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New Fantasy & Science Fiction

15 Great SF & Fantasy TV Shows (Part 2 of 2)

editorial by David M. Switzer

2010 Note: After writing my original editorial I finished watching all of Buffy and Angel and they're both absolutely amazing. I watched all of The X-Files (mostly for the second time), and I watched Battlestar Galactica (I've seen the first two seasons twice). Battlestar Galactica was brilliant right from the very beginning, and it belongs in place of Earth 2 on this list.

My new strategy for watching TV shows is to wait until they're completely done, and then watch them all (if they're worth watching) on DVD. No commercials, and no waiting for cliffhangers to be resolved.

In the previous issue I talked about the five Star Trek series (the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise), and three J. Michael Straczynski series (Babylon 5, Crusade, and Jeremiah). In this issue I'll tell you what I think of two Chris Carter series (The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen), three Joss Whedon series (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly), Earth 2, and Futurama.

A couple of follow-up notes to last issue's editorial. You may or may not have noticed that I didn't mention the animated Star Trek series. Yes, there was an animated Star Trek series -- it ran from 1973 to 1974 and lasted 22 episodes. The episodes were only half an hour, the animation wasn't great, and the stories weren't very interesting -- so it doesn't really count as a Star Trek show.

I recently watched the first two episodes of Star Trek: New Voyages. They're new episodes of the original series with different actors playing Kirk, Spock, and the others. It's all done by fans, and available for free on the internet. I wish the stories were better, but I certainly applaud their efforts. And the third episode will definitely be worth watching -- it's written by D. C. Fontana, who wrote for the original series, and stars Walter Koenig, who played Chekov!

There are two other fan-created shows, Starship Exeter and Hidden Frontier, that I haven't seen yet but will check out one of these days. They are set during the original series and The Next Generation respectively, but both take place on ships other than the Enterprise.

Since the previous issue, I actually met J. Michael Straczynski at a convention. When asked what his message for the world is, he said two things: one person can make a difference, and we're stronger together than we are apart.

The X-Files (1993-2002)

Mulder and Scully are two FBI agents whose job it is to investigate allegedly paranormal events. Of course, most of them do turn out to be paranormal. At the beginning of the series, Mulder is a believer and Scully is a skeptic. But over the years they see a lot of strange things.

Created by Chris Carter. For several years I watched it faithfully. I haven't seen all the early episodes, but I'd like to go back and watch them. I didn't watch the last season -- without Mulder, I just didn't care. For me, the show was Mulder and Scully -- even when an episode wasn't brilliant, it was worth watching for the dialogue between these two characters. The conspiracy episodes got a bit carried away, and ended up not making a lot of sense. My favourite character is the wisecracking Mulder, with the immoral and deadly Cigarette-Smoking Man as a runner-up.

In "Triangle" Mulder goes to the Bermuda Triangle and ends up on a ship overrun by Nazis in 1939. In "The Amazing Maleeni" Mulder and Scully investigate the death of a magician whose last trick was to turn his head completely around.

A second theatrical movie might be on its way.

Mulder (on the phone to Scully): Hi, my name is Fox Mulder. We used to sit next to each other at the FBI.

-- "Tithonus"

The Lone Gunmen (2001)

Three conspiracy theorists who occasionally help Mulder and Scully get their own show. Byers, Frohike, and Langly are joined by Jimmy Bond who provides funds for their endeavors. Yves Adele Harlow is their sometime competitor who occasionally helps them out, for some reason. This show wasn't particularly science fictional -- our heroes are on the trail of more mundane governments, companies, and individuals -- but I've included it because of its association with The X-Files.

Created by Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, and Frank Spotnitz. This spin-off from The X-Files only lasted half a season -- Fox didn't give it a chance. The premiere was funny, and some of the other episodes were even funnier. My favourite character is Frohike -- he gets the best lines.

In "Madam, I'm Adam" our heroes meet a man who's found that someone else is living his life -- and he thinks he's been transported here by aliens from another universe.

Byers: That's why I teamed up with you guys. You're true believers.

Frohike: And I thought it was for the chick throw-off.

-- Premiere

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

Buffy is a high school student who also happens to be the "chosen one," the vampire slayer. Sunnydale, where she lives, also happens to be the Hellmouth. So in addition to going to classes during the day she fights all sorts of evil beings at night, with a little help from her friends. One person who helps her out is Angel, a vampire with a soul, and they eventually fall in love.

Created by Joss Whedon, who also wrote the movie. I got into this series for its witty dialogue, but there's much more going on. Some of the stories may be silly, but the characters make it work -- the characters feel real, as they go through changes just like real people. My favourite character is the smart and shy Willow, with the student-hating Principal Snyder as a runner-up.

"Once More, With Feeling" is probably the only musical ever in which the reason for the singing is built into the plot. In "Band Candy" all the adults in Sunnydale start acting like teenagers -- and Giles and Buffy's Mom get together. In "Doppelgängland" Willow from an alternate universe -- where she's a vampire -- drops by for a visit.

Xander: Well, we could grind our enemies into talcum powder with a sledgehammer but gosh, we did that last night.

-- "When She Was Bad"

Angel (1999-2004)

Angel moves to Los Angeles to get away from Buffy, because they've realized that their relationship can't possibly work. There he sets himself up as a detective who will help people when no one else can. Cordelia joins him because she's not having much success becoming an actress. Doyle, a half-human half-demon, also joins them -- he has visions of people who are in trouble.

Created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt, this spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is similarly witty. As Whedon and Greenwalt reveal in their DVD commentary, they like giving us a scene and then doing the opposite to what we expect with it. It works very well for them. My favourite character is the ultra-cool Angel.

The scene in "In the Dark" where Angel walks around in the sunlight for the first time in 200 years is a great one. "I Will Remember You," in which Angel spends a day as a human with Buffy, is absolutely heartbreaking.

Angel: I want to find the guy that killed Tina and I want to look him in the eye.

Doyle: Then what?

Angel: Then I'm going to share my feelings.

-- "City Of" (premiere)

Firefly (2002)

A motley collection of characters on a space ship do jobs, some illegal, so that they can keep flying. There are no aliens in this universe, but there are lots of interesting humans. Mal and Zoe, the captain and first mate, fought in the losing side during the war against the Alliance. River, their newest passenger, had mysterious experiments performed on her by the Alliance -- and they want her back.

Created by Joss Whedon. In what other show would the captain of the ship put one of his crew in the airlock and blow out all the air? The characters are what make this show so great -- you never know what they're going to do. Fox cancelled it after only half a season. My favourite character is tough guy Jayne.

In "Jaynestown" the crew lands on a planet where they find a statue of Jayne, much to his surprise.

A theatrical movie, Serenity, is in theatres as I write this.

Zoe: Captain'll come up with a plan.

Kaylee: That's good. Right?

Zoe: Possibly you're not recalling some of his previous plans.

-- "Safe"

Earth 2 (1994-95)

Our heroes intend to land on a planet that's supposed to be uninhabited. But they crash on the other side of the continent from where they're supposed to land, and where all their supplies are. A bunch of colonists are coming in a few months -- and so they start the trip. Of course, the planet turns out to be inhabited by some interesting creatures. Including our old friend Tim Curry -- how did he get there?

Created by Billy Ray, Michael Duggan, Carol Flint, and Mark Levin. Not every episode was brilliant, but the premise was great -- it was different from all the other shows. It was cancelled after only one season -- and the last episode was a cliffhanger. NBC pre-empted it by football and showed it at different times, so it never found an audience. One of my favourite aspects of the show is the Terrians, the creatures who can pop up out of the ground. My favourite character is the self-absorbed Morgan.

The premiere did a great job of introducing us to the characters and situation, with just the right amount of mystery. One moment I liked was when they experienced rain for the first time -- first apprehension, and then joy.

Futurama (1999-2003)

Fry, a delivery boy, accidentally gets cryogenically frozen and wakes up 1000 years in the future. Where once again he becomes a delivery boy -- but this time he gets to travel on a space ship. Along with a few other wacky characters, he works for Professor Farnsworth, who just happens to be his only living relative.

Created by Matt Groening, who also created The Simpsons. This animated series is sometimes silly but often hilariously clever. It contains many references to popular culture, such as Star Trek, Titanic, and Roswell. My favourite character is the wisecracking robot Bender.

In "Godfellas" Bender is floating through space and eventually becomes a god to tiny creatures living on his body. In "A Pharaoh to Remember" the crew visits a planet that resembles Ancient Egypt, where Bender becomes the next pharaoh.

Bender: Like most of life's problems, this one can be solved by bending.

-- "The Deep South"

So there you have it: my picks for 15 great SF/F TV shows. All of them are great, but the Star Trek series and Babylon 5 are in a class of their own -- I taped every single episode and most of them are worth watching again.

I'm still in the middle of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and I intend to watch the rest of them. I wouldn't mind watching the X-Files episodes that I missed. I've been watching Threshold, which is interesting so far. And I hear that the new Battlestar Galactica is amazing, so I'm planning on checking it out one of these days.

Dave Switzer works for a small company that personalizes communications for other companies -- he uses various computer programs to make that happen. He sings in a choir that performs 20th and 21st century pieces, usually a cappella. Dave has read some stupendous books recently. Each of these books has an exciting story, fascinating characters, and intriguing ideas: Evolution by Stephen Baxter, The Initiate Brother and Gatherer of Clouds by Sean Russell, and Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids by Robert J. Sawyer. He thought the movie Crash was thought provoking, Madagascar was hilarious, Batman Begins was exciting, War of the Worlds was very well done, and Star Wars Episode III was boring and pointless. And if you haven't seen Serenity yet, rush right out and see it.

Cover artist When Rhett Ransom Pennell is not at his job as a toy designer for Shelcore Toys then he's home, deep in the woods of Sparta, New Jersey, fighting off bears with his lovely wife Margaret and their seventeen-month-old warrior princess, Marea Jaydn -- who is a super-genius, and must be dealt with accordingly. Rhett illustrated a number of stories for Challenging Destiny back in its paper-based days. This cover and the one he did for issue #14 lean towards Rhett's interest in the smaller moments of the future. Sure we'll be exploring new worlds, boldly going where no one has gone before, but we'll also still be buying cereal at the grocery store... and waiting for the train. See more of Rhett's work and buy his children's picture books here.

Last modified: July 2, 2010

Copyright © 2005 David M. Switzer

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