A Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Television (Part 2)
I’ve finally caught up with enough television shows to make a second part to this series. If you missed it, you can read Part 1 here. I recommend it as it includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, and Legend of the Seeker, three shows I make reference to below.
Description: The humans created the Cylons, a group of highly intelligent robots, to help in their daily lives. However, like any good Sci Fi, those robots eventually figure out they don’t need humans. The solution is to blast the Cylons off into space and hope we never hear from them again. But, just in case, we established a watch post where Cylons could meet with humans peacefully should they ever wish to communicate. Turns out they don’t have any interest in peace. And their full scale assault soon re-commissions the aging ship ‘Battlestar Galactica’, leaving it the only thing that stands between the Cylons and the total destruction of the human race.
Why you should watch it: I never saw the original Battlestar Galactica television show, so I had no prior knowledge of the series when I started this one. However I was pleasantly surprised by how gritty and realistic it was. It deals with a lot of the harsher issues that would result from the near extinction of the human race, and really gives the feeling of utter desperation as our main cast stays on the run and deals with inner conflicts. My favorite character is unquestionably Admiral Adama, played by Edward James Olmos. The guy just commands your attention and pulls off the role of an experienced starship captain very well. If you’re a fan of science fiction, then this one shouldn’t be passed up.
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
Description: Set during a time of Greek myth, we follow the adventures of the famous Hercules. The premise of the show is set in motion when Hera, the mother of the gods, sends minions to murder Hercules’s wife and children at which point he swears to thwart Hera and any other gods, for as long as he is able. As he saves innocent lives, Hercules is joined by a colorful cast of characters that serve reoccurring roles and enrich the series as a whole.
Why you should watch it: Hercules never really stood out to me in the realm of Greek myth. Yeah he was pretty famous, but maybe that’s why I didn’t like him. I’m more interested in the lesser known heroes. So I never gave much thought to this show: it had always seemed cheesy to me. However when I fell in love with Legend of the Seeker, a newer show by the same creators of Hercules, I decided to go back and give their older shows a try. The special effects, and sometimes the acting, in Hercules can get cheesy from time to time, however what I found was a very rewarding tale of a man fighting against impossible villains (the gods) just to make the world a better place. It reminds me of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville, where in a central hero goes from crisis to crisis, saving his (or her) friends. Hercules definitely travels around a lot more, and the show looks less like Greek myth than it does modern fantasy, but it all adds up to a very satisfying and often surprising show.
Xena: Warrior Princess
Description: Once a villain, hell-bent on controlling as many cities as she could conquer, Xena has seen the error of her ways and is now paying the price for a life of fear and violence. Few give her their trust, even after she saves them, and she is joined only by a young woman named Gabrielle, determined to make her own path. Together they must travel the world, fighting against Xena’s old nemesis and making the world safer for the people she used to conquer.
Why you should watch it: Though Xena is a spin-off of Hercules, the shows are definitely separate entities. What interests me most about Xena is that she is a villain-turned-hero. Which gives her an added level of dimension that a once-and-always hero doesn’t have. Will she ever be tempted to evil again? Will her old brutal nature make her a more formidable hero? All of these questions play on your mind and it is interesting to see her character arc, as well as the arc of her sidekick Gabrielle.
Description: With the invention of synthetic blood, vampires have emerged from the shadows and revealed their existence to humans. Those who wish to be civil, drink this synthetic blood, called ‘Tru Blood’ while a great many more vampires are simply continuing their evil ways in full view of the public. The show focuses primarily on Sookie Stackhouse, a young waitress with the unusual ability to read people’s minds, and a dark brooding vampire named Bill Compton. These two find an instant attraction and their relationship quickly erupts intrigue and controversy in their small Louisiana town. Underlining all of this is a murderer targeting a very specific type of woman.
Why you should watch it: The more I watch True Blood, the more I’m reminded of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I included in my first Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Television. A lot of the same concepts are re-used here, and while this doesn’t bother me, it does bother me that some fans of this show don’t credit Buffy with the respect that it deserves. See, True Blood is on HBO and adopts a more serious tone, along with graphic violence and nudity. So it is reaching a slightly different audience than Buffy did, an audience that is used to Dexter and the Sopranos. While I’m happy that fantasy/sci fi shows are branching out, let’s not forget the pioneers of the genre. Anyway, that rant aside, True Blood is a really good show. It manages to hold your attention from beginning to end and always leaves you wanting more. I do find that the side characters are more interesting than Sookie and Bill, but since they get a nearly equal amount of face time, it isn’t a problem. Highly recommended.
Description: Fourteen year old Danny Fenton finds himself trapped in his parents malfunctioning ghost portal, the result of which is superhuman, or ghost-human, powers. In the process of getting these powers, the ghost portal has been opened and the bridge between the living and the dead is now open. As the only living being capable of stopping them, Danny must now adopt the superhero’s cause and stop the ghosts coming through.
Why you should watch it: As I was writing that description I was trying desperately not to start singing the theme song of the show (which describes everything I said above). But anyway, this show was made by the same team that created the Fairly Odd Parents, so from the get go; don’t expect to take it too seriously. It’s a kids show but it’s also a lot of fun. The thing I liked most about it was that it was a brand new super hero. It wasn’t a new version of an old hero, or a hero with only one ability. Danny Phantom is a full blown super hero, complete with costume, emblem, multiple ghost-related powers, and a dual identity that he struggles to maintain. It’s a fresh look at a genre that has been done to death (that wasn’t meant to be a pun, but I guess it is one).
Description: Set in modern day suburbia, we follow a group of people entrenched in playing a massively multiplayer online role playing game. They are all connected by an online guild, though they haven’t yet met in real life. When they do, you can be sure that the results are humorous and peppered with online gaming references.
Why you should watch it: The Guild gets the distinction of being my first recommendation that is an online web series. While the characters are based in the real world, and therefore it does not involve a fantasy or sci fi element, it has more nerd references than I know what to do with. If you’ve ever played an MMO you’ll find something to love about this show, and the Guild’s solutions to problems often involve adapting gameplay strategies to the real world, (raid bosses anyone?).
Description:From the mind of Joss Whedon comes a science fiction show with a truly unique concept. An organization exists with blank people (dolls) that can be uploaded with any personality or set of skills to be rented out to the highest bidder. Why would someone rent these people? Well, say you need the world’s best negotiator, or thief, or lover. Any one can be programmed and sent out on assignment. The moral dilemma is a constant presence in this show, along with the mystery of Echo; a newly instated doll who is starting to remember too much of her previous assignments.
Why you should watch it:Like with any good Joss Whedon show, Dollhouse got canceled early on. It made it through two seasons before Fox pulled the plug. However, in that time the crew was able to pull off some pretty cool and thought provoking episodes. Unfortunately, when they got word they were being canceled, they tried to wrap everything up before the end of the second season. This resulted in one of the clumsiest series finales I’ve ever seen. In fact, at the halfway point of the second season the show starts to take a dive, but I still think its worth watching for the gems that appeared throughout.
Description: ‘Save the cheerleader, save the world’, was the tagline for this superhero drama. While most heroes (people with a special ability) prefer to remain in hiding, others are making themselves known and a mysterious character named Sylar is murdering their kind in a bid to have as many powers for himself as possible. The cheerleader is the key and people from all over the world must come together to prevent a nuclear explosion from going off in the heart of New York city.
Why you should watch it: I’m sad to say that I lost track of Heroes after the writer’s strike. I watched the entire first season and the second season, which was cut short, but after that I wasn’t able to catch up. However I hope to get a chance now that the later seasons are available on DVD. The show had a nice cast of characters and good special effects. Be warned, however, from what I’ve heard the show got canceled without a resolution.
Description: After a plane crashes near a remote island, a full cast of survivors must learn to live their lives together. However shortly after their arrival, they realize something isn’t right about the island, including a creature lurking in the forest and a mysterious French woman that had already been on the island. Told primarily through flashbacks, this show slowly unravels each character’s storyline and how it effects their current situation.
Why you should watch it: Okay, I know what you’re thinking. How could I possibly recommend Lost? After all the confusing and convoluted storylines, how can we forgive the writer’s of this show? Well, I didn’t hate Lost as much as some people, though I admit to not having seen all of it either. I saw the first two seasons in full and a good part of the third, as well as the series finale. So yeah, I missed a lot. But the show had some truly great moments, and despite how weird it got, I still remember it fondly. If you’ve never seen it at least give the first season a try.
Description: Sam and Dean didn’t have a normal childhood. After their mother was murdered by a supernatural entity, their father made it his life’s work to combat the unseen forces of evil. Part of that journey was to train both of his sons in supernatural combat. Fast forward to the future and Sam is trying to make a normal life for himself in college while Dean shows up with disturbing news that their father has gone missing. Without any options left the two go in search of their father, fighting every folklore monster they can along the way.
Why you should watch it: Supernatural is an interesting show. It doesn’t have a large cast and the two main characters aren’t superheroes, but it is quite clear that they’re the only ones that can help these people who are terrorized by the unknown. Where the show excels is its ability to create suspense and fear in the viewer. Rarely has a television show been able to get me on edge as much as a horror movie, but this show gives them all a run for their money, and illustrates how the small screen can be scary too.