Contemporary TV has a problem. There are no major science fiction series on current television.
Except for Dr. Who, of course. But that show has a very specific fan base and does not appeal to everyone. If you are a science fiction fan and you do not like Dr. Who, tough luck. You have to go watch reruns of your favorite shows, or look into some of the minor science fiction shows on TV.
All this could be remedied with a Babylon 5 remake.
Most people who grew up in the 90s have heard of Babylon 5 (it ran 1994-1998), but few have actually watched it. In short, B5 tells the story of the titular space station that was built as a diplomatic outpost to mitigate conflicts between the major galactic races. Political problems constantly erupt as each race (the humans, Minbari, Vorlons, Centauri, and Narn) jockeys for place. Eventually, the characters realize that the galactic events have been orchestrated by The Shadows, an ancient race bent on domination. Warfare ensues.
B5 is a fine series, but one that has not aged well.
Part of the problem is that the series was stuck in between the classic age of television and our current Golden Age of serialized television. B5 split the difference between the episodic structure of shows such as Star Trek: The Next Generation and our current TV shows, where long multi-season story arcs are common and jumping into a series mid-season is nearly impossible.
Throughout its run, B5 experimented with serialized structure, reaching a culmination in its fourth season where none of the episodes stood alone, feeling more akin to the new Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine than any other contemporary science fiction show of the era. The story arc structure was innovative and served B5 well. Years later, this is still the most interesting part of the show.
Other aspects of the show have not aged nearly as well as the story line. The biggest glaring flaw is the characterization. In the 2000’s, television writers began to feel comfortable with flawed and human characters. Contemporary television has no strong examples of characters that are absolutely heroic and without reproach. B5, however, has the normal tropes of a science fiction show: a commander who is always correct, a 2nd officer who may do lip service to being rebellious but always goes along with orders, and an unfailing love interest.
This bland characterization proves to be a problem for new fans of B5 expecting snappy post-Whedon dialogue (a la Firefly) or the moral complexity of Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica characters. Further aggravating this frustration is the fact that most of the actors in B5 are not really that great. There are a few exceptions (Andreas Katsulas, Claudia Christian, Peter Jurasik and Walter Koenig being notable examples) but overall, the B5 characters seem stiff and uninteresting.
Part of the problem is the script writing and special effects. Although show runner J. Michael Straczynski did an exceptional job creating a complex world and should be given credit for sticking with a five-year plan for the show, his writing is just terrible. Poor JMS does not seem to be able to write dialogue between two people that feels natural and real.
Finally, the special effects of B5 are incredibly dated. Now, I do not think that special effects are key to a good TV show, but they do add a lot, especially when you have a show like B5 where a main part of the story is a galactic war. Watching 90s computer graphics is difficult for contemporary audiences.
I included a clip from the best battle scene of the franchise. Although this is a great scene, this demonstrates what the graphics looked like at their best… Which is still pretty bad by modern standards.
Ok, it seems like I am really hating on B5. I enjoy the show, but I feel like its flaws have become more clear with time. Which is too bad, since the underlying elements are really great.
So when the underlying elements of a show are good, but the original version is flawed and dated, what should we do?
The best example of a rebooted show is of course the new Battlestar Galactica. Originally, the 70s version of this show as a campy rip-off of Star Trek and Star Wars only watched by die-hard fans. But, the creators of the new show realized that the ideas of the original would make a good TV show, if the content was updated for a new audience. And it worked. Regardless of a few missteps, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica was an exciting show that became one of the most iconic shows of the 2000s.
B5 would benefit from the same treatment.
The basics of the show would stay the same. Five races are all jockeying for galactic power, and conduct their diplomatic affairs on the station Babylon 5, built ten years after the devastating Earth-Minbari War. The humans and Minbari are trying to keep an uneasy peace. The Centauri are attempting to recreate their empire which has fallen into decline. The Narn (the newest galactic player) are trying to assert themselves in galactic politics. And the Vorlons would stay oddly aloof from all the politics, stepping in with their absurdly advanced technology only when the opportunity was right. Behind it all, The Shadows are pulling strings to conquer the galaxy like they did thousands of years before.
That is all great stuff. Keep it in the series. Keep the ideas of telepaths, a corrupt Earth government, rebellion and genocide. Those all make for an exciting TV series.
But beyond that, let the TV writers have all the fun that they can. B5 is a complex world, and there are enough stories that can be told to make an interesting TV show. With modern CGI and a big enough budget to work with, you could make some pretty thrilling action scenes. And the modern serialized format would do wonders for B5, keeping the story moving forward in a way that the original never could.
This is one of the few times that I want a dark and gritty reboot. That sort of thing sucks for superhero franchises, but B5 would really benefit. A lot of the themes in the series are dark and disturbing. Whole species are murdered, Earth government tortures and detains innocents and the Shadows kidnap people to serve as a human nervous system inside of their ships. That is some messed up content, and today’s television climate would allow the writers to explore all of those in detail.
Ok SciFi Channel, let’s do this. Hire me! I’m ready, coach!