Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Top 10: SF/F TV Shows (Part 1)

I talk a lot about books for (hopefully) obvious reasons. But there’s more to speculative fiction than just reading. I think reading is a quintessential part of being a spec-fic fan, but sometimes you just don’t feel like reading. For most people I know, reading is an incredibly exhausting task, no matter how enjoyable it is. Your brain has to work differently when you read. It’s much more intense than other media, but sometimes you don’t want that.

I’m a big TV slut. I like to watch TV while I’m writing, while I’m researching. It’s just something that I can put on in the background. This is why Tivo and Netflix are two of my best friends a lot of the time (Also because I live in the middle of BFE and don’t actually go out and talk to people that often.).

So I figured, why not share what I think are the best spec fic TV shows out there. I should note now that Doctor Who won’t be on this list, so don’t expect it. I’m not a Whovian. I don’t dislike the show, but it’s not my first choice to put on, either.

Don’t beat me too much for that.

Now, this list is, for once, in order. It’s a mix of animations, live action, adult, teen, kids, old, current, whatever. If it made the list, there’s a reason I put it on there.

Now, without any further blithering from me, let’s begin.

(I should note that I can’t guarantee a spoiler-free experience. Continue at your own risk.)

10: Zoo (2015-)
I have no love lost for James Patterson. He admitted himself that he’s not that good at actually writing and is really just an idea man. Which is fine, but he’s always the face of his books. It bothers me that his co-authors, who put in the hours at the keyboard, don’t get their fame.



But that’s not why Zoo is so low. I think Zoo is probably the best show out of the new batch of TV that started this season. It’s so low because it’s brand new and still has plenty of room to disappoint. It made this list because, despite me not wanting to bother with it, I got hooked by the characters, and then the plot really kicked in. In short, animals are turning on humans en masse, and the main characters are trying to figure out what’s going on, because it doesn’t make any sense.

It does help that Billy Burke is one of the leads. He’s brilliant, and he’s especially brilliant in this role. But all of the main characters are incredibly interesting and, more than that, have very well-created connections with each other. The continual jump to a case that doesn’t matter in the middle of an episode is definitely getting old, but it’s not enough to turn me away. I would definitely recommend Zoo if you’re looking for a good drama fix.

9: Warehouse 13 (2009-2014)
This was a bit of a sleeper compared to some of the others on this list, but I was into it from the very beginning. The idea of objects holding power because of their past has always been fascinating to me, and Warehouse 13 certainly delivered that along with a healthy dose of mystery and great chemistry between the characters.

In a nutshell, Warehouse 13 is a government storage space for empowered artifacts, some more dangerous than others. But they all need to be contained because sometimes, things just don’t go right when you give human beings power. Go figure.

The show never defined whether it was science fiction or fantasy, and didn’t even walk the line between the two. It just threw open the windows and said “Fuck it.” At its heart, it’s not science fiction or fantasy. It’s a classic cop pairing we see time and again. Two team members. One stoic, one carefree. It works in Bones, it works in Castle, and it worked for Warehouse 13’s five year run (which is available to stream on Netflix, if this has piqued your interest).

Why not higher? At times, it felt a little disjointed, and some of those moments were never fully resolved.

8: The X-Files (1993-2002)
You had to know this would be on my list, right? Just like Warehouse 13, this uses the stoic/carefree duo, and does so to great effect. It combines government conspiracy with the paranormal, fantastical, and just downright strange, but it does it in such a way that it’s believable. Not to mention that it’s one of the most accessible shows of its type. This comes from the combination of weekly occurrences (the X-file being explored in each episode) with longer running plot arcs.

Of course, it has its problems to be sure. Sometimes, the acting can be a bit questionable, particularly from the side characters. Some of the plots in individual episodes also got to be a bit hard to believe, even for a show where basically everything is on the table as possibly being real. But all in all, this is easily one of the most iconic shows in speculative fiction, and I think it’s one of the best.

I could have cheated and just put Star Trek, but in my opinion, TNG is the hands-down best iteration. I know a lot of people don’t agree with me, but the American public in the late-eighties to mid-nineties did, which is why TNG is the longest-running version of Star Trek to date.



We could argue back and forth about why one season is better than the other, but no one would end up convinced of anything at the end of that. Why do I think TNG deserves a spot on this list?

The characters. More than anything else, it’s the characters. Even a mundane thing like Data learning to dance becomes something extraordinary because of who Data is, and who Dr. Crusher (his teacher) is. Plus, with Sir Patrick Stewart at the helm, it would be hard to go too far astray with this show. Not to mention that it has some of the most enduring episodes in it. “Darmok” comes immediately to mind, as does “Sarek.” Two powerhouse episodes in an already incredible series, and they’re hardly the only ones.

Were there problems? Of course there were problems. It took them a while to really settle into their characters and this new world, which can make the beginning a bit sketchy. The characters tend to be very polarizing, and if there’s one major character you just can’t stand, it can ruin the whole experience in such a character-drive show. Not to mention that, for fans of the original Star Trek, TNG was far more focused on the drama and the personal relationships than its predecessor. But I personally think that’s what makes it such a good show.

6: Gargoyles (1994-1996)
I did warn you that there would be kids’ shows on here. I’m still a huge fan of Gargoyles. There was no cartoon like it before, and really hasn’t been anything that captured that essence since. Which is why it’s such a damn shame that it went off the air… and that the third season happened at all. I won’t go into the full drama, but essentially, the creator of Gargoyles (Greg Weisman) got screwed out of working on the third season, and of course it was a complete failure without him. So much so that, in the official continuity, Greg Weisman discounts everything after the first episode of season three, which he wrote.

What made Gargoyles so different is hard to pin down. There are a lot of things. Unlike a lot of kid’s shows at the time (and even nowadays), the characters went through lasting changes. Things that happened in past episodes still affected the characters. Hudson’s love of reading, Broadway’s hatred of guns, Lexington’s animosity toward The Pack. These came from earlier episodes and weren’t tossed away, challenged the audience to remember when so many other shows wouldn’t take the risk.
There was also a much more adult tone to Gargoyles than anyone would expect. Goliath is a truly tragic character. His entire clan was basically destroyed, and he was destined to be alone. Then, when he was awoken, it was in a time he didn’t understand at all, with people who feared him even more than he’d been feared before.

I could continue to gush about the good things, because there are a lot of them. But I want to touch on what the biggest problem is, and it’s one that couldn’t really be avoided: it’s still a kids’ show. As great as it is, as mature as it is, there are still plenty of moments when plain-old silly things happen that remind you that it’s not a nice, cohesive adult drama. It’s a 90’s Disney cartoon. But those are so few that it hardly makes a difference, at least to this viewer.

Well, my word counter says I’m already over-budget. So, to keep this from being ridiculously long, I’m going to cut it here. What made the top five? You’ll have to swing back tomorrow and find out.

Voss

1 comment :

TR Goodman said...

You know my feelings about Doctor Who, but I can respect not putting it on the list. As much as it is science fiction, it has a lot more in common with fairy tales.

As for TNG, it's a little cliche, but "The Inner Light," "Gambit," and "Ship in a Bottle," are fantastic episodes.

LOVE Gargoyles, despite season 3 being a tragedy. I can't hear Keith David's voice without thinking of Goliath.