No matter how you slice it, the 1990s was a Golden Age for science fiction on television. Some of the most-acclaimed and popular shows of the genre either began or ended their runs in the decade, like Stargate SG-1, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and The X-Files, but perhaps no series more perfectly captured that ’90s sci-fi feel than Babylon 5.
Originally airing from 1993 until 1998, today Babylon 5 serves as an awesome time capsule for that period in history. As CGI special effects were becoming more affordable and widespread in the ’90s, Babylon 5 employed them a lot. And while it’s certainly tempting to call the show’s effects “dated,” we think “charming” is a much more appropriate descriptor. Replacing the old practical effects of classic shows like The Twilight Zone with modern computer-generated imagery would obviously make for a more realistic viewing experience, but it would also cause the show would lose much of what makes it special. The same is true for the CGI in Babylon 5. The effects aren’t the most realistic the world’s ever seen, but they do a great job of reminding the viewer of the time period in which they were shot. In other words, they’re perfect.
And while special effects are an important part of any sci-fi production, it’s the stories that really set the great series apart from the rest. This is where Babylon 5 truly shines. While at first glance the plot doesn’t seem too remarkable, as it centers around a space station where dignitaries from Earth and other planets meet to prevent any future outbreaks of war, it was actually pretty incredible. The entire series was plotted out from the start, something that’s basically never seen on a television show, and was conceived as a “novel for television” that would take place across five years. This was a huge gamble, but it paid off, as the series lasted for exactly five seasons, with each one taking place over the course of one year, just as series creator J. Michael Straczynski — who wrote all but 18 of the series’ 110 episodes — intended.
The serialized nature of the show was far ahead of its time, as effects from events that happened in season one could still felt even in season five. This type of attention to detail is seen a lot today in so-called prestige TV, but it was basically unheard of when Babylon 5 premiered, and the show deserves a ton of credit for leading to its proliferation in the late ’90s and beyond. The series also, like all good sci-fi, tackled the major issues of its day. Just as Star Trek: The Original Series dealt with themes at the forefront of 1960s culture such as racism and the Cold War, so did Babylon 5 when it came to ’90s social issues like homosexuality and drug addiction, and it handled them with exceptional grace.
Babylon 5 isn’t talked about nearly enough when discussing science-fiction series of the ’90s, and that’s a shame, as it’s undoubtedly one of the best series put out in that or any other decade. And if it’s been a while since you’ve seen the series, or if you’ve never seen it, then we have some good news. This fall, Babylon 5 is coming to COMET TV. Already the home of classic ’90s sci-fi series like SG-1 and The Outer Limits, COMET TV will be the perfect place to refamiliarize yourself with the ’90s greatness that is Babylon 5, so stay tuned for more info on when you can start watching this outstanding televised novel.