Rarely has a television series been more aptly named: babylon 5 (Wednesdays, syndicated, 8-9 p.m.) is science fiction as nonstop babble, a riot of miscommunication between intergalactic cultures and creatures, some of them earthlings. Dark and claustrophobic, this new series is set in the year 2258 aboard a five-mile-long, 2.5 million-ton space station, the Babylon 5, which was conceived, a narrator tells us, as ”a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully.” Babylon 5 is basically the barroom segment of the first Star Wars movie expanded to a weekly hour, with scene after scene of nuttily costumed actors portraying extraterrestrial members of clans such as the Minbaris, the Narns, and the Vorlons. (The 23rd-century alien races all sound as if they took their names from 1950s doo-wop groups.) The earth contingent aboard this massive tub is led by Cmdr. Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) and his second in command, Lieut. Col. Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian (Hexed)). Like all outer-space overseers on television, O’Hare takes his cues from Star Trek’s William Shatner-he’s a big, craggy log, virtually devoid of emotion but somehow conveying nobility and honesty. He is, in short, a bland fellow who must be surrounded by more colorful characters. There is, for instance, the Centauri Republic’s Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik, from Hill Street Blues and Beverly Hills Buntz), who, in what one must suppose passes for wit in Babylon 5, is a jabbering loudmouth with a ridiculous fright-wig hairdo. (His even-more-gabby assistant, Vir, is played by Stephen Furst, who once had a good job, as earnest Dr. Axelrod on St. Elsewhere.) We’re supposed to think of the space station as a small universe unto itself, overcrowded with competing races. Londo and other freaky-looking types argue with, threaten, and scream at Sinclair as they jockey for status. As a result, there’s relatively little action. That might be ascribed to the fact that scenes involving the requisite futuristic special-effects would be expensive, but I actually think it’s more by design that Babylon is a talky bore. It is clear that series creator J. Michael Straczynski (Murder, She Wrote) has worked out an elaborate back-story. Collaborating with a writing staff that includes veterans of the original Star Trek, Straczynski is tapping into the sort of thing hard-core science-fiction fans love: the careful delineation of an endlessly complicated, rigorously thought-out alternate world. The credits list well-known fantasy writer Harlan Ellison as a ”conceptual consultant,” which gives rise to the question: What concept? The notion of Babylon 5 as a metaphor for our own perpetually squabbling world wears thin pretty quickly. Unless the show comes up with characters who aren’t either stiffs or cartoons, Babylon 5 will soon be going where so many sci-fi series have gone before: to the Federation of Cancellation. A more action-packed venture in syndicated sci-fi is tekwar (Syndicated; check local listings), a series of four two-hour TV-movies based on the bestselling Tek novels written by Trekmeister Shatner. TekWar features B.J. and the Bear’s Greg Evigan as ex-police-detective-of-the-future Jake Cardigan. Shatner, who also directed and is executive producer, shows up as wealthy mystery-man Walter Bascom, who hires Jake to track down a missing scientist (Barry Morse). Along the way, we get an ear- and eye-ful of Tek, an illegal, addictive virtual-reality drug, and its users and its dealers. This is basically your average cop show in a post-20th-century setting: Dullbladerunner. In this vision of the future, your house can be invested with enough artificial intelligence to tell you when your wife left to run errands, but society still hasn’t found a cure for crime: There are a lot of rotten, poorly-shaven thugs out on those mean streets. Intended to be hard-boiled, the dialogue in TekWar is instead just pitiful: When a policeman tells Jake, ”I play by the rules,” our hero snaps back, ”Then start a band.” Huh? There’s a lot more running around and gunplay in TekWar than can be seen in Babylon 5, but both shows seem like little more than bunches of mediocre actors cavorting in funny costumes. I’d rather get a baleful look and a morose soliloquy from Patrick Stewart on Star Trek: The Next Generation any day. Babylon 5: C, Tekwar: D

Babylon 5
  • TV Show