Recently I came to a startling realization. As much as it pained my Trekkie Whovian Browncoat heart to admit it, if I were forced to choose a favorite sci-fi show, I would choose Babylon 5.
I have my husband to thank. (In fact, he's introduced me to almost all of my favorite shows - that's the way to a girl's heart!) We love a good space opera, and once we'd finished Star Trek: Deep Space Nine together, he suggested we try B5. He'd seen some of it in college, but we're both too young to have appreciated it when it was on the air in the mid-90s. Once we both got hooked, I was surprised at how few of my nerdy friends had seen what is certainly one of the best sci-fi shows ever made. I hope to remedy that by sharing some of the reasons why it is so excellent.
Babylon 5 is like a good novel. No matter how many times you read a good novel, you find something new; B5, for me, is the same way. Every time I see it, I pick up on something new. And it's fairly consistently good - where many great shows have episodes that range from "really good" to "really bad", B5 tends to stay in the "really good" to "pretty good" range.
So here, in no particular order, are some reasons why you should watch it. (They're spoiler-free, but it's a 20-year-old show, so I don't recommend getting too hung up on spoilers.)
1. It has good characters.
Characters make or break a work of fiction. I don't care how great your concept is - if you don't have good character development, then what's the point? Though many of the characters are aliens, the "human element" is strong. And this shouldn't have to be a separate category, but...
2. It has good female characters.
I won't dismiss a good work of fiction on the grounds that it doesn't have well-written female characters (even with its blatant sexism, I love the original Star Trek), but I really appreciate it when it does. In B5, women are just people - strong, weak, admirable, frustrating, funny, lovable, hate-able, intelligent, awkward, noble, flawed. Complex. In other words, just like men! Who knew?!
3. It has emotional resonance.
It will make you happy and sad, sometimes at the same time. Almost every episode had something in it that made me laugh out loud. A few had me sobbing into my knitting.
4. It deals with religion and belief in a realistic, nuanced way.
5. It was ahead of its time.
The '90s special effects make me giggle a bit now, but I understand the show's extensive use of CGI was pretty new at the time. Also, I'd argue that there are few truly stand-alone episodes - almost every episode has some relevance to the arc of the series, much like the best TV shows of the 2000s and 2010s.
How to watch it:
It should go without saying that an epic narrative needs to be experienced from beginning to end. Personally, I think that season 1 is the weakest, but I would say that for most shows; that's when the show is still figuring itself out and, in this case, setting up for the main story and character arcs. I recommend watching season 1 and, if you're not hooked by the end of it, stick it out through season 2 before making a final judgement.
Unfortunately, it's not currently on Netflix instant view. If you can borrow it from a nerdy friend, great. We did that until we got hooked, then bought it season by season on iTunes. iTunes and Amazon Instant Video have it for $1.99 an episode or $39.99 a season, which I think is a reasonable price for what you're getting, but it does add up. If you're old-school and/or want to save some money, Amazon.com has the DVD sets distinctly cheaper at around $16.99 per season or $139.99 for the complete series.