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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

SF on TV
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For more information, you can try the following sites:
Rick Norwood's Website
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The X-Files
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Ratings
Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Lone Gunpersons

The Lone Gunmen (**), the new series spun off from The X-Files (****), is not worth watching. It is not SF or fantasy, preferring conspiracies by government or business to aliens or werewolves. The two episodes broadcast so far have each had mildly entertaining and completely serious conspiracy plots, with about five minutes of slapstick comedy pasted in. The comedy mostly involves Lone Gunmen falling down. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with humour about falling down. According to the Firesign Theatre, the first law of nature is: "If you push something hard enough, it will fall over." But here the comedy bits completely contradict established plot and character. It is certainly true that smart people do stupid things -- but not that stupid. Not, for example, as stupid as throwing up into an autographed golf bag and then washing it. But the worst thing about the comedy bits is that they are utterly unfunny.

SF on DVD

Babylon 5

Good news for DVD fans. Babylon 5 (****) on DVD has been announced for this summer. I can hardly wait.

Also coming on DVD, The Complete Blackadder (****). A reviewer at amazon.com describes it as "So cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel." I can't come up with a better description than that.

There was a new Blackadder on public television this week: "Back & Forth," but my local public television station didn't choose to air it, so I can't comment.

I've been watching The Prisoner (**) on DVD and I cannot recommend it, unless you are already hooked on the show. The extras are such things as a filing cabinet with the word "resigned" shown in several different languages, and the intro and end credits with just the pictures, no titles or sound. The most interesting extra is a version of "The Chimes of Big Ben" with bad sound but with one extra minute of footage, where The Prisoner tries to find his latitude using a sextant, which he describes as an "ancient Egyptian invention." But the rest of the episode is so stupid! The Prisoner builds a boat that looks exactly like a boat but which he calls modern art. He actually seems to think he has fooled Number Two with this transparent ruse. Then, he finally actually escapes from The Village. And then he allows himself to be packed into a box for 12 hours and shipped back. And when he tries to elude Rover, the gigantic white beach ball that is the guardian of The Village, he always does the stupidest possible thing, when a simple breathing tube would easily prevent Rover from smothering him. Patrick McGoohan, star, producer, and sometime writer and director of the series, is an actor -- and actors who think they are clever seldom are. (Orson Wells and Woody Allen are the only exceptions I can think of off-hand, and they were both writer-directors who did some acting rather than actors who tried to write.) Professions that involve a tremendous amount of repetition are seldom sought after by truly intelligent people.

X-Files

I put off buying The Complete X-Files (****) on DVD because I liked the fact that Chris Carter chose only the very best episodes to issue on VHS. I finally gave in and bought the complete first season on DVD, and I'm glad I did. The picture is crystal clear, with many details and subtle sound effects that were not apparent on the video. And I'm finding a lot to enjoy in even the lesser, non-mythos episodes. I was impressed by the fact that Chris Carter, in choosing the best episodes, sometimes passed over one of his own in favour of a better story by another writer. And I still agree with his choices. The scene in "Conduit" (****), by Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon, where the camera pulls back from an array of papers covered with zeroes and ones, is one of television's great moments, and it never looked better than on this DVD. On the other hand, I am glad to finally see "The Jersey Devil" (***), by Chris Carter, which is not available on VHS. It does not deserve its bad rep, but is very enjoyable television. The Complete X-Files on DVD has my highest recommendation.

Copyright © 2001 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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