Wednesday, April 9, 2008

It's not TV, it's...DVD (1)

"It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, ten years after the Earth-Minbari War. The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war by creating a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully. It's a port of call, home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers. Humans and aliens wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night. It can be a dangerous place, but it's our last, best hope for peace. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5."

The instructor of the TV writing course I just finished took a few minutes each week for something he called Oh Wow and Oh Please Moments. You know, those moments you have watching a movie or (in this case) TV show that make you stop and take notice in either a really good or really bad way.

People referenced everything from Dexter to Medium to the The Office and often found good and bad in both. I brought up The Wire on two occasions to talk more or less about the same moment - once as an Oh Please and once as an Oh Wow. Constant readers probably already know that I'm talking about the way Omar was handled in season 5.

But there was another show I really wanted to bring up every single time we did the exercise. It was a little show Jul and I were finally watching after having friends tell us for years about how amazing it was and how we just had to see it. And that's exactly what I wanted to talk about--how amazing it was...about 2 percent of the time.

For the most part, I found this show to be over-written, over-acted, under-produced and just generally kind of bad. I am talking, of course, about Babylon 5.

Please, hold off on those torches and pitchforks and allow me to explain.

First off, all we've watched so far is season 1 - we just started the second season. I've been told by just about everyone that the first season is by far the weakest, so I'm still extremely hopeful about the show overall. Plus...there's that 2 percent I mentioned. Even with all of the often painfully, laughably bad, the ideas explored in the overall story and sometimes even individual episodes are really interesting, and every once in a while a moment of brilliance sneaks in--almost as if by accident--and literally takes my breath away.

A moments like the one below I stole (shh) from IMDB:

Catherine Sakai: Ambassador! While I was out there, I saw something. What was it?
G'Kar: [points to a flower with a bug crawling on it] What is this?
Catherine Sakai: An ant.
G'Kar: Ant.
Catherine Sakai: So much gets shipped up from Earth on commercial transports it's hard to keep them out.
G'Kar: Yeah, I have just picked it up on the tip of my glove. If I put it down again, and it asks another ant, "what was that?", how would it explain? There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They're vast, timeless, and if they're aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants, and we have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know, we've tried, and we've learned that we can either stay out from underfoot or be stepped on.
Catherine Sakai: That's it? That's all you know?
G'Kar: Yes, they are a mystery. And I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the universe, that we have not yet explained everything. Whatever they are, Miss Sakai, they walk Sigma 957, and they must walk there alone.

How great is that? And how is it possible that a scene like that can coexist in the same show with this one:

Andrei Ivanov: [On his death bed] Is that you susan?
Lt. Cmdr. Susan Ivanova: Yes.
Andrei Ivanov: Oh dear god, I never thought I'd see your face again, it makes this easier. Susan, I know I haven't been the best of fathers to you. But when your mother passed on and your brother was killed in the war I was too wrapped up in my own grief to pay attention to your needs. And when you joined Earthforce against my wishes.
Lt. Cmdr. Susan Ivanova: You don't have to say this father.
Andrei Ivanov: Yes, Yes I must. There's no more time, I want you to know how proud I am of you Susan, I always have been. But a father should gve his daughter love as well as respect, and in that I failed you, I'm sorry, I'm ashamed. Forgive me.
Lt. Cmdr. Susan Ivanova: [nods head slightly]
Andrei Ivanov: Thank you, 'Dushenka moya'
Lt. Cmdr. Susan Ivanova: 'Little soul' You haven't called me that for... Papa!

Yes, he dies while she watches. Sorry if that's a spoiler, but trust me, it's really not.

Of course, I'm picking on the wrong thing here. The one thing the show really has going for it is the writing/plotting of JMS. It's clear that he has a plan in mind and season 1 has just enough going for it to make me confident that he will pull the show off in a way that I'll find satisfying. So far I don't find him as adept a writer of dialogue, but many of the lines that come off as bad are not entirely his fault. Much like Whedon's much-lamented "lightning" line in X-Men, great actors might have made the above deathbed scene work pretty well. Unfortunately (with a few exceptions) this isn't a show that was exactly bursting with great actors.

All in all, though, I'm still along for the ride and expecting better things to come over the next four seasons. Just promise me the show doesn't pull a Heroes for its second season...


Maggie said...

Oh boy! I hate that show! I got scared for one second that you were going to write that it was really good. (More than 2% of the time.)

I never understood how people could group it together with DS9, which of course is fantastic. I mean, a Yugo and a Porsche are both *cars,* yes, but....


Josh said...

I have a sneaking suspicion it's going to be quite Heroes-like when all is said and done (circa season 1). So-so acting, so-so dialogue and so-so storytelling on an episode-to-episode basis, but increasingly full of "Ooh, shiny" connect-the-dots/wow-that-was-actually -done-well moments as the over-arcing story continues.