Tips Needed: Years-Long Story Arcs on Screen?

Recently I’ve been thinking of Babylon 5 quite a bit from the storytelling point of view. When it first aired (1994-1998 in the U.S.), it was unique in my experience (which was, at the time, still quite limited) for a few things.

The Catholic Geeks babylon52

Firstly, I loved B5 for its complex, detailed, and consistent world. I hadn’t seen that level of commitment to worldbuilding on tv before. Also, the plot moved on several levels, from individual concerns to multi-species war, and involved political struggles, religious prophesies, racial tensions, social pressures, and personal rivalries of many kinds. At times it was heavy-handed, for instance in its discussion of authoritarianism vs. free will (“Who are you?” “What do you want?”), but not consistently across every plotline, if memory serves. (Note to self: It’s clearly time for a rewatch!)

What really sets B5 apart from other attempts, however, is that it’s carrying essentially one huge story arc over years of tv programming, not just one season’s worth. The creator, J. Michael Straczynski, conceived of the whole plotline before the series was written for tv. Apparently, it was specifically supposed to be a “novel for television,” with the core plot points figured out beforehand. (That’s my biggest beef with the current Doctor Who, for example: the writers are struggling to fold in new storylines into the existing canon—even very recently created canon—and it shows.)

Game of Thrones and The Expanse feel very similar to B5, being tv adaptations of stories already in existence, and I’ve really enjoyed those aspects of both. Before them, though, I can’t really remember seeing that many quality series that incorporate truly extended story arcs. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot all tried, even though none of them really implement as overarching a story as B5 does.

I’ve been wanting to see (and not just read) long plots lately, so I’d really appreciate your input. I still haven’t looked into Straczynski’s new series sense8—does anyone know whether it has a similar structure? Or can you recommend any other genre shows with long-term payoff?

Image via The Catholic Geeks

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

 

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