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Best Sci-Fi TV Shows of All Time

Best Sci-Fi TV Shows of All Time

The post-war era was a big one for science fiction. We had a lot of evidence that the world was going to blow itself to smithereens via the atom bomb, so paranoia was high. This was only made worse by the fact that the computer was on the rise, threatening to put everyone out of work. Chemistry was giving us new drugs, vaccinations, new fuels, and household chemicals that were at least a bit concerning. Science was everywhere, and most of it was threatening to kill us all, and if you can think of a better atmosphere for the new crop of science fiction authors to rise out of, I'd like to hear about it! SF magazines were growing in both number and length, and the paper back was a huge new thing. Of course, when you've got authors writing books and stories, they start to look towards Hollywood, and while movies were exploding into the B-picture and Technicolor masterpiece eras. But there were only so many movies to be made.

Of course, the 1950s saw the explosion of television. That was like having to produce a movie every week, and there were writers who were up to the tasks. From the early series like Tom Corbett: Space Cadet and Rocky Jones: Space Ranger, early science fiction television was fairly weak, predictable, and almost always targeted to young boys. As always happens, the kids who were influenced by those early series would end up changing television and science fiction forever. Twilight Zone would start the trend to smarter, more adult science fiction shows. Rod Serling brought his unique image of what science fiction could do on television, and it would influence everyone for decades.

And then came Star Trek.

To say Star Trek was the most important thing to ever happen to science fiction television wwould be a massive understatement. It took a very interesting path, appealing to both adults and kids, dealing with heavy issues in a way that didn't feel too heavy, and giving an idea of what a future might look like when we finally got over all the problems of the present. Even more than that, it also proved the television shows with cult followings can survive in syndication, can create massive fandoms of their own, and can change the way the television business works.

Every scifi television show of the late 1960s and early 1970s worked with Star Trek's themes, and the show never died, as it led to many successful follow-on series. By the time 1977 rolled around, Star Trek was feeling a bit hoky and old hay, which opened the door for Star Wars to take over. So many series began to pop up in the late 1970s and 80s taking advantage of the Star Wars love, including a few that used the setting of the films.

The 1980s saw a slow petering-out of SF shows, but then everything changed again when David Lynch and Mark Frost brought Twin Peaks to television, and that led to another massive change, as TV could be art, and that would take more than a decade to filter down to the mainstream. On the other end, as more networks began to pop-up, like Fox, UPN, and The WB, they all began to seek out Science fiction shows in an attempt to capture a rabid audience. The rise of original cable programming gave us some of the best scifi moving images of all-time.

Today, with the Marvel and DC comic universes on TV, masters like Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams working on series, and the ever-expanding number of sources for SF, we may be living in a golden age of science fiction television!

How did we get to the point where television is an art form, far out-stripping films for innovation and fascinating storytelling? The answer to that is the David Lynch-Mark Front collaboration Twin Peaks. It was not merely a series of episodes, it was a single storyline, unified and masterfully told. It was a detective show, with Special Agent Dale Cooper trying to solve the murder of Laura Palmer. It was a fantasy show, where dreams become realities. It was a science fiction program where flying saucers and government cover-ups were influencing the world. All of this came together to make for one of the most dazzling examples of what was possible on television. The story is complex, with more layers than the best baklava, but thoroughly engrossing. A massive fandom grew up around the show, and their prayers were answered when more than twenty-five years after the series was canceled, and more than twenty since the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, it returned to a rabid explosion of media and fan attention. Why it tops the list: It changed television, and if you watch just one episode, you'll feel like you need to watch it all.
A series that has run seemingly forever. It's the story of a time-lord, the Doctor, and his magic box, the TARDIS. He can travel through time and space, and brings with him chaos, and compassion, not to mention companions who are yearning for all the adventures the Doctor can show them. So many elements of Doctor Who have permeated science fiction, like Tom Baker's super-long scarf, David Tennant's suit and Converse combo, or Matt Smith's love of Fezzes. They've all drawn in fans from the UK, US, and around the world. At one point, more than 50 countries were running Doctor Who weekly, and some places would even run whole story arcs as movies in theatres! The show has changed endlessly, from new Doctor to Doctor, dozens of companions and friends like the robot dog K-9, it has re-invented itself over the decades. Even with a near 20 absence, it was never far from television, and so many writers and filmmakers were influenced by the series. I guess that explains why it's been on the air since the Johnson Administration! Why it's on the list: No other series has sustained such a high quality for such a long time. Tastes in science fiction have changed, and those changes are often brought about by Doctor Who.
The art of science fiction writing is one of the most difficult things to master. You now only have to create characters and tell stories, you have create a world for them to happen in. That's a tough thing to do in a novel or a movie, or even in a series, but how do you manage it in a single episode? Not only that, but how do you maintain that level of creativity every week? Rod Serling, a master of television and radio scripting, took on just that challenge and produced one of the most incredible anthology series ever presented. In style, it was based on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, with Serling serving as the face of the program. But the stars were the stories. So many of the classic storylines we know today had their origin in The Twilight Zone. The twist at the end of an M. Night Shatmalan film? Those were perfected by Serling in the late 1950s. The normal being the bizarre that you find in David Lynch and Terry Gilliam movies? Those are keys to the works of Rod Serling. Why It's on the list: some of the finest science fiction writing you'll ever see, and from a man who changed television forever.
The Prisoner is something of an enigma. Influencing everything from Twin Peaks to LOST, it told the story of a secret agent kidnapped and held on a really weird island. We're as lost as to what's really happening as our hero is, but we have the advantage of watching the story told through beautiful costuming, wonderfully wacky storytelling, and terrifying moments featuring a giant floating balloon. A strange series that's never really died off. Part of that is the strange combination of futuristic concepts such as mind control and super-security, while mixing with elements of the past with the way people dress and speak. The combination is somewhat disturbing. There've been re-makes, comic books, references in other media ranging from The Simpsons to V for Vendetta, it's cut a major path through popular culture, but more so, it's a tightly written, brilliantly paced, and endlessly re-watchable. It has everything you need for a science fiction television masterpiece. Why it's on the list: You can watch it and never have a single question answered, but at the same time, you don't really mind!
Yes, Next Generation before The Original Series. Why? Because what they were doing with NextGen was so much more interesting and artfully done than with TOS. As Pickard, the brilliant Patrick Stewart imbued the entire series with a sense of gravitas that you just didn't get from Shatner. Television had evolved, and NextGen worked with new storytelling techniques and had a far more serious tones. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two series was the role played by secondary crew. It was rare for a TOS episode to really explore characters other than Kirk or Spock, but some of the finest episodes of NextGen deal with Data, or Worf, or Jordy, or even Troi. The team played off each other in a way that was far more natural than in the 60s, but it was also still giving us what Gene Roddenberry had always hoped would come across – a big bright future for humanity among the stars. Why it's on the list: A supersmart series that moved the Star Trek universe into a modern age.
Joss Whedon had already given us Buffy and Angel, so it shouldn't be a shock that Firefly would use all that wisdom, and all those dark tendancies, to put together a complex, rich, and beautiful world. Combining elements of westerns, swashbuckling adventure tales, and good ol' fashioned SciFi space operatics, Firefly managed to become one of the defining shows of the 'Gone Too Soon' genre, having been cancelled by Fox before all the episodes had even aired. The story of the Firefly-class ship Serenity, and it's crew, is classic high-seas adventures, with a rich set of characters that examine everything from sexual mores and values, family obligations, religion, and most importantly of all, what it means to be on the right side, that happens to have lost.           That last theme led directly into the movie Serenity, and it basically gives us the only distinction between our main character, Mal Reynolds (played by everybody's favorite Nathan Fillion) and tar Wars' Han Solo; Mal is fighting for what's right, especially when it benefits him otherwise, but isn't afraid to take a loss if its he feels like he needs to. That's just one of the many conflicting states of mind from Joss Whedon's amazing group of characters, and one reason Firefly is pretty much the best show of the last decade. Why it's on the last: Brilliant, but canceled, Firefly gave us the most hard core fanbase in hisotry – The Browncoats.
The Truth is Out There was a major catch phrase for almost a decade as The X-Files was a part of a wave of Fox shows that helped to establish it as the hip young network. Over the course of the series it went from the best science fiction show on television, to a shell of its former self, to the best thing on television again! Cast changes, sometimes confusing storyline paths, all leading to an amazing set of realizations in the final seasons, made The X-Files such a complete and total revelation. The key to the series is the relationship between Scully and Mulder, and even more so, the truth and the myth that each represented. Dana Scully, played with incredible perfection by Gillian Anderson, played the realist who keeps getting dragged into the weird, and trying to make it all fit in with the world we understand. Mulder knew better than to trust anything or anybody... save for Scully. That dynamic, coupled with a coterie of characters like The Cigarette Smoking Man, Jose Chung, and The Lone Gunmen, all helped turn The X-Files into one of the defining television programs of the 1990s, of the Fox Network, and of scifi tv. Why it's on the list: There are few stories in the history of science fiction that go as deep, look as far, and still manage to take place in the here and now.
What happens when The Twilight Zone grows up in a post-Sapranos world? The answer is Black Mirror, an anthology show that has managed to look at the impact of technology on life, love, loss, and longing. It's also one of the best dang shows ever to come out of the UK. With the stories being unconnected, they explore different themes and ideas. Some of the most moving use science fiction somewhat lightly, such as when the Prime Minister of England is blackmailed into performing 'certain acts' with a pig to save the life of a Princess. Others are so science fictional that they could have come straight from the mind of Isaac Asimov, such as a story of a troubled young man who teaches himself to dance to teach the rest of the world a lesson. There's so many incredible stories, the deepest of which deal with what it means to be alive. The 2016 episode San Junipero was a heart-breaking, life-affirming, deeply-troubling story of life and love, and the dark aspects of what it means to keep them both going after their expiration dates. It's such a great story, and it was nominated for the Hugo award. Why it's on the list: The best anthology show since The Twilight Zone, and one of the most effective pieces of television of the last decade.
Netflix is killin' it! They have taken their Marvel properties and made some incredible television out of 'em. From the hard-hitting Luke Cage, to the gritty-as-hell Daredevil, all have delved into the heavier side of the Marvel comic book world, developing ideas that might have come of the darker thoughts of writers like Frank Miller. Jessica Jones is one of the series that made Marvel into a player in the on-demand original series world, and it's also one of the most painfully realistic portrayals of what someone goes through in trauma. The basic story is harsh; Jessica Jones was the only survivor of a car crash that killed her family, and is eventually controlled by Kilgrave to commit murder. She gains super powers, and eventually becomes an alcoholic as a way to deal with her PTSD. That's only the tip of the iceberg, as there are incredible layers to the series that openly explores concepts like rape, repression, abusive relationships, and power dynamics, while also making a smart super hero series. Plus, it's got David Tennant playing the role of Kilgrave in a way that is brutal in every possible dimension., Why it's on the list: The best-written super hero series of all time.
MST3K. Yes, the show with the sarcastic puppets. The fact is it's one of the funniest, and smartest, shows in the history of the universe, and while you only remember the silhouettes at the bottom of the screen mocking movies, the whole story is SciFi. A janitor is shot into space, and mad scientists monitor his brain while he watches terrible movies as they try to break his spirit. Of course, with all that time in space, he could make those robots to keep himself company. The movies they showed were almost always science fiction films, like Pod People or Alien from LA, but even when they were watching a cop flick like Mitchell, the 'bot were always cracking wise in a science fictional way! The Satellite of Love is a fine setting for a science fiction story, but it's really about the three of 'em watching movies and having a good time... just like every high school kid with MST3K when it was on the air! Why it's on the list: Funny! Zany! Hyper-referential!
The biggest trend of the 2000s was the re-imagining. Dozens of films, from Planet of the Apes to Freaky Friday, all got re-upped, turning into something much more palatteable to the modern audience. Television was not immune, and no other show did more with the re-invention than Battlestar Galactica. Based on the original Battlestar Galactica starring Lorne Greene, Dirk Benedict, and Richard Hatch, the newBattlestar Galactica took a mich different direction - darker, heavier, and far mor ein line with the science fiction you were seeing in the movie theatres than the original. The writing was phenomenal, and took old concepts and made them feel fresh, erasing the classic technobabble that was such a lynchpin of science fiction and replacing it with good old-fashioned characterization and action. The fact that they removed the lasers and mega-weapons for bullets, railguns, and missiles didin't hurt either. Of course, the ending is unforseen, and perfectly brilliant. No other science fiction took an ending as far asBattlestar Galacticaand made it feel right. Why it's on the list: Easily the best re-imagining of any television series ever.
The idea was simple - Wagon Train to the stars! It's not quite that easy, but Gene Roddenberry had the idea for a western-style science fiction program using elements from movies like Forbidden Planet and series like The Outer Limits, and tackling the big issues of the day, like racism, the Cold War, and even the sexual revolution. The idea was to present an Earth that had solved the problems of the present and gave us a bright, shiny future. Oh, who am I kidding? It's Shatner. Shatner, who was best known for his role in a classic Twilight Zone episode, played Captain Kirk with a stage actor's committment and a cock-sure bravado that absolutely endeared him to the viewer. His interactions with Spock, the buttoned-down sensible one, and Bones, the grumpy cuss who was not afraid to call Kirk out for his impulsiveness. There were classic moments, like the first interacial kiss on network television, or the invasion of the Tribbles, or the amazing performance by legendary Ricardo Montalban as Khan. So many amazing moments! Why it's on the list: How could a list about science fiction of any kind that didn't mention Kirk and Star Trek?
The Marvel Cinematic Universe burst onto the small screen with Agents of SHIELD, tying the films with television in a way that was so thorough it's hard to imagine that they could keep them apart at all. The stories themselves are impressive, in that they have to fit whatever film we're getting in theatres into the mythos, while also telling a somewhat coherent story for the series itself. Under the direction of Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeffrey Bel, and co-created by Joss Whedon, Agents of SHIELD is one of the best put-together shows on television, which is a good thing as there are a lot of balls in the air that need to be juggled at all times. The series mines the history of Marvel comics incredibly well, digging deep at times for the hard core fanboys, while also managing to stay approachable for the mass audience who more likely knows the MCU pictures. The fact that the series is one of the best acted in the history of science fiction television, with Clark Gregg, Ming Na-Wen, and Patton Oswald all worthy of praise. The music is incredible as far as TV music goes, with an orchestral sensation that is unmatched on primetime. Why it's on the list: Easily the best comic book series on a major network, and so well produced, it's impossible to ignore.
Another Netflix series, but more importantly, it's a series that really examines the history of science fiction and horror created for home viewing. Stranger Things is all about the VHS experience, about the kind of storytelling that is designed to be watched on the CRT television sitting in that hutch in your 1985 living room. It's personal, small-scale, but ambitious and endlessly entertaining. We're really presented with two stories that are tied together, but also held apart – the disappearance of Will Byers and the appearance of a young girl we call Eleven. There's all the classic straight-to-VHS markers – a governmental conspiracy, a mid-list actor looking to turn their career around, a monster, and general strangeness. What Stranger Things manages to do with all that is far beyond anything that happened in those movies, with rich characters, strong story movement, incredible timing, and the kind of acting that defines the best of what a genre film is supposed to give you. Even the masterful theme song is equal parts John Carpenter and free-to-license 1980s perfection! Why it's on the list: Not merely a nostalgic trip into science fiction horror, but a well-written and acted series that left fans screaming for more.
LOST is a show that took all the convoluted twist and turns of The X-Files, mixed it in a setting as weird as Twin Peaks, and populated with characters as flawed as those you'd find in a Coen Brothers movie. It was an absolute masterpiece of television when it first debuted, and though it turned and twisted about a dozen times along the way, it never stopped keeping the audience guessing. The story of a plane crash, the fight for survival, the incredible difficulties of maintaining the weirdest island in the Universe, and the struggle between the base and better nature of mankind are the major themes, but it's also a series of love stories, a string of journeys of self-discovery, and a deeply spiritual piece. Not only did Abrams and his team play with the story, they presented it in a way that stepped through the veils of time and space, with heavy use of flashbacks, flashforwards, and side-steps. Yes, the ending left as much in the air as the beginning did, but at the same time, it was exactly the ending that we needed, because it wasn't about telling us what the truth was; it was about making care that there might be truth. Why it's on the list: As a singular story, there are few shows of any kind as poetic or wide-ranging.
The Star Wars universe has appeared on television several times, notably with Droids, the Ewok Adventures, and the brilliantly-misunderstood Star Wars Holiday Special, but it was at its peak with Star Wars – Clone Wars, a 2D animated series that took the stories of the Jedi Knights, led by Obi-Wan Kenobi, against the Sith lords and the Clone army. The story, which takes place in between the events in the films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, focuses on the Jedi trying to stop the Confederacy of Independent Systems from leaving the Galactic Republic. The animation is stylized, which helped to launch an entire series of new toys and games using the imagery. The music was great, and the scripts so strong. The entire package has a feeling of being crucial, and at the same time, it doesn't feel as if it were created to merely explain the transitions between the films. Each 15 minute episode felt so important to the overall story, and that alone made it one of the most impressive of all the Star Wars properties. Why it's on the list: The best of the Star Wars series, and the only one that really feels as if it gives us as much as we got in the movies.
The Twilight Zone's little brother, The Outer Limits, takes everything that made the former great, and then adds in a touch more science fiction to the mix. Like The Twilight Zone, it brought out the best in some of the best writers working in the field, including future Oscar winner Robert Towne, low-budget SciFi master Ib Melchior, and science fiction legends Richard Matheson, Clifford Simak, Eando Binder, and Harlan Ellison, The writing was always top-notch, rising as high, if not higher, than the standards set to Serling's other project. The most impressive part of The Outer Limits is just how far and wide things went. Episodes dealt with space travel and exploration, mind control, time loops, and even future war. The episodes were self-contained, and at least somewhat less gimmicky than many of those on The Twilight Zone. The way the stories were told, they allowed each episode to come to its own over a full hour, with some of the best cinematography and effects on television at the time. They also tackled issues of the time like race, homosexuality, and scientific ethics, all without missing a step in telling the story. Why it's on the list: The episode The Forms of Things Unknown would be worth including on its own, and it wasn't even the best episode they did!
Doctor Who has led to so many spin-offs and associated programs, but almost all of them are designed to be children's shows. With Torchwood, they went with something designed for adults, and not just for the easy stuff, but for some very troubling issues they deal with. The idea of Torchwood is a group that operates underground in matter involving extraterrestrials. The team from Cardiff includes Capt. Jack Harkness, an immortal who happens to be somewhat sex-crazed, love mad former con man who has become the leader. He is assisted by a team that goes into many different niches, and all of whom seem to want to shag one another. The stories are dark, heavy, and they look into so many areas that Doctor Who never would have gone, such as what it means to be alive, or to look for love beyond death, or how controlling minds is so dangerous for everyone involved. The production is so strong, and using elements of Doctor Who's history, along with some of the best characterization even found in the history of science fiction television, and you've got Torchwood. Why it's on the list: A wonderful show that goes into so many new directions that would end up driving science fiction media into a new age.
After Doctor Who and The Prisoner, and maybe Blake's 7, it's Red Dwarf that made British SciFi into a thing for Americans who watched PBS. It told the story of a crew of a space ship. Well, almost the entire crew died, save for our intrepid hero, Lister, who was in stasis, a hologram, Rimmer, their android, Cryton, and Lister's cat, Cat, who has evolved into a human-like being. There's also the computer, who changes personality and appearance a couple of times. That shouldn't be a shock, as the series started in the 80s, but there've been wide gaps in the production timeline and only 11 seasons total. Red Dwarf goes way over-the-top with the science fiction nuttiness, sometimes diving into big concepts simply for a joke, like a visit to a virtual reality game parlor or a planet running backwards. They've played with everything from alternate reality to space-time dilation, to the Big Bang, to mystery, to love, to loss, to Indian food gags. Yep, it's that kind of show, and while it's changed dramatically more than once, it's still great fun! Why it's on the list: A prime example of science fiction comedy that plays with every concept in the book!
The first Flash series had been incredible, if so short lived as to limit its impression, but when The Flash came back, it turned into one of the most impressive super hero shows on television in a time of great super hero shows. The Flash looks at the scarlet speedster, Barry Allen, one of the most iconic of all the DC comics characters, and his rise to his role as defender of Central City. The show deals with Barry's interaction with various villains, his own personal rogue's gallery, and especially with Hank Starr, the most powerful scientist in Central City. Of course, there's a perfectly played love story, and a smart series of family interactions and history that makes the entire series feel more like a drama than a super hero show. The show is the perfect combination of high production values, classic comic book storytelling, smart 21stcentury dialogue, and well-applied special effects. The look for the Flash's runs are pretty amazing, and gorgeous, and the costuming, especially The Flash's outfit, is modern without forgetting that this is a character that goes back decades. Why it's on the list: DC comics shows don't get enough love, and this is the best of all of them!
If you liked the political intrigue of Star Trek, but didn't think there was enough of it, then you need to watch Babylon 5. Possibly the most heavily political science fiction television show ever, it has been compared to the Israeli-Palestinian scenario, as well as the Cold War, only full of more intrigue and guile! The story centers around a unified Earth which is recovering from a great war with the Minbari, which ends suddenly with the more powerful Minbari army surrendering within moments of completely crushing the Earth's defenses. The first season, and the entire show really, is all about why that happened, what it meant, and how it would lead to a new and dangerous future. Perhaps it is Jerry Doyle's portrayal of Michael Garibaldi that really turns everything into high gear. He peppers truth in with propaganda, has a darkness that is tempered with wisdom, and he's just so dang good at what he does. It's an impressive role, and while he's not the star of the show, he's the one we walk with the most closely. Why it's on the list: One of the first television series to use top-notch CGI, and one of the most interesting of the 1990s.
You've never heard of Other Space, have you? An original series from the short-lived Yahoo! Screen service, it was a referential absurdist comedy space opera, and you're unlikely to find any that do it better. The story of a crew consisting of a young and untested captain, his first mate (who happens to be his sister), the captain's best friend, his would-be girlfriend,  a weird science officer, a more different weird guy who runs engine room, and his robot pal. It's your basic Star Wars parody, with a couple of neat twists. The series was created by Paul Feig, director of the 2016 version of Ghostbusters, and some of the team behind Mystery Science Theatre 3000. We even get to see good ol' Joel as our engineer, and the Voice of Crow T. Robot as the voice of A.R.T.. The sense that this is all a fun little set-up to something bigger and stranger ends up being the case, but along the way, they play on some great moments in science fiction history, including classic moments from Star Trek, Invasion of the Body-snatchers, and even Lady & The Tramp. Why it's on the list: Science fiction comedy can be hard, but Other Space manged to give it to us with a dollop of weird on the side.
Philip K. Dick has been adapted into film many times, with both amazing (Bladerunner! A Scanner Darkly!) and terrible (Minority Report...) results.  His first TV series adaptation, The Man in the High Castle, takes what is almost certainly his best novel and turns it into an incredible series that speaks about how losers are seldom broken, how power corrupts, and how time is more questionable than we think. It's 1962 and the Axis powers won World War Two, splitting the US in half – Japan took the Pacific coast; the Nazis took the East. Julina Crain discovers a newsreel which shows the Allies winning WWII, and thus history being different. This is the start of one of a few different threads that run through the story, and it's the most fascinating, as it brings out those big questions that make science fiction so fascinating. The writers take the book and mold it to the format well, giving just the right amount of weight to every moment, and never wavering too far from the spirit (and often the letter) of the source material. It's one of the best novel-to-television adaptations. Why it's on the list: Philip K. Dick + Great performances x incredible scripting = List.
Matt Groening is one of the true geniuses of the last century. The Simpsons alone, with its incredible variety of stories and concepts, not to mention The X-Files cross-own episode, is worthy of his inclusion in the Hall of Fame, but it is Futurama that runs with the science fiction ball the further. It's a story that takes elements of a hundred years of scifi storytelling, mixes it with a hundred years of animation traditions, and then adds a surrealist layer of weird right over top of the whole thing. And, as is often the case, it's the characters that we come to love. Fry, a sleeper who has awakened on the cusp of the 31st century, Leela, a one-eyed and gorgeous ship captain, Bender, and alcohol-fueled bending robot, and even the lobster-man, Dr. John Zoidberg, all are incredibly well-developed, and in ways that are not often found in half-hour cartoons.  The episodes tell brillaint stories, and sometimes go into dark places, but they always remember that it's a cartoon. From talking heads in jars, to loveable, world-eating pets, it's a series that just runs with it! Why it's on the list: Funny, and weird, if you want to understand what's cool in scifi, watch Futurama!
The X-Files was great, and one of the things that great television series do is inspire imitators. Typically, these are low-rent, often even lower on fresh ideas, but then, once-in-a-while, you get a show like Fringe that could easily have been just another clone and makes it into something really special. So special that you don't quite realize exactly how X-Files it is until you stop to write about it! Agent Olivia Dunham, scientist Walter Bishop and his son, Peter, are the heart of the Fringe division of the FBI. The take on cases that are weird, and often discover that their predicaments are tied into an on-going storyline that crosses timelines and universes. The stories are stand-alone, but they also fall into a greater set of stories, which are a part of an even bigger narrative, which gives the entire series a layered feel. The performances, especially John Noble's strange/funny/poignant portrayal of Walter, are a part of why so many people feel in love with it. Why it's on the list: Fringe survived for five seasons in the Friday Night Death Slot, so it must be good!
If you're a widely-read science fiction geek, you'll be aware of The Expanse novels. Starting with Leviathan Wakes, they're an amazing example of the possibilities that are still held within the world of Space Opera. Just a few years ago, the series would have been considered impossible to adapt for television, but now, with better CGI, and networks willing to put money into big idea scifi, we have it in front of us! Part detective story, part political conspiracy thriller, and part space opera, The Expanse looks at a large story and breaks it down into impressive chunks each episode. Watching the series evolve, it shows the impressive power of the original books, and then adds a layer of production values, and especially acting. Thomas Jane as Josephus Miller draws from performances by the likes of Humphrey Bogart to give a gritty aspect to his work. The brilliant Shohereh Aghdashloo is incredible and one of the few actors alive who could pull off some of the maneuvers her character needs to play out on the screen. Even the secondary characters are great, and make The Expanse into an incredible ride! Why it's on the list: It's just getting going and it already has everyone hooked!
In the 1960s and 70s, a lot of kids first encountered science fiction through cartoons like Johnny Quest or The Jetsons, so it makes sense that when they grew up, they'd need to see the end result of those stories, right? That's basically the premise of The Venture Brothers, where the son of a former famed adventurer, Dr. Thaddeus Venture, his bodyguard Brock Sampson, and his twins Hank and Dean, are all in over their heads dealing with criminals in the Guild of Calamitous Intent, and various other arch-nemesises.This is the kind of show that's great if you are coming in blind, but if you remember Scooby-Doo you'll find even more in every weird little episode. Brock Sampson, one of the most incredibly brutal characters ever created, is the kind of hero we can all get behind... even when he goes a little enhanced interegation on those that attempt to stand against the Ventures. The show is full of under-powered heroes facing off with high-concept villains, in insane situations. It feels like one of those Saturday Morning cartoon shows from 1975, only written by a certifiable maniac with an encyclopedic pop culture knowledge base.Why it's on the list: It's just so funny, and an absolute blast for those who know their Pop Culture.
Who are we? That's a major question that has plagued philosophy and the sciences for generations. Now, add to that the question of who are we when we know we're a clone. That's a bigger kettle of fish, right? That's the entire concept behind Orphan Black, the best Canadian television series ever made! We follow Sarah Manning, one of a long line of identical clones, as she assumes the identity of Det. Beth Childs after she commits suicide. That alone would be enough, but the show goes on to dig around the implications of human cloning, of personal identity when you discover you're no longer unique, and perhaps most devastatingly, how media conglomeration shaping our view of the world mirrors that of gene manipulation to create clones.  Where it really hits hardest is in the virtuoso performance of the incredible Tatiana Maslany. She plays so many different characters, sometimes having to flow between them in reaction to one another. It's a helluva role, and it calls on Maslany to go between a wide variety of approaches, all at once. It's next level stuff! Why it's on the list: A smart series, a powerful performance, and a show whose themes just get deeper and deeper.
The Superman mythos has to be the most iconic of all American stories. The idea of an alien who has come to America and is our savior can be seen as the most telling as to what America wanted in the years immediately before America entered WWII. While he's been brought to new media several times, notably the famed Christopher Reeve films of the 1970s and 80s, but it's in Smallville that you get to see how Clark Kent learned what he needed to know and feel to become Superman. Tom Welling's Clark Kent is a powerful figure, sometimes actually managing to be more impressive when he's exposing his emotional self than when he's using powers. The way the series gives us so much as to the backstory of characters we know from so many other sources is incredible. Appearances from heroes ranging from Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter to Doctor Fate and Booster Gold make it into one of the widest-ranging comic series ever. Of course, Michael Rosenbaum's Lex Luther is just about perfection for villainy! Why it's on the list: Superman's backstory has been well examined, but here it's given so much more space to breathe.
Have you ever wondered who saw the future the most accurately? The answer happens to be the creators ofMax Headroom who really understood what would be happening in the media about twenty-five years later. The Earth is run by a consortium of television networks. The voice of reason on all of this is Edison Carter, an investigative journalist who ends up wrecking his body in a chase, being uploaded to a mainframe, and living out his days as Max Headroom within the network. The series predicted the 24-hour newscycle, media outlet consolidation, the collapse of traditional journalistic ethics, and especially the world of off-the-gird livers. The entire series was just about as Cyberpunk as you were going to find on American TV, partly because it started life as a British television show, that then exported their lead to the US in the series... and as the spokesentity for New Coke. The computer animation techniques, which seem primative today, were actually fairly cutting edge, and the balanace between a gritty, Bladerunner-like city with the clean lines of Max Headroom, was a part of the absolute charm of the series. It also made a star of Matt Frewer, who played Max, with a style that he's carried over into 30 yeras of further roles. Why it's on the list: No other series made as bold a vision of the future that ended up being as close as Max Headroom.
Joss Whedon, you animal! You created Buffy, you gave us Firefly, and then you hit us with Echo, the lead character of Dollhouse. She's a reprogrammable Active, an all-purpose freelancer who might be called on by wealthy clients to play any role from hit woman to dominatrix. The idea is the corporation brings on women for five year stints, download their memories onto a hard drive, and then implants new identities, then wipes their minds after each mission to provide a blank slate. After their contract ends, they're given a ton of money and complete criminal immunity. Only, Echo holds some of the memories from each wipe, which makes her unique. That idea brings with it so many ideas, like what role corporations play in crimes committed in their name, what sort of culpability you hold when you don't know you've done terrible things, and perhaps the darkest idea of all, how do we keep ourselves whole when pieces are being eaten away. Eliza Dushku, Faith from Buffy, is phenomenal in the series, and gives the best performances of her career. Why it's on the list: A smart set of scripts, a power performance, and a highly watchable series!
The British are not fooling around when it comes to dark super-powered drama. Misfits is just about as heavy a series as you can find out there, and it's big, brash, and sexy, all in equal measure. The story has everything to do with the British idea of class and how it manifests in individuals who are cast out. The five heroes of our series are all on a community service program and end up caught in a supernatural storm that gives them super-powers. Not just super-powers, but super-powers that mirror the kind of character they represented before the storm. The ideas of the show are heavy, but the execution is absolutely mind-blowing. The concept of the powers representing the people who wield them is a classic in comic books, but here, it is taken to a whole other level, with perfectly executed effects and writing. The acting is wonderful, especially when an extreme story requires they go over-the-top. The sexuality, and frank language, is impressively realistic, when it needs to be, and over-poweringly brutal when that's called for. In all, Misfits is a series that talks British culture and holds a mirror up to it. Why it's on the list: One of the best series you can find on Hulu in the US, and some of the best British scifi for adults!
Based on the novel by Robert J. Sawyer, Flashforward tells a complicated story about what happens the world goes dark for 137 seconds and then survives to have to deal with the consequences. The story is about what it means when we see the future too clearly, and if we are predestined to follow visions of that future. The stories of those who survived range from surprising to joyous to dark to just plain weird. There's international spying, there's some perfectly light moments, and there's a lot of consideration about what it means when we lose control of our world, even briefly. No other science fiction show of the last decade covers as much personal trauma on such a grand scale, and then presents it with so much impact. Every character has a story, both in the present and in the future (well, almost everyone...) and the way the brilliant cast plays with those stories is where the series moved from being merely an interesting concept into something truly remarkable... and canceled far too soon. Why it's on the list: One of the best novel-to-television adaptations ever made.
When we have to consider the world of the synthetic human, we need to look most deeply at the concept of humanity itself. What makes a human a human? If something synthetic is nearly all of those things, does that make it human? Where does it begin? If a human is no longer filling those requirements, are they still human? These are big questions, and Humans takes a shot at them in a way that you'd never expect. The frank look at what it means to be human and less-than-human has a lot of ties both currently and historically. What starts as the story of the Hawkins family spirals out into a much bigger story that brings in those big issues, and when they have significantly answered those questions, they get to the bigger implications. The story of Synths, androids that appear, and perhaps even think, like humans, and how they interact with the world and their owners is a powerful one, and when we finally get a look at the possible endgame for that sort of being, it is both chilling and fascinating. Why it's on the list: One of the finest explorations of consciousness and the social contract ever put on television.
TV series don't deal with political issues, right? Neither do cartoons. Nor comic books. Nor science fiction. None of those are the kinds of places where you might try and give a strong environmental message along with a rocking good story. Never. Well, unless you're Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, a brilliant CBS cartoon from 1993. The story deals with an ecological freedom fighter group and their interactions with everything from poachers to ambassadors, as well as the restoration of old cars. Oh yeah, there are a bunch of dinosaurs which get called 'Slithers' that are gorgeously realized. They're beautiful, and our hero, Jack, has one he hand-raised as a pet. The big idea here is that Jack and company are fighting to protect their way of life, and the creatures and resources from exploitation, but you'll also walk away moved by the gorgeous animation, and probably the desire to go out and by a 1950s Caddy. Why it's on the list: Little-seen, but incredibly well-done, Cadillac & Dinosaurs is one of the best comic-to-tv adaptation.
Long-running series often find themselves trapped in going over old territory. This is especially true of genre series, that often explore their world in the first few seasons, and then peter out as they limp along. Stargate SG-1, which ran for ten seasons, used it's concept so well, and instead of moving from villain to villain, monster to monster, it explored a few major enemies thoroughly, and gave a deep understanding of the battles between them, while still introducing new elements all along the way. SG-1 starts a year after the film left off, with the trans-dimensional portal, the Stargate, held in Cheyenne Mountain, and used by military teams to investigate the galaxy in the search for allies and weapons initially to battle the Goa'uld, a race of snake-people who inhabit humans. The series follows the team's adventures, but also as they uncover the secrets of the universe, and of unknown human history. The storytelling is great, and they go into many different areas, and many of the stories tied to the Earth are just as out there as those set in the far-off. Why it's on the list: An incredibly rich, long-running series that just keeps on delivering.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not merely a force that looks forever forward, In Agent Carter, it goes back and looks at one of the most fascinating characters in the mythos – Peggy Carter. She's an agent in the Strategic Scientific Reserve in the early 1950s, and she's dealing with being the most capable agent in a time of sexism, where one of the worst things you could be around the office was a woman and competent. The entire series ties deeply into several of the MCU storylines, from the fact that Carter's most important accomplices are Howard Stark and Edward Jarvis (Father, and future teacher to Tony Stark (Iron Man) respectively) and she's still hung-up on the great Captain America, Steve Rogers, who she believes is dead. The entire thing of beautiful. The 1950s allows for great costuming and set decorating options, but combined with the amazing performances, and the sort of gentle science fiction push of the story, it's a remarkable series. Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter is incredible. She pulls off the action, the sly spycraft, and most of all, the heart this kind of role requires! Why it's on the list: The saddest early cancellation of recent years, Agent Carter is a wonderful glance backwards into the Marvel Universe.
Steven Spielberg was at the top of his game when he brought Amazing Stories to television in 1985. The magazine that helped define how science fiction would evolve, and which certainly helped to form what Spielberg would create in his early years, provided the inspiration for an incredible rotating team of writers and directors to create around. Some stories are fantasies, while others are deeply science fictional, and some are just plain weird. The fact that Spielberg was willing to try an anthology series when they hadn't been a regular part of the television landscape for two decades shows how much pull he had, and when you factor in the talent that he got for various episodes, you can see the power of Spielberg. The stories themselves are, well, amazing, with some taking the form of the classic Hitchcock twist that would influence folks like M. Night Shaymalan, and others are straight-ahead adventure tales from directors like  Joe Dante, Paul Bartel, Clint Eastwood, and Martin Scorsese, with actors such as John Lithgowe, Mark Hamill, and Kevin Costner!Why it's on the list:It's an incredible look at what was happening in 1980s genre television and film.
The weird small town is a classic for science fiction, from Twin Peaks to Super 8, there's little a writer loves more than getting to play with the inherent strangeness of isolation in the modern age. Eerie, Indiana takes full advantage of that, giving us a bizarre little town that is full of strangeness. The stories are fun, funny, and more than a little post-modernist, with self-referential humor flying all over the place, including an episode where a script for the show Eerie, Indiana, makes everyone behave as if they're making Eerie, Indiana! The series took some silly premises and made them fun, and sometimes scary, but always worked with the feeling of a big screen feature film mentality in an hour-long television form. This sense of inner bigness may have come from the fact that the series featured a lot of incredibly talented filmmakers directing and writing each episode, like Joe Dante and Bob Balaban, and early appearances from stars like Nikki Cox and Tobey McGuire! Why it's on the list: It only got a single season, but Eerie, Indiana managed to gain a strong following around the world!
HBO has become the premier source of TV for decades, but the past decade has seen even more greatness. Their newest entry, Westworld (based on Michael Crichton's book) deals with the ramifications of AI, a perennially popular science fiction theme.But there has never been a pure Science Fiction TV production with as much panache, style, and dare-I-say money thrown into it as Westworld. With A-list actors, lush settings, and a brilliant, yet mind-twisting plot, Westworld is perhaps the next frontier of TV; HBO is certainly attempting to build out a new Game of Thrones success with this new TV series.An absolute masterpiece of TV that you don't want to miss.