The most important science fiction TV series of the Nineties wasn’t a Star Trek series or The X-Files. Instead, that little space station that could — Babylon 5 — was the harbinger of prestige TV in the 21st century. And now, all five seasons of Babylon 5 will be easy to watch again. The whole series will be streaming on Amazon Prime in June. If you missed the show the first time around, here’s why it’s so huge.
These days, nearly every big TV series requires viewers to have seen nearly every single episode to understand what is going on the latest installment. But, TV wasn’t always like this. In fact, in the Nineties it was still exceedingly rare for a TV show to have episodes directly lead into each other. Two-part episodes were a big deal, and season long story arcs (with the obvious exception of daytime soap operas) were unheard of. But, Babylon 5 changed all that.
The show was the brainchild of J. Michael Straczynski, who is probably most famous to contemporary sci-fi and fantasy fans as being the guy who co-wrote Sense8, wrote a bunch of comic books, and did the story for the first Thor movie in 2011. But, for the sci-fi faithful, Babylon 5 remains his crowning achievement. Set on a space station in the 23rd century, the show revolves around galactic politics, epic alien battles, and secret agendas from a variety of factions. Basically, it was like Game of Thrones combined with Lord of the Rings, in space, as a TV show. And, unlike any of its contemporaries, every single episode connected to the next installment. Without this show, the brilliance of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica would have probably never happened.
Sure, while some other Nineties shows played around with non-episodic formats (like Buffy and The Sopranos) the biggest difference with Babylon 5 is that nearly every single teleplay was actually written by Straczynski himself. And, unlike something like Lost or Breaking Bad, he actually had the entire story planned out ahead of time. This fact, among other features, gave Babylon 5 the nickname “a novel for television.” Plus, when episodes weren’t directly written by Straczynski, he often brought in heavyweights like Neil Gaiman to write a script.
And now, as of June, the whole series will be easy to watch. The production values of the show might not hold up for contemporary audiences (the show had 1/3 the budget of a Star Trek series). Plus, in order to save money, Babylon 5 pioneered the use of computer-generated special effects for all the exterior spaceship and space station shots. At the time, this was considered crazy, since shows like Star Trek were still using models.
So, even if newcomers don’t love it, the most dedicated fans of contemporary TV will certainly notice a lot of plot tricks and long-game concepts that Babylon 5 did way before anyone else. - Babylon 5 hits Amazon Prime in June.