Fall 2014 US Sci-Fi TV Schedule: Adult Sci-fi And Fantasy Fans Spoiled For Choice This Season
by Phil Plumpton
Warning, this article contains one or two spoilers (if you’ve been hiding under a rock and still haven’t watched some of the “classic” sci-fi TV shows of the last few decades, that is).
On the other hand, it also contains an insight into what’s in store in the world of TV sci-fi this season, and more than a little bitching about the sci-fi we’ve been served up in the last 10 years or so.
After years of poor quality saturation of the sci-fi and fantasy genres on TV, this season promises greater numbers of “watchable” geeky shows than ever before.
While many of the series’ synopses may seem familiar, the actual finished products are raising the bar, finally making the future of sci-fi and fantasy look bright.
Before I discuss the new arrivals (and the new seasons from old favourites), a quick word about how I’ve felt as a sci-fi and fantasy fan, for the last decade or so.
The last generation of sci-fi and fantasy was disturbingly hit-and-miss for me.
From the pseudo-scientific jibberish of the likes of Fringe and Lost, the “God Did It” slap-in-the-face endings to previously-loved and supposedly sci-fi shows like Battlestar Galactica and again, Lost, to the habit of creating an excess of new shows and movies about topics that are only popular because of there was a current show or movie about the subject matter that was highly rated by viewers, knowledgable sci-fi fans have been seemingly punished for years with substandard hacks in charge of the sci-fi output.
It’s like somewhere in the world there’s a think tank; a group of ex-business students analysing data from questionnaires given to sci-fi fans after the screening of a movie at a convention, asking what their favourite subject matter is…
“Zombies!” scream the fans of The Walking Dead; “Vampires!” scream the fans of True Blood; “Post-apocalyptic survival!” scream the fans of Jericho; “Aliens!” scream the fans of the V reboot, (while fans of the original miniseries cry into their facepalms), to be followed by seemingly endless reams of turgid new shows arriving, based on similar ideas.
Meanwhile, in a situation that echoes the music industry’s grab-copy-and-clone treatment of, well, EVERY non-mainstream genre that ever got popular beneath their radar, nobody seems to stop and ask why these shows were actually popular in the first place.
Newsflash, TV industry, IT’S NOT THE SUBJECT MATTER; STOP CLONING POPULAR TV SHOWS ALREADY!
Incidentally, this criticism goes further than just the main topic of the shows. The growing popularity of drama series with a soft (and sometimes not so soft) porn focus in shows like True Blood and Game Of Thrones has seemingly spun out of control, to the extent that I’m actually getting bored of seeing naked people on TV.
It seems like the writers have run out of plot ideas and are using sex to fill the gaps where we might have had actual story in the past. It’s getting tedious. Watching the otherwise-worth-watching Penny Dreadful recently, “Oh they’re at it again? OK I’ll make a cup of tea – maybe something important will actually be happening by the time I get back.”
It’s the “SFX porn” situation all over again, from the days of ID4 through to the Star Wars prequels, and even Avatar, Prometheus and the Star Trek reboots, when the emergence of realistic computer-generated graphics meant that movie makers no longer cared about whether the acting was wooden, the script unbelievable, the plot scientifically impossible or the ending utterly unsatisfying; as long as the special effects were shiny enough they just seemed to not care at all about anything else about the film.
Anyway, I digress. The idea of taking a very popular show and using aspects or concepts found therein to decide which other shows to air certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. When The X-Files arrived on TV, it caused such shockwaves due to nobody expecting a non-Star Trek-based untested sci-fi show to become as popular as it did. With the promise of all the video sales and merchandising that came with it, all of a sudden we had First Wave, Earth 2, Sliders, Space: Above And Beyond, Dark Skies, Earth: Final Conflict, Crime Traveller, Space Precinct, The Outer Limits reboot and scores of others, some of which had merits, granted, as TV channels desperately tried to tap into this previously-hidden market.
It became quite difficult to find the shows worth watching, as we were being bombarded with so many pretenders that just rehashed the same old ideas but with a substandard cast, substandard writers, substandard everything.
That era did produce some genuinely incredible shows that are worth rewatching over and over again, some of which have been often overlooked by newcomer sci-fi fans looking to the past for shows to watch, due to their first impressions of the special effects. Babylon 5 springs instantly to mind; the effects, by today’s standards, were atrocious, particularly at the start of season 1, but plot-wise it was unprecedented. The creator of the show had the full 5 seasons’ worth of plot written before they’d even shot a single episode – although the threat of cancellation followed by sudden renewal threw a spanner in the works, as season 5 of the original script had to be shoehorned into the end of season 4, followed by a completely new season needing to be written at short notice when the TV executives eventually changed their minds and gave them a season 5. Way to go, guys.
Another great example of a show that is worth looking past the makeup is Farscape; Jim Henson’s Muppet Show legacy was clearly visible in the main characters Rigel (a talking frog) and Pilot (a talking turtle-lobster hybrid), and many, myself included, found this offputting at a time when Star Trek was setting the bar for how aliens should look, and they set it HIGH.
That is not to say that the effects of Farscape were poor; anything but, however when you’ve been told what Klingons look like and act like already, Luxans can seem distractingly derivative at first glance. Oh, and “what, she’s a plant? We’re all of plant descent, how can she still be a plant when she has a functional digestive system?!”
Nowadays, Farscape is one of my favourite shows from the 90′s. Once I had a chance to sit through it from beginning to end, I couldn’t believe I’d missed out on it for so many years.
My heart leapt for joy when I heard the recent news that they were making a new movie based on the series.
With so many sci-fi and fantasy shows on TV over the last few years, for many of us it has been a case of “watch an episode or two, stop watching due to boredom or imminent cancellation”, but US-based sci-fi fans (and sci-fans around the world if all of these shows make it over the pond) are going to have to find time to squeeze in a huge number of shows this season, to distract them from mourning the passing of Revolution, The Tomorrow People, Almost Human and Intelligence, and take our minds off needing to wait until 2015 for more Helix, Penny Dreadful and yes, for many (sigh), Game Of Thrones.
In addition to brand new seasons of old favourites Supernatural and True Blood, and the hit-and-miss-but-maybe-they’ll-get-it-right-this-year Falling Skies, we also have continuations of the quite-new-but-popular Defiance and Under The Dome, and newcomers Dominion, Extant, The Last Ship, The Leftovers, The Lottery, and The Strain vying for control of our TVs. And of course, don’t forget the long-awaited return of Britain’s sci-fi legend, Doctor Who.
In alphabetical order…
In the not-too-distant future, the archangel Gabriel is waging war against mankind , following the disappearance of God. Fellow archangel Michael sides with humanity, holed-up in Vega, the fortified city that was once Las Vegas, against the “eight-balls”, which are Gabriel’s black-eyed lower angels – the “dogs of heaven”.
If this sounds familiar, that may be because it is a 25-years-later sequel to the 2010 movie “Legion”.
The effects are stunning, the scenery captivating, the plot twisted and the cast… well, Christopher Egan (Kings, Eragon, Resident Evil: Extinction, Home & Away), Tom Wisdom (300, Coronation Street), Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy, Uther Pendragon from Merlin, and “The Guy From Those Gold Blend Adverts In The Late 80′s And Early 90′s”), and the legend that is Alan Dale (Star Trek: Nemesis, 24, The West Wing, Neighbours, The X-Files and a hundred other shows you know him from).
The pilot is gripping. Let’s hope the rest of the series can follow such lofty beginnings!
Halle Berry (yes, that Halle Berry, the one with the book in Swordfish, you know the scene, guys) is an astronaut that arrives back on Earth after a 13-month solo mission on the space station Seraphim, inexplicably pregnant. To add to the confusion, she had previously believed herself to be infertile, and she sees dead people. Also, her husband has created an artificially-intelligent android “son”, Ethan.
It opened on CBS to massive numbers of viewers, and won the Critics Choice TV Award for “Most Exciting New Series” during the 2014 awards.
With Steven Speilberg as an Executive Producer, and being a product of Amblin Entertainment, the show was given a 13-episode straight-to-series order for the first season, completely bypassing the usual pilot stage of the process.
The Last Ship:
Post-apocalyptic drama, in which a virus has killed over 80% of the world’s population. A paleomicrobiologist (yes, you read that right), is trying to find a cure, aboard a US Navy guided missile destroyer that was stationed in the Arctic when the virus struck.
Arctic, virus, scientists, military… this is all sounding very Helix so far, but it’s ON A SHIP!
Already renewed for a 14-episode 2nd season once the current 10-episode first season is over, this novel-turned-TV-show is definitely worth checking out.
Oh, and did I mention that Adam Baldwin (the man they call Jayne in Firefly/Serenity, and the funny one that grunts a lot in Chuck) is in it?
Another familiar-sounding synopsis, and again it’s a show based on a novel (of the same name), but this show has a cast that would make Joss Whedon jealous.
Iconic actor/writer/director Peter Berg takes the director’s seat for the pilot and 2nd episode, and takes an executive producer’s role for the remainder.
The show stars Justin Theroux (Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire, Tropic Thunder and many more), Amy Brenneman (NYPD Blue, Heat, Daylight, Judging Amy, Private Practice), Christopher Ecclestone (Doctor Who, Shallow Grave, Let Him Have It, Gone In 60 Seconds, 28 Days Later and many more), Liv Tyler (I think her dad was in a band or something, oh and she was in Armageddon, the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and appeared in the dreams of many a young boy/man over the last decade or so), Emily Meade (My Soul To Take) and Michael Gaston (24, Rubicon, Terriers, Jericho, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Last Resort, Mad Men, Fringe, The Mentalist and many more).
With such an all-star cast, this show is a sure-fire hit in the making.
Created by Children Of Men author, Timothy J. Sexton, this Lifetime-housed show has a similar theme. Set in a dystopian future where humanity has become mysteriously infertile, scientists have developed a way to produce fertilised embryos, and so a lottery is held to determine which 100 women are to be allowed to give birth.
Supposedly, not everything is as it seems.
The pilot was screened in the US yesterday, and I’ve not seen it yet. This one could go either way, but it is being advertised as a “post-apocalyptic conspiracy thriller”, which when combined with Tim Sexton at the helm is enough for me… sign me up!
This time, though, it’s not just killing them… (The Last Ship)… it’s turning them into… (Helix)… VAMPIRES (oh, it is different?!)!!!!
As much as I’ve ragged on the concept, the pilot was gripping. It is a dark and atmospheric show based on a trilogy of novels of the same name.
Both the novel trilogy and the show itself were created by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Blade II, Hellboy I & II, and Pacific Rim) and Chuck Hogan (who also penned the novel that Ben Affleck’s The Town was based upon).
Del Toro pitched the idea as a series in 2006, but talks fell apart as the channel wanted him to make it as a comedy, whereas Del Toro wanted a more procedural feel to it. Eventually talked into making it into a novel, he enlisted the help of Hogan to cover the CSI-style technological side of things.
After the release of the first novel, TV and movie offers came in abundance, but Del Toro and Hogan decided that they should hold off until the novel trilogy was finished, so that the TV executives didn’t influence the plot of the novels.
Let’s see if the remaining episodes of the 13-part first season hold up to the lofty standards set by the pilot.
With so much choice this year, which of these shows are you most eager to see? Which of them have you seen that impressed you or disappointed you? Which shows are you disappointed at the cancellation of? Which ones are you most eagerly awaiting the return of?