On Weight; Buffy versus Babylon 5.

The first season DVD set

Back in 2007 I had several months of free time, and I decided to watch some of the unwatched DVDs that collected in our cabinet, courtesy of Amazon. I’ve watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all 7 seasons of it, and the first season of Babylon 5. For those of you wondering, I watched 4-8 episodes a day, so it didn’t take that long.

 So what I want to talk about here is “weight”, the weight of the shows. Now, what sort of weight is this? It’s a subjective feel that you have after the show ends. I am not sure if I can grasp what exactly I mean in a short amount of words, so I will make several passes around the concept, and hope that after that, you will know what I am speaking of, even if a definite definition will elude us.

So, some books, some movies, they are “meaty”. After you watch them, you sit there and keep thinking about it, you go and talk to your friends about it, you go online and post lengthy posts about it (;)). The point is, the media item in question has a lot going for it, and you can keep talking and thinking about it for quite some time.
This is sometimes not an attribute of the item in question, but rather how it touches upon something in you, the reader. Good media often touches on enough topics and in such a way that most people will have something to address in such a way.

Another is how you feel after watching, which is what actually lead to the idea for this post, which is purely subjective, and this is how heavy you feel after watching an episode (or four…). After watching a disc of Buffy, I’d feel heavy, I’d feel tired. But I think it was the tiredness of having watched something not only meaty, but packed. There were many things, numerous layers to think of, both on the single episode level and on how it dealt with the season’s ongoing plot, there were social subtleties to the relations between the characters to be unpacked, and the visuals of the show were, well, pretty dark (and the quality of photography was the usual modern sharp high).

Contrast with Babylon 5, where I’d watch 4 episodes, and not only would I feel refreshed, I’d feel as if I didn’t just sit down for nearly three hours. Now, you could think of it as an upside of the series, that it didn’t “sap my strength”, but rather, it’s more like it was a waste of time. I sat down, I got up, and nothing was added to my life, and aside from the time I did not even feel pass, my life had not been changed in any way by watching this series.

I also didn’t really like Babylon 5. The main actor, Michael O’Hare, who portrayed Commander Jeffrey Sinclair was more wooden than my door. The acting was on the whole, not very deep and convincing, and the photography quality was the usual 80s-90s grainy. Well, the acting is what did me in (the photography though may have helped keep it lighter?). I was told that the series became better after the first season, but after I couldn’t even finish the first season (for a series I own the DVDs for!), I couldn’t justify getting another season… I wonder how much of the series’ upgrade could be attributed to the removal of Sinclair from having a major role in the series? Heh.

The weight of the series in the end is how it sits with you, do you feel like you gained anything by watching it? Do you feel that even if you did not gain anything, that energy had been taken from you as you watched the series (think of Grave of the Fireflies, see post). Either can be negative or positive, and some of it may also come as a result of aesthetics; such as a series that occurs all in the night, where the characters speak more slowly and with more emephasis seems more likely to take more out of you. I wonder if this is a way in which really good aesthetics can make you think a series is good even when it’s not really, and if it makes you think it’s good, perhaps that is the meter for good series?

Also, this just made me think, I watched Buffy on the projector downstairs and Babylon 5 on the TV upstairs. Buffy was watched in darkness, Babylon 5 in the light. Sitting under light keeps one more awake. I also lay down while watching Buffy and sitting upright for Babylon 5.
That’s another thing to consider, sometimes your surroundings and the emotional state you come in are what will make you react in a certain way, but the media item is what you’ll attribute it to. Another point regarding favourites.

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16 comments on “On Weight; Buffy versus Babylon 5.

  1. Karry says:

    *sigh*
    …really ? Soapy shit for teenagers like Buffy somehow can be compared to the epic scifi that is B5 ?

    • Guy says:

      Yes, because it’s all about WrongBadFun, and you have presented cogent arguments on the supremacy of one over the other. *Rolls his eyes*

      Of course, I never said Buffy is better than Babylon 5, I said one is meatier, one leaves you with more.
      Also, Buffy, versus season 1 of Babylon 5? Buffy wins hands down. Even if it were soapy shit for teenagers, it’d be a golden turn, compared to a brown and uninspiring lump. Dig? Not that I accept your analysis of Buffy, nor do I think Buffy is without faults.
      And even if something is both soap opera and aimed at teenagers, you can appreciate work well done, that is, the epitome of soap opera aimed at teenagers. By the by, I categorically reject the “aimed at teenagers”.

      As for Babylon 5. Season 1, which I own, didn’t inspire me to even finish watching it. There is no greater sin for media, than failing to capture one’s attention. None.

      Here’s another question, how much of B5’s popularity came because it was good for its time, but we remember it as being “This good” and do not really compare it to what came after, which it may not compare favourably to, but only the B5 of its time compares well to the X of Today. Read the link to the favourites post.
      How much of its popularity came because people wanted their fill of sci-fi, and this is what was on, and they didn’t have anything better to watch?

      Is B5 truly sci-fi, rather than fantasy in the clothings of sci-fi, such as Star Wars (which is merely a fantasy Arthurian tale, in space)? It probably is. Is it epic, a term of either quality or scale?
      Season 1 is neither. It does not tell a major story, but a small story of a small group of people, and it’s not good.

      Babylon 5, season 1, which is the only one I watched? It’s rubbish. Maybe it wasn’t rubbish for its time, but I am not constrained to watching and judging things by the time they came out. That’s what we call “dated”.

  2. Babylon 5’s first season is awful. Really horribly shitty. If you can, keep on watching, though; you’ve made it through the worst, now you’ll get some good stuff coming down the pipes. And Sinclair gets replaced with Bruce Boxleitner, who’s much more expressive.

    That said, I faded out in Season 4, after they wrapped up the main story (they thought they were going to get canceled and tied things up one season quicker than planned).

    • Guy says:

      I keep hearing that, I may give it a shot one day, it’d be more likely if I visited someone with the DVDs. I am already swamped by things to watch, so otherwise I’m unlikely to go through the effort.

      I only got as far as episode 17(?) of B5. I know Delen’s chrysalis was yet to come, but I just couldn’t keep watching.

  3. It isn’t as though you weren’t WrongBadFunning yourself by claiming Buffy is “meatier” than B5 and B5 leaves a watcher empty.

    Seriously, Guy, Buffy compared to B5? Talk about apples and oranges: angsty soapy drama comedy with some really bad plotholes and rubber-masked villains-of-the-week (not that it wasn’t fun) to thoughtful long-arc well-built sci-fi. You’re trying to compare Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings, and cross-genre at that.

    As far as B5 being “it” for sci-fi at that time, so it was the only thing to watch and thus “good enough”? Nope. DS9 was on, which was also quite good (and only improved in later seasons). And IIRC, ST:TNG was also on. Also, if B5 were as bad as you think, it wouldn’t have made it to Season 2.

    And I mean, fuck…you watched more seasons of Buffy after Buffy Season 1, but couldn’t move on into B5 Season 2? What?

    Given just how bad Buffy Season 1 is, color me curious how much Buffy you watched before you sat down to watch all seven seasons? I suspect you had a prior taste of the payoff later on, which influenced your decision to keep watching. Because Season 1 of Buffy not poorly acted? Not entirely ridiculous? Not dated as heck? (Personally, if Jen hadn’t dragged me through into Season 2 it is doubtful I would have watched the next season my own.)

    • Guy says:

      I owned all seasons of Buffy, I owned only one season of Babylon 5. Legally. I could move onto the other seasons of Buffy, because they were at hand.

      Also, I got until the beginning of season 3 of Buffy when it was on TV every week before it moved to the cables I didn’t have. Babylon 5 always was on cable channels I didn’t have.

      I also described “weight” as more or less purely subjective, rather than some objective quantity of the series, and I think I repeated it several times Raven.

      And yes, Buffy season 1 also isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I also think it was quite better than Babylon 5’s first season. And again, there is no “long arc” for Babylon 5 once you accept I am only judging it by the first season. All those “Epic, long drawn out stories”? They do not exist there, they are not relevant.

      P.S. This is not really a post about Babylon 5 or Buffy. All the fanboyism and internet arguments are really misplaced. This is a Geekulture post about “Weight”, which uses Buffy and Babylon 5 as specimen and example cases. Telling me how I didn’t get a series, or how one was better than the other?
      Totally pointless and out of place (not in the sense of rude, but in the sense of this is not what the discussion is about).

      * No matter how negative I’ve been regarding Babylon 5, and even if I question its popularity or its reasons, I do not go on and say “No one can enjoy it”, or “No one should”. The difference is vast. Then again, the original commentator could also claim to not have done so, but calling a series “shit” has some connotations. I still hold B5 season 1 was rubbish.

      I usually choose not to compare to TNG. But you’re right, it seems DS9 came out even before B5 (and continued after). DS9 is a show I very much loved (until in season 5 it too migrated to cable channels I did not own…).

  4. The point is: since you said it was subjective, Guy, then don’t go trouncing anyone for WrongBadFunning your argument in return for you WrongBadFunning in the first place.

    Especially if you keep doing it (frex, claiming B5 “sinned” because you implied it doesn’t capture attention: so maybe not yours, but enough that it developed a large and dedicated fan base. Hence, maybe you not being interested isn’t about the media? That’s something you should consider as well).

    Notice how the person that called it “soapy shit for teenagers” also didn’t say “no one can enjoy it”…which I point out to say: there’s plenty of connotations in your post about B5 that you’re defending as reasonable, while decrying someone else’s connotations as unreasonable. You may want to think about that.

    (Note that the TNG and DS9 references were in response to your argument that B5 must have been watched because it was the only sci-fi on or “good for its time”. It’s a rebuttal of that idea/claim.)

    Regardless, it isn’t a misplaced discussion at all. My argument is not about which is better, it’s about the reasons you see Season 1 of Buffy as having more “weight” than Season 1 of B5. Or rather, how you can possibly say with a straight face that S1 B5’s acting was bad, the filming was poor, the stories were empty…and that S1 Buffy’s was better in any of those respects.

    (Frex, you claim “sharp high” visuals in Season 1 of Buffy? The grainy, overly-dark, Season 1 of Buffy? Another example, you claim deep character relationships…in Season 1 of Buffy?)

    This is why I have to assume you are judging Buffy by its later seasons in order to make your argument, and NOT solely by its first season, because the Buffy you are describing does not describe Buffy Season 1. Which is why it seems to me your view of it is being colored by your pre-existing knowledge of the plots and relationships of later seasons, which you do not have a similar reference-history for with B5 and so can approach that as a pure artifact on its own terms.

    (Also, Buffy really IS soapy shit for teenagers. The whole show is a parable of teenage life and growing up/coming of age…with monsters. And there’s no shame in that: it is what it is.)

    • Guy says:

      I don’t compare Buffy Season 1 to Babylon 5 Season 1. I look at all of Buffy’s seasons. I do not even make the claim I’m looking at the first season of Buffy and thus are using my knowledge of what follows. I from the onset compare all of Buffy that I have watched to all of Babylon 5 that I have watched.

      It wasn’t an argument about B5 being watched because there were no other sci-fi shows, it was a question. Also, I’m raising the notion that I am not sure how much of B5 is Sci-fi (I think it is, in the role of an analogy, as far as season 1 is concerned. I don’t know how much it is or isn’t afterwards).

      And it is misplaced. Because the point is not to discuss whether a specific show is weighty, or not, and while this may be related, it’s not even what is occuring here. What is occuring here is discussing which show is better, it’s comparing the two shows, to see which one is “Better”. That’s just fanboyism and “My camp – your camp” and little more. This isn’t a discussion on what makes for a weighty show, and which show is weighty or why, this is a discussion aimed at proving B5 is not lesser than Buffy, or that I like crappy things and can’t appreciate good things.
      Honestly.
      (And if you hold that I am applying different criteria, read onward. I still think that you are talking about whether one show is better than the other, and even if that is not your main thrust, it is interwoven throughout your post. If your point is that it is ok, and so is mine, but the problem is I’m accusing him of WrongBadFunning, I still hold I didn’t WrongBadFun. Read my initial post again, for the origin of the post.)

      Am I being dishonest here? Am I applying different criteria? The point is, that I don’t believe I do. Not because I am looking at B5 and Buffy, but because this is not where the discussion lays*. The discussion is not about B5 and Buffy. The discussion uses them as examples, and attempts to prove one over the other? I have no vested interest in “Proving” how Buffy is a superior series. I like Buffy. I didn’t enjoy Babylon 5.
      I do think it’s rubbish, was rubbish. But you don’t need to go gallivanting defending Babylon 5. No one does. “Defending [a series]” is such a weird thing.

      * I am applying different values, but to categorically different things.

  5. Jasonp says:

    Making it through season 1 of B5 is a major feat of endurance. I would have told you to skip it entirely and start on season 2 actually, because frankly it sucks compared to the rest…

  6. Guy, you keep making accusations of fanboyism while failing to see your own fanboyism at work. However, clearly, I’m not communicating well, because you keep responding to (and defending against) what I’m not saying, and not what I’m saying that IS exactly about the “weight” issue.

    (I do suggest, however, that if you want to talk about weight, you talk about weight on a personal level. I know you *think* you did, but I’m seeing people who can’t see past what you were saying about the shows as shows to connect with the issue of “weight”.)

  7. Yi says:

    I don’t watch either show, but I think I can relate on the weight issue. Certain shows are just more heavy and exhausting than others. Depending on my mood, that could be good or bad. Most times I just want something to kill time, and thus would really crave for a light brainless show.

    • Guy says:

      My problem with this kind of show is that I like watching anime in marathons, and while a weekly episode of Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei or Hayate no Gotoku, trying to watch 10 episodes in a row can kill you. There’s not enough meat, enough to keep you going, and it’s often very much the same.

      Zany is often a form of “Non-story”.

  8. lovelyduckie says:

    I’ve been meaning to watch Buffy, it was my favorite school in Middle School for a while. But then I just stopped watching after Angel left. For me, Californication is heavy. It’s hard for me to handle that series marathon style. One episode a week is just the right amount for me. I can’t comment on Babylon 5, I tend to avoid sci-fi series (although there are exceptions). I’ve been forced through a lot of Star Trek and Star Gate in my college days, and I don’t hate them, but I don’t enjoy them as much as my friends.

    • Guy says:

      Fair enough. What about sci-fi anime? I love Star Gate, Star Trek less, aside from Deep Space 9.

      And yes, Californication and The Office may not be the best shows for a marathon, though I’ve watched Californication in the form of an episode a day.

  9. Steve says:

    Buffy rocks and B5 rocks. When I saw your headline I though this would be an interesting comparison, ‘cos both shows are very weighty. I thought B5 had a reputation for being too weighty! So I’m surprised B5 didn’t seem weightier – but I can understand Season 1’s weaknesses. Yes: give Seasons 2-4 another go.

    The weakness you’ve encountered in B5 Season 1 is ironically a strength overall. Because all 5 seasons were planned in advance the show becomes weighty later. Season 1 is all scene-setting and buildup.

    But in later Seasons stuff happens that references Season 1 Episodes and you go wow! or now I get it! or I see why they explored that in Season 1! This is what makes the show ‘weighty’ by your definition: you think about it afterwards. Both “gosh those decisions and themes really do have an impact”, “that character is unrecognisable now from who they started out as”, and “gosh the writer is so clever to have connected those two episodes 3 years apart”, and “doh! that twist has been foreshadowed for a year or two!” B5 is certainly a show that shouldn’t be judged at an episode-by-episode level.

    • Guy says:

      Maybe some day I’ll manage to give it a try. I’ll chalk this up to a casaulty of not having watched it when it was on TV.

      Stargate SG-1 also had the later seasons referencing to the earlier ones, which probably creates a block for newcomers at some point; people who hadn’t watched the whole show often didn’t grok all the things that were built upon. It might be nice for us who had watched them all (and when they have re-runs of it all on a daily manner), but I’m not sure it’s always a smart decision, even if I appreciate and require it.

      Again, it might be a shame I gave up on it too early, but also look at all the cancelled shows: If you can’t make me keep watching, doubly so when I actually own the series, then you’ve lost a sale, you didn’t do well enough, for my tastes.
      My small brother could also not weather the first season, and it’s a shame. Maybe some day I’ll try to just watch the last two episodes (for the Chrysallis), and then try Season 2, and count those 3-4 missed episodes as a lost cause.

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