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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.



Three episodes of Crusade, J. Michael Straczynski's sequel to Babylon 5, have aired so far on TNT. By all reports, the only thing that can continue this series beyond its current thirteen episode run would be phenomenal ratings, and while I have not heard any news on that score, this is one case where no news is bad news. In an interview, Straczynski said that the executives at TNT wanted "Baywatch in Space" and recommended that Straczynski watch pro wrestling to get ideas on characterization. So, enjoy this one while you've got it. Short of a miracle, when it's gone, it's gone, leaving Voyager as the best science fiction on television. Sigh. On the other hand, Straczynski has a reputation for pulling rabbits out of hats. Babylon 5 was canceled more than once and still finished its five year run. The perpetual uncertainty damaged but did not destroy it. So, don't count Crusade out quite yet.

The first three episodes were filmed in the reverse order from the order in which they were aired, and we have not yet seen the earliest shows filmed, which include a visit to the Babylon station.

War Zone (**) written by J. Michael Straczynski
This origin show is unlikely to hook the non-fan viewers Crusade needs to survive. It had a hasty, low budget look, and the first half was particularly bad, as we were quickly given the back story and introduced to some of the regular characters. The second half was a brief adventure, with the crew of the starship Excalibur battling the Drakh on an alien world. There were lots of special effects, some of them good, but some cheesy. A few cheap effects can make a whole show look cheap. Crusade, like Babylon 5, is one minute shorter than the various Star Treks, so each half had to be rushed through in just 22 minutes, leaving no time for us to get to know any of the characters.

The Long Road (***) written by J. Michael Straczynski
Substantially better than the first show, this episode features a fine performance by Edward Woodward (best known as The Equalizer) who plays a technomage trying to save an alien world from exploitation by Earth. I assume that Straczynski was able to get Woodward because the actor liked the idea of working with his son, Peter, who is a regular on Crusade. Nice dragon effect. Nifty ending.

The Well of Forever (****) written by Fiona Avery
This is the show where we really begin to get to know the characters. New writer Avery, who also wrote the fifth episode, "Patterns of the Soul," has the Straczynski formula down pat: a teaser opening, strong character conflicts, portentous dialogue, climax at the end of the third act, and a lot of validation in the fourth act. (Many times I almost walked out on a Babylon 5 episode at the end of the third act, thinking it was over.) The special effects here are up to the high standard we have come to expect from Straczynski. The hyperspace creatures and the Well of Forever itself look marvelous. The technomage Galen talks such a line of mystic b. s. that I had to keep reminding myself that he only does it to wow the rubes. It is technology, not mysticism, that works his "magic". This episode raises my hopes that for at least ten more episodes we will see some fine science fiction.

Copyright © 1999 by 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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