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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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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.

Twilight Zone What's on TV this month? Nothin' much. I've been watching a lot of old TV on DVD. What impresses me most about old TV is how slow, slow, slow it is. Or, to put it another way, how rapidly we have learned to absorb images and information, even react emotionally, based on a whirlwind action sequence or a raised eyebrow. A point that might be stretched out over an entire half hour of the original Twilight Zone -- people are afraid of anyone different from themselves, to take a trite example -- is projected in a single flicker of expression on Lana Lang's face. Now, it may well be that the modern viewer "gets it" in thirty seconds because Twilight Zone, and a thousand other media experiences, spelled it out over the space of thirty minutes. But, whatever the reason, it makes Twilight Zone almost unwatchable.

Comedy is even worse. I watched, or tRied to watch, a DVD of Laugh-In. In its day, Laugh-In was the fastest and funniest show on television. Now? Molasses. Laugh-In

This is not true of written fiction. Shakespeare's plays are as fresh today as they were when originally written, because they cram so much information and emotion into every line. I watched Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins, a few nights ago, and Titus the images flow over you like a river, sweeping you along until finally you reach the height of folly, Anthony Hopkins in a chef's hat serving up to the queen her wicked children, baked into a pie. If the only thing going on in this play were the old news that violence begets violence, it wouldn't hold our interest for thirty minutes. But it is about parents and children, about suffering and revenge, and about power, and why you can never let go of the tail of a tiger.

In contrast, much modern fiction is as simplistic as old time television. A White girl is taken in by a Black family of bee keepers who teach her what love is. All Blacks are loving and kind, all Whites stupid and cruel. Even modern science fiction is often like that. I recently read the Hugo-winning novel, Forever Peace, by Joe Haldeman. A soldier is cured of his suicidal tendencies by joining a group mind, and then the human race is cured of its suicidal tendencies by joining the group mind. Love cures all.

Forever Peace Only a few modern science fiction writers, Neal Stephenson and Gene Wolfe for example, have the depth and complexity of Alfred Bester and Theodore Sturgeon, from the good old days. On the theme of "love cures all," read Sturgeon's "Bright Segment" (the plot of which Stephen King swiped at ten times the length and half the impact) and that phrase will never be the same again.

What's on TV in June:

Friday, June 2
Doctor Who, "Badwolf" (part 1 of 2) by Russell T. Davies

Friday, June 9
Doctor Who, "The Parting of the Ways" (part 2 of 2). Season One finale by Russell T. Davies.

Sunday, June 11
The 4400, "The New World"

Sunday, June 18
The 4400, "Being Tom Baldwin"

Sunday, June 25
The 4400, "Gone I" (part 1 of 2).

Smallville and Supernatural have both been renewed for new episodes this Fall.

Copyright © 2006 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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