The cable channel currently known as Syfy began life in 1992 as Sci-Fi Channel. It was every genre TV geek’s dream come true as it became the premiere venue for classic and rarely seen science-fiction television series and films. Their first foray into original program began when a few years later the channel began to recuse series cancelled by other channels, such as Poltergeist: The Series, Stargate: SG-1 and Sliders. The crowning achievement for Sci-Fi was the 2003 reinvention of Battlestar Galactica which got a lot of mainstream notice and basically set the bar for sci-fi programming that remains the standard over ten years later.
In the last few years fans seemed to have soured to the channel. It became more notable for the fan-favorite series’ it cancelled then for new programming that it debuted. Adding reality programming as well as a night of WWE Wrestling did little to engender any goodwill. Its Saturday night schlocky films seemed to be a lone bright light as once you understand their intentional B-grade tone, they turn out to be a whole lot of fun (See: Sharknado). While the programming has never really been as terrible as folks like to make it out to be, it did seem that there was very little science in the fictional series that were filling the airwaves, even after the channel went with the stylized rebranding of Syfy. Fortunately, its days of taking its content seriously are back.
The channel dipped its toe back into the sci-fi waters in 2014 with Ascension, but it cranked things up in earnest last year. Shows like Dark Matter and 12 Monkeys brought a new spin on familiar sci-fi concepts and made them both intriguing and fun. Both shows are returning this year and will most likely stick around for a few more seasons. While adapting any beloved classic tale can be daunting, Syfy handled their mini-series presentation of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End with respect, intelligence and daring and it worked well.
The latest new series to gain attention is The Expanse. This show has captured a lot of the old-school space opera magic that was channeled by the aforementioned Battlestar Galactica, but in its own right feels new. Based on James S. A. Corey’s continuing, and superb, series of novels, The Expanse is set two hundred years in the future amongst a fully colonized solar system. The series follows three seemingly unconnected storylines that slowly begin to entwine into something grander. The ambitious story is set across a rich landscape of planets and feels like you’re reading a 1950’s pulp science-fiction novel.
Thomas Jane plays a police officer with questionable ethics who is assigned an off-the-books missing persons case. Steven Strait is a newly-promoted-against-his-will executive officer on a starship and witnesses a heartbreaking tragedy. Shohreh Aghdashloo stars as an executive with the United Nations who finds himself trying to prevent a war between Earth and Mars. In the middle of all of this is Florence Faivre as Juliette Mao, a woman who may know about a conspiracy that overshadows everything and threatens all of humanity. The first season has been astonishingly good and it is no surprise that it has already been renewed for another run of episodes in 2017.
Science-fiction has always been dismissed as an overly-fanciful and unserious genre for decades. That seems rather ironic in a television landscape noted for its over-abundance of cop shows, westerns and medical dramas, all of which are presented in very fanciful, oft-times absurd and sometimes less than serious trappings. Battlestar Galactica is no less compelling of a drama than, say, ER and no more of a soap opera than NYPD Blue. Any compelling, character-driven drama, or even sitcom for that matter, is worth watching despite it being set in the old west or courtroom or doctor’s office or interstellar spaceship. Check out Syfy and discover some terrific TV you’ve probably been missing.