I’ve been writing for Three If By Space since 2013. While I’ve always loved sci fi and genre shows, I can’t honestly say that before this decade, I had watched a lot of it – go ahead and gasp, but while my kids were little, I missed Stargates and Star Treks and Battlestars. But this past decade – wow! We weren’t confined to a starship any more. Sci fi definitely moved into the mainstream, and even non-nerds loved some of the shows that we loved. Yes, there were frustrations – especially as shows were given short windows to find an audience or die, which meant that some of the best and smartest had short lives. Fanatic, loud support – but not enough eyes. So how do I pick the BEST of the past decade? Especially when some of the shows I personally reviewed were, well, forgettable (Revolution, Intelligence…)? I went to some of my fellow TIBS staff members and asked them! So here you have our picks for some of the best sci fi and related TV shows of the past decade.
The Best in Sci Fi (Admittedly Biased)
Falling Skies (5 seasons, 2011-2015)
Where would TIBS be without Falling Skies? Absolutely nowhere, honestly. Our name is from the show (yeah, one if by land, two if by sea, three if…). This is the show that drew me to the site. I fell hard for John Pope (played by Colin Cunningham), a guy who could anti-hero with the best. I wasn’t quite so crazy about Noah Wyle’s Tom Mason, but his boys, growing up in SkitterWorld, really got to me. And many of the show’s stars and regulars remain friends with our staff. Seasons 1-3 were terrific – the fight for survival against alien invaders, humanity and its governments fighting back, groups of outliers trying to profit from the opportunity. Seasons 4 and 5 suffered from a new showrunner with a wildly divergent vision, but for those first seasons, I’m putting Falling Skies near the top.
Doctor Who (New Series, 12 seasons, 2005-Current)
This legend of a show came back to life in 2005, and although it’s still going, we’ll include it with last decade’s shows. The Doctors of the past decade – primarily Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, with a little bit of David Tennant making it into the decade (Christopher Eccleston was earlier than we’re talking about, and as just a side note, seriously underappreciated) – have had wildly differing rankings. My personal tops have been Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as Amy and Rory for “best companions,” and Capaldi as top Doc, but YMMV. Clara never did much for me, and while Matt Smith had his moments, Capaldi’s angst, anger and sadness had me wishing he was still part of the show. TIBS associate editor Michelle Harvey agrees that Doctor Who is one of the decade’s best: “Doctor Who is a show that absolutely stands the test of time. This last decade showcased three new doctors, multiple new companions, and celebrated it’s 50th birthday with some serious style. Though Doctor Who has been around for close to 60 years now, it continues to bring in new fans & compelling stories. This last decade we had some amazing adventures with The Doctor – and this new decade will continue to keep us behind the couch, eagerly following along.”
Colony (3 seasons, 2016-2018)
Another alien invasion show, but with a major difference. Creator and showrunner Ryan Condal’s vision was less “fighting the aliens” and more “fighting ourselves.” Based on the experience of the French people during the German occupation of WWII, Colony focused on how people behave when confronted by this kind of force. People fall into three camps – collaborators, resistance, and those who just want to survive. The aliens were a malevolent background force, rarely seen, but even scarier were the humans who saw this invasion as their road to power. The story line was fresh and compelling. Colony was a gem cancelled too soon, from low viewer numbers and what could only be interpreted as the loss of its creator’s interest. It starred Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies, as a married couple seemingly on different sides of the conflict, torn between resistance and collaboration. The show ran for 3 seasons, and had a fanatic and loyal following, but when USA Network decided to cancel, it seemed like Condal walked away almost without a fight or a goodbye to fans (cancellation came as a surprise to cast and crew), and the show ended on a major cliffhanger. Associate editor John Baker called the cancellation of the show a “gut punch,” and I’d have to agree. Despite the unsatisfying end to the series, I’d still suggest you watch for the brilliance of what was there.
The OA (2 seasons, 2016-2019)
Michelle Harvey calls The OA a brilliant and imaginative take on the sci-fi genre. Both intellectually and visually stunning, The OA intricately blends mystery, romance, drama, and science fiction. The OA deals with complex scientific concepts such as multiverses and inter-dimensional travel, but also highlights complex relationships brought to life by vivid characters. The OA deserves to be on this list because it manages to weave a coherent narrative with an overarching message while exploring complicated topics. It doesn’t get lost in its own brilliance, rather you lose yourself in its brilliance. Prematurely cancelled, The OA was a powerful, thoughtful, and deeply intellectual excursion into spirituality, metaphysics, science fiction, and life.
Also Among the Top
Killjoys (5 seasons, 2015-2019)
A great ride! Both dark and funny, with superb one-liners and kick-ass women. Killjoys took us through the mystery of who, or what, was Yalena Yardin, or “Dutch,” a former assassin turned bounty hunter, and her closest friends, lovers and … family. It’s complicated. Not really an alien show, although ultimately, non-humans were a major part of the mystery. Syfy gave this show the time it needed, announcing near the end of season 3 that it had been renewed for two more – and final – seasons, which gave creator and writer Michelle Lovretta the time to play out a story with an actual ending.
Dark Matter (3 seasons, 2015-2017)
This could have been one of the greats, but it was abruptly and cruelly cancelled after season 3, keeping it from having any kind of wrap up. Dark Matter debuted on the same night as Killjoys – the shows were one right after the other on Syfy. Helmed by Joseph Mallozzi of Stargate fame, DM followed a group of spaceship pirates who wake up from suspension with no memory of who they are or where they come from. And once they learn who they were in the past, they vow to be better people, trying to fight against the corrupt corporations that run the universe. Smart and funny, definitely intriguing. When the show was cancelled, Mallozzi and a dedicated group of fans did everything possible to have the show picked up by another network or service, but ultimately failed because of technical and legal hurdles. Mallozzi was terrific with fans, providing info about what would have come in season 4, sharing digital drawings and lots of info (unlike Colony, which just poofed, leaving a bad taste in fans’ mouths).
Constantine (1 season, 2014-2015)
This DC-comic-book show had one season, starring perfectly cast Matt Ryan as the tortured demon hunter. The show had its problems – an added female main character never really worked, and it competed with the memories of Keanu Reeves in the movie version. But the positive reaction to Ryan’s portrayal got the character picked up by DC’s Legends of Tomorrow as a recurring role, so Constantine lives on. And there’s a push to keep John Constantine alive – pairing him up with (against?) Lucifer‘s Tom Ellis!
The Expanse (3 seasons, 2015-current)
The Expanse is a giant, complicated, space opera. Cancelled after one season, it was picked up by Amazon and given a new life for 2 more. Cerebral, mysterious, and compelling. John Baker says, “Sci-fi space adventure that’s darker and grittier than your normal fare. A space drama in every sense of the word.”
Westworld (2 seasons, still running, 2016-current)
Another masterpiece from the Nolans, Westworld is an exquisite piece of art and one of the best new series of the decade. Real life concepts woven into a deeply layered story, combined with thought provoking plots will leave you wanting more of everything that Westworld brings to the table. Westworld explores the fragile, vulnerable, and dark side of humanity while simultaneously showcasing what “life” really means. The show not only works on the physical layer of science fiction but also on the metaphysical level of philosophic satisfaction. (Michelle Harvey)
Sense8 (2 seasons, 2015-2018)
Sense8 was a phenomenal show that sparked a worldwide community of fans to action upon its original cancellation. Sense8 featured an amazing cast of truly diverse talent, and set a new standard when it comes to equality for all. Sense8 was innovative and inspiring; with creatively cultivated characters that pull you into their story. Another science fiction series that beautifully weaves in sex, romance, crime, and intrigue. You’ll be captivated from start to finish. (Michelle Harvey)
Filling Out the Genre
While they can’t truly be considered sci fi, several other shows caught the eye of genre fans, and deserve to be included in the decade’s best.
Outlander (4 seasons, still running, 2014-current)
A big, vast uncategorizable show with just a bit of a time-travel twist. History, romance – while I couldn’t peg it into one hole for you, the best place it fits is in the “excellent” category. Sure, I have my picky moments with this show, but it’s really hard to fit 800 page books into 12 or 13 episode seasons. Featuring excellent acting and dedicated fans behind the camera, Outlander has the biggest and most dedicated fan base of nearly any show out there.
The Handmaid’s Tale (3 seasons, still running, 2017-current)
This show can’t be considered sci fi by any means, except that it’s a weirdly dystopian story, uncomfortably close to current day happenings. It’s won every award out there, with good reason. Writing, acting, costuming, set design – all of the highest caliber. Sure, there are some plot holes and head-scratching moments, but more than any other show I watch, this one gives me literal nightmares. It’s psychologically difficult, especially in the current political climate where women’s rights are threatened and men are setting up conferences to teach women how to be wives and mothers (yes, in Orlando this spring if you need a place to go protest). Based on Margaret Atwood’s prophetic and disturbing novel.
Game of Thrones (8 seasons, 2011-2019)
I bet you thought we had forgotten about this. Not possible! Yes, there’s a case to be made that out of all the shows I’ve put in this “genre-related” category, GoT is the closest to sci fi. But somehow, I just can’t bring myself to put it there. This is a HUGE show, and I’d bet that even if you, a sci-fi-review-site reader, haven’t watched it, you probably still have strong feelings about it. The show boiled the giant books’ 6,000 storylines into a handful of manageable threads, but still managed to lose hold of a couple throughout the run. And the final season – for me, really just the last episode or two – had major problems, some of which could be attributed to having no printed source material to refer to. But all in all, it wasn’t just the fur capes or the dragons or the immensity of the CGI that made this show a piece of the fabric of today’s society.
Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (1 season, 2019)
John Baker says that this was a worthy call back to the original Dark Crystal fantasy/adventure from Jim Henson and his company in 1982. The new adventure is a prequel and once again shows just how effective masterful puppetering can be in telling a story that’s intriguing and visually lavish and deep.
How about you? Agree or disagree with our choices? What were your favorite shows of the past decade? Let us know!
Follow me on Twitter: @ErinConrad2 or @ThreeIfBySpace
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