I love sci-fi and fantasy, and I have ever since I was old enough to start picking my own books off of the shelf in the library. There's something about it that's both transports you to another world, and grounds you in the one we live in. It can be exciting, hilarious, inspiring, unnerving, even terrifying; the best can do all of the above, and then some.
It does bother me a little bit that sci-fi and fantasy are confined to the genre ghetto. They don't get the same kind respect or accolades that more standard dramas do, which seems patently unfair to me. A great piece of genre fiction can say just as much about the human condition and our place in the world, and deserves just as much recognition.
Fortunately, we live in a time where everywhere you look, great fantasy and sci-fi abound. I don't think it's wrong to say that it practically dominates pop culture, given the proliferation of superhero movies, the new Star Wars films, and any number of fantastic (literally) books and TV shows that have come out in the past couple of years. While it was hard to pick just a few, below are some of my favorite sci-fi and fantasy TV shows on the air right now.
Note: Yes, Game of Thrones is probably the biggest name in fantasy right now, and I love it, but everyone and their mother talks about GoT. I feel like these choices are, if not exactly under ground, at least under the radar enough to make talking about them fun.
People don't tend to think of The CW as a prestigious network, but between Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, iZombie (see below), and, of course The 100, I think they make some of the best shows on television.
I went into The 100 feeling a little skeptical - after the apocalypse, a group of teenagers are sent from the space station, where humanity has been living, down to the surface of the Earth to see if it's inhabitable. It's easy to roll your eyes at how attractive all the characters are, the plot twists, the occasionally overwrought dialog. Once you start watching, though, it's grim, gritty, and topical, but intelligently leavened with humor at just the right moments.
What it also does really well is place female characters front and center in a totally organic way. Clark, the main character, is smart, driven, protective of her people, and not afraid to make tough choices. The other characters, male and female alike, are just as well developed, and the relationships between them are always leveraged to up the drama and raise the emotional stakes.
Seasons 1&2 on Netflix; Season 3 now airing on The CW and Hulu
Another show that, on it's face, sounds totally ridiculous - a med student is turned into a zombie, becomes a coroner, and uses the psychic visions she gets when she eats a brain to solve murders. But seriously, just try it - it's addictively good! Again, the characterization is the key to making something that could be utterly goofy feel involving, engaging, and totally real.
Liv Moore (which I just got is a really punny name for a zombie, how did I miss that!) just wanted to be normal. She wanted to marry her handsome fiance, become a doctor, live out her life as a human woman. After she's transformed into a zombie, though, she finds new purpose solving murders, and builds new connections with her fellow medical examiner, Ravi (who is the best - the internet agrees); the cop she helps, Clive; and both her best friend and former fiance, whom she tries to protect from her new life. There's a strong undercurrent of humor and cheekiness that helps keep the mood lighthearted, but the way the show uses these relationships to propel the plot puts it right up there with any prestige drama I've seen.
Season 1 on Netflix
Black Mirror is a little different from the other shows on this list - instead of serialized drama, it's a series of standalone episodes dealing with different aspects of technology in modern society. Some of the episodes are viscerally upsetting, and it can be a tough watch. I know I didn't watch more than one every couple of months, just because I needed the time to process before I could jump into the next one. But in a good way!
If you'd like to try out just one episode, I'd have to recommend "The Entire History of You." Neural implants that record everything you see and hear mean that you can play back any event in your life. A man, feeling uncertain in his marriage, becomes obsessed with using this playback to try and decipher his wife's actions. I don't want to give too much away because I do want you to watch it an experience it for yourself, but it's deeply unsettling in a way that you can't look away from.
All episodes Netflix; new episodes coming soon
To praise Orphan Black is to praise it's star, Tatiana Maslany, who must be one of the most talented actresses of her generation. She plays a young woman who discovers that she's a clone, and she plays each character with such nuance that I forget, at times, that it's just one person playing all of these different characters. When she plays one of the clones impersonating another, she has a way of subtly bringing in characteristics of the "real" character underneath that is so technically impressive.
Beyond that, it's also a story about growing up, about finding yourself (or your selves) and making peace with your past. It's also a really fun, exciting sci-fi romp, with plot twists and turns, double crosses, secret societies, and, of course, a veritable army of clones. It's one of those shows that I like to sit down and watch with people that haven't seen it before - not only do they end up addicted, but it stands up very well to repeat viewings.
Seasons 1, 2, & 3 on Amazon Prime; Season 4 now playing on BBC America
Last but not least, Penny Dreadful! This show has a tendency to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks, and a surprising amount of it does. Every horror character from the past couple of centuries makes an appearance - Frankenstein, multiple iterations of his monsters, Dracula, Van Helsing, witches, werewolves, right up to Old Scratch himself. There are times when it's so campy and over the top that it almost shades over from horror into comedy, but that's part of the joy of it.
Eva Green plays Vanessa, a young woman dealing with both the literal and figurative demons inside of herself. Green chews the scenery in the best possible way, her green eyes smouldering seductively even as she writhes in the clutches of the devil. If you've ever wondered what happened to Y2K heartthrob Josh Hartnett, he's a werewolf now! He's dry, charming, and just slightly unhinged, and he and Green have amazing chemistry together.
This show is all about the visuals, though. The high Victorian, neo-gothic steampunk vibe is lush, dark, and rich, and will make you want to grab your corset, pile your hair up on your head like a Gibson girl, and maybe drink a chalice of blood.
Seasons 1&2 on Showtime streaming; Season 3 starting May 1 on Showtime
So what do you guys think? Have you seen any of these shows? Do you have any favorite sci-fi and fantasy TV shows that I didn't mention?