A few years ago I found this site, which ranks sci-fi tv series according to visitor votes. I had seen some of them, and heard of others, but didn’t necessarily agree with the rankings. I was, however, looking for some new shows to watch at the time, and thought this would be a good place to get some ideas. I’ve watched a few more of the series listed, so now I figure I’ll give you a list of my favorites.
This is the best sci-fi show I’ve ever seen. It has a great mix of comedy and drama. The storylines are well written and engaging. It’s also one of the few sci-fi shows that put a lot of effort into making the science as accurate as possible (or at least appear to be accurate), and it’s one of those rare sci-fi shows that’s set in the present. Another thing that made this series impressive is that it had the full support and endorsement of the United States Air Force (the real life Air Force Chief of Staff made two appearances on the show), so many of the details relating to the military are accurate. All told, this leads to a lot of variety and not just great sci-fi, but great television.
Watching this show was quite the experience. The first season is pretty slow, and a little confusing, but that’s by design. The creator of the show, J. Michael Straczynski, had a lot of rules about this show, and one of them was that it was meticulously planned. Events that seem random in the first season get detailed explanations in the fourth season. I also learned that Straczynski not only wrote the vast majority of the episodes himself, he actually wrote multiple storylines so that he could adjust the series if external factors caused problems (like when Claudia Christian’s contract wasn’t renewed for the final season). Not all the detail was in the story either. Babylon 5 had some amazing visual effects, and was one of the first series to use CGI. All of this combined makes this series one of the best around for binge watching.
I really debated between listing DS9 or Next Generation, but ultimately had to go with this one. It’s weird, because I remember liking TNG better than DS9 when they were on the air, and I like Data and Picard more than any character on DS9, but overall, this was the better series. TNG was an exploratory show with new worlds and aliens, which made the series feel very episodic. At the end of every episode, things went back to the status quo (with few notable exceptions). In DS9, however, the stories and characters had more depth and complexity. The location of the series was the same in every episode, so the status quo didn’t work. Characters had to change and grow. Decisions made in one episode had consequences that couldn’t be ignored in the next episode. There wasn’t the same sense of adventure in this series, but there was a lot more substance.
Before I ever watched Firefly, I saw the movie Serenity. I didn’t know any of the backstory, I didn’t know it was the conclusion to a TV series, I had never even heard of Firefly at that point. All I had heard was that Serenity was an excellent sci-fi movie, and it was. It wasn’t until later that I actually learned about this series and sat down to watch it. After doing so, the movie made a lot more sense. As anyone who’s seen the series will tell you, it was cancelled far too soon. In a mere 14 episodes, Joss Whedon was able to create a large and engaging universe with a cast of characters that were sympathetic, humorous, frustrating, and endearing. The series could have easily lasted for years. Even now, 10 years after the movie came out, the cast still talks about how much they wanted to keep the series alive.
This series isn’t quite as well known as those I’ve listed above, but it’s just as good. It’s also very different. While the protagonist, John Crichton, is human, the rest of the cast is not, and unlike many sci-fi shows, where the aliens are humanoid, Farscape uses Jim Henson puppets to create several of the aliens, making their appearance incredibly diverse. Another aspect of the show that’s pretty unique is that the ship itself is an alien and must be cared for like any other member of the crew. The series takes a lot more risks than most other shows, which gives it a lot of variety. It’s tone also covers a wide spectrum, being incredibly dark for some episodes, to bizarrely whimsical in others. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I loved this show.
I haven’t watched much of the older episodes, so this is really just referring to the most recent incarnation, which started in 2005. I had been interested in the older Doctor Who episodes for a while, but couldn’t find any reliable way to watch the show. So, when I heard that it was being rebooted in 2005, I followed it from the beginning. At this point, I’ve cooled a little bit on the series. There are still a lot of things to love about it, but I don’t look forward to new episodes the same way I used to. I still think it’s brilliant to have a character that can be played by multiple actors, but that also leads to having favorites. The companions are the same way. It’s nice to have new faces and characters regularly introduced without breaking continuity, but if you don’t like one of them, it makes the series harder to follow. Currently, I’m really liking Peter Capaldi playing the Doctor, but I’m done with the companion, Clara.
I’m not quite sure what to say about this show. I’ve started writing this section numerous times, but nothing I put down seems to fit. This show is great. Its visual effects are terrible (especially in the early seasons), the writing is just okay, and there’s almost no continuity, but it’s still one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen. What really makes Red Dwarf special is the characters. They all play so well off each other. Lister and Rimmer are at the center, and annoy each other perfectly, but the supporting characters of Cat, Kryten, Holly, and even Kochanski make the crew even more entertaining.
The Twilight Zone is one of those shows that I still watch anytime I come across it when channel surfing. While some of the stories are better than others, it’s hard to find any that aren’t worth watching. The effects are dated, and even some of the stories have lost their impact after 50 years, but on the whole, this show had some of the best storytelling in television history. Rod Serling is a fantastic narrator, and even more impressive, he wrote almost 100 of the episodes himself. There have been quite a few anthology shows following this one, but none of them have matched the original’s quality or longevity.