Top Thirty Current Spec Fic TV Shows
We are experiencing another golden age of speculative fiction series on television, and I, for one, am thoroughly enjoying it. I can’t remember the last time there were so many interesting science fiction, fantasy, and horror TV series from which to choose.
Below are my top thirty, yes thirty, shows that are either new and currently running, on hiatus between seasons, or quite recently canceled. And, I’m sure I’ve missed several as I don’t subscribe to all five hundred* streaming platforms currently available. (* Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but not by much.) I also didn’t include any animated series.
My ranking is totally subjective, as is my opinion. But in coming up with the list, I considered the story, directing, casting, quality of acting, and production quality including sets, costumes, and effects.
Some of the included shows are obvious, but there are some glaring omissions. I’ll admit, there are some series I just don’t like as much as the mainstream populace. On the other side of that coin, I hope there are a few here that people discover and enjoy as much as I did.
Let me know in the comments what you agreed with and what I missed.
1. The Expanse (Amazon Prime) – An outstanding series based on outstanding books. Generally honest to the source material, though there are some character amalgamations, this series feels more like a glimpse into the future than a science fiction tv show. Science and technology, politics and motivations, and economics and wealth distribution all seem scarily realistic. And it has some of the best characters ever written. I dare you not to love Amos and Avasarala.
2. The Mandalorian (Disney Plus) – Science fiction meets the old west in a series that follows the eponymous gunslinger and bounty hunter as he acquires a new charge that tests his lifelong credo. Pedro Pascal is both understated and outstanding in the titular role, but mind-blowing cameos and the introduction of Baby Yoda (okay, his name is Grogu and he’s quite the cookie thief) only add to the quality cast.
3. Stranger Things (Netflix) – As a child of the 80s, this one hits particularly close to home as the locations, costumes, and slang all remind me of high school. But what sets this series apart is the quality story and cast. Millie Bobbie Brown is perfect as Eleven, as is Winona Ryder as Joyce, David Harbour as Sherriff Hopper, and Dacre Montgomery as Billy (anyone else want to punch him in the face?) And the story is simply chilling.
4. Lost in Space (Netflix) – This series hasn’t had the public attention of the others, but it is easily just as good. Unlike the original 60s series or god-awful movies, this version eliminates the camp and adds tremendous realism. Toby Stephens adds gravitas as father John Robinson (the only thing I’ve liked him in more is Black Sails), Ignacio Serricchio brings life to Don West as a contraband smuggler instead of a hot-shot pilot, and Parker Posey is unnerving as psychotic Dr. Smith. The robot special effects are outstanding, and in a brilliant twist, the robot’s backstory is tragic and a foundational part of the plot.
5. His Dark Materials (HBO) – Similar to Lost in Space, this is, by far, the best adaptation of Philip Pullman’s trilogy than has previously been created. Given the screen time and budget to actually present the story in all its richness, the series solidly hits the mark. Dafne Keen is a believable Lyra Silvertongue while is Ruth Wilson is a truly despicable Mrs. Coulter. The CGI daemons are seamless integrated and are every bit a part of the cast as the humans.
6. Outlander (Starz) – Though this could ultimately be described as a romance or even historical fiction, the time travel aspects squarely keep this in the realm of speculative fiction. Based on outstanding source material, Diana Gabaldon meticulously researched each novel, and it shows in the quality and depth of set and design in the series. Developed by Ronald D. Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame, the same high production quality is shown here. And Caitriona Balfe and San Heughan simple are Claire and Jaime.
7. The Witcher (Netflix) – Not having read the source books, I still found this series compelling and enjoyable. The story is mesmerizing as it weaves several lines throughout history into a single, common quest. Henry Cavill is bit hit-and-miss for me (loved him as Superman, not so much in Man from UNCLE), but he is outstanding as Geralt of Rivia, an honorable monster hunter. Anya Chalotra is sublime as Yennefer, both before and after the character’s physical transformation.
8. NOS4A2 (AMC) – I loved Joe Hill’s book and was skeptical it could convincingly be brought to video. I mean, who could possibly pull off Charlie Manx? Um, Zachary Quinto, that’s who. Any scene with him is instantly elevated to another level, whether he’s playing young Manx, old Manx, or dead Manx, while Ashleigh Cummings and Olafur Darri Olafsson capably hold their own. Don’t watch this late at night.
9. A Discovery of Witches (AMC) – I only recently discovered this and binged season one in an afternoon. I’ve loved Teresa Palmer since Warm Bodies, and she does not disappoint in this, showing chemistry with Matthew Goode. Locations, from Venice to Oxford, and sets are authentic, characters are strong, and the story is engaging.
10. Locke & Key (Netflix) – Another Joe Hill adaptation, this rates highly on the creativity, scope, and connectivity of the plot. The keys of the Locke mansion are one of the most creative plot elements I’ve read and rank them right near the top. The effects of each key are realistically portrayed, and young Jackson Robert Scott does admirably as Bode Locke who searches to solve the mystery.
11. Ragnarok (Netflix) – In Norwegian and subtitled in English, it’s a unique take on Norse mythology.
12. The Orville (Fox) – An homage to Star Trek, it’s humorous without being campy. Adrianne Palicki steals it and effects are second-to-none.
13. Watchmen (HBO) – A continuation from the movie, separate storylines are expertly woven together. Regina King is boss.
14. Doctor Who (BBCA) – Refreshing spin on a legendary series with Jodie Whitaker literally infusing the character with new life.
15. WandaVision (Disney Plus) – Totally creative storyline and movie-quality effects. Paul Bettany is good, but Elizabeth Olson is outstanding. Also, some good cameos.
16. Snowpiercer (TNT) – Both Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs are excellent, and the sets are amazing.
17. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu) – Quality production on all levels, and Elisabeth Moss astounds.
18. What We Do in the Shadows (FX) – Hilarious take on modern-day vampires. Poor Guillermo.
19. I Am Not Okay with This (Netflix) – Filled with teen angst, Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Oleff (both of IT) carry the character-driven story.
20. Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access) – A prequel series much better than the last prequel series. Movie-quality effects.
21. The Umbrella Academy (Netflix) – Time travel, a cult leader, hitmen, superpowers, a talking monkey, and Kate Walsh as a deliciously devilish villain.
22. American Gods (Starz) – Already missing the dear Cloris Leachman, a quality adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel.
23. The Boys (Amazon Prime) – Can’t get enough Karl Urban in the refreshingly original superhero series.
24. Resident Alien (SYFY) – Alan Tudyk is hilarious as he learns to fit in with humans, until he can kill them all.
25. Altered Carbon (Netflix) – Outstanding with Joel Kinnaman, Anthony Mackie is also good as a new Takeshi Kovacs “sleeve”. Chris Conner steals the show as AI hotel proprietor Edgar Allen Poe. Quality cyberpunk.
26. October Faction (Netflix) – Secret agent monster hunters with a family twist that made me say “No f***ing way!” out loud to my TV.
27. Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access) – Sir Patrick Stewart and Jeri Ryan in the same show, with outstanding effects and a compelling story.
28. Wu Assassins (Netflix) – Spirits of martial arts power factions in Chinatown while one guy just wants to live his life.
29. Another Life (Netflix) – Katee Sackhoff kicks butt in another sci-fi series as she leads a team to discover who dropped a mysterious artifact on Earth.
30. Carnival Row (Amazon Prime) – Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne don’t disappoint as they try to solve a string of murders.