The Top 10 Misfired Sci-Fi TV Shows of the ‘90s

By Rob Bricken in Daily Lists, TV
Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 5:05 am

220px-Mantis1.jpgBy Todd Ciolek

If there was ever a golden age of stupid television, it lay within the ’90s. Compelling network hits like The X-Files and the rise of such syndicated schlock as Hercules: The Legendary Journeys paved the way for all sorts of brief, marginal attempts at small-screen fantasy and science fiction. Most disappeared within a season.

Sure, shows like The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and American Gothic later became cult classics, but others were fated to scrape by on whatever geek-ladder rung lies just below James Bond Jr. It’s time we saluted these failed attempts at courting a generation of fans who had nothing better to do than watch TV every night of the week.

10. Viper (1994-1999)

For the creators of Viper, it was never too late to imitate Knight Rider, Airwolf, Street Hawk and other ‘80s series that didn’t need tight scripts or magnetic leading men as much as they needed cool vehicles. Viper found its base by selling out like few shows before: in a near-future right out of Robocop, the mob could only be brought to its knees by a brainwashed former criminal and his Dodge Viper, which transformed into…an armored Dodge Viper. Outfitted with all sorts of budget-friendly weaponry, this rolling product placement chased down criminals driving their own reliable, affordable Dodge vehicles.

Lifespan: Four seasons, believe it or not. While Viper died on NBC in 1994, it was revived for three more seasons in syndication, alongside such epic series as Renegade and Vanishing Son.
Legacy: Somewhere out there, a die-hard fan has wasted a real Viper by turning it into the show’s super-powered version.

9. Space Rangers (1993)

A show loved so little that the only YouTube footage is some jackass’ MST3K attempt, Space Rangers was a blip on CBS’ radar in 1993. Though TV executives were likely inspired by the proven success of Paramount’s Star Trek: The Next Generation, the show itself seems to borrow from Saturday morning serials, judging by special effects that frequently scrape Power Rangers territory. The show’s stock characters include a reticent alien played by future Mortal Kombat villain Cary-Hiroyuki “Shang Tsung” Tagawa, a take-no-crap pilot played by future Babylon 5 rebel Marjorie Monaghan, and a commander played by none other than Oscar winner Linda Hunt.

Lifespan: 4 out of 6 episodes were aired. Oddly enough, all of them came out on videotape.
Legacy: Poisoning the well for science fiction at the three major networks for a good nine months, until Seaquest DSV arrived.

8. M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994)
Even director Sam Raimi’s B-list projects tend to get some attention, hence two actual sequels to Darkman. M.A.N.T.I.S., however, gets no remakes, no YouTube clips that we can find, and no fans devoted enough to tell you that the title stands for Mechanically Automated Neuro Transmitter Interactive System.
Like Batman, M.A.N.T.I.S. had relatively down-to-earth origins: an obscenely wealthy scientist named Miles Hawkins gets paralyzed by some thug’s bullet and reinvents himself with a hovercraft and a cybernetic suit that, if you squint in the dark, makes him look a little like he’s about to snatch up a robot aphid in his mandibles.

M.A.N.T.I.S. drew some attention for being the rare prime-time superhero series with an African-American lead, but its production was troubled at best. Raimi and the show’s writer both left the project after disputes with Fox, and M.A.N.T.I.S. went through a desperate mid-season change that involved more monsters and more nonsense, culminating in a final episode that pit Hawkins against a dinosaur.

Lifespan: 20 out of 22 episodes aired, plus the Raimi-directed pilot.
Legacy: Some former fat kid still carries the emotional scars from being called M.A.N.T.I.T.S. by his fellow nerds for a school day or two in 1994.

7. Roar (1997)

Heath Ledger was bound for better things than Roar, but this brief medieval TV series was, if our ten seconds’ worth of research is true, his first major role. Ledger played a Celtic hero forced into leading his nation’s clans into war with a freakish Roman immortal. Yes, it’s roughly the same plot as the first Highlander film. And the Highlander anime film, for that matter.

While Roar was loaded with predictable bathos and a soundtrack full of moan-y morose dirges, it wasn’t silly enough to survive. Shows like Xena: Warrior Princess made mockeries of legends and historical fact, but Roar paid its setting a fraction of respect, thus making it all the more jarring when scheming Celtic royals looked and talked like they’d been pulled from a Mel Brooks period piece. Roar didn’t satisfy the Xena crowd’s love of rampant T&A and self-indulgent stupidity, and kids were likely disappointed when Ledger didn’t live up to the title and turn into a werewolf.

Lifespan: 13 episodes (8 aired) and two novels.
Legacy: Providing several seconds in the more drawn-out Heath Ledger tribute videos.

6. VR.5 (1995)

There was a time, just before Clinton was re-elected, when a good percentage of TV viewers still believed that the Internet and Virtual Reality (always capitalized) would create astounding realms of fantasy indistinguishable from the actual world. And then AOL and the PlayStation ruined it all.

The first of Fox’s many attempts to play off The X-Files’ popularity, VR.5 hid its somewhat shaky vision of virtual space with moodily shot scenes and a soundtrack pieced together from alternative rock up-and-comers. It hit a snag in the first episode when emotionally withdrawn heroine Sidney jumped into Virtual Reality (with “5” being a real-life simulacrum) by plugging in a noisy old modem, thus earning the disdain of 1995’s entire online chatroom population. That, and the show felt a bit too much like an X-Files leftover, particularly when Sidney ran across a shadowy group called “the Committee.”

Lifespan: 10 out of its 13 episodes aired.
Legacy: Convincing the earliest species of gullible male Internet users that attractive women were online and lonely.

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