Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Top 100 Science Fiction TV Series, Part 3: 50-26

(50) Masters of Science Fiction - This short-lived series only lasted 6 episodes, but I loved every one of them.  With stories by Harlan Ellison and Robert A. Heinlen, it lived up to its title.  And as with all my favorite anthologies, I never knew if the ending was going to be upbeat, downbeat, or bittersweet.  I wish there were more.

(49) Heroes - A great look at what might happen if normal, everyday people gained super-powers.  I'm not a hater of everything after the first season, but I will confess I feel the show lost its way; it seemed to me like they would start taking the show in one direction, get scared when it got bad feedback, and then try to undo everything they had just done.  Which was a real shame.  IMHO, the people making the show should have ignored the message boards and just stuck to their original vision, because let's get real, hating on stuff is one of the things we fanboys do best.  But despite all this, the characters were always compelling, which made even the most convoluted story arc enjoyable to watch.

(48) Star Trek: Enterprise - This prequel to the original Star Trek was a bit of a mixed bag.  The first two seasons were very hit-or-miss for me, with it often feeling more like a prequel to NextGen more than to TOS.  Then came the third season with it's year-long Xindi arc, full of terrorism and stories that could often be considered pro-war metaphors and it's oh-so-predictable ending, and lacking any real drama because no one believed for a minute that they were going to blow up Earth, alter the time stream and make it so Kirk and Picard were never born.  (Yet even then, that season still had some very good episodes, most notably "Twilight" and "E² ")

But then something magical happened: in it's fourth and final season, Manny Cotto took over, and quickly made classic-Trek novelists Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens executive story editors.  What we got was then was a true Trek prequel, with stories that not only explained many classic Trek mysteries (such as the change in the Klingons' appearance), but reconciled many things that felt inconsistent with Enterprise as a show from the start.  The characters started getting fleshed out, and by the end of the season I found myself caring about them for the first time. While other shows on this list may have had their placings lowered because they went downhill, this show is just the opposite-- it makes it in the top 50 because it started out mediocre and became something oh, so special.  (Just be sure to ignore the final episode.)

(47) GaoGaiGar - A classic mecha series with fun characters, awesome robots, great music, beautiful animation and lots of Shouting Attacks!!!  This show sucked me in right from the beginning and never let go.

(46) Charlie Jade - A compelling tale of three parallel worlds and corporate greed.  Part of what made this show even more interesting for me is that it was filmed in South Africa, so the parts that take place in our universe had many elements about them that were unfamiliar to me, so I didn't know which universe was ours until Nelson Mandela was mentioned.  Essentially, Charlie Jade comes from the Alphaverse, a used up Blade Runner-esque universe, where the corporate leaders plan to replenish themselves from the near paradise of the Gammaverse.  A pesky side effect of this is the destruction of the Betaverse that resides in between the two, but hey, that's not their universe, so who cares?  Well, we care, because the Betaverse is our universe.  Luckily for us, Charlie Jade cares too.

(45) Stargate Atlantis - Stargate SG-1's sister show about an international Stargate team that sets up base in a different galaxy on the lost Ancient outpost of Atlantis.  While consistently a strong show, I definitely got more into it once SG-1 went off the air. One place where Atlantis thrived where similar shows like Voyager missed the boat was the show didn't depend on them being cut off from Earth; as the series progressed, they developed better and faster ways to travel back and forth between the Pegasus galaxy and the Milky Way galaxy, to the point where episodes could just as easily be set on Earth as on Atlantis.  Add to that an interesting cast, a *ahem* sense of humor, and some cool Ancient tech and you had a show that complimented SG-1 quite nicely.

(44) Smallville - If you click on the "Smallville" tag on any of my Smallville reviews on this blog, you'll see I've had a real love/hate affair with this show over the last ten years, with most of the love having been during the final two seasons.  The show's early seasons, featuring Clark's teenage angst Supersized, also featured a lot of Kryptonite freak-of-the-week episodes, memory wipes, and waaaay too much on-again/off-again with Lana Lang.  However we also got to see some great new characters such as Lionel Luthor and Chloe Sullivan, some truly great guest appearances by Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, and a more innocent Lex Luthor.  (I still feel that if Clark had learned to say "Thank you, Lex," everytime Lex stepped up to try to help out the Kents, Lex might not have turned out so evil.)  But for this comic book geek, the show really stepped up in its 8th season, when Lana finally moved on and the focus shifted to Clark establishing a new life for himself in Metropolis, and we started getting tons of cool comic book connections like the Legion of Super Heroes, Doomsday, and the Justice Society.  The show has definitely had its ups and downs for me, but overall there's been more ups than downs, and lately it's just been (sorry, I have to say it) up, up and away.

(43) V (2009) - When I first reviewed this series, I called it "better than V: The Series, but not as good as V: The Final Battle, and not in the same league as the original V mini-series."  I still stand by that; it's a good science fiction drama, but it missed the point of what V was all about.  I'm happy to say that turned around in the first season's final episode, and hope that the point of V -- resisting fascist opression -- will continue to grow in the next season.

(42) Salvage 1 - Salvage 1 was the story of a junk man, played by Andy Griffith, who built his own rocket ship out of leftover NASA parts and flew it to the moon to retrieve all the junk left behind from the moon landings.  I kid you not.  It started out as a TV movie (named simply "Salvage"), and since ol' Andy still had the rocket just sitting around, he found something new to do with it each week.

(41) Jeremiah - Jeremiah was a post-apocalyptic story where all the adults were wiped out by a plague, leaving only children to fend for themselves and rebuild the world.  It was made by J. Michael Straczynski (of Babylon 5 fame) and based off of a Belgian comic book by Hermann Huppen.  After a rocky first season, the show really hit its stride in its second season, especially with the introduction of Mister Smith.  It also has a very satisfying ending for a JMS project.

(40) Gundam Wing - This was the show that introduced Gundam to America, and it's probably still the most successful Gundam show released over here.  I've enjoyed all the other Gundam shows I've seen (the movie versions of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series, and Gundam 0080 & 0083, and the first half of G Gundam), but there's still something special about this one.

(39) Twilight Zone - Ahh, the definitive anthology series.  The series that, to this day, all other SF anthology series are compared against.  What sets The Twilight Zone apart isn't just the twists and turns each stories take, but never knowing what kind of  ending you were going to get.  I've enjoyed all three versions of this show.  I used to watch the original 1959 version back when I was working the night shift, and I was a regular watching of the 1985 revival version.  I'm not sure I caught any of the 2002 version besides "It's Still a Good Life," but I really enjoyed that one.  If I had my own sci-fi channel, I'd run all three series in the same time slot.

(38) The Phoenix - Ahh, what a lost gem this was.  Judson Scott played Bennu, a peaceful alien who was placed in a sarcophagus on Earth.  He's awakened in the 20th Century, and in typical 1980's TV style wanders around the country doing good deeds and helping out people in need while on his search for his mate Mira, who is hidden somewhere on Earth.  He has a golden amulet which gives him all kinds of mental powers, including being able to talk to kittens.  It also had one of the coolest, most memorable opening title sequences and theme songs ever.  I can still hear it in my head without even trying, and it only lasted for 5 episodes!  It was aired as a summer series at the same time as T.J. Hooker.  Hooker was picked up for a full second season, and the Phoenix wasn't.  I still wish it had been to this day. 

(37) Crusade - Babylon 5's Yamato-esque spinoff about the starship Excalibur and its crew, who have only one year to find a cure to a deadly plague threatening Earth.  This was supposed to be the next big series for  J. Michael Straczynski,  now working with TNT instead of syndication like the first four seasons of Babylon 5.  But the network kept messing with him and the entire project was abandoned after half a season.  Which is a shame, because a lot is set up here and never resolved; the closest we get is some answers given by JMS in the audio commentary of the DVDs, and even that's removed in later printings.  But there was enough fascinating characters, witty dialogue and interesting stories that even the network messing around with it couldn't hurt the end result.  I'd still like to see this story continued in another medium some day, but like most of JMS's projects, he's moved on.

(36) Pushing Daisies - The facts are these:  Pushing Daisies was a quirky little show about a man who could touch someone who had died and bring them back to life.  If he touched them a second time, they were dead for good.  If he didn't touch them a second time within 60 seconds, someone else would die in their place.  So he winds up with a private detective, and together they touch murdered people, find out who murdered them, catch them, and then claim the reward.

But that's really not what the show is about at all.  What the show is about is fast, snappy dialogue, human emotions and insecurities, and love triumphing over death.  It's a soap opera of the best kind, and one of the few supernatural shows I never missed.

(35) Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers - To me, Galaxy Rangers was the show that said Yes, America can do cool science fiction cartoons.  It was still episodic, so we hadn't quite caught up to the Japanese yet, but it was beautifully animated (by Japanese anime studio TMS) and intelligently written, with fantastic spaceships, robot horses, cool looking aliens, a Clint Eastwood stand-in and a kick-butt theme song.

(34) The Tripods - This BBC series is based on a trilogy of young adult books written by John Christopher, about a future where alien Tripods have invaded the Earth and made humans their slaves.  It follows the adventures of three young boys who rebel against the system, and find themselves learning about just who and what the Tripods really are.  It's a serial storyline, and was often run right before Doctor Who when I was growing up, and I made a point to never miss it.  Sadly, only two of the three books were completed for television, but the original books make for a great read and give a very satisfying ending.

(33) The Mysterious Cities of Gold - Now this was a cool anime series that was full of surprises.  It starts off as a pure historical story, set in the sixteenth century about a Spanish boy named Esteban who winds up in South America searching through Incan and Mayan lands for seven mythical Cities of Gold.  However the longer the series goes on and the more they discover about these Cities of Gold leads the series more and more into science fiction territory, and by the final episodes it's gone completely SF.  The show itself is a lost treasure, and one worth watching if you can find it.

(32) Torchwood - This Doctor Who spinoff was just too damn dark for me when it first premiered.  I absolutely loved Captain Jack in Doctor Who, but in Torchwood's first series Jack had become so angsty he wasn't any fun anymore.  Luckily the Doctor sorted him out, and from Series 2 on he was more of the fun-loving Jack I enjoyed.  In fact, the second series overall was much more enjoyable for me.  When looked at as a whole, in the first season we see Gwen become a part of Torchwood, and slowly lose her humanity as the rest of the team already has.  In the second series, she digs her heels in and says no, she's going to hold on to what makes her human, and instead of Torchwood bringing her down, she brings the rest of Torchwood up.  (And Gwen was damn lucky by the end of Series , "Children of Earth;" if she's smart, she'll stay out of Series Four as much as she can!)

Not to mention the fact that as a bi guy myself, it's rare to see a show where everyone in the cast is open to both genders.  Granted, it's taken to such an extreme here that even I'm saying "Oh come one, now!" at times, but it's still nice to see it happen somewhere.

(31) Star Trek (animated) - This is it, the one that started it all.  This was my first science fiction show.  I was five years old, and this was just another cartoon to have on Saturday mornings.  Until my mother came down one morning and said "What is this?!?"  "Star Track," I answered, only half-paying attention.  Mom checked the TV Guide, and then said to me "That's not Star Trek, this is Star Trek," and flipped the channel to a rerun of "All Our Yesterdays."  I was floored.  Kirk, Spock, McCoy, the transporter, phasers, the Enterprise, in the flip of a channel they suddenly weren't a cartoon anymore, they were real!  From that moment on this became my favorite cartoon.  I ate up all the Star Trek I could find, and when that ran out I moved on to Space: 1999, and then this little movie called Star Wars came out...

(30) The Stand  - I am really, really not a horror fan, so as such I've never really been into Stephen King.  But this eight-hour mini-series about the end of the world and the final battle between good and evil that follows it just kept me riveted from beginning to end.  I almost read the book, but confess I was scared off by its being freakin' huge.  This miniseries still stays with me to this day, and firmly earns it a place on my list.

(29) Dollhouse - This Joss Whedon series about people who have new personalities imprinted for their clients got off to a slow start, and was often lacking Whedon's trademark snappy dialogue.  But luckily for me I never got into Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so I didn't notice what was missing and was instead intrigued by what I was seeing.  Then the series kicked into high gear, and became the kind of sci-fi I love-- a high stakes world-changer, with characters I had grown to care about.  It tells a full, concise story with a beginning, middle and end in just 26 episodes, which is more than other shows have been able to do with five+ years.

(28) Starblazers - The undisputed King of Anime in America.  This was the show that first showed us what could really be done with serialized animated storytelling, and it captured the hearts and minds of a generation of kids.

Umm, except me.  Yeah, umm, I caught one or two episodes when it was first on and was just confused by it, so... I never really watched it.  But then years later I got into Robotech, and you couldn't talk with anyone about Robotech without them bringing up Star Blazers, so once the series came out on VHS I started watching it.  Then I saw what all the fuss was about and fell in love with the Yamato all on my own.  Like I always say, it's called a classic for a reason.

(27) Star Wars: Droids - Another one of the cool cartoons to come out of the 80's.  Droids featured mild story arcs; Set before the original Star Wars, R2-D2 and C-3PO would meet up with a new owner, have a story arc of 4-5 episodes with them, and then end up having to move on.  The series only lasted one season, which was 13 episodes plus a one-hour special.  My personal favorite story arc was "The Adventures of Mungo Baobab," because it featured the Empire, characters got killed, and Mungo himself was just so damn cool.

(26) Star Wars: The Clone Wars - This series is almost like having a new installment of the movies each week.  After all, the ships and Battle Droids have all been CGI in the Prequel trilogy to begin with, and the CGI battle scenes here are just as awesome to watch.  Plus, Anakin comes across as a whole lot cooler.  (It's a shame Obi-Wan doesn't, but hey, you can't have everything.)  Not to mention the beautiful landscapes as we get to see many worlds in the Star Wars universe that we've only read about before.  With some strong story telling that doesn't pull its punches with a war story, this show makes a worthy addition to the Star Wars universe.

Coming up tomorrow-- the grand finale: the top 25 shows!

1 comment:

Roxanne said...

I have to wait for tomorrow to see the best shows?? argh!