Why I Dislike ‘Babylon 5’

Well, my story on Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV Openings got FARKed, and my blog got slammed with hits, which is a very good thing. I originally wrote it for GGL – but our new editorial direction is to get away from “Gamer/Geek Lifestyle” stories, and stick to “professional gaming” stories. Which is fine – I’ll just write for my blog.

Lots of people had suggestions for the best and worst list. Some of them were even polite. After reading them all, my only regret is that I did not consider the original opening sequence for Red Dwarf for the best list.

I was surprised to learn that some Firefly flans don’t like the Firefly theme song. That’s crazy. I hate Country music as much as the next intelligent person of taste; but that theme is great. (Please note: Firefly fans are referred to as “Browncoats” or “flans.” If you don’t understand why we say “flans” or “flanvention,” please read the following two words aloud: “Firefly fan.”)

Of course, I got slammed for hating on Babylon 5. That was my point about why B5 fans are so annoying. It’s not that people enjoy B5 – knock yourself out. It’s that they get so incredibly upset when you point out the fact that their show is mediocre.

I watched the first episode of B5 when it first aired. Wanna know why I stopped watching? An alien is murdered when a poisonous skin patch is applied – to his environmental suit. Not to his skin, but to his spacesuit. That’s when I stopped watching.

But some of my friends went on about how great the writing was, how the overarching storyline was so cool (although they admitted that often, the individual episode stories were quite lame). But I couldn’t get over the disconnect between the expensive CGI exteriors (which were often so busy, you couldn’t tell what was going on – see BSG, or even late-season DS9, to learn how to do space battles properly) and the CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP “sets.” I mean, we’re talking Buck Rogers-level sets.

Now Doctor Who has always gotten by on great writing with cheap production values. But Doctor Who’s production values were consistently cheap, and the writing was consistently great. So was the acting, as the show had the entire stable of classically-trained British actors to choose from. Even die-hard B5 fanatics will admit that the acting was a mixed bag.

B5 was not a bad show. But it was not a great show. It was not the fantastic touchstone of modern sci-fi its fans want you to think it was. Again, if you’re a fan, good for you. But stop trying to convince me that B5 is worth my time. It’s not.

The Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV Show Openings (Part 2)

Photos and YouTube links updated 12/17/09.

Check out the 10 Best.

The 10 Worst

10. “Land of Lost” (1974-77)

No, this isn’t on the “worst” list for the silly “special effects,” or for the dialogue during the giant dinosaur puppet attack. (“C’mon, let’s get out of here!” ORLY? You’re not going to stick around and become Tyrannosaurus food?) No, it’s the song. The lyrics are okay, explaining what plot the show had to impressionable Gen X kids. But the music? Yee-haw! I reckon’ it’s a hoe down! Grab a jug of moonshine, Cletus, and we’s gonna go bugger us some Sleestaks!

(Oh, and if you never understood why Will Ferrell’s character in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” was named Marshall Willenholly — now you do.)

9. “Manimal” (1983)

Once I had this weird dream. I turned into that pretty British man from “Falcon Crest.” Everything was strange colors, and I was attacked by a bird and a cougar. It was so dramatic! Then suddenly I was in a wacky romantic comedy with that nurse from “St. Elsewhere!” Wha–? What happened to the bird/cat guy? Why am I standing around with my bi-racial posse, cracking wise and sharing a hearty laugh? Wasn’t there something about vertebrate polymorphism? Now some wacky woman is stepping on my foot! HA! A passing car just sprayed us with water! HA! Oh ho ho, my sides are splitting! And then… then I fell asleep and had the dream. (Stay tuned after the credits for an expository monologue so long I never made it all the way through).

8. “The Bionic Woman” (1976-78)

Despite its flaws, “The Bionic Woman” was a much better show than its progenitor, “The Six Million Dollar Man.” For one thing, Lindsay Wagner is STILL hot – I’ll climb into her Sleep Number bed any time. Also, she never ever befriended Bigfoot. But the opening sequence is just a lame attempt to rehash the “Six Million” credits, and it fails utterly. There’s too much reading; and is that the only photo of Wagner the producers could find? And why do the credits emphasize Jaimie Sommers’ teaching career, and Oscar’s unrequited love for her? She’s a freakin’ superpowered crime-fighting robot who works for a super-secret spy agency! Her opening credits shouldn’t look like a douche commercial.

7. “Xena: Warrior Princess” (1995-2001)

“Xena” and “Hercules” were good shows. Either you “got” it, or you didn’t. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I got it. And no one expects a show this bi-polar to have a brilliant credits sequence. Let’s review the charges. (1) Bagpipe music? Okay, this show could never quite decide where or when it took place. But I’m pretty damn sure it’s not in medieval Scotland. (2) It’s got a terrible expository monologue. Like we even need one — “it’s a chick in a steel bikini” would cover it. The monologue is read by that “In a world…” movie preview guy. It goes on and on and on. We don’t get facts about the characters and plot, just the kind of vapid marketing-speak you would expect in a movie trailer. “A mighty princess forged in the heat of battle?” That’s not even a real metaphor. Seriously, all we needed was some generically exciting music and clips of two ancient Mediterranean lesbians kicking ass.

6. “Charmed” (1998-2006)

How dare you motherfuckers ruin The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” How DARE you?

I won’t even start in on the cheap-ass visuals – ooh! Somebody took a class in After Effects! No, I can’t get past the music thing. I’m too angry. I need to go calm down. How many lives will Shannen Doherty ruin?

5. “Babylon 5” (1994-1998)

There are two kinds of sci-fi fans who just can’t shut up about their favorite show. Browncoats are pathetic because, while “Firefly” is one of the best series ever made, there are only 14 episodes (and a movie). B5 fans are pathetic because, while they have 110 episodes comprising a complete story arc, every single episode sucks.

Each season of B5 had a different opening, but each was as bad as the last. Longest expository dialogue ever. Longest credits ever (must have saved on episode costs, just like the cheap CG and the cheap “sets”). “The name of the place… is Babylon 5!” Yaaaawn.

4. V: The Series” (1984-85)

Marc “BeastMaster” Singer takes out a reptilian evil alien baddie – with his genitals. And that’s the best part of this cheese-ridden opening, an 80s-era Supercuts ad scored with the “space music” setting on a Casio.

(Anyone notice the weird overlap between the “V” opening and the “Firefly” opening? Spooky.)

3. “Battlestar Galactica” (2003, 2004-present)

Possibly the Best Science Fiction Show Ever, and its here in the “Worst” list. Why?

Is it the music? No, the original American theme, Bear McCreary’s “Two Funerals,” was just fine; the new theme from the British version is even better. Is it the clips from the miniseries? No, they’re fine. The lame expository subtitles? (You know, “The Cylons were created by man…” blah blah.) Nah, they’re useless, but not really annoying. Maybe there’s not enough Grace Park? True, the titles need more Grace Park. But that’s not the problem.

Then what’s wrong? I’ll tell you what the frack is wrong. Each episode beings with 30 seconds of clips from the episode itself. Brief images designed to tease? No. SPOILERS. There is not an episode of BSG that has not had some big dramatic turn ruined by the opening spoilers. Ron, buddy, listen – if I’m watching the opening credits, I’m already watching the show. You don’t have to sell me. BSG is clever and fast-paced, full of unforeseeable twists and turns – unforeseeable, that is, if you close your eyes during the opening titles. Otherwise, you’re screwed.

The fans have been complaining about this for two seasons, Ron. Cut it out. Oh, and we want more Grace Park. Maybe a spin-off series where Boomer discovers a planet of sexy Amazons and opens a lingerie store.

2. Zoe, what are you doing?  Is this because Wash got killed in the movie?“Cleopatra 2525” (2000-2001)

Before this article went to press, I ran my choices past my friend Paul. After hearing my “worst” choice, all he had to say was, what about “Cleopatra 2525?” I have never watched the show; but I trust his opinion, so I checked it out.

Oh. My. God.

That’s “Firefly” star and Mrs. Laurence Fishburne, Gina Torres! What the hell??? Is that her impersonating Geoffrey (“Crisp and clean! No caffeine!”) Holder in the expository monologue? And let’s talk about this song for a moment. Zager & Evans’ 1969 “hit” “In the Year 2525” was craptastic enough without this histrionic cover with the cutesy lyrics. Yeah, take a crappy show with crappy effects and crappy costumes, and add a crappy monologue and a crappy cover of a crappy song, and know what you get? Crap. (By the way, for 60 seconds of fun, check out the opening to “Cleopatra’s” “sibling” show, “Jack of All Trades.” We love you, Bruce Campbell!)

1. Brannon and Braga's 'fuck you' to the world.“Enterprise” (2001-2005)

Worst sci-fi show of all time? Of course not – that was “Small Wonder.” But “Enterprise” was a close second. Tragically, the opening credits for this show were visually brilliant – a nifty little history of humanity’s exploratory spirit. So why is this one of the worst openings of all time? That song – OH GOD THAT SONG. Please, give me something sharp to dig through my ocular cavity and into my brain, until all memory of it is gone. (Although you have to admit, the “Mirror” opening is pretty cool.)

The Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV Show Openings (Part 1)

Photos and YouTube links updated 5/7/09.

I suffer from insomnia, and you benefit. Here are my picks for 10 Best and 10 Worst Opening Credits for Genre TV Shows.

By “genre,” I mean science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I only included shows made in English. I also decided to limit myself to those credits sequences I could find online – but this turned out not to be a problem. Hooray for YouTube! Hooray for copyright violations!

I was worried that I would subconsciously rate the title sequences not on their own merit, but based on the quality of the show overall. But I ended up with one of the worst shows of all time on the “Best” list, and one of the best on the “Worst” list. And they both have the same title!

Numerical order is approximate.

The 10 Best

BSG v.110. “Battlestar Galactica” (1979)

One of the most common mistakes made by sci-fi TV openings is the “expository monologue,” with which jittery television executives try to explain the show’s premise to viewers who don’t “get” sci-fi. As I researched this list, I learned how ubiquitous this problem is. Blah blah blah.

The original BSG features a long, long, loooong expository monologue. Yeah yeah, Toltecs and Mayans, got it. But the monologue is well written, and it’s read with tremendous gravity by the brilliant Patrick Macnee, who also voiced the Imperious Leader. The theme song kicks ass. And most importantly, the edited scenes (viewed through a circle — why?) really make the show look impressive. Too bad it sucked ass.

The Greatest American Hero9. “The Greatest American Hero” (1981-83)

It’s all about the theme song, baby. Mike Post’s theme song is goofy, poppy, cheesy, and almost but not entirely unrelated to the content of the show. And once you hear it, you will NEVER get it out of your head. This credits sequence is fun, funny, and engaging, and it has no expository monologue whatsoever. That UFO, left over from one of Steven Spielberg’s garage sales, is also very cool.

Watch for snakes!8. “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (1988-1999)

“Robot roll call!” We’re only concerned with the first two credit sequences here, the original Joel Hogdson credits and the first Mike Nelson opening. After Frank Conniff left, the show jumped the shark; and once it moved to the Sci Fi Channel, well, it’s just best not to think about it. Catchy song, goofy models and puppets, and the iconic “corridor crawl” a la “Get Smart.” And the theme song doubled as the expository monologue, which was a real time saver.

Make it so.7. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987-1994)

What do you get when you cross the theme from “Star Trek The Motionless Picture” with the Shakespearean monologing skills of Patrick Stewart and a clever tribute the opening of the original “Star Trek?” Um, this opening, duh. By the way, the original “Star Trek” opening was pretty weak (“whoosh! whoosh!), although nowhere near bad enough to make the “worst” list. As far as I can tell, “Space… the final frontier…” invented the expository monologue.

Like Babylon 5, but slightly less sucky.6. “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1993-1999)

There was nothing special about the DS9 opening until season four, about the time the show started to not completely suck. The morose theme song got a boost from a bouncy backing track, and the CG guys added a bunch of business involving spaceships, little space-suited construction workers, and the Defiant flying into the wormhole. Suddenly, Deep Space 9 became a place you might conceivably care about. Then, in season seven, they screwed the whole thing up. This award goes to seasons 4-6 only. (Special props to DS9 for dropping the “Final Frontier” speech.)

What if the bad guys had salads for heads?5. “Star Trek: Voyager” (1995-2001)

Finally, the “Star Trek” credits sequence perfected. Great theme, excellent effects. Voyager actually interacts with its surroundings, which gives the sequence more reality.

Of course, in 9 out of 10 episodes, once the opening credits ended it was all downhill from there.

This show was saved near the end by exactly two things — marginally better writing, and Jeri Ryan.

So, what's the plunger for again?4. “Doctor Who” (1963-89, 1996, 2005-present)

First let’s discuss that theme song. When some hack isn’t ruining it by trying to “update” it, Ron Grainer’s “Doctor Who” theme is spacey, dramatic and memorable. Most of the “Doctor Who” credits sequences have been mediocre or terrible (see this – Jesus Christ, did that Zardozian giant floating head just wink at me? Exterminate! Exterminate!), but two really stand out. Coincidentally, they’re the openings for the two best Doctors to date. Tom Baker’s (1974-81) was modeled after previous openings, and included the dreaded “head shot.” But the music was great, the effects were cool, and you got to see the TARDIS fly around. In the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant credits (2005 – present), the music was great, the effects were cool, and you got to see the TARDIS fly around. And no headshot! Plus, “Doctor Who” has never burdened us with an expository monologue. Can you imagine trying to explain “Doctor Who” in 30 seconds?

D-d-d-d-d-d duh duh duh duh duh.3. “The Six Million Dollar Man” (1974-78)

The awkwardly-titled series that made Lee Majors a star had opening credits as heart-pounding and dramatic as anything on TV. Steve Austin’s whole origins story was presented in under a minute – and they didn’t tell us, they showed us. Sure, Richard Anderson (no relation to Dean) talks through the credits, but he’s in the story, trying to convince his unnamed listener that blowing $6,000,000 in 1970s dollars to turn a crippled astronaut, and the astronaut’s girlfriend and dog, into cybernetic freaks isn’t a violation of the public trust. This opening is artistic and beautifully edited; and the cheesy theme song doesn’t cut in until the last 15 seconds.

SEPT!!! 13!!!! 1999!!!!!2. “Space: 1999” (1975-77)
This is a really interesting case. Some openings, like “The X-Files” or “Farscape,” were good, but not good enough to make it onto the “Best” list. (To answer your question – “The X-Files” had a great theme, but the visuals were dorky as hell. Oh look – Mulder is falling into an eye! Spooky!) Some were bad, but not terrible enough to make the “Worst” list (see “Lost In Space”). Only “Space: 1999” almost made it onto both lists.

The great: brilliant music, heart-pounding action, real drama, and no expository monologue. The terrible: it’s overwrought to the point of silliness – “SEPT 13!!!! 1999!!!!” In the end, the good beats out the bad. BTW, we are ignoring the hideous second season opening, just as we ignore the hideous second season.

(For more Gerry Anderson goodness, check out “Thunderbirds,” which just barely missed the Best list.)

Gorram Fox Network!1. “Firefly” (2002)

Wow. Just… wow. I’m not going to ruin it with words. If you don’t get it, nothing I say can help. Burn the land and boil the sea – you can’t take the sky from me.

(And Gina Torres gets to be the only actor on both the Best and Worst lists, unless you count Richard Hatch.)

Now read… the 10 Worst!