Top 10 Unsung Science Fiction TV Classics

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Click to viewSome of the greatest science fiction TV shows of all time have vanished, almost without a trace. They don't get DVDs or listed in articles on the "Top 50 Science Fiction Shows Of All Time." Despite achieving true greatness, they don't even get as much praise or critical attention as Alf. Here's our countdown of the ten greatest unappreciated masterpieces of science fiction television.

We're focusing on really unsung series here, which means the list doesn't include shows like Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Blake's 7, which get plenty of love. Also, we're not including any shows currently on the air, on the theory that they could still get more love.

10. Space Island One (1998)

Why it's unsung: This German/Canadian co-production isn't out on DVD, and all of the websites about it have been down for a few years. There aren't even any clips on YouTube.

Why it rules: This is one of the most hard-science-focused SF shows. The crew of a corporate-funded space station mostly deals with scientifically plausible problems (with a couple of exceptions) and the stories focus on the ethical problems that come with profit-focused science. Yes, some episodes are a tad slow-moving, but the best dozen eps feature high drama and high weirdness. Sample plot lines: a lonely old NASA astronaut spends thousands of dollars calling 900 sex lines from the space station. The station gets the world's last sample of smallpox for safe-keeping, and the crew debates whether to destroy it.


9. Star Cops (1987)

Why it's unsung: This show about a police squad in the "Wild West" of space stations and moonbases suffered from a cheesy title and a ridiculous ELO-esque theme tune. (Which I've sort of gotten to love, for some dumb reason.)

Why it rules: Series creator Chris Boucher wrote some of the best episodes of the original Doctor Who, and then masterminded the scripts for Blake's 7. Several Star Cops episodes feature tons of Boucher's trademark razor-sharp dialog, plus the show fumbles towards a space-noir aesthetic, with the cop squad including a bribe-taker and a thuggish slob.

8. Surface (2005-2006)

Why it's unsung: Cancelled after just one season, this show about undersea intrigue failed to rope in the kind of audiences who were devouring Lost's tangled mysteries.

Why it rules: Dude, it had sea monsters! And there was a government coverup! And we had a strong female character — a scientist, even — investigating the emergence of a new and potentially world-ending form of sea life. And we never got to learn what was really going.


7. Odyssey 5 (2002)

Why it's unsung: This Canadian show about space shuttle astronauts who witness the destruction of Earth never got enough publicity during its initial U.S. run on Showtime. It felt like an attempt to do a mature extended-cable show like Big Love, only with a science fiction premise, and it failed to reach either audience. Showtime didn't even bother to show all of the first season, until 2004.

Why it rules: The main characters are all well-rounded and flawed. And the show's set-up, in which an alien sends their consciousnesses back in time five years to try and avert the world's destruction, generates tons of potential. The show is appearing intermittently on Sci Fi, and it's worth catching despite the inconclusive ending. The show was created by Manny Coto, who went on to mastermind the final season of Star Trek: Enterprise.


6. Journeyman (2007)

Why it's unsung: The first few weeks this time-travel show was on, its nickname was: "Gah, post-Heroes buzzkill!" The drama of Kevin McKidd struggling to hold onto his job and his marriage, while he kept slipping into the past, just felt a bit too draggy. But then something funny happened: Heroes started being the pain we endured to get to the reward of Journeyman.

Why it rules: The mystery of why Dan Vasser is traveling in time gets more intriguing, once a weird physicist starts spouting about wormholes. And all of the characters get more nicely complex as the show goes along. Most of all, though, all of Dan's meddling in the timestream has consequences he can't predict — and they only pile up more alarmingly over time.


5. Lexx (1997-2002)

Why it's unsung: At least in the U.S., this Canadian show never quite crossed over and gained a broader audience.

Why it rules: Just the fact that they're in a planet-eating bug ship is good enough for me. Not to mention the weird robot head with the love-slave programming implanted in it, while the cluster lizard/slavegirl who was supposed to get the programming runs free. It's a weirdly campy show, but actually has moments of genuine greatness.


4. Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974)

Why it's unsung: I know: How can a Star Trek series be unsung? But this one really is. It only recently got a DVD release, and people often skip over it in discussing Trek lore.

Why it rules: Thanks to a writer's strike that didn't apply to animation, the show managed to get some decent science fiction writers to contribute scripts, including Larry Niven and Larry Brody, plus original series veterans like David Gerrold and D.C. Fontana. The episodes are pretty fast-paced, thanks to their 22-minute runtimes, but that doesn't stop them dealing with ambitious ideas like antimatter universes, an "ultimate weapon" and time paradoxes.

3. Farscape (1999-2004)

Why it's unsung: Even for a Sci Fi Channel series whose name doesn't rhyme with "cattle car," Farscape flew under the radar. The muppet-esque Henson animatronic character probably made a lot of people think it was a kids' show.

Why it rules:Farscape had smart writing, good science and believable aliens — plus, it featured Scorpius as a villain Crichton's head long before BSG ever did the head-villain thing. Plus, we love the Moya, the living ship that Crichton finds himself on. The Sci Fi Channel is supposedly going to make 10 webisodes, but their status is uncertain.


2. Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (1993-1994)

Why it's unsung: This sci-fi Western ran in the "Friday night death slot," and breathed its last after only one season. Like many of the shows on this list, it has a cult following, but seldom gets much props as a science fiction show. And star Bruce Campbell in general deserves way more accolades than he ever gets.

Why it rules: It smudged genre lines with total abandon, and you never knew what sort of crazy gadgets would turn up, from an otherworldly superpowered orb to the Mobile Battle Wagon and the Amazing Rocket Car. Co-creator Carlton Cuse now works on Lost.


1. Max Headroom (1987-1988)

Why it's unsung: It's still not out on DVD, except for an out-of-print DVD of the original UK TV movie. The show has a cult following, but not as much as it deserves.

Why it rules: This cyberpunk show was prophetic in so many ways — TV ads feel so geared to short attention spans and DVR-skipping, they might as well be "blipverts." — and paranoia and corporate dystopias have seldom been so entertaining.