Science fiction fans tend to be an enthusiastic bunch, showering their favorite TV shows with an adoration that borders on the obsessive.
There are certain shows that can seem nearly universally loved. But what about those TV shows that either a) never quite found their audience, b) quickly faded into obscurity following their eventual cancellation, or c) despite fannish acclaim, have yet to find a larger audience?
In honor of these dark horses, here are 10 science fiction shows that deserve more love.
Dark Angel (2000-2002)
Dark Angel, James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee’s show about a genetically-engineered super soldier living in a post-apocalypse Seattle, feels like something that could be on TV now and still be somewhat edgy.
With its cyberpunk, feminist, superhero vibe, it makes for easy TV-watching as a 2010s viewer. Unlike many shows that have been off the air for more than a decade, even it’s cast remains relatively relevant. A young Jessica Alba stars alongside NCIS’ Michael Weatherly with Supernatural’s Jensen Ackles popping up in roughly half of the show’s 43 episodes. This familiarity of narrative and cast is echoed in the show’s directorial style. James Cameron made his TV drama directorial debut with the show’s 90-minute series finale, but — even before that — this show had visual flair relatively unique in TV of the early aughts.
Where to watch: Dark Angel is tragically not available to stream anywhere legally online, but both seasons are available on DVD.
Best episode: Pilot and Season 1, Episode 13 (“Rising”)
Episode that will get you hooked: It’s hard not to fall for the pilot, which includes the show’s initial iconic shot of Max hanging out on the weathered, abandoned Space Needle. The episode also does a good job introducing Max’s backstory, as well as integrating new viewers into the culture of post-crash life. Extra points if you spot the cameo from Battlestar Galactica’s Alessandro Juliani.
Earth: Final Conflict (1997-2002)
Earth: Final Conflict, a turn-of-the-century show about the arrival of highly advanced aliens to Earth, is a wildly uneven ride. The first season is pretty great, but the show goes through some rough re-casting and re-direction transitions over the course of its five seasons. However, if you’re into questions of alien conspiracy, rebellion, and ideas that — by some definition of the phrase — originally came from Gene Roddenberry’s head, then you are in for a treat. But remember: it’s OK to skip episodes… and the entire fifth season. (Seriously, don’t watch Season 5.)
Where to watch: Watch Earth: Final Conflict on ye olde DVD.
Best episode: Season 1, Episode 22 (“The Joining”)
Episode that will get you hooked: It’s probably best to start with the pilot. It explains the complicated history of the Taelon arrival to Earth and protagonist Boone’s tragic, manly backstory. Fun fact: This is also actress Malin Akerman’s (The Watchmen) first role. She plays the avatar on Judson Corr’s computer.
Earth 2 (1994)
In a future where most humans have high-tailed it off of Earth to live on space stations, billionaire Devon Adair’s son is sick with “the syndrome.” In an effort to save his life, Devon launches a settlement expedition to Earth 2. She brings Clancy Brown, Rebecca Gayheart, Antonio Sabato Jr, and some other people who are likely to die a slow and miserable death on an alien planet. Sadly, this show only lasted one 22-episode season, but it still managed to tell a riveting story featuring political conspiracy, TV’s first female commander, and an alien race whose saliva cures almost any disease. Something for everyone.
Where to watch: Watch Earth 2 on DVD.
Best episode: Season 1, Episode 3 (“Life Lessons”)
Episode that will get you hooked: Given that this show only aired one season, it’s worth watching from the very beginning — and the show’s pilot episode is a lot of fun. It involves a nerve-wracking space station escape, a crash landing, and that iconic science fiction trope moment when space station dwellers first breathe fresh air. (See also: The 100.)
In the Flesh (2013-2014)
This character-driven zombie drama may have only ended last year after two short seasons, but its untimely cancellation by BBC Three implies that not nearly enough people have watched it. Zombie narratives have enjoyed a heyday in recent years, but arguably no other TV show has managed to capture the heart and heartbreak of In the Flesh. The show follows Kieren, a sensitive, introspective young man who also happens to be a zombie (in government speak: partially-deceased syndrome sufferer). Though Kieran may have killed (and eaten) people in his untreated state, he is now fully medicated and ready to return to his hometown in rural northern England. In the Flesh uses zombie-ism as a metaphor for many an oppressed minority in a nuanced portrayal of the dangers of bigotry.
Where to watch: In the Flesh is available to stream on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Xbox. It is also available on DVD.
Best episode: Season 2, Episode 4
Episode that will get you hooked: You will be on the edge of your seat by the end of In the Flesh’s pilot episode. Guaranteed. And, given that there are only nine episodes total of this near-perfect show, you will not want to miss a highly-serialized, character-driven minute of it.
Before Outlander took the TV world by storm, there was Journeyman — a sci-fi romance drama about a San Francisco-based reporter who accidentally falls through time. OK, so maybe the two shows don’t have everything in common (there are no kilts on Journeyman), but both are great additions to the time travel genre. Journeyman not only had low ratings, but the misfortune of premiering in the year of the writers’ strike, which means the show only got 13 episodes. Still, it’s well worth a watch, as evidenced by the “Cancelled Too Soon” panel The ATX Television Festival is honoring Journeyman with this coming June — proof that, while this show may have only been on for one short season, it gained a loyal fan following. If you’re not already a part of it, you’re missing out.
Where to watch: Watch Journeyman on DVD.
Best episode: Season 1, Episode 13 (“Perfida”)
Episode that will get you hooked: Given that time travel narratives can get confusing, it’s best to start with Journeyman‘s pilot, which sees Dan seemingly randomly traveling back in time for the first time. Besides, with such a limited episode count (13 episodes), you’re going to want to start from the beginning and savor every second.
Real Humans/Äkta Människor (2012-)
This Swedish science fiction series may be getting an American adaptation set to air later this year on AMC, but that doesn’t mean you should skip its original Swedish incarnation. Set in a parallel present where every family has an android around the house for cooking, cleaning, company, etc., Real Humans follows two families’ relationship with their “hubots” in a complex, morally-confusing exploration of our relationship to technology. When some re-programmed hubots start developing feelings and agendas of their own, a quiet rebellion builds in this series that fills the void left by Caprica and Battlestar Galactica. The Swedish series has two seasons with a third supposedly on its way.
Where to watch: Real Humans is difficult to find in the U.S. It is available via region-coded DVDs in the U.K. and can be streamed through non-official channel elsewhere online.
Best episode: Season 1, Episode 10 (“The Code”)
Episode that will get you hooked: Real Humans is the best kind of science fiction show: the one that doesn’t hold your hand through the reveals of the alienness of its alternate reality. However, because of the faith Real Humans places in its audience, it’s necessary to start from the beginning to understand the rules and complex character dynamics of this show. Don’t worry — there’s a character who looks like Joan Jett to keep things interesting.
Life on Mars (2006-2007)
When Manchester police officer Sam Tyler is hit by a car, he inexplicably wakes up in the 1970s. Is he a) a time traveler, b) in a coma, or c) crazy? You’ll have to watch both superb seasons of Britain’s Life on Mars to find out. Unlike its American adaptation, this original series manages to balance the police procedural with the personal drama in both hilarious and heartbreaking ways. Solid character work paired with killer performances ensure that Life on Mars never falls into gimmick territory, instead keeping the point-of-view so thoroughly on Sam’s experience that the viewer feels trapped on this ride with him.
Where to watch: You can stream Life on Mars on Amazon, Xbox, Hulu, Vudu, or iTunes. It is also available on DVD.
Best episode: Season 1, Episode 8
Episode that will get you hooked: Who would want to skip the first episode, which features Sam’s David Bowie-themed jump back in time? The answer to this question should be: no one. It is the pilot that really cements the relationship between the viewer and Sam. We are thrown back in time unexpectedly and forced to orient to an entirely new timescape with Sam. Without that initial peak into Sam’s modern-day life, this show would not be the same.
Seven Days (1998-2001)
Seven Days imagines a less-common, very specific implementation of time travel: What if you could only jump back in time seven days? This is the capability of Project Backstep, an NSA time travel program developed from alien technology found in Roswell (because of course). The project recruits Frank Parker, an ex-CIA operative who has spent recent years in a mental health facility following his time as a prisoner-of-war. Seven Days hits on all of your basic national phobias: Ebola outbreaks, terrorist attacks on the White House, and Russian doppelgangers. This pre-9/11 show is both very much of its time and oddly prescient.
Where to watch: Seven Days is available to watch on DVD.
Best episode: Season 1, Episode 16 (“There’s Something About Olga”)
Episode that will get you hooked: What’s better than one Frank Parker? Two Frank Parkers! This show’s credit sequence gives you everything you need to know, so start with Season 1’s mid-season two-parter “The Doppelganger Part I” and “Doppelganger Part II” to see just how much fun Seven Days can be. When Frank goes back in time to stop an(other) international crisis, he faces off against his evil twin.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009)
Before she was taking out perceived threats to her child as Cersei on Game of Thrones, Lena Headey was taking out perceived threats to her child as the eponymous character on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. (She plays Sarah Connor, not a Terminator.) This show has everything you could want from a TV show: the aforementioned Lena Headey, Summer Glau as a good guy killing machine, and a Bear McCreary soundtrack. Oh, also it is one of the best examples of character-driven science fiction television of the last 15 years. Though it was cancelled after two seasons, it manages to get a heck of a lot of storytelling into its 31 episodes and never without losing sight of its badass female protagonist. We can only hope the new Terminator film (starring Headey’s GoT co-star, Emila Clarke) aspires to such greatness.
Where to watch: The Sarah Connor Chronicles are available to stream on Amazon, Xbox, and iTunes. The series is also available on DVD.
Best episode: Season 2, Episode 1 (“Samson and Delilah”)
Episode that will get you hooked: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (cleverly) doesn’t waste time trying to explain the plots of Terminators 1 and 2 to you, but the pilot does orient viewers somewhat within the larger Terminator franchise, asking questions you never thought to ask about what Sarah and John have been up to since Arnold descended into that molten metal. The pilot also features one heck of a game-changer in its final moments that you will not want to miss.
Farscape’s John Crichton is just another human astronaut trying to test out his latest scientific theory when he accidentally slingshots himself through a wormhole and to the other side of the galaxy. Last year, movie-goers fell in love with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, another story about a strapping blonde hero who finds himself plucked from Earth and transported to an alien war on the other side of the universe, but Farscape arguably did it better. Part of this is due to the limitation of the film form as compared to the television form, but, whatever your personal stance in the great TV vs. film debate, any show that can make Muppets not only watchable, but nuanced, flawed characters is worth watching. If you dug Guardians of the Galaxy, but you have always been turned off my the whole Muppet thing, do yourself a favor and give Farscape a chance.
Where to watch: Farscape is available to stream online on Amazon, Hulu, and iTunes. You can watch it on TV on Pivot.
Best episodes: Season 2, Episode 5 (“The Way We Weren’t”) and Season 2, Episode 22 (“Die Me, Dichotomy”)
Episode that will get you hooked: How far would you go to return home? Farscape‘s Season 1, Episode 9 (“DNA Mad Scientist”) asks this of its characters, to unsettling results. This is the first episode that really hammers home the point that, while these characters may be protagonists, they are not all heroes.
What science fiction show(s) do you think deserve more love? Share your suggestions in the comments below!