If you can’t wait for the fifth season (and twenty-third century) of Babylon 5, now transposed to cable, there is a two-hour “prequel,” In the Beginning (Sunday, January 4; 8 to 10 p.m.; TNT). It is devoted to the galactic war between Earth and the Minbari Federation, whose devastation caused the creation in the first place of the free-port space station for diplomacy and trade, back when it was “our last best hope for peace,” before it became “our last best hope for victory.” In a long flashback, from the point of view of Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) in his dotage as emperor of the Centauri, we meet Bruce Boxleitner’s John Sheridan as a hotheaded Cub Scout, Mira Furlan’s Delenn as a sort of vestal virgin, Claudia Christian’s Ivanova as a coed with bangs, the usual silicon-based Volons, and the usual marsupial Narns.
Fans of J. Michael Straczynski’s exceedingly ambitious sci-fi series – Dune-like in its competing magics and technologies, its ritual ceremonies and warrior codes; Arthur C. Clarkely in its proliferation of alien forms – will be amused to find out how important Sheridan was before they ever hired him, which only happened in the second season of the show. Babylon 5 began the resurgence of militarism on prime-time television, a Gulf War gush and glitz of “smart” weaponry and snazzy uniforms. Retrogrades like me will wonder what ever happened to the sly wit and sexy hum of Alien Nation.