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. I did not want to have to start a new blog or article every time I liked a new Sci-Fi TV show. I asked our content manager if she would mind if I just added a new Science Fiction recommendation any time I had one. As such this particular article has become a small ever-evolving list of new and old television, depending again on perspective. Perhaps watching the original Battlestar Gallactica is a brand new experience to you, for me it was over 35 years ago, and I still remember how I loved it. I have been watching Sci-Fi TV since before there was a remote control and will be updating this article regularly. In some ways, perhaps this will become my personal diary of new and old (again, depending on your timeline) television that will interest you and challenge your intellect. The article is in chronological order from oldest to newest (Most recent additions are at the bottom).
It is not easy to produce good Sci-Fi today. The old stuff that stands the test of time, is either exceptionally well done or more likely, its originality and popularity during its heyday cements a nostalgic acceptance and even critical praise. Truth be told, the original Star Wars is a bit cheesy, but that has not stopped me from seeing it more than 100 times. That has not stopped me from showing it to each of my kids as if I was teaching them morality issues they would need to understand to live fruitful lives. Today's Sci-Fi must entertain, challenge and break ground that allows it to cross over to other main stream genres like dramas and thrillers. The good news is that there is a decent amount of quality product being generated as well as some classic cheesy stuff that still captures the imagination of the classic geek and Sci-Fi addict.
We are experiencing a new Golden Age of TV for Sci-Fi. While driven by many factors, there are two key elements that have helped this transformation. The negative stigma once associated with doing TV instead of film, as an actor, has given way to the exact opposite. That goes for writers and directors as well. The second factor is the age of technology. The special effects on TV are now capable of creating the same production value once dominated by the movies. Even low budget TV can be as fulfilling as the most popular Sci-Fi film from a mere 5 years ago. Immerse yourself in the following list and discover the new world of Science Fiction Television.
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 Species movies.
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. and, as mentioned above, Species and is 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.
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.
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.
This imminently-coming-up HBO series put the pedal to the metal on Sci-Fi. In the original novel by Tom Perrotta (of Election and Little Children fame), the tone is wistful and comical—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 give 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Defiance is rapidly moving up my list of favorite Sci-Fi TV shows. It feels like The Godfather meets Firefly meets The Road Warrior. It is really well put together, after what was a bit of a rough start early in season one. Season two has turned Defiance into an even more twisted yet intellectually provocative show. What really makes this show work is the back story that rests as the series foundation. It is highly recommended that prior to binge watching this show, read the extensive material available on line.
Defiance was created by Rockne S. O'Bannon, Kevin Murphy, and Michael Taylor. Set in the future on a very different Earth, drastically changed by the arrival of alien species. Some having arrived from space, many other indigenous species are a result of contamination by terraforming technology which transformed native flora and fauna in unforeseen ways. Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler) works as the lawman for the town of Defiance. He has an edge about him that takes a while to get comfortable with. However, once you become really acquainted with the character you begin to root for this broody loner. Defiance is a community where humans and intelligent extraterrestrial species coexist. There are three primary families to identify with: The Mafia Castithans, Datak, and Stahma Tarr make Sonny Corleone seem like a pacifist.
Rafe McCawley is Defiance's richest and most powerful human, at least for a while. He managed to hang onto his family's gulanite mine territory through the wars. The third family is Nolan's. Irisa Nyrira is an Irathient, a kind of Votan, who was orphaned when Nolan killed her outlaw father. Nolan adopted her and raised her as his own daughter. The two have traveled the lawless badlands for years. The science fiction show re-imagines the idea that, "It Takes A Village". Defiance will hopefully have a few more years of great storytelling. Another noteworthy point is the show's choice of music. It often manifests itself in classic vinyl records, broadcast from a future DJ booth at the top of the St. Louis Gateway Arch.
It is not without hesitation that Z Nation be included on best Sci-Fi on TV right now, but there does not seem to be much new Sci-Fi on TV at the time of this posting mid September. A few decent looking shows coming soon, but Z Nation has kicked off the fall season as SyFy’s answer to the The Walking Dead. To SyFy’s credit they don’t actually actually try to compete with The Walking Dead from a dramatic perspective, though they do amp up the blood, gore and shock value by having a zombie baby crawl its way over to a downed soldier to chew out his intestines.
It does not pay to give much more away, though their really is not much to give away that is not revealed in the trailer. Frankly the show feels more like an hour long trailer than an actual pilot episode. It is a cross between CBS’s Survivior and cult hit Zombieland starring a younger Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson. Watch it, not necessarily as Sci-Fi but perhaps as an hour of comedy relief provided by the SyFy channel in recognition of all they heavy deep sc-fi programming absorbed throughout the week.
A lifeboat for Humanity, the Ascension Starship is launched to insure the survival of the human race. In 1963, the premise goes, the U.S. government launched a secret space mission. Hundreds of men, women and children embark on a century-long journey to populate a new world. The show takes place approximately 50 years into the journey. I enjoyed the trailers, and SyFy channels page on the show. Seems like interesting twist on the deep space mission genre. The creators are overlaying a 1960’s period piece onto a sci-fi classic theme.
Taking one of the hottest women in SyFy TV and casting her as a lead seems like a reasonably smart idea as well. Tricia Helfer, aka Cylon Number Six was scene-stealer in Battlestar Galactica. Apparently she plays a devious and manipulative character on Ascension, much like the red dressed biomechanical hottie she played in Galactica.
Having three kids of my own and being a sci-fi fan, I have never been able to wrap my mind around the whole family-and-kids-in-space concept. As an adult, I look at shows like Lost in Space very differently than I did as a kid. If I was stuck on a flying saucer with my three kids and wife for endless amount of years, I would have Dr. Smith give me a daily sedative.
Even Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I still watch repeats of regularly, confuses me when it come to explaining the presence of children. The general consensus is that it is a science vessel, not a warship, so it is okay to bring hundreds of children into Romulan space, armed with photon torpedoes. I get nervous when my teenage daughters go to the mall, let alone get transported down to a newly discovered planet.
More dangerous for the kids on the ship is the potential fate the child actors face. Wil Wheaton, who is played by Wesley Crusher - or perhaps it is the other way around - is still playing the same roll on TV and I believe getting paid the same rate. The kid who played Warf’s son is currently the lead singer of the glam/punk band, the Soda Pop Kids. That says it all.
I look forward to Ascension. As it promises to be a bit more cerebral than some of the typical SyFy original content. If it is paced right and veers away from cheesy sub plots, this one could be a winner. Mark your calendar: November 24th, 2014.
Constantine is disturbingly good Sci-Fi fare. Paranormal is a subgenre of science fiction. I take the assessment of what qualifies for Sci-Fi Paranormal very seriously. Unfortunately, the networks don’t have the same appreciation for the pure genre sans the action so, there is risk in committing to this one before knowing if it will get a second season. As much as I enjoy the popular Fox hit, Sleepy Hollow -- with all of its ghosts and evil spirits -- it does not qualify as Sci-Fi paranormal. The key element that pulls Constantine over the edge is the intellectualization of Constantine’s dilemma. While Sleepy Hollow entertains me regularly, it does not take itself seriously. Perhaps it takes itself as seriously as a buddy cop show overlaid with the supernatural. However, its not enough to make the viewer believe that it is a show about the supernatural. Constantine takes itself very seriously. It is an authentic show about the paranormal overlaid with the real world. Producers of the show rely on its main character to connect us directly to a world we normally cannot see and are often afraid to believe but quite possibly are unable to deny exists. Constantine takes for granted that its viewer is familiar with its character’s history, the hidden worlds he travels, and secret rituals he practices. He is an exorcist, demonologist, and expert in the dark arts. Similar to The Strain on FX, Constantine relies heavily on frighteningly realistic visuals coupled with disturbing sound effects that are reserved for nightmares.
The 2005 film of the same name starred Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, with Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton, and Djimon Hounsou. With a screenplay by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, the film is based on the Vertigo Comics' Hellblazer comic book, which is also a part of, and run by, DC Comics. Some plot elements are taken from the "Dangerous Habits" story arc (issues #41-46) and the "Original Sins" trade paperback. John Constantine was born with the power to see angels and demons. At the age of 15, he committed suicide to escape his visions, but he was revived after spending two minutes in Hell with his soul is bound for Hell when he dies for the sin of taking his own life. Constantine was originated by comic book writer and creator Alan Moore while writing the Swamp Thing, first appearing June 1985.
The TV show seems to take place after the events of the film with plots inspired by the comics. Matt Ryan plays John Constantine, and the character is pretty true to the comics, with the exception of the chain smoking. Angélica Celaya plays Zed from the original comics. Less sidekick than complimentary paranormal kleptomaniac, Zed, like Constantine, takes herself seriously in a world of insanity. Unlike much of its competition, Constantine has enough meat on the bone for real sci-fi fans to geek out about.
12 Monkeys is a very, very cool movie. It was Brad Pitt before he was really Brad Pitt, but still after Thelma and Louise. It was one of the key movies that established Pitt as serious actor. Bruce Willis was amazing in it as well. As usual with Bruce, he is always at his best when he is not the only shining star on the screen. We also saw Madeleine Stowe finally doing her best smart and sexy female lead for what would be her last great movie. She is fabulous on her ABC hit Revenge, but 12 Monkeys really was her big screen apex. More important than any actor was the genius behind the camera: Terry Gilliam. The legendary writer/director continues to create mesmerizing visuals and thought provoking stories, most recently with The Zero Theorum. He was also honored by directors like the Wachowskis with a cameo in the upcoming Jupiter Rising. With 12 Monkeys, Gilliam established himself as part of a unique group of talent born out of the 1980’s entertainment industry that includes Ridley Scott, James Cameron, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg.
In 2013, Gilliam called 12 Monkeys the second part of a dystopian satire trilogy begun with 1985's Brazil and concluded with 2013's The Zero Theorem. 12 Monkeys spanned a 50-year time period, beginning in 2035 post-apocalyptic Philadelphia. The film was a critical success, grossing over $160 million world wide (the equivalent of over a quarter of a billion in today's dollar) and won Pitt a Golden Globe. It is a cult classic loved by sci-fi fans of a generation passed. Your average 20-year-old today has not seen 12 Monkeys, let alone Brazil. They might have glanced the Time Bandits poster in Adam Goldberg's bedroom on the hit ABC sitcom The Goldbergs but beyond that, Monty Python seems very old school to a generation that thinks the movie Jackass was groundbreaking.
SyFy's 12 Monkeys will introduce a new generation to a timeless masterpiece by allowing the viewer to be immersed in the complex time traveling world of protagonist James Cole. It follows his journey from the post-apocalyptic future to present day on a mission to locate and eradicate the source of a deadly plague that will eventually decimate the human race. Casting Aaron Stanford, Pyro from the X-Men series, provides SyFy with a sort of bankable actor who began his career with a breakout role in 2000’s coming of age film Tadpole. I am optimistic about this series, if not perhaps jaded by the source material. Stanford is an intense actor that can do justice to the disturbing role of James Cole. The world of 12 Monkeys is deep and rich in complexities that can be explored over multiple seasons, but most important is that by definition, the world of 12 Monkeys is not set in stone, and the story can follow as many different paths as time itself. Time is relative so to is the story of the 12 Monkeys. For those to whom my speculation seems nonsensical, I suggest you watch Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece. For those who have seen it, I hope you are as intrigued as I am to further explore the depths of the hunt for the Army of the Twelve Monkeys.
Black Mirror is so good, because it is so f’d up. It is so f’d up because it is a warning. Black Mirror is a warning to us all. Rarely does a Sci-Fi show hammer home the same message with such originality and distinction in each and every episode. Black Mirror, the small screen on your phone or the giant flat screen hanging in your family room. It is either the beginning of a new age of prosperity and good fortune for mankind or it is the vehicle by which we we are all reduced back to our basic instinct and perhaps the de-evolution of morality and ethics that weave their way through the fabric of our modern society. The technology that led to the digital revolution is a far more powerful weapon than mankind can begin to understand.
The first two seasons of Black Mirror, brings us a new tale of technology, social media, and human conscious colliding over 6 episodes. Each episode is a tightly formatted, self contained story that will leave you with too few words but an overabundance of thoughts. Beyond that, it is entirely useless for me to explain what it is because I would not dream of depriving you of the feeling one gets from entering a theater, cold to the content, only to leave with expectations far exceeded. I do have one very specific recommendation. Watch the two seasons in the following order: 1. S1, E3 2. S1, E1 3. S2, E1 4. S1, E2 5. S2, E3 6. S2, E2 I believe this particular order creates a superior structurally crafted delivery of the creator’s message.
Seinfeld: Technology Issues Before The Digital Age