Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Top 100 Science Fiction TV Series, Part 4: 25-01

(25) Otherworld - Otherworld was a short lived series about a family that fell through a portal in The Great Pyramid and found themselves in an alternate universe, broken up into different Zones.  Every Zone is strictly isolated from each other and vastly different.  The Sterling family is traveling from Zone to Zone, learning more about the strange world they now live in, and how to get back home, with the Zone Trooper Kroll in hot pursuit.  The premise is used well in the few 8 episodes that were made, with the family visiting a city of androids, a tropical paradise, a zone where gender roles are reversed, and one where the family accidentally unleashed the concept of rock & roll, with all of the defiance and rebellion that goes with it.  For years after I saw this show, I wrote "OTHERWORLD" on the back of my $1 bills with an arrow pointing to the pyramid!

(24) Transformers: Beast Wars - Hands down, my favorite of the Transformers TV shows.  No humans, live ammo, memorable characters, and an unfolding story arc that just drew in tighter and tighter as the show went on.  This was the show that turned me into a Transformers fan and had me buying toys!

(23) Firefly - I don't do vampires, so for me this is the series that made me realize why everyone made such a fuss over Joss Whedon.  I watched the first episode or two on Fox, and I enjoyed them enough, but it wasn't until the show came out on DVD that I really gave it a chance.  Lots of people have tried space westerns; this is the show that made it work.

(22) The 4400 - Remember how I said I love shows that change the world they take place in?  This was one of the best.  4400 people who have vanished from Earth throughout the last century are all returned at once in a great ball of light.  The media takes to calling them The 4400, and readjusting to the modern world is th least of their problems-- they've all been altered in some way.  Each year this show upped the stakes, going from discovering who took them and why they sent them back, to all of them having special abilities, to the potential for their abilities to cross over to average people, to all of Seattle being seized by the enhanced portion of the population and renamed Promise City. The 4400 was a show that didn't pull its punches.

(21) Stargate SG-1 - I remember walking out of the theater from Stargate and saying "Wow, that was way cooler than I expected it to be.  I hope they do a sequel."  So I was very open to it becoming a TV series.  And the series was a great one, well deserving of holding the record for Longest Running US SF TV Series at ten years and 214 episodes.  (Certainly more deserving than a certain super hero show that's going to claim that title by a mere four more episodes by the end of this season.)  Stargate SG-1 was great for many reasons:  it was a great blend of science fiction and the military, as Stargate Command was a division of the US Air Force; we watched the Earth grow from a tiny little nuisance to the bad guys to a major player in the galaxy; we watched Stargate Command as they constantly worked to adapt alien technology, to the point where they now have their own fleet of spaceships capable of intergalactic flight and squads of fighters, American made versions of the Death Gliders from the original movie, now called X-302s and looking like something that actually is a cross between an alien fighter and something made by the US Air Force; and finally, the show never took itself too seriously.  It had a sense of humor about itself. 

(20) Neon Genesis Evangelion   - Evangelion was a game changer, like Macross and Gundam before it.  After Evangelion came along, mecha all had to be organic looking and storylines had to be more confusing.  The thing is, no one's ever come close to doing it like Evangelion did.  It seems like everyone gets a different interpretation of what they've seen, and according to the director they're all right.  And while there's a lot of things about the "End of Evangelion" movie version of the ending that I enjoy, I vastly prefer the more upbeat TV series ending.

(19) The Prisoner - ...And speaking of bizarre series that are open to a interpretation, Number 6 comes in at Number 19.  While not a science fiction show per se, it's hard to say exactly what kind of show it actually is, and it does have many sf elements to it such as super computers, body-swapping and dream manipulations.  It's also one of those shows where each episode sticks with you long after you've seen it, and you find yourself constantly thinking about what different things each episode meant.

(18) Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Deep Space Nine is probably the best written Star Trek of all.  It has the strongest story arcs, the most character growth, the biggest events to happen to the Federation on-screen, and hands down the best finale of any Star Trek TV series.  So why isn't it my top Trek show?  Well, I guess because at times Babylon 5 beat them to the punch so I didn't fully appreciate what they were doing at the time they were doing it; and, to be honest, the show didn't really come into its own until Next Gen went off the air.  And because even though this one may be the best written over all, I loved Next Gen and TOS just a little bit more.  My gut just says it belongs here, even though I feel like it deserves to be higher.

(17) Macross 7 - Nekki Basara is my hero.  He's like a cross between Rick Hunter and John Lennon. Inspired by Lynn Minmei, Basara believes music has the power to move mountains, reach souls and change the universe.  Not everyone gets his dream, especially his lead duet partner Mylene Jenius, who just happens to be the daughter of Space War I ace pilot Max Jenius, who's now the captain of the colony ship Macross 7.  This Japanese sequel to the original Macross TV series has a lot of heart and a lot of great music, and characters so touching that my wife and I named our daughter after one of them. 

(16) Alien Nation - After V, Kenneth Johnson took another shot at human-alien relationships with Alien Nation.  This time the aliens (the Tenctonese, also referred to as the Newcomers) were stranded on Earth, forcing them to try to learn how to fit in with human society.  The result was a fantastic character-driven show with an eye on discrimination, gender roles, and the general expectations we tend to take for granted in our every day lives.

(15) Battlestar Galactica (1978) - The original Battlestar Galactica kicks the remake's butt to Caprica and back.  Yeah, that's right.  I said it.  Because the original Galactica was about the iconic battle of good versus evil.  Adama, Apollo, Starbuck, Boomer and Sheba were people you could look up to and aspire to be like.  Baltar was a traitor to his own species out of a vain desire to be made ruler of his Colony, Count Iblis was a fallen angel, and the Cylons were unstoppable killing machines that fought humanity for a thousand years and just plain looked cool.  When I watched Battlestar Galactica, I actually felt like I was looking into a different culture and seeing a lost tribe of humanity. And Muffit was cute.  So there!

(14) Blake's 7 - There's really never been another show like Blake's 7.  Political criminal Roj Blake forms a band of freedom fighters to stand against the all-powerful Federation.  Except a lot of the people in his band are really only there because it beats rotting in a Federation prison, and are really more interested in self-preservation than the cause.  Lots of questions are raised here, such as what are the lengths that people will go in the name of freedom? Is it still doing the right thing if you're only doing it to save yourself?  Can you really trust each other to have your back when the chips are down?  The special effects are some of the poorest in television history (paper animation spaceships were common in the first two seasons, and I swear they used Lego bricks for a space station once), but the writing was usually top notch and made it all worth while.  It also has, quite possibly, the most memorable ending in SF TV history.  It's the ending I compare all other show endings to.

(13) Greatest American Hero - ...Or "Superflop," as I used to call it as a young teenager!  What made The Greatest American Hero so very special is it's not just the story of a guy who's given a super-hero suit by aliens, it's what would happen if the Odd Couple were given a super-hero suit by aliens.  Ralph Hinkley is a good-hearted school teacher who wants to help everyone, and the aliens have chosen to partner him up with Bill Maxwell, a dyed-in-the-wool FBI agent who bleeds red, white and blue and is ready to do whatever it takes to defend the good ol' US of A from the Commies.  The arguments Ralph & Bill would have over how the suit should be used were often hysterical and occasionally poignant, but what really made the special was the true friendship that was underneath it all. 

(12) V: The Final Battle - Even though the shift had started towards action in this follow-up to the original V miniseries, it still kept the drama of a fascist America under the control of the alien Visitors, with scenes such as Donovan's own mother turning against him, the Visitors spinning a raid against them on live television into propaganda, and scenes of average guys being hunted down in the streets.  The ending is of course truly beautiful, with the Resistance spreading the Red Dust worldwide via hot air balloons and people filling the streets celebrating the return of their freedom, all set to some of the most beautiful music Dennis McCarthy has ever written. It may not be the follow-up that creator Kenneth Johnson intended, but it didn't disappoint me in the slightest.

(11) Star Trek: The Next Generation - As I mentioned before, I've done a lot of agonizing over whether DS9 and TNG should be switching places in this list, but the bottom line I keep coming to is that Next Gen deserves to be here.  Arguably the most successful Star Trek ever, The Next Generation was what built Star Trek into a much vaster universe, not only setting the frame work for everything that was to come later but introducing us to characters that would become as iconic as Kirk and Spock.  I'll never forget my step-Dad saying "You know, Picard is rapidly becoming my ideal of what a Starfleet captain is supposed to be."

(10) Red Dwarf  - "Boys from the Dwarf!!"  Three million years out into deep space, slacker Dave Lister awakens from suspended animation to find he's probably the last human alive.  His only companions are a hologram of his dead neurotic bunkmate Arnold J. Rimmer, a Cat who's evolved from Lister's pet cat, a senile computer named Holly and an android named Kryten.  And hilarity then ensues.  The first two seasons are much more character driven and are probably my favorite.  With the third season the show started playing more with getting off the ship and all the strange things that the universe has to offer, none of which ever included aliens.  They met androids, holograms, GELFs (Genetically Engineered Life Forms), despair squids and who knows what else, and every single time their origins could all be traced back to Earth.  But what the show was really about was how Lister would rather quit doing all of it and just have a beer and a curry, how Rimmer wanted so desperately to be successful but never would be, and how much the Cat was in love with himself.  Often charming, occasionally poignant and always funny, Red Dwarf is a true gem.

(9) Babylon 5 - Babylon 5 was the game changer.  We all take 5-year story arcs for granted now, but back in 1993 J. Michael Straczynski had to fight tooth and nail to make it happen. Babylon 5 was the first science fiction show to use the drama and sensibility of shows like Hill Street Blues.  Every choice made by a major character on Babylon 5 had consequences-- friendships and alliances changed forever, empires rose and fell, and not a single character was the same in the final episode as they were in their first episode.

(8) Farscape - Babylon 5 may have changed the game, but nobody, I mean nobody played it better than Farscape. The premise is that an astronaut named John Crichton finds himself trapped in another part of the universe and immediately becomes immersed in the people and troubles he finds there.  Does he want to get home?  Sure.  Does he spend all his time dwelling on it like Star Trek: Voyager? Nope, he learns to make a new life for himself there and value it just as highly as his life back on Earth.  Do the producers feel like if Crichton ever gets home they won't have a show like Voyager?  Nope. Does it promise an ending where all will be answered then not answer everything like Babylon 5?  Nope. No, the only thing that Farscape delivered was consistent strong story arcs, character growth, amusing dialogue, and a satisfying ending.

(7) Max Headroom - I've already gushed in my review of the Max Headroom DVD Box Set about why I love this show, so what new can I possibly say?  This show parodied television itself in biting satire, often taking shots at their own real-life network and sponsors.  It's a world where corporations run everything, and the biggest corporation of them all is television. Where televisions are given to the homeless, where your consumerism matters more than your life.  And the only shining light with a moral compass is TV reporter Edison Carter.  Max Headroom himself is a computer download of Edison's mind, and in addition to providing the comedy to the show often provides the mirror for humanity, being the one unafraid to say what's really going on.  Max Headroom taught me to keep a wary on what the media is trying to sell me, whether that's junk food, entertainment or the news.

(6) The Hitchhikker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams' comedic masterpiece.  I actually first discovered the Guide on the radio; my local NPR station was airing it right before the Star Wars radio adaptation, and I soon found myself deliberately tuning in early just to catch "that crazy show."  A few years later my local PBS station ran the TV series, which lead me to discover the books, and from there it was all over.  I remember a friend at school watching this and saying "I could have done a better job filming in my basement!"  Looking at it now and comparing it to Blake's 7 and the Doctor Who episodes that aired at the time, I now see that for the BBC, this was big budget!  I've read that people tend to prefer Geoffrey McGivern's performance as Ford Prefect in the radio show, but my favorite performance of Ford will always be David Dixon's right here in the TV series.  There was just this twinkle in his eyes that always made you slightly question his sanity.  The Hitchhikker's Guide to the Galaxy taught me that the universe is an insane place, and the ones who get through it the best are the ones who can roll with that and know where their towels are.

(5) V (1983) - The original and the best.  The original V told the tale of the Visitors, aliens who came to Earth promising peace and friendship, but in reality established a fascist grip on the world.  What made V so fascinating to me as a teenager was it showed how good people could be willing to turn a blind eye to what was happening right in front of them.  If aliens had shown up right then and there claiming to be peaceful and offered a youth program, I would have been firstr in line.  Would I have been willing to see the truth when they they told me that scientists were turning into terrorists, and I needed to turn in my neighbors, friends and family if they were acting suspicious?  If it had happened to me for real at that age I can't honestly say, but thanks to this show I was asking myself that very question once it ended.  V taught me to question anyone who says I need to give up my freedoms for "the greater good."

(Oh, and "V" stands for victory, for standing up against tyranny, just like it did in World War II.  Not Visitor.  Period.)

(4) FTL Newsfeed - When the Sci-Fi Channel first came on (remember them?) they would run all kinds of short films and animations and bumpers and just generally imaginative stuff.  So when I first caught FTL Newsfeed, I had no idea what I was seeing.  A bald green man would come on and start talking about clones or Mars or Virtual Reality, and then it would end within a minute and move on to something else.  After a few days, I started realizing that these odd little vignettes were connected to each other and a story was slowly unfolding.  I realized that this "FTL Newsfeed" was a 60-second glimpse into the of today's news from 150 years in the future.  It was the invention of the microseries, using just 60 seconds a day to tell stories of clone civil rights, secret AIs that were really running everything, VR addiction, and future politics and environmental issues. And I was hooked.  Soon I was making sure to watch it every day.  Then I started recording it every day.  Then I was making my own FTL Newsfeed music videos!  Never before or since has 60 seconds a day been used to such creative lengths.

(3) Robotech - For decades, if you had asked me what my #1 show was, I would have said Robotech.  I've already blogged in detail how this show changed my life in my tribute to Carl Macek. Robotech is a multi-generational odyssey about how the Earth is forever changed when an alien named Zor sends the last Protoculture factory to Earth, hidden away in an alien battleship.  It was the first serialized story to suck me in and grab me, and I totally fell in love with the entire saga, and by extension the original Japanese Macross timeline as well. Anime purists will say this show is a butchered translation-- I say the Robotech universe is more than the sum of its parts.

(2) Doctor Who - This show has the ultimate format.  You've got the TARDIS, a machine that can go anywhere in all of space and time.  You've got the Doctor, a man who when he dies can regenerate his body into a complete new one.  With a format like that, you can go anywhere and do anything with anyone.  And that's why this is the longest running show in science fiction history, with over 31 seasons, the first 26 of which were aired right in a row.  It means the one constant of the show is change-- oh sure, you've got your eras where things are the same for a few years, but inevitably an actor playing the Doctor leaves, or a new producer comes in and feels it's time to update the show.  But just like the universe itself, Doctor Who is always moving, changing and growing.

Yet there are certain things that are universal about the Doctor-- his belief in justice, his curiosity and wonder.  His desire to share that with his companions.  And of course that old familiar blue Police Box, the TARDIS.  And that no matter what phase the show is in, I'll find something to enjoy in it.

I have lifelong friends because of Doctor Who.  I've spent at least one day a year watching nothing but Doctor Who ALL DAY for the last 14 years with some of them.  So I have to ask myself, why isn't it #1?  Because of...

(1) Star Trek - With the pendulum swinging on the Doctor Who side as far as new material goes, part of me really feels that Doctor Who deserves the #1 spot right now.  But when I look deep into my obsessive little fanboy heart, I have to admit that I love Star Trek just a little bit more.  And when I try to figure out which Star Trek I love most, it's always the original.  So congratulations, Trek-- you are the top show.  The animated version may be what introduced me to Trek, but it's the original show that turned me into a science fiction fan for life, and opened my eyes up to the excitement and wonder that really exists in the universe.  When I watch a feed from the International Space Station on the NASA Channel I still get a chill of excitement.  I say to myself, that's no special effect, man... that's the real deal. It's the same excitement I got when I discovered Kirk and Spock weren't cartoon characters all over again.  And just like the original Trek, it never grows old.

In closing I'd just like to say THANK YOU to everyone who's been reading this and posting comments, both here and on Facebook.  I'm glad you've all been enjoying this with me, and I'm grateful and honored that you found my list interesting!  I had a LOT of fun making it, even when some of the choices were really hard to make!  Our tastes change over time, and I'm sure this list is different now than it would have been 10 years ago, and 10 years from now it'll be different still.  I was inspired by io9 making their list... now go make yours!  I'd love to read it!!


Anonymous said...

good list! oh and i totally agree!! DS9 is definitely the best star trek!


Fer said...

Thanks!! Glad you enjoyed the list!