I'm not a massive Science Fiction buff as such. I grew up with a lot of shows like Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Quantum Leap, Star Trek, Doctor Who and Babylon 5 around on the television. Mostly shows my father liked to watch, I watched as well because they were more exciting than the soap opera's my sister and mother prefered and because I loved Star Wars and Doctor Who as a kid. Say what you like, I'll always be fond of Sylvester McCoy's time lord, especially in Rememberance of the Daleks.
But on the whole it's a category I'm not so forgiving about, I guess it's because Science Fiction in the media tends to become about the gubbins and the writers often have an overly strong reliance on convienient devices which do anything like say, the sonic screwdriver, or which magically fix the day.
But on the whole I can forgive these ommissions and other similar issues if the show itself is good enough in other aspects, solid characters, interesting plots or exciting villains. So this list does indeed contain the shows which have managed to rise above the limits of the standard science fiction tropes through one method or another.
Opening up this relatively short list is a real favourite of mine, starring the brilliant and craggy Lance Heinrikson as Frank Black; this dark science fiction/mystery/thriller/horror show is set in the same universe as The X-Files but was something I much preferred to watch.
A lot of this I can attribute to the dark and relatively low-key nature of the show, but also Lance and Terry O'Quinn's performances are a huge part of why I loved watching it. It's just a shame it was cancelled before being given a chance to reach the Millennium itself and close out it's meta-plot. Even the short X-Files episode 'Millennium' wasn't satisfying enough as it was clearly an X-Files episode with Frank Black in it - making it very different in tone to the rest of the show.
This seems as good a place as any to also mention Dan Owen's fan fiction 4th season of the show.
No matter how hard I try and put my finger on what it is exactly about Anthony Michael Hall's rendition of Stephen King's The Dead Zone, the actual reason eludes me somewhat. But for many reasons (some of which I wrote about a while back) The Dead Zone is one show I'll always have fond memories of. Memories somewhat sullied by the shows abrupt cancellation just as it was getting really amazing, but there is little I can do about that except hope to see
In essence the show was a riff on King's original book idea, introducing one new character near the beginning - Bruce, Johnny's physiotherapist - and seeing how his influence changed the outcome of the story. Without Bruce (as the show demonstrates in one episode) Johnny spirals off and becomes the driven, possessed lunatic who appears in the book. But with Bruce's aid the Johnny in this show instead becomes a more balanced individual, someone who's influence and psychic powers change the lives of others for good.
The last season did make some abrupt decisions about various characters and weakened the show a little. But the final trio of episodes ended on such an amazing set of notes that I was left clamouring for one final season to bring everything to a head. Sadly this was not to be.
Almost a summer companion show to The Dead Zone (for myself at least) The 4400 could almost be described as the precursor to Heroes. Over the past hundred or so years four thousand four hundred people were "abducted" or went missing for unknown reasons. Suddenly they are all returned at the same time in a flash of light, each and every one of them 'changed' somehow and then sent back for an unknown reason.
While it was a superhero science fiction show at heart, the show also dealt a lot with the issues of displacement and the losing of family ties. As the series progressed it dealt with a huge meta plot explaining and understanding why 'the 4400' were returned, who the opposition were and so forth. It was a fantastic story handed out in tantalising drips and drabs.
The show wasn't without it's hiccups though, there are a few moments which at the time felt almost like shark jumping incidents, the third season in particular was a little rough. But the fourth season hit a stride which was just staggering, especially towards the end of it's run - where it moved things into a whole new level and just left me almost speechless at it's cancellation. All it needed was one more season, but sadly it was retired by USA to make room for new shows - shows which still haven't made a significant splash...
And that's why I think any decent network would cancel a show before it's finished it's production season, in order to give the writers a chance to wrap things up for the viewers before ending.
Short lived, offbeat and wonderful. These three words could be used to describe any of Bryan Fuller's creations, the man seems to be able to create these marvelous shows with an off-beat and cultish style to them. Shows which always seem to die before their third season.
Dead Like Me is the longest lived of them, it ran for two seasons and managed a straight to DVD video which, while flawed and hurting from the lack of Mandy Patinkin and Laura Harris, did have some great moments. It's a show which charts the (un)life of one George Lass, a girl killed by a falling toilet seat on the first day of her first job. But for George that isn't the end, it's the beginning - as Rube (Patinkin) explains to her, she's been chosen to become a Reaper. One of the undead who has the job of ushering souls into the next life.
George joins Rube's group, a small selection who deal in people who die through accidents and murders - there's Mason, Roxy, Betty, Betty and later on Daisy. They meet Der Waffel hause where they are assigned their given souls (or reap) by Rube.
The show is eccentric and charming, on the surface it's dealing with the subject of death in a light but meaningful fashion. But deeper beneath that the show also deals with loss and depression, every single major character in the show is clinically depressed (apart from maybe Betty) but manifests it in a different manner.
It's this combination of humor, drama and Rube Goldberg style death sequences which make the show an enjoyable watch. It's got real heart and soul.
Witty, action packed, exciting and nothing short of plain brilliant - as the first of three shows from Joss Whedon to make it on this list Buffy is proof of Joss's writing talent. Not to mention the fantastic performances from the cast as well. Buffy is very much a modern classic of television, revitalising the horror genre by making it suitable for mainstream pre-watershed consumption.
The combination of wit, humour and horror works exceptionally well for Joss's style and gave the viewers an amazing freshman season which cemented the show's return. But it was the sophmore season that gave us the show's most memorable character - Spike. James Marsters' performance throughout the show is just magnetic, entertaining and all kinds of superb; ao personally it's Spike who really gives the show it's veritable bite and remains the primary draw for myself.
In essence a spiritual successor to Buffy, I personally prefer Supernatural - a decision I'm happy to admit is somewhat controversial. I can't exactly explain why of the two I rank this one ahead. But mostly I think it's because the show has learnt from Buffy, it's a humours and charming pastiche of the horror genre; willing to touch on any element of story telling, from folk lore and legends all the way up to B-Movies.
It also provides not only season long plots but also has run a five year meta plot which will close out this year. At every step of the way this plot has been interesting, gripping and each segment has ended with an incredible cliffhanger which leaves you just dying for more (and sometimes leaves the characters just dying). It's capable of being dark like Millennium but also light and witty like Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Buffy itself.
Final judgment is reserved until I've seen the rest of the fourth season and the fifth one, but at the moment I have no hesitation in putting this one here in my Top Science Fiction/Horror/Fantasy Shows.
I thought about splitting this one into the pre and post cancellation versions of the show, as they do indeed have quite different feels to them. But in all honesty they are the same show, even if some of the style has altered somewhat.
The older, classic shows, have a quirky feel to them which is ramshackle and almost whimiscal. While the newer ones manage to keep some of that energy but improve on the style and substance of the show. Now yes, there are many flaws in this show - the most recent set had quite a few terrible episodes (Daleks in Manhattan and Love & Monsters to name two) and Russell T. Davies - while an exceptional writer for character emotion - always struggles to come up with a satisfactory conclusion for his stories short of just using some 'magic reset button'. But these can easily be forgiven when the show has such fantastic performances from it's leads (David Tennant, Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper and Catherine Tate in particular) and then even goes and gives us episodes like Blink, Human Nature, The Girl in the Fireplace, Father's Day and The Empty Child.
It's a show which started long before I was born and will mostly likely carry on long after I'm gone, and for that - and much, much more - I'll always love watching it, despite it's cheesy nature and varied episode quality.
Was there any doubt this would make an appearance on the list? When BSG is good, it's very good; and while the run wasn't perfection, some moments were decidedly ropey, the third season has vast tracts of episodes which I'll always skip if given the option and the end of the series really dragged on - it still managed to achieve an believable universe with some exceptionally awesome villains.
It's quite possibly one of the best shows of the decade and will most likely remain the definitive vision of the series. Far greater than it's fun but flawed 1980's counterpart and almost certainly stronger than any possible reimagining which might be lucking in the mind of Brian Singer.
Part science fiction, part superhero comic and part musical. Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog is one of three shows which demonstrate just how effective embracing the new age of media can be. Distributed for free on the internet Doctor Horrible swept up and carried along myself along with so many more watchers with it's brilliant blend of drama, comedy and singing.
The absolute star and gem of this is the talented and wonderful Neil Patrick Harris (a man who will make another appearance in one of the other lists) who gives a top notch performance as the titular Doctor Horrible. Supported with a commanding performance from Felicia Day and the lovely vision that is Nathan Fillon (wait, is that the right way round?) The show tapped into the public's love of super powers, villains and tunes you can really sing along to. Creating something which became instantly a classic while also showing where the future of television could be.
And fortunately for us, a sequel has been announced!
For such a short lived show it's almost surprising that I'm willing to put Firefly up there in the top position. But as I explained before there's so much to love about Firefly, and it's quite possible that the short lived nature of the show aids this. There are many shows which push on for just far too long, they keep churning out more and more seasons until things become tired and hackneyed or just plain stink. So the short length of the show is quite possibly of benefit here; Firefly just didn't have time to produce a bad episode, instead it's wonderful short run (and movie sequel) stand up beautifully and leave a lot of room for "what if" speculation about where things could have gone.
Add to this the western theme, witty dialog and fantastic performances from almost the entire cast combined with a fun (if rather unrealistic) 'universe' and you end up with a show I can go back and re-watch repeatedly.