As with any list-form opinion piece, these are just my personal favorites. Your favorites might be different and that’s absolutely okay. But this is the list I would give a friend if they were looking for a full year of science fiction bliss, one excellent series per month.
Just to clarify, I draw a line between science fiction and fantasy as follows: If things are explained away as magic or supernatural, it’s fantasy. If they are explained via some sort of scientific concept, (even if the concept seems outlandish), it’s science fiction. Of course, the two genres have some cross-over from time to time, but that’s my general guideline.
Also, I’ve formed this list based on shows I’ve completed in their entirety or if the series has been running for a few years and I’m all caught up. This means that newer shows like Watchmen, which I haven’t seen yet, or a series like Westworld, of which I’ve only seen the first season, have been excluded from this list purely because I don’t feel I have all the information to form a solid opinion yet. (That being said, I have high hopes for both of those series.)
Now, without further ado, lets get on with the list.:
12) The X-Files
Is every episode television gold? No. Hell, sometimes an episode will leave you rolling your eyes at the absurdity or feeling as though you’ve just taken a bath in pure cheese. That being said, The X-Files is always entertaining and the overall story arc, though sometimes lost beneath a “monster-of-the-week” montage, is intriguing. Furthermore, the show did a great job of varying the entertainment feel, with some episodes bringing vibes from horror and thriller genres, while others were more mystery/suspense or drama/romance or even slapstick/comedy. The main characters, Mulder and Scully, are the right combination of smart, likable, and tortured. Plus, the supporting cast is great!
The X-Files is undeniably a science fiction classic. It first started in 1993 and initially ran for nine seasons until 2002. Then it came back for a short six-episode season in 2016 and for another ten-episode season in 2018. There are also two movies included in the long-running story, the first one entitled simply The X-Files was released in 1998 as an extension of the still-running original series and The X-Files: I Want to Believe was released in 2008. And, with all that, there are even rumors that the series may return for a twelfth season, (originally predicted to happen in 2020, but I would guess that’s probably shifting due to the current global pandemic situation).
That being said, if you’re looking for a solid sci-fi series to get hooked on for all your social distancing entertainment needs, The X-Files is a great way to go. And maybe, just maybe, a new season will be waiting for you by the time you’re all caught up.
11) Star Trek: The Next Generation
Okay, so I had to put a Star Trek on the list. Really, it seems like an insult to the genre to not include one of the most influential sci-fi worlds to ever grace both the small and big screen. I mean, the Star Trek franchise started in the 1960’s and is still going strong today, with 778 television episodes and 13 full-length movies across the entire franchise, which includes 9 different series. But how to choose?
Well, for me, the only series’ I will exclude from my list of Treks to choose from are Enterprise, (because I tried, and then I tried again, and I just didn’t like it), The Animated Series, (because animation is rarely my thing), and Short Treks, (because I really don’t consider this a series, but more like a bunch of out-takes). But that still leaves me six series to choose from! And, unlike some of my fellow sci-fi nerds, I really enjoyed the new additions to the franchise, finding both Discovery and Picard to be excellent reboots to a franchise that had been silent on the small screen since Voyager wrapped up in 2001. So, how’s a nerd to choose?
Honestly, I chose based on nostalgia. TNG was the Trek I enjoyed most as a child. It was one of the first shows to twist my little brain into the sci-fi induced dopamine fiend it is today. And, whereas the special effects are far exceeded with the newest editions to the franchise, TNG will always hold a special place in my heart. Plus, it’s honestly just good sci-fi. Are some of the episodes cheesy? Absolutely! Especially in the early seasons. But there is some great content in there, and it’s especially fun to get caught up on all the story points, character development, and lore before watching Picard. Also, in my humble opinion, the best Star Trek Captain is, and likely shall always be, Captain Jean Luc Picard.
For those of you who are fans of Doctor Who, Torchwood is probably already on your radar. Technically a spin-off of the far more whimsical time-traveling series, Torchwood follows what will end up being only be a short jaunt in the life of beloved Doctor Who reoccurring character, Captain Jack Harkness, as he heads up a secret government team who’s purpose is to keep Britain safe from alien and other monstrous threats.
Although this series spawns from Doctor Who, it is far darker and edgier, and does a fine job of standing as a series all on its own. Originally airing in 2006, the series ran for four seasons, the last of which aired in 2011. Many excellent sci-fi series have been released since this dark British series, but this often under-rated series still makes it onto my list of favorites.
9) Doctor Who
Doctor Who is a difficult series to rate as I find it more or less appealing depending on the current Doctor. Really, it’s one of the most ingenious ways to keep a series going. Just write it into the lore that your lead character is an alien that can regenerate into an entirely different person whenever they are mortally injured. Brilliant!
But, whether or not the series’ current cast has me completely enthralled or only casually interested, I can always rely on Doctor Who for a good time and some top-notch, zany, and highly imaginative science fiction. Plus, it’s great fun arguing with my fellow nerds over who’s the best Doctor…
8) The Man in the High Castle
I actually only recently decided to give this series, which started in 2015, a shot. And I couldn’t have been more thrilled with it! Honestly, I had no idea it was science fiction going into it and it was that lack of knowledge that probably kept me from watching it sooner. The premise is pretty straight forward: What would it be like in 1960’s United States, if the Nazis had won the second World War? A terrifying alternate reality, for sure! But that’s just the premise, and there is sooo much more to this story! I’m not one for spoilers, though, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself to know more.
7) Stranger Things
This delightful Netflix series is just the right combination of 1980’s nostalgia and sci-fi horror. My husband and I are both children of the 80’s and it totally sparks that inner-child in both of us. Plus, it’s pretty freaking rad to see the nerdy kids from that era getting to play the heroes. Being nerdy might be the new cool now, but that was far from reality when we were growing up. Stranger Things is three seasons in and the fourth has already be announced. Every season has kept me engaged and looking forward to the next.
6) Red Dwarf
This spoofy British comedy meets science fiction is one of my all-time favorites! The humor is clever, dorky, and absolutely spot-on. Plus the sci-fi is actually quite good. Imagine a working-class mining ship going about its business in outer space. Now imagine that the crew dies of a radiation leak, the only survivor being a screw-up who landed himself in stasis after breaking the law by bringing a cat on board without going through proper quarantine channels. Three-million years later, after the radiation clears, the ship’s AI wakes this poor bastard up along with a fully self-aware hologram of his physically dead and horribly annoying roommate. The only other living thing on board is an evolved humanoid descendant of his pet cat. It’s a true comedy of errors as this misfit group tries to make their way back toward a far away Earth on a ship being piloted by a space-crazed AI computer.
I’ve seen this series through many times and I alway laugh my ass off! If your looking for something to lift your spirits while taking you on an often ridiculous sci-fi adventure , give Red Dwarf a whirl.
5) Rick and Morty
Speaking of excellent comedic sci-fi, Rick and Morty never ceases to elate. Honestly, animation is not my thing. I have many a friend who tries to get me into various forms of animation, whether it be anime or your typical adult-swim series or classic cartoons, it’s just not really my thing. So for me to put an animated series on my top-twelve list is really saying something about the writing. Is Rick and Morty another raunchy cartoon comedy? Yes. But it is SO MUCH MORE! This show has some of the best science fiction writing I’ve experienced. It has heart, and comedy, and it’s use of toilet humor is fantastically well placed. Plus, Rick is a wonderfully written anti-hero. The kind of lead character your just hoping is secretly a good person, but you’re never really sure. In my opinion, Rick and Morty is not only the best animated series of all time, it’s also some of the best science fiction out there.
Complete with Jim Henson puppets and outstanding make-up effects, Farscape does a fantastic job of bringing alien worlds and the far reaches of space to life through the eyes of a misfit group of escape prisoners and one very lost and out-of-place astronaut. The sci-fi adventures in this series are excellent, the cast is lovable, and the push-me/pull-me romance between the two leads has fantastic chemistry. The show does a great job of combining the light and humorous with the dark and disturbing, and it absolutely nails the art of keeping things strange. This show may be getting up there, with it’s first season airing in 1999, but it never feels dated when I watch it.
This is one of my all-time favorite shows of any genre. Yes, it starts off a little slow and episodic, having that monster-of-the-week vibe in the first season. But this is a slow burn that’s really worth sticking with, as it starts to form into one hell of a story arc. The dynamics between the three main characters is endearing, and the interpersonal drama in this series is just as tantalizing as the science fiction mystery that builds around them. Fringe is a series I’ve watched through more than once and will probably watch again soon.
2) Battlestar Galactica
This war-time space-drama has all the ingredients needed to make for an excellent viewing experience: Murderous artificial life, the last of the human race lost in outer space, and all the interpersonal drama a serial story arced TV show could dream of. Starbuck is still one of my all-time favorite female characters, (interestingly enough, the character was a man in the original 1978 version of this show), and the show has an amazing cast through and through. Another series I’ve already seen multiple times, I’m certain it will grace my television again.
Honestly, this shouldn’t come as a shock to any of my fellow sci-fi nerds. Maybe it’s the fact that we didn’t get enough of this sadly short-lived series, but it has continued to hold its place in my number one slot for years and will probably continue to do so. It just had the perfect chemistry of anti-hero characters. This show had a magic about it that made you feel a sense of camaraderie with the crew. And perhaps it’s the fact that so many loose ends weren’t allowed to be tied, (thanks FOX, your news is racist garbage and you canceled Firefly. You suck!), or perhaps it’s simply that Joss Whedon freaking nailed the western/sci-fi genre crossover, but I can’t get enough of this world. In fact, I highly recommend to those who see it, fall in love, and then have to deal with the bitter disappointment that you’ll only ever get one season and a movie that does its best to wrap up the story but really leaves too many things unanswered, that you go ahead and read the graphic novels and books that have been released and are still being released to try and satisfy the fans of this truly before-it’s-time series. But please, don’t let the lack of content discourage you from enjoying this series. Whereas I generally don’t recommend getting hooked on a series that doesn’t really get to wrap up, this is one I will make an exception for every time.