With the recent success of sci-fi films on the big screen such as Looper, Elysium, Pacific Rim and Gravity, it’s easy to think that sci-fi at the cinema is undergoing a renaissance of sorts.
So where does that leave sci-fi on television? After Lost wrapped in 2010, it seems everybody (including series creator J.J. Abrams) has been trying to recapture that series’ strange mystery and almost universal appeal. Recent sci-fi shows have been hit or miss; Abrams’ short-lived Alcatraz, his lackluster Revolution and the ill-advised revival of V never gained much traction. On the other hand, Syfy’s Defiance is now a surprise hit with a second season on the way.
With the current lack of truly stand-out sci-fi shows on TV, let’s take a look at some shows of the past that you’re less likely to have heard of but are completely worth the watch.
1. Battlestar Galactica (2004)
This one almost didn’t make the list; of all these shows, Battlestar Galactica is probably the best known. Even so, Ron Moore’s dark space opera struggled to expand its viewership over the course of the show’s four seasons. The show featured the story of humanity’s remnants after a devastating sneak attack that destroyed each of its Twelve Colonies.
2. Farscape (1999)
This show, more than any other, should carry a warning that reads: Hang on, it gets even weirder! The show featured the adventures of John Crichton, who joins a ragtag crew of escaped alien prisoners after accidentally creating, and traveling through, a wormhole.
3. Lost in Space (1965)
This one might not have aged well, but it’s still a highly underrated show. The Robinson family is stranded in an unknown part of space, and do weekly battle with chuckle-worthy alien antagonists as well as the devious Dr. Smith.
4. Blake’s 7 (1978)
Terry Nation’s series Blake’s 7 was dark science fiction before we had a name for it. The show featured the exploits of a crew of political dissidents, criminals, and renegades as they battled the monolithic Terran Federation.
5. The Twilight Zone (1959)
Rod Serling helmed the show throughout its five seasons and helped to create some of the most influential science fiction stories ever told on television.
6. Star Trek: Voyager (1995)
Voyager doesn’t get a lot of love among the Trek fans, but it’s still an underrated chapter in the franchise’s storied history. Voyager might have squandered the potential of its premise – a single Federation ship 75,000 light-years from home – but it still ended on a high note after a couple of very solid seasons.
7. The Outer Limits (1963)
Before the Twilight Zone, there was The Outer Limits. Each episode was a self-contained story of weirdness, with a heavier emphasis on science fiction instead of paranormal or simply unexplained events.
8. Dr. Who (2005)
If you’re not on the Who bandwagon yet, you’re missing out. Beginning with Christopher Eccleston’s revival of the decades-old character in 2005, the show began to get better with each passing season as new revelations about the Doctor came to light and new foes were battled.
9. Fringe (2008)
When Fringe made its debut, many wrote it off as another X-Files clone. They may have been right, but it became so much more. Season one ended with the epic “There’s More Than One of Everything,” which introduced the notion of parallel realities and dramatically broadened the scope of the show.
10. Babylon 5 (1994)
When sci-fi fans want to talk about space operas done right, they talk about Babylon 5. The bulk of the show – which chronicled struggles against godlike aliens, civil wars on earth, and a telepath insurrection – was conceived before they filmed a single frame.
Science fiction is at its best when it’s not only making predictions about the future, but also saying something about the human condition as it does so. Most of the shows above shine in that regard; they’re speculative in nature, and feature strange and likely impossible events, but they never lose sight of the essential humanity of their characters.