created in the age of breaking bad and game of thrones would be amazing.

It also can be argued that the age of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones only happened because Babylon 5 was ahead of its time enough to scout some of the territory.

I don't know how it went in other areas of the world, but in Australia in wasn't on until about 11pm, or much later and frequently not at all depending on what else was on, like a long movie or sport. This meant that you couldn't even reliably record it.

The other problem with not really being episodic was that a lot of the individual episodes were really boring, it was hard to stay awake to the end of many episodes so between that, missed episodes and delays it was really hard to follow.

In the US, I remember it starting closer to prime time in my area, like 8 or 9 pm, but then moving around a lot. It was actually hard to find on TV, and was moved around from station to station, ending up I think on TNT.

I agree that Season 1 was pretty slow - and it made it feel like an episodic show because most of the plot lines weren't even vaguely connected. But it does all tie back in much later on, for example the Soul Hunter episode. I think it kind of threw people, as most other sci fi was definitely episodic.

In New Zealand, it was early Saturday afternoons, moving to progressively later times. For some reason, it was a low rating show...

The other thing is that episodes that seem episodic are a really not. There's certain episodes that don't become significant until much later (e.g. Signs and Potents).

There was always something cringeworthy about the deferential and meek actors representing the warrior race that almost exterminated humanity (Minbari) [only to become it's best buddy]. The bizarre chain-smoking accent of the lead actor (Sheridan) and general mediocre out-of-place acting made the show a cringefest for me (Londo/Peter Jurasik being a notable exception). TNG/DS9, while often quite dull, was still much more compelling because it was more cerebral and subtle in contrast.

I don't really want to help you resuscitate this particar long-dead sf fan holy war. But "deferential and meek"? Really? Minbari aren't portrayed with an in-your-face style of conflict very often - with one notable exception that informs the entire story - but they're involved in conflict aplenty.

I get that the show's a bit camp, especially now that technology has advanced by leaps and bounds to make B5's then-groundbreaking CGI work really show its age. But yours isn't a fair or accurate description of its qualities. In particular, I'm not sure how you can support a claim that B5 is less "cerebral and subtle" than TNG, a show whose writers never met a clumsy, ham-fisted moral browbeating they didn't like - DS9 has more to recommend it in that regard, I agree - but compared to a show with five-year-long plot arcs, with events in the first few episodes literally paying off years later, and with influences and references drawn from a range broad enough to encompass Tolkien, World War I, Bester, philosophy and political theory from Hume and Locke to Nietzsche and Carlyle, Jewish mysticism, Christian theology, Olaf Stapledon, A Canticle for Leibowitz, and that's just off the top of my head...honestly, where are you getting this?

Can you elaborate on the Canticle for Leibowitz connection? Not doubt motivating me, just curiosity as I've never made the connection and enjoyed both works.

The last episode of Season 4; I believe it's called Deconstruction of Falling Stars.

Heck, Harlan Ellison was also a contributing writing!

An excellent point! Ellison's sole Trek outing, "The City on the Edge of Forever", is considered by many to be the franchise's finest hour; in addition to writing for B5, he also served as a creative consultant and even contributed voice work to one episode.

> There was always something cringeworthy about the deferential and meek actors representing the warrior race that almost exterminated humanity (Minbari)

That would be down to the three-caste system (warrior, worker, religious).

Personally I didn't have an issue with the way even the religious caste were portrayed - peace-loving but fearsome when wronged.


I mean, the entire Human-Minbari war was down to a misinterpretation (about open gun ports) - and revenge, of course. The fact that Delenn was religious caste makes her initiation of the war even more poignant.

It seems like too many involved with Babylon 5 are dying far too young.

When Richard Biggs died, I was sad, but I thought a revival could still be possible and be enjoyable. When Andreas Katsulas died, I knew any revival would suffer without his presence.

Now at some point with Jerry Doyle, Jeff Conway and now Stephen Furst have passed beyond the veil and I've come to realize that I don't want any more Babylon 5 -- except for a TOS/TNG-like remastering with new CGI -- I'd pay a lot for that.

I feel almost cruel pointing it out because they were limited print runs and you can't really buy them (no digital copies exist as far as I know, and the print copies are costly) but there exists an amazing set of books (http://www.cafepress.com/b5books). Each volume has copies of a few scripts from the show, but the real magic is a series of stories written by JMS for every book and each episode of B5. They go into detail about the production of the show and production of television shows in general and just how ground-breaking Babylon 5 was in general. The show was just as revolutionary behind the scenes as it was on screen. The books go into great detail to explain what happened to season 5 and -- at the risk of a BuzzFeed-style headline -- it's not what you think.

As a consolation prize for those who cannot read those books, I suggest Claudia Christians Memoir (Babylon Confidential https://www.amazon.com/Babylon-Confidential-Memoir-Love-Addi...). It's quite good -- even and especially the non-Babylon 5 parts.

Each of these deaths from Babylon 5 leaves me profoundly sad because I highly doubt I will ever see another show that I enjoy as much as I enjoyed Babylon 5. I'm not sure that anyone will make another show with such depth and intricacy, though I will be watching the final two seasons of Game of Thrones with deep anticipation.

It seems like too many involved with Babylon 5 are dying far too young.

Don't forget Michael O'Hare. Not that he had much involvement after the first season, but still, dying at age 60 is much too young.

Also Tim Choate. A bit player, but I really loved the character. Yes. Yes. Zathras is used to being beast of burden to other people's needs. Very sad life. Probably have... very sad death. But... at least there is Symmetry

I did forget Tim Choate, which is sad, I loved Zathras. At least a different Zathras lives on, somewhere, sometime.

I had no idea Michael O'Hare died :(

While I know his departure from the show was unplanned, I admire the skill with which JMS wove his departure into the fabric of the show. He took what would have been a liability to any other writer/showrunner and turned it into a huge asset. For example, the whole Lyta/Talia/Lyta situation was entirely externally dictated to him, but he managed to turn it into some fantastic storylines. I am still sad about not exploring any Ivanova romance plot lines. Marcus and Talia fighting for Ivanova's affection would have been amazing.

God bless, and may flights of Vorlons sing him to his rest.


Yes - now...

I only watched Bab5 for the first time last year and it launched straight into my top 5. There are some old sci-fi shows that can be easily watched in spite of dated graphics (Bab5, ST:TOS, ST:TNG) and some you can't (BSG).

Does anyone know where Babylon 5 can be streamed (legally)?

Thank you!!!


Vir was possibly my favorite character on B5. I'm going to have to go watch the whole thing again.

The original fruit ninja

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0n2vurSBIQ is still one of the best scenes with one of my favorite quotes: "...as a warning to the next 10 generations that some favors come with too high a price..."

His final scene with Morden was one of the best in what was an excellent season that should have been the ending.

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