So recently IGN.com put out their list of the top fifty science fiction shows of all time. And, well, in my opinion their list is moronic. One of the primary reasons is that as their top show of all time they picked the revamped Battlestar Galactica, and despite the fact that actors like Edward James Olmos and Jamie Bamber did everything they could with the material they were given, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica was a completely derivative piece of shit. The show was little more than a collection of rehashed World War II movie cliches overlaid with a pile of pretentious and badly thought-out theology. It also got tons of praise for dealing with issues like religion and racism "first" that, well, shows like Babylon 5 and Farscape actually dealt with first and did infinitely better job doing so. And believable characters? Are you kidding me? The cardboard characters on the original Battlestar Galactica had more depth and believability than the collection of walking stereotypes that populated the reimagined version. For anyone who ever thinks that because I have written about other science fiction shows that it might be fun to watch me review the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, just realize that it would be an unrelenting hate fest as I thrash the piece of crap episode by episode for being the horseshit that it is. If you think that would be fun to read, then by all means, send me a copy of the DVDs and ask me to review them.
The fact that junk like Lost and The X-Files (both awful for their own reasons) are also on IGN's top ten list tells me that someone should have hit their selectors with a clue-by-four before they let them try to spell their own names, let alone select a list of the top science fiction shows. Compounding this, the IGN top ten list is missing actual good science fiction shows like Babylon 5, Farscape, Stargate: SG-1, and they only include Dr. Who because of the revamped version, but even more unforgivably, Blake's 7 is not even in the top fifty. So, to rectify this, and to provide the world with the actual list of the best science fiction shows of all time (as selected by the completely unbiased panel consisting of me, me, and only me), here is my top ten list.
spawn pop songs. It seems almost inconceivable now that a network would air a show that was basically a collection of unrelated science fiction, horror and paranormal short stories, and not only that, it would be a television classic watched almost sixty years later. Rod Serling's opening monologue has become so iconic that it is routinely the the subject of parody. Television programs routinely do spoofs and homages to the program. People who would never be caught dead watching Star Trek or reading a book that contained science fiction fondly remember their favorite episodes of the show. That said, I do have some problems with the show. Due to the format of the program, a large proportion of the plots and characters are little more than cliches, and far too many episodes rely upon the "one twist at the end" formula for their impact. The show also definitely suffered in quality when the network decided to shift the program from half-hour episodes to full hour episodes. Finally, when taken as a "science fiction" show, the science fiction episodes were leavened with a generous helping of paranormal and fantasy focused installments, which I enjoy but serve to pull down its ranking a bit when considering it as a science fiction show.
Star Trek: The Original Series Reviews Page) I'm talking about the original series here featuring Kirk, Spock, and McCoy with it's five year mission to boldly go where no man had gone before. Quite frankly, Star Trek: The Next Generation has aged badly, and is nigh-unwatchable now, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is basically a collection of Star Trek lore grafted onto the ideas that were original to Babylon 5 and executed better by Straczynski. And the less said about Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise the better. But the original is the eight hundred pound gorilla of televised science fiction (as evidenced by the numerous spin off series, movies, and books that it has spawned). Though the series lasted only three seasons, its influence is pervasive, even outside of the science fiction genre: almost everyone recognizes the term "redshirt", the catch phrase "Beam me up, Scotty", and a dozen other references that have worked their way into the popular lexicon. The heart of the show was the interplay between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, but all of the regular characters on the series are memorable. Despite some fairly obvious flaws, a hopelessly utopian outlook, and the absurdity of the Prime Directive, the popularity of the series endures for a reason, and that is because it is just that good.
Honorable Mention: Star Trek: The Animated Series. The best of of all the Star Trek spin offs by far. The animated format allowed the creators to do things they could not do in the live action show, including the second crew with several very alien members added to the inhabitants of the Enterprise. It also has an episode adapted from Larry Niven's short story The Slaver Weapon featuring Kzinti as opposition for the crew.
Farscape Reviews Page) Shot through a wormhole while testing an experimental spaceship, astronaut John Crichton falls in with a collection of escaped prisoners on a living ship and flees from a series of insane military commanders seeking the knowledge locked inside his head. Along the way Crichton deals with the weirdness of being the lone human in a world dominated by aliens, makes frequent references to Earth based pop culture, and tries (only somewhat successfully) to avoid being driven insane. The true strength of the series was the well-defined characters and their interplay as well as the richly imagined universe it was set in. The show gets major points for being the only show (that I know of) to incorporate two puppetry driven characters as series regulars, and it was able to pull it off successfully to boot. Anyone who criticizes the show for having "muppets" gets to go sit in the corner and think about how much better the special effects in this show were than those of their favorite series. Badly dealt with by the SciFi Network, if Firefly is Exhibit A in the case against network executives being permitted to tie their own shoes, and Crusade is Exhibit B, then Farscape is Exhibit C. The show ran for four seasons, was promised a fifth, and was abruptly cancelled by the SciFi channel in the middle of an ongoing dramatic arc intended to serve as the primary story line of the fifth season (leading to the series ending with a "To be Continued" card on the screen). Though the fans got closure in the form of the miniseries Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, this compromise required jamming what was intended to be twenty-two episodes worth of story into four hours of programming, which was obviously a suboptimal outcome. Despite the network abuse the show suffered, it remains one of the best science fiction shows ever made.
Babylon 5 Reviews Page) I have said this before, and I will say it again - Babylon 5 is not merely the greatest science fiction show of all time, it is the best television show of any kind ever made. Created, produced, and mostly written by J. Michael Straczynski, the show is almost unique in television history in that it was conceived from the start as a complete five-year story. Because Straczynski was so heavily involved in the show from start to finish, it has a level of internal consistency that is simply alien to television. (Not to say there aren't a few missteps, but they are fairly minor). Granted, network executive idiocy resulted in fifth season that wasn't up to par with the rest of the show, and cost the show the services of Claudia Christian (and thus, the character Susan Ivanova), but taken by itself even the subpar fifth season of Babylon 5 is better than the best season of the revamped Battlestar Galactica. Straczynski's involvement also meant that the show incorporated many elements drawn from classic literary science fiction: one can see the influence of books such as The Demolished Man, A Canticle for Liebowitz, and the Lensman series among others. While Farscape told its space opera from the ground level perspective, Babylon 5's ranges from the gritty underworld of Michael Garibaldi and Marcus Cole, all the way to the corridors of galactic power inhabited by Sheridan and Delenn. The show featured storytelling strong enough to turn a villain into a prophet and a buffoon into a villain into a hero and finally into a tragic figure. Quite simply, Babylon 5 was the best use of television ever.
Honorable Mention: Crusade. Spun off by popular demand following the end of the original Babylon 5 series, Crusade was just getting a head of steam when it was shut down, leaving nothing but tantalizing unrealized promise. Almost as soon as it was launched, TNT executives started doing their very best to kill it with moronic demands and the show only lasted half a season. But for the sad mistreatment of Firefly, Crusade would be the most ill-used science fiction show of all time. As it is, it is Exhibit B in the prosecution's case against network executive asshattery.
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