We are in the middle of a golden age of science fiction TV. With shows like Stranger Things and Westworld becoming part of the cultural zeitgeist.
So, we thought it was time to release our list of the greatest TV shows of all time. As with our previous best-of lists (movies and books) we haven’t included classics that have dated. These are all shows you should watch today.
The trippiest TV show since Twin Peaks. Legion re-imagined the superhero genre into something fantastical. Legion is a special show that’s inspired a loyal fan-base.
Legion tells the story of David Haller, who we first meet as a ex-junkie in a mental institution. The plot is as linear as a maze and the viewer is never sure if what they are seeing is ‘real’.
Legion has redefined what a TV show could be like. Never-mind having an unreliable narrator, Legion has an unreliable narrative. It’s also a great example of visual storytelling, using the images on the screen to evoke emotion rather than just to aid the plot.
Is it a bit pretentious? Absolutely. But it’s also the most innovative show on TV.
Deep Space Nine
Ignore the first two seasons. From the third season onwards Deep Space Nine is one of the most consistently good episodic science fiction TV shows ever.
No other Trek show goes into as much depth as Deep Space Nine. Issues like PTSD are discussed unflinchingly and characters go through genuine growth.
Even if you are not into Star Trek, Deep Space Nine is worth watching.
There are more ‘Dwarfers’ in the world than you might think. Just drop a reference and you’d be surprised how many people around you will have a chuckle.
That’s because Red Dwarf is one of the most influential science fiction TV shows ever. Yet, for some reason, no-one talks about it.
Created with a low budget and a small crew. Red Dwarf got by on the humour and chemistry of its cast. Most of the time the laughs just coming from the crew members playing off each other.
Westworld turned a rather dated film, and novel, into a groundbreaking tv show. A recurring motif of the first series was the idea of ‘the maze’. This was fitting as the show took the viewer on a disorientating journey as they tried to piece together the whole plot from fragments of clues the show dropped.
Few TV shows have had this level of mainstream success while asking so much of its viewers intelligence. Westworld was not a show that talked down to audience, or made it easy for them to put all of the pieces together. The viewer was expected to pay attention and earn their reward.
Farscape has been described as an American’s journey through the Australian S&M scene. And it’s easy to see why. There is a lot of leather involved, as well as some very cheap sets. It’s also completely awesome and low budget science fiction at its vest.
Farscape follows astronaut John Crichton after he gets flung through space and ends up in a crew of misfits on a ship (A LIVING SHIP!). Although it never received main-stream attention, it’s sheer inventiveness earned it a passionate following and a place on this list.
It didn’t last long. But it certainly left a mark. Few shows inspire such fan loyalty as Joss Wheadon’s space western.
In a few short epsiodes the crew develops a chemistry rarely seen on the small screen. We get to see relationships develop and deepen as we learn more about the crew. Making Firefly one of the most charming shows in science fiction history.
If you don’t enjoy it, you may not have a soul.
One of the true ‘event’ series of the 2010s. Stranger Things brought back the memories of the 80s and 80s movies in loving detail.
A group of young boys growing up in Hawkins, Indiana, get drawn into a creepy mystery when one of their friends goes missing. Meanwhile a girl with strange powers is on the run from a shadowy government organisation.
A coming of age of story that got the whole world talking. Stranger Views really has been must watch tv.
It also had some epic music.
The science fiction show that makes Farscape look tame. Lexx may have been made on the cheap, but it was made with love.
Lexx is an organic ship, crewed by the coward Stanley Tweedle, freed love slave Zev, an undead/vampiric assassin Kai and a sex obsessed robot head.
It’s also way stranger than that synopsis made it sound, if you can believe it.
For a while, in the 90’s, the X-Files was probably the most talked about show on TV. With the Mulder-Scully ‘will they – won’t they dynamic’ being a sort of sci-fi Ross and Rachael, before Ross and Rachael were even on air.
There were two sides to the X-Files: monster of the week episodes and arc episodes that dealt with aliens. Some people prefer the former and some the latter. What everyone must agree with is that the X-Files helped bring science fiction into mainstream TV in a way few shows had managed at this time.
Alongside the spookiness, and the awesome theme tune, the X-Files had a sly sense of humour that helped carry the show though it’s many seasons. While the later seasons may disappoint, they are still worth watching.
Star Trek: Original Series
It’s impossible to have a list of the greatest science fiction TV shows and not include the original Star Trek. While it’s become hard to look past the many parodies of the show, it’s could surprise you how well most of the original episodes stand up to the test of time.
The cast has chemistry, Shatner actually makes a good leading man when he’s not going full ham and the plots are well written.
Despite it’s age, there is a reason it started the Star Trek universe.
Star Trek Discovery
Star Trek gets the full Netflix treatment, and it works. It updates the look and feel of the original show and gets rid of some it’s twee Rodenberryisms.
That said, it’s still clearly still a Star Trek show, even with its new Klingons. The episodes follow familiar Star Trek patterns and the plot even incorporates the mirror universe. The aesthetic has been updated but is still distinctly Trek.
Perhaps it’s most impressive feat was realising that key to any Trek show is the chemistry between the crew-mates.
No list of great science fiction TV shows could be complete without Doctor Who. True, it’s been somewhat hit and miss over the years. And certain series and episodes have clearly dated. But it deserves it’s place in this list for the joy it’s given so many people.
If you are jumping in for the first time, we’d suggest starting with the Eccelestone Doctor. The Russel T Davies years may have been campy, but they captured the charm of the Doctor while updating it for a modern audience.
Futurama is the science fiction and geeky cousin to the Simpsons. Both deal with lovable losers of limited intelligence and both are filled with a varied and hilarious side characters.
Yet Futurama is the more intelligent show. It plays with science fiction tropes inventively and it’s full of jokes that appear to be aimed at the PHD community.
At it’s heart, however, its still a damn funny cartoon.
While technically this may be more fantasy than science fiction, it deserves it’s place on this list by virtue of being brilliant.
This re-imagining of Neil Gaiman’s work is a huge ensemble piece held together by the performances of its core cast and some spellbinding cinematography.
As the title suggests, the show introduces the readers to the gods that live in America. In doing so it shines a light on the conflict between old beliefs and the modern world. Sucking the viewer into a conspiracy of gods.
The show is made mesmerising by the cinematography, which makes this surreal world hyper real.
Rick and Morty
A dark and drunken cross between Futurama and Doctor Who, Rick and Morty has made itself a cult show in just three seasons.
The adventures of the alcoholic genius Rick, and his much less genius cousin Morty, are completely bizarre, very quotable and insanely funny. If you don’t enjoy this show there may be something wrong with you.
It’s a bleak comedy for those who love their science fiction. Achingly meta, It’s weriedness could only have come from the mind of Dan Harmon.
Often pitched as the more adult version of Doctor Who, which basically means that everyone was shagging everyone, Torchwood managed to the Doctor Who world and carve out its own niche.
John Barrowman plays Captain Jack Harkness, an effectively immortal alien with a hyperactive sex drive. He leads a team of troubled individuals with particular skills. While the plot is driven by various alien plots, the drama is driven by the inter-team dynamics and some cheeky British humour.
Warehouse 13 should really have been forgettable episode science fiction. It had a shaky premise (important artefacts throughout history become magical or something) and some pretty ropey CGI.
Instead it carved itself a small but devoted following. Largely through it’s overall charm, but also because of the relationship between it’s leads Myka Bering and Pete Lattimer. Their brother/sister like relationship seeming more real than any forced will-they-won’t-they scenario and giving the show an emotional core.
A brutal intro the New York chapter of the MCU. Daredevil announced the Netflix-Marvel collaboration as different from the rest of the superhero world.
Daredevil showed how superheros would impact on and interact with us normal people. They’re amazing, but they have relationship and money worries like the rest of us.
Daredevil has some amazing abilities, but he still takes one hell of a beating. He is also torn over how his role as vigilante conflicts with his moral code.
All of this toughness, this visceral emotion and raw aggression is best summed up by this one scene: the corridor fight.
You could make a strong argument for the first series of Jessica Jones being the best installment in the MCU.
It was dark and gritty, yet not gratuitously so. The characters all acted like adults, if somewhat damaged ones. The first season dealt with issues of abuse, recovery and friendship. It also had the excellent David Tennant play the antagonist Killgrave. With Tennant’s Killgrave appearing spoiled, charming and dangerous in every scene.
The second show was still better than almost every other superhero show ever made, even if it didn’t quite live up to the standards set by the first series.
The star of the show is, of course, Kyrsten Ritter. Ritter brings out the brawling, bitter elements of Jessica’s character. Grounding her smart-ass tendencies in tragedy as well as alcoholism. Overall, it’s one of the most powerful performances in the entire Marvel Universe.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
S.H.I.E.L.D is the warm and fuzzy centre of the MCU. It is also remarkably consistent. True, the show seems gets weirder and weirder every series, but it does so in a glorious way. With each series managing to entertain as it develops the Marvel Universe and its characters.
S.H.I.E.L.D meets the strangeness of the Marvel Universe head on, often laughing at its absurdities. The plot-lines are also skilfully interwoven into the main story arch of the MCU. Augmenting the movies without diminishing the show itself.
The first series of Heroes would guarentee it a place on this list, but it went badly of the rails after that.
The Punisher is great TV, but I’m not sure it’s actually science fiction.
I’m a huge fan of The Librarians, but it’s fantasy rather than science fiction.
Dark Matter and Stargate were both cool, but both lack the wow factor for this list.