The Babylon Project was a dream, given form. Its goal: to prevent another war, by creating a place where humans and aliens can work out their differences peacefully. It's a port of call home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers. Humans and aliens, wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal... all alone in the night. It can be a dangerous place, but it's our last, best hope for peace.
This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5."
Babylon 5 is a Nineties Space Opera created by J. Michael Straczynski, running from 1994-1998 (a two-hour pilot, "The Gathering", had aired in 1993). It was syndicated as a part of the PTEN network package for its first four seasons, and was picked up by TNT for its fifth.
The story takes place on Babylon 5, a giant cylindrical space station and sort of United Nations in space. It's not all roses, however, as Earth's military is woefully outmatched by those of the other delegates, resulting in what can be generously described as a tentative peace. It's up to the crew to throw cold water on old rivalries and keep these various factions from devouring one another; a task made difficult by an increasingly-reactionary and despotic Earth command.
Babylon 5 took the use of Story Arcs to new heights, and introduced the concept of the Wham Episode, with probably over half of its episodes contributing to one major series-long arc (a Myth Arc). JMS had plotted out much of the arc before the series began, and occasionally referred to it as a five-year long Mini Series or as "one story told over five years". (He is in the Guinness Book of World Records now for having written every episode of Seasons 3 and 4 singlehandedly.) Some of the story was also told through the tie-in novels and comic books since there wasn't time within that five-year timeframe to tell the entire story on television.
While the series is often given as an early example of a hard science fiction show, it does have Humanoid Aliens and Rubber-Forehead Aliens (with human-like Fantasy Counterpart Cultures) making up the majority of its non-human cast, aliens and machines with powers verging on magic, and humans with Psychic Powers. Still, by TV standards, it's fairly crispy sci-fi. Likewise, while the show is often seen as being more toward the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, at times almost edging into Black and Gray Morality, it also has some shining moments of idealism as well. One could say that the overarching Aesop of the series is "the pragmatic survive, and the determined thrive, but Faith Manages." An alternative interpretation of Babylon 5 is that it is one large aesop in support of reducing conflicts through forming personal relationships and exchanging information with those you are different. Not only was the Earth-Minbari war started over a misunderstanding, but it was ended when the Minbari learned more about humans. The big bad was constantly portrayed as one person/group or another hiding in the shadows, using brainwashing, or controlled/controlling from behind the scenes by promises, threats, or a parasite. Mind readers, propaganda, confiscated information, and old fashioned talking solved many of the shows issues.
Though it achieved only niche success during its lifetime, B5 is the Ur-Example for several tropes television takes for granted today. It was the first American TV show to even have a Myth Arc (a feature popularized Stateside by LOST, though Mexican telenovela had been doing this for decades), one of the first to use CGI renders for all its SFX instead of practical models (and it shows today), and one of the first to have a very strong Internet fandom. In some ways, B5 (and its Dueling Show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, with which it shares many qualities) is the precursor to so-called "Prestige television," a category of continuity-heavy, angsty dramas that contains some of the luminaries of the medium like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. As such, although it is not always heavily discussed, the show's influence on English-language television and wider video fiction in the 21st century is nearly all-encompassing.
It is available via Netflix, in disc form only. The WB has also put up Season 1 and cycling episodes (think Hulu "view X episodes at a time") of season 2 for online watching. The first season does not include the tenth episode, "Believers." There is also a DVD box including all seasons and movies. Recently, the streaming site Go 90 has made all five seasons available for streaming. Unfortunately, as of 5/4/2018 it appears no longer to be online at go90, but it is now available on Amazon Prime Video (as of 2018 June 1).
Spin-Offs and TV movies:Crusade, which ran for 13 episodes in 1999, told the story of the spaceship Excalibur and her search for a counteragent to/cure for a slow-acting biological weapon which has been deployed against the Earth by a returning B5 villain. The series had serious trouble: superficial resemblance to the plot of Star Blazers was cited, and creators raged against the ridiculous amounts of Executive Meddling that they had to fight against. (These network notes were attacked more than once in the Crusade scripts themselves.) Opinions on the quality of the episodes were divided: to some, the series showed considerable promise before its premature death; to others, markedly less.
There were several associated B5 Made-for-TV Movies:
- The Gathering — 1993 Pilot Movie, with certain differences from the series
- In the Beginning — 1998, a prequel to the series
- Thirdspace — 1998, takes place during the fourth season of the series.
- The River of Souls — 1998, takes place shortly after the end of series (excluding its Distant Finale). Features Martin Sheen.
- A Call to Arms — 1999, takes place about five years after the end of the series (excluding its Distant Finale). Serves as a lead-in to Crusade.
- The Legend of the Rangers: To Live and Die in Starlight — 2002 Made-for-TV Movie telling the story of a Ranger ship. This was actually intended to lead into a third B5 series, but it didn't pan out due to the movie airing at the same time as the NFL Divisional Championship.
- The Lost Tales: Voices in the Dark — 2007 Direct-to-Video interquel which was intended to be the first of a series of new DTV stories. This one didn't pan out, either, despite some degree of commercial success.