The best science fiction shows on TV "right now" can mean different things to different people depending on your individual timeline, if you read this article two weeks ago, right now was two weeks ago.
If you read this article two weeks from now, right now is two weeks from now. As such, I have to decided make this particular article a testament to the ever-evolving creation of incredible science fiction television. I will be updating this article monthly, so please continue to check in as I expect this to become the definitive list of new and old (again, depending on your timeline) television that will intrigue and challenge your intellect.
Sci-fi is harder for ye olde producer who wants to crank out commercial genre material than horror is. Why? Well, duh, obvious, right? Horror, all you need is a cruddy house in the woods and a few attractive teenagers willing to get covered with blood—and they eat very little, right? Sci-fi? You generally have to somehow configure, y’know…space. And people have to have weapons. And post STAR TREK and GALACTICA et al, there are generally different species who are blue and have heads like ostriches and…you see how it all tallies up.
Debuting this summer, the description is that Halle is an astronaut who comes back to earth and finds herself attached to vast histories she knows little of, and is part of the saving of our world. The trailer reminds me of the vibe from the Milla Jovovich helmed Species movies.
Had I not seen Sandra Bullock pull off the roll of a lifetime as an astronaut, I might have questioned the casting of the beautiful Halle Berry as the the astronaut star of this ambitious program. With Steven Spielberg serving as an Executive Producer and Halle's kick-ass performance in the recent X-Men film, this one has got me hooked with the intensity of its marketing campaign.
Update: (Spoiler Alert)
Watched the premiere and loved it. Totally not what I expected. The show is a mix of Steven Spielberg's film A.I, as mentioned above Species and a very original/compelling look at what our lives may be like in the future. This is a must for the intellectual sci-fi fan. Do not expect an action packed hour, but rather a challenging mind game.
2. UNDER THE DOME
A friend of mine insisted that this was sci-fi. I said, “Isn’t it really the disaster genre?” We agreed to disagree—because, at least at this point in history, there is a history of “disaster movies” (you kids know what that is, right? Earthquake? The Swarm? The Day After Tomorrow?) but not really a history of Disaster Television.
In any case: based on a colossal (and quite well-written) Stephen King novel, Under The Dome: A Novel, this is the ongoing saga of town that suddenly and mysteriously is covered in a giant, transparent, and utterly impenetrable dome. Like some fancy dessert being rolled out in some snooty restaurant in some Blues Brothers movie, the whole community lives under a dome: no one going in, no one going out. Think that military solutions are going to be applied with unfortunate consequences? Kind of. Dome is smarter on the page than on the screen, but in any event it is a testament to Stephen King’s talent for starting with a “What if” and then embroidering, logically but infinitely surprisingly, from there. One sour note: Dean Norris, the genius DEA agent from Breaking Bad - not so good in this one.
3. ORPHAN BLACK
This is perhaps the most critically acclaimed sci-fi series in my memory. Everyone loves it, even non-genre geeks. Tatiana Maslany plays a woman who discovers that there are many clones of her. What this means is that she gets to play a number of people who look just like her, yet are possessed of many different personalities. The inner-world-of-the-clones plotting is recondite and labyrinthine, but Maslany emotionally leads you through it all.
4. THE LEFTOVERS
This imminently-coming-up HBO series put the pedal to the metal on the sci fi. In the original novel by Tom Perrotta (of Election and Little Children fame), the tone is wistful and comic—you know, kind of like an Alexander Payne movie. The Rapture comes (Perrotta was researching a book on the beliefs of America’s born-agains). And in the wake of the Rapture, there are a great many people who wake up the next day, everything normal, still on earth. The book probes the notion of what happens when you realize that you are, well, a little bit lonely…something rather vast and inexplicable just happened…and you have just discovered that the guiding power of the universe thinks that you are, in fact, pretty damn bad.
HBO put Damon Lindel of (of Lost fame) and Peter Berg (of Battleship fame) on this, I imagine to gave it that huge Transformers-jujitsu ka-whomp sound that we associate with the Awesome Popularity of Game of Thrones. Are they gonna take what is essentially a sociological comedy and a low-key character piece and turn it into a network-style high-concept puzzle? Probably. People love that shit.
This has been an excellent sci-fi time-travel series since its first episode aired. Season two started to become a bit concerning as the direction of the show was unclear. But with a well-paced and intense season three, the notion of multiple timelines and the arbitrary possibilities they create has opened a new front in this tried and true niche of sci-fi television.
The Canadians got this one right. Surprise, surprise. Created by Simon Barry and produced by Reunion Pictures, the show presents the three key elements for good sci-fi television. First, character depth: Kiera, played by the beautiful Rachel Nichols, straddles two worlds both physically and emotionally. On the other hand, Alec, played by newcomer Erik Knudsen, straddles two personalities playing two different versions of himself in the same world. Secondly, intellect: Time travel has always been a difficult concept for producers to tackle. The series posts endless questions, but at the same time, provides infinite answers. Lastly, action: Unlike typical Syfy channel shows, Continuum offers real world violence exceptionally choreographed fight scenes and some of the more interesting weapons and gadgets seen in recent sci-fi television.
6. THE 100
Lord of the Flies meets Dawson's Creek. I know it sounds silly, but it works. Strong female leads and intriguing questions about the human condition lead to an entertaining and thought-provoking hour of sci-fi television. While Arrow was certainly an achievement for The CW, The 100 is their first true success from the sci-fi genre.
This post-apocalyptic drama is one of the more interesting series in it's genre. Mostly, because it leaves much of the apocalypse to the imagination. As the first season comes to an end. The space station, called "The Arch" that has housed the survivors of the human race for nearly 100 years, is on the verge of destruction. Losing this classic spaceship element will be an interesting issue for the showrunners to tackle in the future, as they will clearly have to amp up the excitement on the ground. The Earth has changed a great deal a hundred years after the apocalypse.
7. WAREHOUSE 13
Okay, this one is dead, people. Copy that: dead as Dillinger. However, in this binge-buffet universe, no doubt you can find all the episodes and munch away—not only that, you can probably start up a social-media campaign to reboot the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle. The genius idea here was that a couple of X-Men-esque agents preside over “the warehouse", a place where historical artifacts are stored. But guess what? Those artifacts have magical powers that suck you into stories of the past. This is good, smart stuff, worthy of a 2014 Rod Serling or Gene Roddenberry. Too bad it was poorly marketed and didn’t have the life it deserved (though it got several seasons). I know, I know, it’s not really “now,” but seek it out all the same!
8. And just because it sounds awesome: SENSE8
Netflix, Netflix, everything and everybody is going to Netflix. The latest auteurs to try their hand at creating a binge-worthy Netflix series is the Wachowskis, of Matrix fame. In this epic, which sounds rather unfortunately like their colossal failure Cloud Atlas people from all over the world find themselves suddenly connected via telepathy. Do you think that, like Extant, this is going to have life and death of the entire planet consequences? (Remember that Alfonso Cuaron series about an autistic/telepathic girl whose visions also had life and death of the entire planet consequences?)
The one cool part of this is that the Wachowskis are hiring Daryl Hannah to be one of the leads. Daryl Hannah! So hot in the eighties that I got into a car crash while gaping at a poster of her in SPLASH! Daryl Hannah! Last brought to our attention as the evil one-eyed nurse whistling “Twisted Nerve” in Tarantino’s Kill Bill series! Mermaid, killer nurse, robot who murders you with her thighs (a way you’d love to die) in Blade Runner…Daryl Hannah, it is good to have you back.
9. The Strain
Having recently binged on the first three episodes on The Strain, I can only describe it as an amalgamation of a number of science fiction genres. This kind of diversity would normally be a recipe for disaster, but under the guidance of visual guru Guillermo del Toro, it is a master piece. As intense as any thriller on television, it remains equally horrific and shocking in its graphic nature. A particular scene in a bathtub comes to mind but unfortunately I do not have the words to describe it. I was left disturbed and had a difficult night sleeping. Chuck Hogan keeps the pace moving and the visual circus ongoing, beginning with one of the strangest airplane scenes since LOST. This show promises to be a defining FX series.
One of the greatest comedic television shows of sci-fi:
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