Last year about this time I ran a piece pondering whether I wanted to tune in for the upcoming Fall sci fi / fantasy entries or if I would rather go back and re-watch a classic show like Babylon 5. As I noted then (and feel free to read the full post at this link), I love the classic sci fi TV shows like B5, The X-Files, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, etc., and I can go back and watch those over and over again. Plus, there are many of the newer classics that deserve a re-watch like Lost, Battlestar: Galactica, Farscape, and more. But then I feel a need to tune in for the current and new shows, even though there are more and more of those on the television each year and it would require a pretty significant commitment to watch them all. Just take a look at the upcoming Fall season: there are 21 entries on the Prime Time schedule plus the two late Summer BBC America offerings (Doctor Who and Intruders) which will carry over into Autumn (the full schedule is available at this link). And that doesn’t count the mid-season entries waiting in the wings as well as the returning shows that will debut during the second half of the 2014-15 season. That’s quite a lot of sci fi, but how much is worth tuning in for?
Ever since Lost become a surprise hit in 2004, sci fi / fantasy shows have become increasingly more common on the broadcast nets and cable hits like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have brought us ever more offerings from those channels as well. But how many of these count as really good genre entries? We have entered into an age that I consider Sci Fi Overload: the quantity is there (as each network tries to find the next Lost or TWD), but not necessarily the quality. And it’s not that we are getting a lot of bad sci fi, just a lot of middle-of-the-road offerings that offer their own twist on the same genre themes. Just take the Summer and Fall shows as a sampling. You have your supernatural dramas, many with apocalyptic overtones: Supernatural, Teen Wolf, True Blood, Sleepy Hollow, Witches of East End, Grimm, Constantine, Dominion. You have your post-apocalyptic and/or zombie shows: The Walking Dead, Z Nation, The Strain (essentially giving us vampire-zombies), The Last Ship, Falling Skies, Defiance, Dominion, The 100. You have your procedurals/cop-shows-with-a-twist: Person of Interest (though it is growing out of that), Grimm, Forever, Agents of SHIELD. You have your superhero/comic-based shows: Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, Constantine, Agents of SHIELD. You have your something-strange-is-happening-to-the-world shows: Resurrection, The Leftovers, Under the Dome. You have your shows that are a mish-mash of genre tropes: Extant, Under the Dome, Forever, The Strain (and really just about all of those mentioned above).
Among all of these shows, which ones will we really look back at and consider genre classics. Definitely The Walking Dead. Possibly Person of Interest. Maybe Arrow. Maybe Teen Wolf.
Of course many of these shows have attracted their own devoted followers who will always love them like Haven, Dominion, Grimm, and Falling Skies. And several of these shows will be looked back on as good guilty pleasure entries like Supernatural, True Blood, and maybe The Last Ship. But I don’t see that many making it to true classic status (here’s where legions of fans of several of those shows descend upon me with their torches and pitchforks).
Again, it’s not that they are necessarily bad shows, it’s just that many of them start to bleed together after a while and you wonder if it is worth your time to watch them. Over the Summer, I tuned in for The Last Ship and The Strain and rather enjoyed them, but I would make no argument that they were great shows. They just provided a decent distraction over the hot months and for whatever reason they clicked with me. I can’t say the same for The Leftovers or Dominion, both of which I bailed on after a few episodes, and I also gave up on Defiance when it appeared to have wasted the potential it demonstrated in its first season. But I would make no arguments that The Last Ship or The Strain were any better than those three or any of the other Summer entries, they just seemed to register with me. The only Summer show that I really felt had the potential to flirt with sci fi classic status was Extant, but I have to admit that one was just as cliché-filled as the others. It just had a really interesting hard sci fi premise mixed amidst it trope-frappé, though, and could build into a decent show if given the chance (which it likely won’t based on its ratings).
And interestingly, the show I enjoyed the most this Summer was Carnivale. Don’t know that one, didn’t see it on the schedule? It was a 2003 entry from HBO than ran for two seasons and is one of my all-time favorite genre shows. It was made available with Amazon Prime recently (shameless plug: Amazon Prime Rocks!) and I decided to re-watch it because I had never seen the show all the way through a second time. Mind you, I have had both seasons on DVD for years and never got around to watching those (ew, touch a piece of round plastic in this age of digital video?), but something about the show being on Amazon Instant video made it seem shiny and new. So I binge-watched it and enjoyed every minute as it stood up to the classic I remembered it being (if you haven’t watched it, you need to check it out). And it was much more enjoyable than the hate-watching I found myself doing with Under the Dome (dropped that after one Season 2 ep), Defiance, The Leftovers, and Dominion (though I do plan on giving that latter two a second chance).
And as we head into the current season and I already find myself close to hate-watching Agents of SHIELD (after only two eps), I think about those B5 DVDs that have been collecting dust on the shelf and wonder if my time would be better spent giving them a spin (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon? Why aren’t you guys including this show?). There’s just something comforting about going back to those old favorites. I revisited the Lord of the Rings trilogy on audio book over the last few months and that was a labor of pure love (and I’m on The Hobbit now). And I used to tune in for the B5 repeats all the time when it ran in syndication (can someone please explain to me why it is not there now?), though I have never seen the entire series from start to finish a second time. That’s something I would love to do. As well as re-watch Lost, Battlestar: Galactica (though I will skip the finale and make up my own), Farscape, The X-Files, and even Star Trek: The Original Series for that matter. And I never made it all the way through Buffy The Vampire Slayer and completely missed most of Angel.
Sure, there’s plenty of sci fi / fantasy offerings on television these days and I guess we should be glad for that. But after spending a fair amount of time hate-watching over the last few seasons, I just have ask myself: would I rather be watching Babylon 5?
Buy Babylon 5 and Carnivale on DVD from Amazon.com:
Stream Babylon 5 and Carnivale on Amazon Instant Video (Carnivale Available for Free with Amazon Prime):