Monday, January 14, 2008

Recent Adventures in Television

I have had a slow few weeks at the office. A fact which I have celebrated by cleaning up my email folders and watching both seasons of Sports Night and the second, third, and forth seasons of Babylon 5. This was the first time I watched Sports Night however it is the third or fourth time I have watched Babylon 5. I am actually watching the fifth season as I sit here an type this. ("A View From the Gallery" if you're wondering.)

Much like The West Wing I managed to miss Sports Night when it was on the air. Matt has been insisting I check this out for some time and knowing that it was an Aaron Sorkin show I was interested but some how I managed to put it off for a couple of years. I do not know why I finally borrowed the DVDs from Matt although I suspect it has something to do with procrastinating on a writing project, however I finally manned up and watched them. I have to say I really enjoyed the series however towards the end of the series it was plain to me that Sorkin really wanted to tell the sort of stories he was able to tell in The West Wing. (He got his wish the next season.) This growing desire to tell stories with explicit morals does not take away from Sports Night however it certainly moved the show from straight up comedy, laugh track included, to more nebulous ground somewhere between drama and comedy. (I hate the construction dramedy. It makes me think of some sort of a camel. On top of that any good drama will include moments of comedy and if they become too over the top then you have moved into the realm of the melodrama.) They also lost the laugh track which was a plus in my book. I HATE canned laughter with the fire of a thousand suns.*

Sports Night, in addition to the title of the show, is the title of a SportsCenter-esque show on the fictional Continental Sports Channel around which the show is centered. With Josh Charles as Dan Rydell and Peter Krause as Casey McCall anchoring the show and Felicity Huffman as Dana Whitaker as the executive producer of the show Sorkin once again used his trinity of two strong male leads with a strong female lead, a formula which he would refine through The West Wing and Studio 60. I am willing to bet it make an appearance in Charlie Wilson's War as well. In this case the casting was excellent throughout the show although I have to admit that Felicity Huffman in a comedic role was a bit of a shock after her recent roles in Transamerica and Desperate Housewives. (This is purely a perceptual issue on my part as I have not seen either of these shows.) Sabrina Lloyd as Natalie and Sorkin habitue Joshua Malina as Jeremy serve as Sports Night star-crossed lovers and Robert Guillaume as the show's father figure. With Sorkin at the helm the writing is excellent and the characters are far smarter than people have any right to be, and this is why I love Sorkin's writing. I can absolutely recommend this series to anyone who has enjoyed The West Wing or Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and with the entire series being available for less than $50 on Amazon it is an excellent buy.

I have also been watching far too much Babylon 5 of late. I am not certain why Babylon 5 has been on my mind lately as I have a pile of other movies and TV shows to catch up on, but I think my viewing needed a shot of epic science fiction and Deep Space Nine was not going to cut the mustard this time. I started my viewing with "Chrysalis," the final episode of the first season as this really begins the arc of the second season and have subsequently plowed through the entire second, third, and fourth seasons. I had forgotten how well Babylon 5 deals with issues such as religion which in most pop science fiction tales are either ignored or very minor points in the story.

While watching the second season episode "Confessions and Lamentations" I noticed some parallels between that story and the forthcoming New Voyages episode "Blood and Fire." While I cannot be certain if Straczynski meant "Confessions and Lamentations" as an AIDs allegory, the parallels are too strong for it not to be. In the episode the Markab begin suffering from a disease which is 100% contagious and 100% fatal however the Markab are unwilling to discuss the disease as it is associated with a decadent and sinful lifestyle. In the end the Markab's unwillingness to talk about the illness ends up killing the entire race before anyone can assist them. I think the parallels between the early days of our experience with AIDs are fairly clear and as David Gerrold is on record as stating his original "Blood and Fire" script, as written for Star Trek TNG, was an AIDs allegory. While the specifics are going to be different I wonder if there is going to be any difference between the substance of the stories; the lesson.

I mentioned that I am watching "A View From the Gallery" in which five alien ships attack the Babylon 5 station. The station personnel know these ships are coming and have several flights of Starfury's and Thunderbolt's waiting for them. Here is what I am wondering. If you know the enemy is coming through and might be using your jumpgate would it not make sense to station some fighters where they can jump the ships coming out of the jumpgate?

In the fifth season episode "Strange Relations" the telepath Lyta Alexander, played by Patricia Tallman, makes a reference to popping a blood vessel in someone's mind, a "skill" which would come up again in JMS' comic series Rising Stars.

* Extra Credit. What movie am I referencing here? Show your work.

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