The last seven or eight years have sort of been a renaissance for genre television, especially when I reflect back on my formative years in the late 80's when Star Trek: The Next Generation was *the* only sci-fi on the tube. And even more recently, some of the greatest television EVER has been sci-fi themed, occasionally escaping the confines of its genre niche. I think......and don't quote me on this.....but I think it all started with Buffy. There was a year, perhaps '02 or '03 where EVERYBODY was either quoting or talking about the Slayer. It had crossed over, however briefly, into the mainstream, and Joss Whedon had achieved television god-hood status.
Today, genre television has an embarrassment of riches (haven't heard that phrase for years, and I was dying to use it). And in a way, those shows owe their existence and acceptance to Buffy. Whedon created "the formula" for a genre television show that could attract men AND women of all ages. And more than occasionally he was able to capture the non-geek audience. JJ Abrams took that formula and created a new TV bible with shows like Alias, Lost, and now Fringe. And ironically, while Abrams (the Igor in this Frankenstein drama) is enjoying fame and fortune on the small AND the big screen, Whedon (the mad Doctor) has been booted from the hallowed halls of the academy after his failed Serenity, and is slumming it with Fox and the "doomed before it even airs" Dollhouse series. Talk about a twist of fate! I remember when Whedon was UNTOUCHABLE, but now he's paired back up with the "other" second-rate Slayer, on the network where genre shows go to die, the infamous Fox. How the mighty have fallen...
Whoa, I have seriously gone off-topic. Today, I just wanted to touch on some of the genre shows currently airing that I believe are exceptional, as well as booing a few that I think should be put down like a thoroughbred with a broken leg. And MOST of these are available on Hulu for on-demand viewing, in keeping with the tech focus of this blog.
1. First up is Battlestar Galactica! While modern network genre TV owes its roots to Buffy, everything on cable is six-degrees of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Galactica's creator, Ron Moore, is only one of Trek's former writers who went on to create excellent cable shows. If you ever watched Dead Zone, 4400 or Carnivale, give a little credit to Trek as their birth mother. Galactica comes to an end this spring. The first of 12 final episodes will begin airing in late January or February. Seriously, the writing on this show is so good, it has made other TV shows with average writing unwatchable for me.
2. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Summer Glau is the best Terminator to ever play the role. And that's a serious statement, as she's measured against Arnold. But, man she's intense. In fact, the entire show is intense. And that, plus the fact that it's on Fox, may be it's undoing. I just hope they get a chance to wrap up the story before it goes away. In any case, the cast and writers on this project have given us some of genre television's best moments.
3. Lost - This show gets better every year. And even though my faith was shaken during Season 2, that Desmond and Penny episode in Season 4 was absolutely, positively the BEST EPISODE OF TELEVISION EVER WRITTEN, genre or no. There, I said it.
4. Fringe - Hmmmm. This one barely makes my "Good" list. But it took a couple of years for the X-Files to get really good, so I'm willing to cut Fringe some slack. It's worth a look. Even though it's on Fox and will probably get cancelled.
4. Stargate SG-1 - Ever since Ben Browder of Farscape fame took up the mantle in Season 9, this unprecedented TEN (10) season series has reached a sort of legendary status. And even though the show has ended, they are still cranking out direct-to-DVD movies once per year. When Trek died, this is the show that carried the torch.
5. Knight Rider - PURE and utter trash, but it's a guilty pleasure. Just like the original.
6. Torchwood - After a shaky first season, Torchwood delivered a PHENOMENAL sophomore effort, bringing in heavyweights like Buffy's James Marsters for a few episodes. This is British sci-fi at it's finest.
7. True Blood - Soooo conflicted about this series. I was ready to throw in the towel after the first three episodes. I love explicit sex and gratuitous violence as much as the next guy, but I was wondering about the plot until episode five or so. The characters and side plots eventually grew on me, and I ended up addicted after the hippy vampire-killer chick turns up. But, can I tell you what's lame? The shapeshifter guy can turn into anything, but when the chips are down and our hero Sookie needs to be rescued, he turns into a little dog?! Wow...
1. Doctor Who - No, I'm not bashing the good doctor. In fact, some of the best episodes in the history of the show were last season. But MAN, there were some stinkers! That season finale WAS A CROCK!!! However, with the prospect of a new female doctor, perhaps there's hope for this series.
2. Stargate Atlantis - Zzzzzzzzz. Is this show still on?
3. Smallville - Someone PLEASE put this show out of it's misery! Lex was the only thing interesting about last season, but recently, even Rosenbaum seemed to be phoning it in. Without him or James Marsters as Brainiac, this show is worthless.
1. Heroes - I sooooooo want to love this show. Season 1, although occasionally flawed, was a masterpiece. Season 2 was broken, but watchable and certainly had it's moments. But the current Season 3 is a crime against all genre television. After five episodes, I wanted to choke the writers. After another five, I was reinspired that perhaps there was hope for the show. And then, episode 12, "Our Father" did something that made me want to kick the writers in their collective nuts or ovaries, as the case may be. Hiro teleports to the past, gets his mother to heal his damaged memories, and has one of the best dramatic moments of the series as he tells her how much he missed her growing up, and vows to protect the "catalyst" that she has given him as he has become a real hero now. Then FIVE FRICKIN MINUTES LATER, Daddy Petrelli shows up, bitch-slaps Hiro, steals the catalyst AND Hiro's time/space powers, and drops him off the side of a building. And this is the true failure of the series: INCONSISTENCY! Characters change course every episode. No one BELIEVES in anything. The heroes are all accidental! Powers work one way in one episode, and another way in a different episode. The Haitian (why he doesn't have a name after three years is a mystery to me) can suppress everyone's powers within a 500 yard radius without even NOTICING, much less breaking a sweat earlier in the series. But in "Our Father" he yells, "Your father is too powerful, Peter. I can't hold him back much longer!" QUE?! I call bullsh*t. Remember when I mentioned the lame horse that needed to be put down? Heroes is that horse. Somebody shoot it. Please.
Sooo, what are *you* watching these days? Any good sci-fi that I missed?