Best Sci-fi/Fantasy Shows of the 90s
For fans of genre television the 90’s were a boom time. The audience for shows about monsters and spaceships made their presence known and networks answered. Pioneering storytelling styles and the prevalence of visual fx made science fiction, horror, and fantasy bigger on the small screen than they had been in years. So it is time to look at the best sci-fi and fantasy shows of the 90s.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: In 1966 Gene Rodenberry created Star Trek, and while it lasted only three seasons it’s impact has reverberated throughout pop culture. In 1989 Rodenberry oversaw a sequel series about a new Enterprise under the command of Captain Jean Luc Picard portrayed by esteemed actor Patrick Stewart. While it initially struggled to find it’s footing, TNG eventually became a massive success. The new crew of; Riker, Geordi, Worf, Data, Dr Crusher, and Counselor Troi became just as beloved TV audiences that the original Enterprise crew a feat many felt impossible. As they boldly went where no man has gone before they naturally crossed paths with the likes of the Romulans and Klingons, but also new foes like the Borg and the intergalactic trickster Q. The success of Next Generation led to a new run of Star Trek films as well as more spin-offs to keep the franchise going strong.
Red Dwarf: A hallmark of British television throughout the 90’s. Onboard the starship Red Dwarf, low level crew member Lister is frozen in suspended animation for 3 million years. When he emerges he discovers his old bunkmate Rimmer is a hologram, his cat has evolved into a humanoid creature, and Kryten, a mechanoid they rescued. While they may be constantly bickering and not the brightest spaceship crew, that does not stop them from tackling many classic sci-fi plot elements to hilarious results. The popularity of Red Dwarf kept it on the air for 10 years and even influenced language itself as any sci-fi fan feels insulted when called a “smeghead”. Upon being revived in 2008 the science fiction sitcom had lost little of its appeal.
Tales from the Crypt: A love letter to the controversial EC Comics horror comics from the pre-Comics Code Era. Each episode takes readers to the iconic host the Cryptkeeper and with his trademark dark humor he introduces the viewer to a tale of terror. This classic anthology series featured an abundance of talent both behind and in front of the camera. One of the first big hits for HBO, Tales from the Crypt took advantage of the relaxed censorship standards of the cable channel and gave horror fans plenty of the bloodshed and terror they wanted.
Twin Peaks: Who killed Laura Palmer? This was the question TV audiences all over the country were asking as they watched David Lynch and Mark Frost’s trippy show. Eccentric FBI Agent Dale Cooper has come to the town of Twin Peaks, home of “damn fine coffee” to help solve a murder. Along with Sheriff Harry S. Truman he navigates a mystery filled with Lynchian weirdness and quirky characters. Through his investigation and a series of strange dreams he discovers the evil in this town centers around the mysterious Black Lodge and an evil known as BOB. While Twin Peaks was spoiled by an ignorant network executive who prematurely forced the reveal of the central mystery it’s cult following kept the series strong and even inspired a revival in 2014.
Quantum Leap: As told by the intro many 90’s sci-fi fans know by heart; Sam Beckett was a scientist in the future caught in a time travel accident via his Quantum Leap Accelerator. Now his consciousness thrust around into different people of the past at key moments in their lives. In order for him to leap to the next person and eventually find his way home, Beckett has to ensure the timeline goes as planned. Helping him is a hologram of his friend Al, played to perfection by veteran actor Dean Stockwell. He carries on with his work in the hopes that his next leap will be the one that takes him home.
Babylon 5: From the mind of fan favorite writer J. Michael Straczynski came a space opera fitting a planned five-year story arc with each season serving as a chapter in the overall journey. After a devastating war against the Minbari, the Earth establishes a space station known as Babylon 5 to serve as a neutral meeting ground among all spacefaring races. It is placed under the command of Commander Sinclair and his crew who have to hold the peace and make sure the earth is represented on an intergalactic stage. Straczynski’s intricate plot was laid out to perfection and was followed as Babylon 5 endured time slot and network changes until it’s memorable finale.
Forever Knight: The supernatural detective and the remorseful vampire, have become staples in genre entertainment and they all owe a debt to this cult favorite Canadian show. After centuries living in the shadows, Nick Knight is searching for redemption as well as a cure for his vampirism. In order to work closely with a scientist who can help him, as well as atone for his past, Nick takes a job as a detective for Toronto PD. In each episode we see the cases he investigates in the present tied into his past with his companion Janette and their sire Lucien LaCroix. In the present day Janette is the owner of a Goth club, who is skeptical of Nick’s choice to give up immortality, though she helps him when she can. However, LaCroix wants to bring him back to his old violent ways. While Forever Night was relatively short-lived it still enjoys a devoted following.
The X-Files: The truth is out there, and two very different FBI agents Mulder and Scully are looking for it. In the basement of FBI Headquarters, Agent Mulder investigates the cases which can only be explained through paranormal means. Sent to keep an eye on him is the skeptical medical expert Agent Scully. This compelling and often terrifying show featured the two agents investigating the unexplained often in a “Monster of the Week” style format. But over time the viewers as well as the two characters begin to uncover a massive underlying conspiracy being perpetuated by the government. The X-Files combination of moody science fiction tales and the undeniable chemistry between it’s two leads made the show a cult hit right from the start. While it finished with a whimper rather than a bang, the show left a television legacy which still continues.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The success of Star Trek TNG launched a whole television universe of Trek. The one seen as the best of these, and was honestly ahead of it’s time, was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Near a Bajorian space station, recently liberated from the Cardassians, a worm hole in space has opened giving the area strategic value. The Federation is invited to help run this station, now rechristened Deep Space Nine, and send the reluctant Commander Benjamin Sisko to take on the task. Running DS9 and being a single parent to his son Jake would be a lot to juggle but luckily he has an incredible crew of fan favorites like: his second in command Kira, Chief O’Brien, Worf, Constable Odo, and science officer Dax. For seven seasons, Sisko had to deal with difficult political and moral issues, with everything ultimately building to the Dominion War. DS9 set itself apart by introducing serialized storytelling and an ambiguous morality into the Trek universe.
3rd Rock from the Sun: On a mission to learn as much as they can about the earth, four aliens take on the guise of the Solomon family in an attempt to blend in with humanity. The results are disastrously hilarious. John Lithgow won multiple Emmy’s for his performance as Dick Solomon, the buffoonish family patriarch/mission commander with an on-and-off again relationship with his colleague Mary Albright. The merciless Sally served as head of security, the oldest of the crew Tommy is stuck being the teenager, while dim-witted Harry is the radio. With each episode the four of them fall into hilarious circumstances caused by their ignorance of humanity and inevitably end up on their roof to discuss the (largely misunderstood) lesson they learned. Through it’s humor walked solidly on the silly and absurd side of things, 3rd Rock still managed to win over critics as well as TV audiences.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Beginning life as a largely forgotten movie, writer/director Joss Whedon took his idea for a teenage girl who battles evil to television and changed the game. Buffy Summers may have thought moving to Sunnydale would be easy, only to discover the town is built on a Hellmouth spawning a nonstop plethora of vampires and other supernatural baddies to fight. Mentored by her Watcher Giles and backed-up by her Scooby Gang featuring friends Willow and Xander, Buffy stands as humanity’s best hope against the forces of darkness. The show popularized the now familiar TV staple of the seasonal “Big Bad” as the Slayer faced overarching threats like; Spike, the Master, Glory, and her vampire lover-turned villain Angel. Buffy brilliantly combined elements of gothic horror with well-written teenage drama in a way never done before, and became one of the most beloved shows on television.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: As the catchy theme song tells us: Joel (and later Mike) was an employee at Gizmotic Institute, but his mad scientist bosses Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank did not like him and shot him into space. He finds a new home on the Satellite of Love with his robotic companions (popularly known as the ‘Bots); Crow, Tom Servo, and Gypsy. They find themselves unwittingly the subject of Forrester’s experiments to be driven crazy by being forced to watch the worst movies ever made. The only way for Joel to maintain his sanity s for he and the ‘bots to relentlessly mock and riff on these cinematic travesties. Over the years the show has shifted around different platforms and the actors playing the hosts and the mads have rotated but the iconic silhouette of a man with two robots cast against a movie screen remains. MST3K played a large role in introducing a new generation to some of the worst movies of all-time.
Star Trek: Voyager: As TNG wrapped up it’s historic run a third Star Trek series was commissioned to accompany DS9 to keep this golden age of the franchise going. On what should have been a simple mission, the crew of the starship Voyager are hit with an energy wave sending them to the Delta Quadrant 70,000 light years from earth. Luckily sitting in the captain’s chair is Captain Kathryn Janeway played to absolute perfection by actress Kate Mulgrew. She pulls together what is left of her crew including; a former prisoner-turned helm officer, an academy drop-out engineer, a liberated Borg drone, and a doctor who is a hologram; to find a way through uncharted space. On their journey home the crew of Voyager must face new threats as well as old enemies like the Borg.
The Outer Limits: Do not attempt to adjust your set, because Trek was not the only classic from the 60’s to get an update in the 90’s. Inspired by the success in genre television as a whole during this time, the Outer Limits returned to take control. Thanks to broadcasting on Showtime the usual restrictions on content were loose allowing the creators a great deal of freedom in producing each episode. Fresh new spins were given to classic Outer Limits episodes like “Feasibility Study” and “Black Box”. There were also brand new stories to be told which went outside the usual “monster of the week” format and told thought-provoking tales of technology going amok.
Farscape: On a mission in space, earth astronaut John Crichton stumbles into a wormhole and emerges in the midst of a struggle between the corrupt Peacekeepers and the renegade crew of the bio-mechanical ship Moya. Adopted in as one of them Crichton remains with Aeryn Sun, Ka D’Argo, and the rest navigate the stars and try to evade the vengeful Peacekeeprs. Human actors like Ben Browder and Claudia Black brought life to incredibly charming and likable characters alongside fantastic creatures brought to life by the master puppeteers the Jim Henson Company.
Stargate SG-1: In 1994 director Roland Emmerich released the cult classic Stargate which was fairly successful and left the door open for more stories. Enter showrunners Brad Wright and Dean Devlin, who picked up the story where the movie left off with the military unit SG-1 taking control of the Stargate to explore distant worlds. Col. Jack O’Neill, Daniel Jackson, and Capt. Sam Carter, learn that the earth is being targeted by new threats from other worlds. In order to defend the planet from impending doom from the Goa’uld, the SG-1 team venture through the Stargate in order to connect with other races who may help them. Stargate SG-1 inspired a devoted legion of fans who kept the show strong for 10 seasons and multiple: spin-offs, video games, and direct to DVD movies.