Simple geek math will tell you that for every Battlestar Galactica there are thousand Harsh Realms. Most new sci-fi shows are either a) derivative rip-offs of superior shows, b) ratings deprived or c) ahead of their time. Sci-fi is a tricky genre that, when done right, challenges viewers and pushes the limits of television as a medium. But mainly, these shows are still TV?s red-headed stepchildren. (Even a mainstream success like Lost didn?t reveal itself as balls-out sci-fi until after it was a critical and ratings success). There?s always a number of complex reasons why any show is cancelled, and all the letter-writing campaigns in the world can?t change that, Jericho fans. Fortunately, we are live in a magical time where nothing ever dies on the Internet. With that in mind, let?s celebrate ten shows that were just too intelligent, esoteric or downright culty to please the masses during their initial airings.
10) Dead At 21
MTV?s first?and so far only?stab at genre television, 1994’s Dead at 21 followed 20-year-old genius Ed Bellamy (Jack Noseworthy) as he attempted to prevent the microchips implanted in his brain from going boom upon the arrival of his next birthday. Why did he have microchips in his noggin? He was part of a secret government experiment in enhancing mental abilities. The chips gave him the smarts of Einstein but a short shelf life. Mmm chips. Anyways, as the test subjects grow up, the implants break down, resulting in maddening dreams and death at, you guessed it, age 21. In an effort to silence him, Ed is framed for murder by smarmy government agent Winston (Whip Hubley) and is forced to go on-the-run while still trying to track down a shadowy doctor who can help fix his potentially explosive predicament. Joining him is Maria Cavalos (a post-Doogie Howser, M.D. Lisa Dean Ryan), a beautiful party crasher who witnesses the killing for which Ed is blamed. Part The Fugitive, part Reality Bites, the show melded serialized storytelling with an oh-so-1990s dose of grunge-infused nihilism over the course of 13 half-hour episodes before it was canceled following an unresolved cliffhanger in which the three main characters seemingly bit the dust. While the show has never been officially released on DVD, torrents are freely available for you to relive all of the flannel-infused drama.
No YouTube clip is available. But look, here?s Jack Noseworthy in a production of Pippin!
9) Galaxy High School
The only cartoon on this list (sorry Clone High enthusiasts), Galaxy High School was Chris Columbus? attempt at creating a Saturday morning sci-fi toon for kids of the Star Wars generation. It worked beautifully. The show?s simple premise?a popular jock and a bookworm beauty from Earth are chosen to attend an intergalactic high school whereupon they switch social roles?is perfectly summed up during the show?s theme song.
Playing fantastical concepts for laughs?a student with a transparent brain, a professor made of ice, etc.?Galaxy High School?s lasting legacy is that is was a smart, merchandise-free show in an era when most other kids programs were all about the big sell. Of course, the lack of swag available likely contributed to its downfall. Come to think of it, I still wouldn?t say no to an action figure line…
The only genre show to feature a main character named after a cherubic indie rocker, Chris Carter?s Millennium offered up compelling, if uneven, viewing on Fox from 1996-1999. During it?s three seasons, it was a show about serial killers, a head-scratching mindfuck and a bloodless X-Files clone. After the third year, the various cast and crew shakeups that plagued the series?s production took their toll, and the once-hyped jewel in Fox?s crown was unceremoniously dumped. Despite the numerous behind-the-scenes changes, friend-of-Bigfoot Lance Henriksen managed to keep viewers interested through his haunted and haunting portrayal of quasi-psychic/FBI profiler Frank Black, a man who wanted nothing more than a peaceful life with his family in a yellow house in Seattle. Of course, this plan went to shit fairly quickly, and Black found himself dealing with everything from a Polaroid-snapping psychopath to some diner-loving demons. In the second season, Space: Above and Beyond (itself canceled before its time) creators Glen Morgan and James Wong took over show-running duties and promptly created an intense mythology about the show?s mysterious Millennium Group that culminated in the world seemingly ending to the sounds of Patti Smith.
By the time the series returned from hiatus for what would be its last season, Morgan and Wong were out/Chris Carter was back at the reins, the virus that supposedly decimated humanity was lazily written off and Frank Black had rejoined the FBI and been given a cute new partner. Oh yeah, he got to meet Kiss too. Um, okay, ignore that. By the end of the season, elements of the mythology began to slowly reappear, and things were getting interesting again. Then the show was canceled and Black?s story was sorta wrapped up on a 1999 episode of The X-Files. Although rumors of a Millennium feature abound, one can?t help but wonder why Frank Black isn?t joining Mulder and Scully in their upcoming film.
7) Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Has there ever been a sexier couple than Buck Rogers and Col. Wilma Deering? As portrayed by Gil Gerard and Erin Gray, these sensual space cadets infused the cosmos with intergalactic hotness throughout the show?s two seasons. How many of you had your first sexual thoughts upon watching Wilma getting attacked by the Vorvon? Did the way Buck always strutted around in his form-fitting space duds get you off? Maybe Twiki?s penis-shaped head did it for you. Hey, whatever. We don?t judge here at Topless Robot.
Sure, the second year of the show sucked, Hawk was lame and Dr. Goodfellow was clearly a pedophile, but sometimes sci-fi can be all about the eye-candy too. For that reason alone it should have stayed on forever.
Set 15 years after the events of John Carpenter?s film, this TV series starred Robert Hays as an alien who returned to Earth and took the form of dead photojournalist Paul Forrester. Together with his teenage son Scott Hayden (Christopher Daniel Barnes), he attempted to track down old love Jenny Hayden (Erin Gray, making her second of two appearances on this list) and avoid being captured by asshole government agent George Fox (Michael Cavanaugh). What followed was a series of heart-warming adventures in which father and son traveled around the United States, learning how great mankind can be along the way. Awww. It was the sci-fi equivalent of comfort food, and my prepubescent self ate it up.
Bummer for Christopher Daniel Barnes fans: this, along with the 1988 sitcom Day by Day and the 1990s Spider-Man cartoon, is not available on DVD.
It wasn?t Quantum Leap redux. Seriously.
Having the misfortune of airing after last year?s shitastic season of Heroes, Journeyman followed San Francisco-based family man/journalist Dan Vasser (Kevin McKidd) as he was pulled through time to help people put right what once went wrong. Okay, so the plot synopsis may not help comparisons to the only Scott Bakula-starring sci-fi show that was actually worth watching, but Journeyman was its own complex animal, ready to make your heart swoon while upbeat indie rock blared from the soundtrack at the end of each episode. Dan Vasser, you see, was a ex-gambler. When he began traveling backwards through time, his police officer brother Jack (Reed Diamond) and long-suffering wife Katie (Gretchen Egolf) suspected that his old gambling habits had returned. Meanwhile, Dan found himself face to face with supposedly dead ex-fianc?e Livia (Moon Bloodgood, late of the similarly axed Day Break). Turns out, she?s a time traveler who lives in the 1940s and travels ahead through the years. She met Dan during one of her visits to the future and managed to build a life with him, albeit briefly, before returning to her era. Further complicating matters, time passes in the present when Dan is traveling. So not only does he become an unwilling absentee father to his young son, he has to miss deadlines at work too. Oof!
With the introduction of sage-like physicist Dr. Elliot Langley (Tom Everett), the series began exploring the reasons behind Dan and Livia?s time travel before its suitable, if rushed, conclusion. Still, dogging questions remain. How many time travelers were there? Why was Jack?s fianc?e so interested in what Dan was up to? What were Langley?s true motives? We will never know. Thanks a heap Nielsen families.
4) Kolchak: The Night Stalker
The Darrin McGavin one, not the Stuart Townsend one. If that wasn’t obvious.
3) Max Headroom
Set ?20 minutes into the future,? Max Headroom is easily the most visionary series ever to feature a Coke pitchman. Snarkiness aside, the series accurately predicted such modern cultural mainstays as the Internet, reality television, viral marketing and, fittingly enough, the vital importance of television ratings.
Ostensibly about the adventures of investigative reporter Edison Carter (Matt Frewer), his computerized doppelganger Max Headroom (also portrayed by Frewer under heavy makeup), tech expert Theora Jones (Amanda Pays), computer-hacking prodigy Bryce Lynch (Chris Young) and editor/boss Murray (Jeffrey Tambor), the show was really about using sci-fi themes to explore cyberpunk culture and skewering the mainstream media. The fact that it survived for 14 episodes while biting the hand that fed it is nothing short of remarkable. In something of a minor tragedy, Max Headroom is now more remembered as an irritating corporate shill than part of the most original TV series of the 1980s. This one isn?t available on DVD either. Such is life.
2) The Hitchhiker?s Guide to the Galaxy
The film adaptation of Douglas Adams? seminal sci-fi comedy is the cinematic equivalent of a child rapist. That movie hates you. Guys, it wakes you up in the morning by punching you in the dick. Ladies, it uses your last tampon when Aunt Flo comes a-calling. It is the annoying co-worker who never stops playing you his latest ringtone. It is a hemorrhoid rupture on the white pants of life. It?s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife. It?s meeting the man of your dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife. It is evil and it needs to be stopped.
If you feel this way too, just do what I do. Ignore its existence. There really is no need for the film anyway, since the 1981 BBC series captured the spirit, and yes, the humor of Adams? masterwork so well. (Hitchhiker?s is a comedy btw, you may not have gleaned that from the flick). Produced when Douglas Adams was still alive and therefore unable to have his corpse violated by soulless film execs, the six-episodes series followed Arthur Dent (Simon Jones, one of a handful of stars from the BBC radio series who reprised their original roles) from the destruction of the Earth through to a quick bite at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe before ending with him stranded in our planet?s prehistoric era.
Sure, the production values are shoddy and Zaphod Beeblebrox?s second head is incredibly fake, but the producers actually took the time to give him a second head?even without the aid of computer-generated imagery. Also, unlike the terrible film (which threw out Adams? subtle humor for slapstick and half-baked action sequences), the BBC series has only grown more lovable over the years. Let?s not forget that it also features the only use of Louis Armstrong?s ?What a Wonderful World? that won?t make you cringe.
Given the fact that various production woes halted any potential follow-up series (which likely would have depicted the events of Life, the Universe and Everything and the subsequent books), fans of the Hitchhiker?s saga are stuck having to wonder what could have been. Better that having to suffer through any more films though.
1) Star Trek
They canceled it. Everyone wanted it back. We got it back on the big screen. People started spewing their idiotic ?the odd-are-bad, even-are-good? theories on the films. The Next Generation. Deep Space Nine. Voyager. Data curses. Kirk bites it.. Enterprise. Worf gets a zit. The franchise dies again. No one seems to mind. It comes back anyway. Everybody hopes because Sylar is in the new flick, they?ll get rid of him on Heroes because his act is wearing thin. We anxiously await news of what the hell the film will be about while pondering why Tyler Perry is in it.
This is the big one. The granddaddy of sci-fi. The genre?s landscape would be unrecognizable if Star Trek never returned after it was canned in 1969. The praise and complaints about most contemporary sci-fi TV rests on its massive shoulders. Would you really want it any other way?
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.