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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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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.

Since Jonah, the Veggie Tales Movie is the best film to open at the Cinemall in many a month, I've turned to television for most of my dramatic entertainment. Fortunately there now is a four-star SF show on the air.

But before I go on to review the past two weeks of television, I want to say a few more words about movies. It seems to be policy at all the local theaters never to screen any film that gets an A in Entertainment Weekly. So I haven't had a chance to see Spirited Away. This has led to some musings about why theaters don't like to show good movies. One explanation I've heard is that if people enjoy the film, they don't buy enough popcorn. I'd like to suggest another possibility.

Roger Ebert likes to tell the story of how some friends once asked him to recommend a movie for them to see that evening. He told them that one film, currently showing, was probably the best film he had seen in several years. "Oh," his friends said, "That doesn't sound like anything we'd like."

Samuel Delany has expressed the opinion that enjoyment of the arts comes from the tension between the expected and the unexpected. Too much of the expected is boring. Too much of the unexpected is annoying. Just the right mix is pure pleasure.

That explains a lot, especially when you add that, as the man said who drank the wine sauce off the French fish dish, one man's mead is another man's poisson. A lot of people want the balance tilted heavily toward the familiar. I like surprises.

Thus, Ebert's friends knew that a film that would excite Ebert would contain more of the unexpected than they were comfortable with. And the owners of the local theaters, all of whom live in Atlanta and never go to movies, assume that local audiences are going to want a heavy does of the expected, just the opposite of what reviewers for a highbrow rag like Entertainment Weekly like.

Which is why I don't get to see Spirited Away, reportedly the best Anime in years, until it comes out on DVD.

Thank goodness theater owners didn't tumble to just how highbrow Veggie Tales is.

TV Reviews
I mentioned in this column not long ago that here in the Last Days of television drama I expect a few gems. Little did I know how soon my prophesy would be fulfilled.

Firefly Firefly, "Our Mrs. Reynolds" (****) by Joss Whedon
(Replaced the previously announced episode.) Love and marriage come to the starship Firefly. With one exception, the people in love are not married, and vice versa. This show actually, literally made me gasp, not once but twice. Add Firefly to your must-see list. Quick, before it gets canceled. Wagon Train to the stars worked for Roddenberry, in linking the unfamiliar to the familiar, but it won't work today. Most teens I know have never seen a western.

Enterprise Enterprise, "Minefield (***) by John Shiban
I'm not the only one who has noticed that Captain Archer fraternizes too much with his crew. He needs to learn to clear his throat more often. Here crewman Reed complains that the command structure is entirely too lax, just before one of the most gruesome scenes ever seen on Star Trek.

Enterprise Enterprise, "Dead Stop" (***) by Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong
Strong continuity with the previous episode is good to see. "There are no new ideas. But there are new ideas about old ideas." Continuity is a plus. In this episode, Enterprise docks at an automated repair station, with results both expected and unexpected.

Birds of Prey, Smallville, and Buffy all had their moments. (I particularly liked the golden Bat emblem on Batgirl's costume in the otherwise shades-of-gray fantasy sequence.) But Enterprise and especially Firefly still get my highest recommendation.

Jeremiah will have a second season, but has only been renewed for 15 episodes, which means it was a very near thing. Subscribe to Showtime, and let Showtime know that the only reason you are subscribing is to see what J. Michael Straczynski is up to these days.

Copyright © 2002 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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