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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

SF on TV
Other Babylon 5.1 Columns
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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.

First, a review of the new Fall season, then some shows to watch in October.

Firefly Firefly, "The Train Job" (****) by Joss Whedon and Tim Minear
This was my favorite of the new season. It's a space western and proud of it, from the creator of Buffy. Watch it quick. Its ratings were so low it probably won't be around long. Joss Whedon is trying to distance this show from Star Trek -- selling it as an anti-Star Trek, with no aliens. And no aliens is a good thing, why? Actually, Firefly is a lot like good Trek -- appealing characters, clever ideas, brief but excellent special effects. (I wonder why no sf series today comes close to the heady special effects of Babylon 5.) I was happily watching this first episode in much the same spirit I watch Enterprise, when one scene took me by surprise and kicked the show up into the four star category. The second episode, "Bushwacked", (***) by Tim Minear, was also entertaining.

Smallville, "Vortex" (***) by Alfred Gough and Miles Miller, teleplay by Philip Levens
I didn't expect the season premier of Smallville to be my second favorite show in September, but excellent hurricane effects plus intriguing characterization of young Lex Luthor made for an enjoyable experience.

Enterprise Enterprise, "Shockwave II" (***) by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga
The solution to the first season cliffhanger was a bit too easy. First we build an illudium Q-36 space modulator out of a coat hanger and duct tape. Then we save all of space/time by winning a fistfight with a Suliban. Still, everyone involved is doing their best. What they really need is to bring back some of the writers from Deep Space Nine. The second episode, "Carbon Creek" (***) by Chris Black, was entertaining revisionist history about first contact between humans and Vulcans.

Buffy Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Lessons" (**) by Joss Whedon
Sometimes the dialogue is a bit too clever, especially in the high school scenes, and the monsters still look like refugees from Midnight Madness, "Howl of the Woof", but likable characters carry the show.

John Doe, "Pilot" (**) by Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson
This show, which follows Firefly, drew almost twice as many viewers. It's a clever idea, if not entirely consistent, about a man who knows everything except who he is. Unfortunately, it looks as if most of the time will be spent on routine crime stories, with only a dollop of sf in each episode. This is, I think, why Witchblade, which showed so much promise, went belly up. Also the hero, instead of being appealing, comes across as a know-it-all. Which, of course, he is. But that doesn't make us like him.

Twilight Zone sucks. No stars, since my mind kept wandering, and I wound up playing a video game while I watched, which I usually do only during commercials. The original Twilight Zone was revolutionary -- to understand just how revolutionary you have to have lived through the fifties. The first revival of Twilight Zone wisely hired real science fiction writers and adapted classic sf stories. The new Twilight Zone returns to simplistic morality tales, each with one idea and no plot. Ideas that were fresh in the fifties are hopelessly dated in the Twenty-First Century.

What to watch in October:
Tuesday, October 1
Smallville, "Heat" by Mark Verheiden.
Wednesday, October 2
Enterprise, "Minefield" by John Shiban, who wrote some pretty good X-Files.
Friday, October 4
Firefly, "Shindig" by Jane Espenson, Buffy writer with one DS9 to her credit.
Sunday, October 6 and Monday, October 7
"The Lost World" by Tony Mulholland and Adrian Hodges, from a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Not bad, but the book is better. And why would anyone sit through commercials when they can rent the DVD?
Wednesday, October 9
Enterprise, "Dead Stop" by Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong.
Wednesday, October 9
Birds of Prey, "Pilot" by Laeta Kalogridis. Commissioner Gordon's daughter meets the love child of Batman and Catwoman. Series Premiere. The head writer knows her comic books. And she's a fan of Modesty Blaise. Since I am (full disclosure) the current US publisher of Modesty Blaise comics, that's got to be a plus in my book.
Wednesday, October 16
Enterprise, "A Night in Sickbay", by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga.
Friday, October 18
Firefly, "Our Mrs. Reynolds" by Joss Whedon.
Wednesday, October 23
Enterprise, "Marauders" by Michael Vegar. Klingons!
Friday, October 25
Firefly, "Safe" by Drew Z. Greenberg.
Wednesday, October 30
Enterprise, "The Seventh" by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. Covert Vulcan Ops.

As you know, Farscape fell below the million viewer mark and was canceled. The final episodes won't air until 2003. After that, it will be picked up as an anime series in Japan.

No news at this writing about whether Jeremiah will have a second season, though the decision will be made any minute now.

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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