The Boston Globe shows it doesn't know jack about science fiction

(in lieu of the usual “weird news things about space,” I give you a rant about science fiction on TV)

Apropos of apparently nothing, the Boston Globe decided to create a list of the top 50 sci-fi shows of all time.

And oh boy did they mess up.

Caution, the post contains nigh toxic levels of geekiness…

First, the list includes things that aren’t really “science fiction shows.” For example, while it is much beloved (especially by a certain guy who happens to own this site) Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t science fiction. It’s fantasy. If they were going to Fantasy/Science FIction, then a whole load of fantasy shows would be be contenders.

The list is also heavily slanted towards major network TV shows, especially from the 70’s. The 6 Million Dollar Man, Logan’s Run, Buck Rogers in the 21st Century. All these shows are crap, pure and simple. They fail on the level of being science fiction (since they only use a few elements of science fiction in isolation… and those that they do use are usually very tired cliches). Their acting and writing is also abysmal. It’s obvious that whoever was compiling this list just thought back to what they watched when they were a kid, rather than really analyzing the shows.

The list is also notable for its glaring omissions:

  • The Prisoner was perhaps the best piece of television ever to come out of the 1960’s. Sort of like 1984 on acid, it tells the story of a government agent who resigns his comission, only to be transported to a bizarre village. Not only does it deserve to be on the list, it deserves to be in the top 10.
  • Twin Peaks. If you’re going to include the genre of “weird shit” (most Twighlight Zone episodes, The Outer Limits, etc.) then Twin Peaks deserves to be listed. Inventive, twisted, and mysterious, it was a show which does what few shows really dare to do: tell a story you need to think about in order to understand.
  • Farscape. Including sucktacular shows such as Andromeda on the list and completely overlooking this series is unforgivable. Most of the shows that made the list plod along with the same old sci-fi cliches: “We have to save the universe! Every week!” Farscape took the usual sci-fi plots (“oh crap! There’s a monster loose on our ship”) and twisted them in a knowing way (Crichton, the token human on the show, once lamented “another critter? I hate critters!” This show easily deserves to be #3 or #4 on the list.
  • Including the Trek spinoff Voyager while totally overlooking Deep Space 9 is unfathomable for anyone who has seen both shows. To compare the level of these two shows… consider that Deep Space 9 told one overall story, with plenty of plot twists, reversal of fortunes, and drama (OK, often melodrama, but still better for what usually passes on TV). Voyager had… well, almost nothing, so they brought in a shapely woman and dressed her in a clingy outfit to please the male 18-35 demographic.
  • While the list includes some overlooked shows (Firefly, for example, whose eligy in the top 50 list totally neglects to mention that a feature film based on the series will be coming out tomorrow), it did overlook Space: Above and Beyond a show very similar to the top 50 list’s #2 pick, the new Battlestar Galactica. Both shows deal with the military in space, similar to Heinliens’s classic Starship Troopers. While Space: Above and Beyond was a flawed show, it is still much better than shows that made the top 50 list (especially anything from the 70’s).
  • They included Buffy, so why not Kolchak, the Night Stalker?

The only saving grace on the list is that it does acknowledge the excellent work done on the new Battlestar Galactica series. While the original series was typical for its genre in that time (i.e. crap) the new series is not only great science fiction television, but also great drama, period. It shows what can be done when science fiction themes are treated seriously rather than as a campy springboard for tired storylines and soap-opera theatrics.


  1. Gary,

    You are 100% correct. That is a truly embarrasing list that the Boston Globe has published “apropos of nothing.”

    “My Favorite Martian” but no “Farscape”?
    That is not a list to be taken seriously.

    I am a great fan of Buffy, but it does not belong on a Science Fiction list.

    Now, in the fen community (as I’m sure many wetmachine readers know) the term “SF” is much preferred to “Sci-Fi” for any number of reasons. An obvious reason is to distinguish what we love from the kind of “Sci-Fi” crap listed in the Globe article.

    But another is that “SF” embraces all kinds of “speculative fiction” — including fantasy like Buffy and fantasias like “The Prisoner”.

    “The Greatest American Hero”???? “Quantum Leap”????

    Move along. There’s nothing to see here.

  2. Forgot to complete a thought back there. If you’re going to include “Buffy” on a Sci-Fi list, and “Greatest American Hero”, why stop there? Why not The Muppet Show and Transformers? Heck, why not Power Rangers?

  3. I tend to agree. I think Space Above and Beyond did not get nearly the chance to prove itself it deserved. Like Firefly, it suffered from being on Fox and following pro-sports, so its initial run was marred by not being able to find the episodes half the time.

    I disagree about the Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman not being SF. Often times the plots involved what were (for 1970) science fiction elements such as aliens, telepathy and (modestly) advanced technology.

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