Science/Fantasy Monday: Top 10 SciFi Television Shows, Pt 1
I have been having this conversation with a few of my friends lately: what are the best science fiction television shows of all time? I’ve been debating with my brother, with several classmates, with my mother, and others. It is not an easy question to answer. There are so many fantastic shows to choose from, and there are so many shows that, while not necessarily the BEST ever, have so much nostalgic power, and so initial influence on the growth of science fiction in television, that it’s difficult to ignore them.
So I’ve come up with my own personal list. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not very good at putting things in a hierarchy. While I’m confidence that all 10 shows I’ve chosen deserve to be in such a list, I am not quite as confident in the particular order that I have settled on. Still, an order had to be decided on, so this is my somewhat tentative final list.
Today I have shows 10 through 7. Next Monday I will have shows 6-3, and the following Monday will be numbers 1 and 2. (And please note, that I am keeping this strictly scifi. I will probably do a separate list for fantasy shows later.) And so, without further ado:
The Top 10 Science Fiction Television Shows, Pt 1
This show begins with modern American astronaut John Crichton (played by Ben Browder) accidentally flying into a wormhole during a test flight, being thrown across the universe, and picked up by the crew of the living space-ship Moya. At about the same time, the crew of Moya find a stranded Peacekeeper named Aeryn Sun (played by Claudia Black) which could be a problem as the crew is currently on the run from the Peacekeepers, a corrupted military/police-esque force. Having gathered the full cast, the show races through a number of plot arcs with increasing speed and intensity, including being captured by the Peacekeepers, Crichton’s attempt to find a wormhole home, and a frantic arms-race later in the show.
My brother says that this show was very hit-or-miss, but I disagree. Granted, EVERY show has a few weaker episodes here and there, but this show was very strong for me. The cast was varied and fascinating, including a warrior falsely accused of killing his wife, a thief/con-artist, and an ex-priestess of a plant-like species, just name a few. This is the only show I’ve seen that really takes the “living ship” concept (which has been done before as a novelty in such things as an episode of Star Trek, etc) and really made the ship a character, which I really loved. I also really really LOVE Claudia Black. She is a brilliant, snarky, gorgeous actress, and I could probably watch her do dishes and be entertained, so that helps. The costumes, make-up, and set design on this show were also creative and cool, especially considering the show did not always have the biggest budget. Farscape had some very devoted fans, but it didn’t get as much attention in the big scheme of things as I think it should have. It was a wonderful, entertaining, and ultimately human show that I definitely believe deserves a place in a top 10 list.
If you are surprised by this inclusion (or haven’t seen Futurama) well… you’re just crazy. Pure and simple. Futurama, an animated half-hour sitcom by Matt Groening and David Cohen of The Simpsons, takes every scifi tv show, movie, trope, theme, and cliché and turns them on their head. But what is so important to remember is that you can only do an effective parody of something when you really and truly love it at the same time, and Futurama, through all the hilarious insanity and oh-so-true parodies of scifi clichés, never ever forgets their love (or ours).
Everyone, I think, knows the basic premise of this show: useless, idiotic yet somehow endearing delivery boy Philip Fry falls into a cryostasis chamber on New Year’s Eve of 1999 and wakes up in the year 3000, left to deal with strange technology, aliens, crazy people, and once again being a delivery boy. With the main cast of Fry, Leela, Bender, Zoidberg, Farnsworth, Amy, and Hermes, as well as recurring characters like Zap Brannigan, Kif, Mom, and the Robot Devil, this show just cannot go wrong. Every character is insane, idiotic, neurotic, and absolutely hilarious. Every episode lambasts some social event or attitude with shocking audacity, and throws in every ridiculous scifi motif they can find to amazing effect. It is so difficult to pick a favorite character or episode of this show I think Bender is my favorite, but I really love Fry and Zoidberg as well. But, I think, for the perfect balance of insanity, character highlights, social and scifi parody, and actual plotline, nothing beats watching the first movie, Futurama: Bender’s Big Score. It is absolutely BRILLIANT.
You’ll notice pretty soon that MOST of the shows on this list are not current shows (Futurama is still running, but I think that’s it and it’s been around for awhile). As good as some of the current shows are (Eureka, for instance, is fabulous), they aren’t don’t quite have that something that makes them the best, or they just haven’t had the time to prove themselves yet. But I’m making Fringe the exception because it is just that amazing. It is not the first show ever to deal with the idea of alternate realities and how a variety of small and big choices change the outcome everything. But it has done such a fabulous job taking that concept and running with it.
Fringe began with a fairly simple premise of mixing scifi with police procedural: FBI agent Olivia Dunham works for a special Joint Federal Taskforce group called Fringe Division, which investigates crimes and unusual events that deal with “fringe science.” She is assisted by Dr. Walter Bishop, the quintessential mad scientist, whose inventions are often the foundation for whatever crime has been committed that week, and Dr. Bishop’s son Peter, a highly intelligent and versatile man who has worked on both sides of the law. By the end of the first season, however, it becomes obvious that viewers have more than a police procedural masquerading as scifi on their hands, as we discover that Peter was actually stolen from an alternate reality by this dimension’s Walter when his version of Peter died as a child. The Walter Bishop of the alternate reality, dubbed by writers and fans as “Walternate” has thus declared war on this dimension, believing that the two cannot co-exist. From there, it just gets weird. With a cast that includes Anna Torv very believably playing tough, intelligent, yet vulnerable Olivia Dunham, the brilliant John Noble as adorably insane Walter Bishop and creepy scheming Walternate, and the ever-attractive Joshua Jackson as wickedly smart and smart-ass Peter Bishop, this show was definitely destined to be good. The insanely complex, thought-provoking, mind-boggling plot lines and the endlessly fascinating bits of real and imagined science (which are both celebrated and critiqued in turn), make this show an absolute winner. It’s fast-paced, intense, full of human drama and crazy scifi, and highly intelligent. In other words, why isn’t everybody watching it?
Perhaps it is simply because I love this show so much that I’ve decided to put this on the list. But considering it lasted 10 seasons, launched not one but TWO spin-offs (neither of which were all that good if you ask me, but whatever), and has a enormous fan-base, I can’t be that far off the mark. Right? Stargate: SG-1 was based off a 1994 movie Stargate, which starred Kurt Russell as Col. Jack O’Neill and James Spader as Dr. Daniel Jackson, two members of a team of Air Force special forces (except Daniel, who is an archeologist) who travel through a large ancient Egyptian artifact called the stargate to another world, where the people speak an Egyptian dialect and worship a powerful alien creature (called a Goa’uld) as the god Ra. The tv show picks up a year after the end of the first movie, with Richard Dean Anderson now playing the part of Col. Jack O’Neill (can we all say thank god!) and Michael Shanks as Dr. Daniel Jackson. They are joined by Christopher Judge playing the Jaffa alien Teal’c, and Amanda Tapping as astrophysicist and Air Force Captain Samantha Carter.
This show, like many scifi shows before it, was a classic “new adventure every week” sort of show, in which the four main characters, as the Stargate team SG1 (the first of several such teams), travel through the Stargate to explore new worlds and meet new alien species (yes, I know that sounds familiar), while simultaneously trying to find allies and new weapons to help them defeat the evil, universe-conquering Goa’uld, who have set their sights on Earth. Of course, a show that goes on for 10 years is going to have to change bad guys eventually, so we also had the creepy sentient machines called the Replicators, Anubis a Goa’uld who became an even bigger threat by “ascending” to a higher (read: more powerful) plane of existence, and finally the ascended beings who would be gods, the Ori. I will not deny for a minute that the last three seasons of the show were fairly weak. The show probably should have ended with the defeat of Anubis, and Richard Dean Anderson’s departure was definitely the death-knell for the show. But for all that, it was an absolutely fabulous adventure scifi, with a perfect main cast (most especially Anderson and Shanks) and slew of great supporting actors. They came up with some truly fascinating alien species, despite an occasionally low budget, and I loved the continued theme of how aliens were the basis for many of our world religions. This show was just flat-out fun, and its staying power proves it should not be ignored.
(Note: I had originally intended to just do this is two segments, 10-6 and then 5-1, but this got very long very quickly, so I decided to cut it off here. And that will allow me to save numbers 1 and 2 for a big finish all their own in a couple weeks.)
So, what do you think of my list so far? What’s missing? What do you hope makes it in the rest of the list? What do you think will be #1? Let the debates begin!
And please return next Monday for Numbers 6 through 3!