The 411 Movies Top 5 03.15.13: Week 365 - Top 5 Genre TV Shows
Posted by Shawn S. Lealos on 03.15.2013
From The X-Files and Lost to The Twilight Zone, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica and more, the 411 writers count down their Top 5 sci-fi, horror and supernatural TV shows of all time!
Welcome to Week 365 of the Movie Zone Top 5. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.
The 411mania writers were given the following instructions: With The Walking Dead doing amazing numbers, lets look back over the history of genre TV and break down our Top 5 "horror, sci-fi, supernatural" TV shows of all time.
Honorable Mentions: Millenium, Torchwood, Super Force, Terra Nova, Battlestar Galactica (the original series), Quantum Leap, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
5. Knight Rider (original)/Jericho
Knight Rider is essentially an adventure show about a man (Michael Knight, as played by David Haselhoff) and his talking car KITT (the Knight Industries Two Thousand voiced by William Daniels) fighting bad guys and having adventures. Jericho is a show about people trying to figure out how to survive after a massive nuclear attack on the United States. Knight Rider lasted four seasons before it was cancelled, and Jericho was cancelled after one season then brought back after a massive fan campaign for a seven episode second season. Knight Rider continues to live on in reruns, where it's still incredibly watchable (it's probably not as science fictiony now as it was back in the early 1980's, as we have talking cars and and the idea of real world artificial intelligence isn't ridiculous), and Jericho lives on via DVD, a comic book, and a still vibrant fan community that's still trying to get the show back on the air (Netflix is still a possibility). They both endure despite not hanging around all that long.
4. The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead is in the middle of its third season at the moment with no signs of slowing down. It's a show chock full of great characters trying to survive through an absolutely horrendous situation: the end of the world. Zombies are everywhere. Civilization the world over has been wiped away. Danger and death lurk around every corner, and death is not the end. I seriously doubt that any network is going to duplicate the general nastiness of this show in the future. Someone may make a show as gory as The Walking Dead, but it won't be as good or as meaningful. It almost seems like this idea, as a TV show, can only be done once.
3. The X-Files
I was annoyed with The X-Files when it debuted back in 1993. It replaced Sightings on the Fox Friday night schedule, and I was a big Sightings fan. I watched The X-Files anyway, though, and enjoyed it for the most part. I really didn't get into it until it around the middle of season two, and when Fox moved the show to Sunday nights I became a bonafide The X-Files nerd. I couldn't get enough of it. Ghosts, UFOs, aliens, monsters and massive conspiracies, along with the relationship between FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). He was the big time believer, she was the skeptic scientist. They shouldn't have hit it off because they were so different. But they did. They were the best of friends. Soul mates even. The show started to lose steam towards the end as it didn't seem like the writers really knew where they wanted to go, but it was still watchable and fun and cool. The movies were good, too.
2. Star Trek (the original series)
The original Star Trek lasted only three seasons, but it still lives on forty plus years later. Why? People still respond to its characters. Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones McCoy, Scotty and the rest are the crew of the Enterprise, a spaceship that travels the universe on a five year mission to explore new planets and find new civilizations. You get caught up in their relationships and their arguments while they continue on with their mission. The show is also chock full of ideas and social commentary, like all good science fiction, that you can dig into or ignore (the show still works without "deep" thinking, although the show really is better if you start to think about what its saying). It'll never be able to live down its cheesy special effects and cheap look (the "enhanced" special effects recently added to episodes look cool but, to me, they don't add anything to the show), but then the show's ideas, its characters, and its premise are what will stick with you as you continue to watch it for decades on. You know you'll keep watching.
1. The Twilight Zone (the original series)
Still the best anthology show in the history of television, The Twilight Zone had the ability to be any kind of show with each new episode. It could be a sci-fi show one week, a horror show the following week, and half the fun was seeing what direction the latest episode was going to take. The only thing you were certain of, outside of show creator Rod Serling's hosting and narration, was that the show was going to make you think after watching it. That's what happened to me after watching every episode. Sure, I thought about some episodes more than others, but I still wondered quite a bit about what each episode was trying to say. The show has been rebooted twice, but they didn't work out as well as the original. I'm sure someone will want to try again in the future. They won't succeed, but they'll try.
Honorable Mentions: Angel, Babylon 5, Blake's 7, Dr. Who, The Outer Limits, Stargate: SG-1, Star Trek, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Twilight Zone, The X-Files
5. Star Trek: The Next Generation
For the purposes of only listing five, I decided to pick just one Star Trek. And with all due deference to Gene Roddenberry's original '60s classic, for me The Next Generation is the one I prefer and think is better. That's not to say TNG isn't flawed; even the show's most strident fans would admit there are some real clunkers sprinkled throughout the show's run. Then again, you could say that about any and all of the Star Trek series. TNG was the one I grew up with and Patrick Stewart as Jean Luc Picard was my captain. The effects were mostly a big step up from the original (led by the one and only Holodeck), the stories and themes were just a little more compelling (Picard being turned into one of the Borg, for starters), but what separated TNG was the cast. Led by Stewart, it was an extraordinary group of talented actors whose characters grew and were given life over seven seasons. Kirk and Spock are iconic for sure, but one could definitely argue that there has been no more important and fully realized character in the entire franchise than Brent Spiner's Data.
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
If Firefly was Joss Whedon's comet, burning bright and quick across the TV landscape, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was – and remains – his north star, that compass in the night sky which defines his career and the traits he possesses as a writer-director, while acting as a light for modern genre TV as a whole. There is so much that was and remains unique about Buffy that superfans can sometimes forget how truly revolutionary it was. Joss Whedon has made a career out of creating kick-ass heroines who can be both tough yet remain feminine, but Buffy Summers was different and Sarah Michelle Gellar, Joss and his writers went about proving it on a weekly – and yearly – basis. With its X-Files-meets-My So-Called Life style and its impressive core group of supporting characters – many of whom went on to become some of the most popular TV characters of their era – Buffy the Vampire Slayer delivered some of the best hours of television of the past quarter-century. It's one of the few shows which even casual fans can list their favorite/best episodes off the top of their head: "Surprise/Innocence," "Passion," "Becoming: Parts 1 and 2," "The Wish," "Graduation Day: Parts 1 and 2," "Hush," "Restless," "The Body," "The Gift," "Once More with Feeling," "Tabula Rasa," "Chosen" – and
I can't. I can't do a list without including Firefly. I know non-Browncoats are sick of it and I know it's an incredible stretch to place a show which only survived one season ahead of so many classics and foundations of genre television. But I can't not include it. I love and admire it too much. The dialogue, characters, world-building accomplished in 14 episodes (and a movie) is too good not to include. The fact that this little cult show, whose existence was mangled, botched and cut short by a demanding network that didn't know what it had has attained the level of recognition and fandom it has in the past decade is a testament to its quality. I and many Browncoats wonder what a four or five-season Firefly would have looked like, what it might have accomplished. I think it was well on its way to becoming the best science fiction show ever, but alas we'll never know. Instead, we'll have to settle for 14 of the best, most satisfying and entertaining hours in sci-fi TV history, and probably the closest thing we'll ever get to Hans Solo on TV.
I adore Farscape and I'm always marginally surprised when it's not higher on more peoples lists. Not only was it part of the last great wave of TV science fiction, but it had Jim Henson Studio puppets, one of the greatest TV villains ever (Scorpius) and featured what I would easily argue is one of the greatest romance/couples in TV history. More consistent than Babylon 5 and darker than any Star Trek series, Rockne S. O'Bannon's space adventure had superbly drawn characters, tight and tense action with some pretty good production design (Moya is one of sci-fi's great spaceships) and a central relationship between John Crichton and Aeryn Sun that added a layer of drama and depth few genre shows – or TV series in general – are able to achieve. Abruptly canceled after a fourth season that ended with a HUGE cliffhanger, there was a happy ending for Farscape and its fans as the producers were able to secure financing and the rights, allowing them to shoot one final miniseries Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars and give fans a satisfying conclusion to one of the truly great genre shows of the era. Plus...Claudia Black. The end.
1. Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
The perfect show at the perfect time, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica remains the best science fiction show ever and a prime example of the heights which science fiction can achieve as a genre when you take the material seriously. In a post-9/11 world, BSG gave TV viewers a wartime drama in space with heavy theological themes, extraordinary characters portrayed by award-winning actors and special effects that remain some of the best TV sci-fi has ever seen. BSG evolves with every passing season, and while some were turned off, it remained for many not just the best sci-fi show on TV, but the best show period. Featuring standout performances from Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Jamie Bamber, James Callis and a breakout turn from Katee Sackhoff as Kara "Starbuck" Thrace, BSG had a cast to envy. BSG provided the definitive take on how individuals, nations and institutions dealt with the end of all things and when humanity's very survival stands in the balance. So say we all!
As dense as this show eventually became, (What with alternate universes, timelines, plus a main character being wholly wiped from existence altogether only to re-manifest) what seemingly began as a X-Files rip-off made a case in its own right of being something else entirely.
Also helps in that regard is that one of the main characters regularly dosed himself with powerful drugs and would be tripping his ass off in any given episode. (When we were allowed into that window, it was AWESOME!)
But for all the grand schemes and multi-layered storytelling laid out, at its core, Fringe was a tale of familial love, and the lengths one will go to preserve and protect that institution. Pretty nifty that such a high concept sci-fi show would have that basic human attribute as its purist basis.
4. Star Trek-The Next Generation
Don't get me wrong, I loved the original Star Trek when I was a kid for its willingness to use the sci-fi concept to examine the human condition, with the ending of any given episode attributed to brains more likely than brawn, (although it couldn't help but to go there from time to time with a Cowboy as Captain) but TNG perfected it. Plus, better actors, (C'mon, Shatner was a cheesy hack) better production, and a better ensemble of characters to work off of. Sure, the original cast is truly iconic in its own right (hence the big screen reboot) but I'll take Data over Spock. That's just me.
Yes they are two separate shows, but are in the same universe, so I'm lumping them together here. And they are both in their own right awesome for differing reasons. While Buffy always tried to set its best foot forward, no matter how bleak the stakes, Angel always remained dark and brooding in comparison. With Joss Whedon at the helm of both, what we got as a result was more or less, consistently entertaining and always engaging.
2. The X-Files
Holy crap, when this show was in its prime? It was truly great. Mixing standalone monster of the week episodes with the overriding UFO/ shady government conspiracy theory mythology, it had some great moments. Who can forget Flukeman? Duane Berry? Jose Chung? Or that creepy backwoods incestuous clan?
Yes, it overstayed its welcome by at least a season or two, and its finale was a bit of disappointment, but when it was truly working? It was some good stuff.
Of course I'm putting this as my number one. I only spent the better part of four years of my life recapping and detailing the ins and outs of each episode weekly for this very same website. You can't just casually do that if A) you're only marginally interested in the show, or B) the show outright sucked. Which for the record it didn't. It was quite awesome up until they bungled the endgame.
Look, I get all the bad feelings surrounding the lame ending and how they screwed the pooch in regards to the final season, as well as the misconception that everyone was dead in the first place. But it was a great, fun ride while it lasted, and my overwhelming fandom thereof is what got me hired on to 411 in the first place.
Plus, we got to know and love some great characters along the way. This show is indicative of the notion "It's not the destination, but the journey that matters."
Shawn S. Lealos
I ran out of time, but here was what my list was going to be: