Can you name the man who created and narrated '50s favorite "The Twilight Zone"? Remember who served as captain on the first USS Enterprise? And what was the name of that ship flown by a renegade crew on "Firefly"? If you know the answers to these questions,, see if you can earn a perfect score on this sci-fi TV show quiz!
So many TV shows proudly tout how they are "ripped from the headlines" or "inspired by actual events." At the other end of the spectrum are the silly sitcoms that show working-class people living in million-dollar NYC apartments, or frazzled characters who always manage to come out on top, despite failing to ever really get their lives together.
While it's fun to indulge in these series and get a view of the world through a lens, there's also a certain thrill in tuning in to sci-fi series to see not what is, but what could be. What would the world look like with new technology, or if rules of time and space travel could be bent or broken? What is life like in alternate worlds or universes? What could happen if humans ever actually came into contact with other life forms -- like aliens?
Sci-fi is storytelling without the limits of reality. It gives TV producers an opportunity to explore new possibilities, introducing content that goes beyond anything ever imagined to drop viewers into a whole new world. And while sci-fi might seem like a modern invention, the genre has been going strong since the radio days of the '30s.
Think you're a master of this genre? Take our quiz to prove your sci-fi TV show IQ!
If you've never seen "Doctor Who," you're missing out on about a half-century of relentless creativity and humor. The modern series has better special effects and generally better acting, but I'm an old school Tom Baker fan myself.
TNG brought the Trek TV series into the modern world, with high-end special effects and dozens of new aliens. Instead of Spock, we got Data, not necessarily an upgrade.
"Fringe" was an honest brother in concept to "The X-Files." Alternate worlds, with occasional bridges between them, led to all manner of odd happenings.
The relaunch of this classic show got a lot of things right. Various fanboys were upset by a female Starbuck, but they soon got over it.
"Eureka" was a high-concept show centered on a town where "exceptional" people lived. The sheriff was a normal fellow, and had all manner of adventures dealing with his residents.
There was a LOT of cheese in the original, and annoying creatures like Muffit, the robot dog. However, the acting was good on the whole and the special effects were great for the time.
People from all walks of life discover they have superpowers that can either help or destroy the world. Heroes ran for 4 seasons with many twists and turns along the way.
"Sliders" combined a great cast, led by Jerry O'Connell and the formidable John Rhys-Davies, with great stories. When the writers added an overarching "big bad" backstory, it lost a bit of edge.
Richard Dean Anderson brought a freewheeling spirit to this series, based on the classic sci-fi film. He was frequently in danger, but never really seemed to be all that scared.
Here's the story of Superman as an angst-ridden teenager. We even get to meet a teenage Lex Luthor!
Kevin Sorbo did his herculean best in this oater, apparently created from scraps of paper found in Gene Roddenberry's shredder pile. The plots were derivative, and while it had its bright moments, the show as a whole wasn't very good.
This beefed-up, conflict-laden spinoff had a good run, and the new enemy race was truly menacing. Watch for Aquaman, Jason Momoa, in one of his first roles.
James Cameron introduced us to Jessica Alba in this tale of genetically engineered teens breaking out of confinement. It sustained a time-jump to a post-apocalyptic future, and lasted three seasons.
The original "V" was a campy classic, with an almost "Dynasty"-level amount of drama and pretty decent special effects. The reboot had tremendously better effects, but the heart just wasn't in it.
Some (including me) call this the best earthbound sci-fi show ever made. Yes, it meandered in the last season after Duchovny left, but as a body of work it's unmatched.
This is my favorite of the "new" Trek series. It had a grittier feel, the aliens were more fully realized as characters and who wouldn't want to fly the Defiant into a battle?
Imagine if all the humans abducted by aliens over the decades suddenly showed up back on Earth. That was the premise of this nifty show that worked in some deft conspiracy-theory elements before dying a premature death due to poor scheduling.
The concept for this show was sort of like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but far cooler. The "Buck" in this case was a human astronaut who found himself booted halfway across the galaxy and taking up with a crew that would have made the Mos Eisley Cantina bouncer flinch.
John Barrowman played ageless Capt. Jack Harkness, leading this crew of alien-monitoring (and occasionally world-saving) Brits. It was a spinoff of "Doctor Who," but a worthy show in its own right.
How much ground did this series break? First interracial kiss? Asian-American NOT playing a karate warrior? Roddenberry's "Wagon Train to the stars" changed TV forever.
Very few animated shows have ever attracted the fanatical following that "Futurama" has. It's been saved from cancellation at least twice and even switched networks thanks to rabid fans ... and Bender's acerbic sense of humor.
Joss Whedon's masterpiece, this criminally short-lived sci-fi series was a shiny star in the TV firmament. Devoted fans (including me) can hold entire conversations in quotes from the show and the movie, "Serenity," which followed it.
The adventures of Capt. Janeway and crew never did quite fully catch on with Trek fandom. I'd like to think that the fact that the captain was female didn't have anything to do with that, but fanboys can be a pretty hidebound lot.
In another universe, "Babylon 5" would still be on the air. Similar to "Deep Space Nine," it centered on a space station populated by an ever-shifting cast of aliens and humans, all of whom kept a fragile peace (most of the time). We got to meet aliens with distinctly human traits like greed, avarice, and good old-fashioned skullduggery.
A hero who ends up in the body of a different person every week might be one of the best conceits ever for a sci-fi show. Scott Bakula pulled off the act for several seasons, with the excellent Dean Stockwell as his pal Al, who helped as much as he could.
This show started on public access television in Minnesota, and grew largely by fans making tapes of the shows and mailing them around. It's recently gotten a reboot thanks to Netflix, and is still as hilarious as ever.
This always reminded me of "Happy Days" in space, maybe because of the redheaded kid. It was high camp, with a "menace of the week" plotline, but lasted several seasons.
Yes, "Doctor Who" has been around since before "Star Trek!" The old ones are marked by a wicked sense of humor, truly horrible special effects and monsters with frequently visible zippers in their suits ... but I love them.
Imagine if the guys who make the awful skin flicks shown on Cinemax after midnight got to make a TV show. You've got "Lexx." It was campy, seriously walked the line with the censors and the jokes got old really quickly.
"Alien Nation" took the "alien arrival" motif and turned it on its head. Imagine if the aliens got here and just ... moved in?
The fish out of water comedy is as old as the genre itself, but here the "fish" was an alien family. John Lithgow channeled his Buckaroo Banzai wackiness to lead this hilarity.
Rarely has a fan base been more simultaneously enthralled and frustrated by a series than with "Lost." We got dense, intertwined plot lines and great performances, but we also got season-long red herrings and characters who appeared and disappeared for no apparent reason.
The "X-Files" planted the "alien-human hybrid" idea in the popular consciousness, and "Roswell" made them the good guys. Naturally, the three teen leads live in Roswell ... where else?
The beautiful Amanda Tapping, of "Stargate" fame, led this monster-fueled show. Clones and genetic manipulation give rise to all manner of dark creatures, who, of course, must be stopped.
Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher played the title characters in this '90s show that was a little bit superhero, a little bit romance. I'm really surprised it never made it to the big screen ... probably 10 years too early.
This was appointment viewing for every teen and pre-teen boy in the '80s. David Hasselhoff, a talking car and bad guys yanked straight from comic books made it hilariously over-the-top cheese, but GOOD cheese.
Robin Williams' Mork was one of the few bright spots near the end of "Happy Days." To see this show at its best, catch the episodes with Jonathan Winters.
If you have a kid in a gifted school, this show will probably give you the creeps a bit. Imagine if Little Johnny was trained to assume any identity, perform any job or take on any persona.
Imagine the early days of Starfleet, when the Vulcans were just about humanity's only friends and Warp 2 was considered amazingly fast. That was the idea behind this show, but it was poorly realized, and never quite caught on with Trek fandom.
Paranoia about androids killing off humans is not a new theme, but "Humans" is one of the few shows or movies that makes us sympathize with the robots. Humans mistreat their "synths," and eventually the androids decide they're not going to put up with it ...
"ER"'s Noah Wyle shed his "fresh-faced young doctor" persona for this alien invasion show. It was a tightly written, exciting show with fairly good special effects and impressive set-piece battles. Catch the episodes with Matt Frewer as a dangerously unhinged general.
I kind of like the premise behind this show: The earth has been wiped clean by an apocalypse, and 100 juvenile delinquents have been sent to repopulate the planet. Why not send the expendable ones? Just don't be surprised if their new society isn't exactly friendly.
With a wink and a nod to the notion of "girls for hire," this show proceeded to humanize the "girls" and weave a dense conspiracy thriller around them. Eliza Dushku (Faith from "Buffy" and "Angel") led the cast.
We all know "S.H.I.E.L.D."s superhero members, but what about the humans who run the show? Clark Gregg's Agent Phil Coulson is the linchpin, with a great supporting cast and occasional superhero appearances.
Like to read things like graphic novels online? This show, in which a group of people who all read the same bizarre tome online find themselves being hunted down, will cure you of that urge.
Tatiana Maslany should have won an Emmy every year for her efforts in this show. She plays a myriad of characters, all clones of one original host, who embody a huge range of personalities and abilities.
In the overwhelmingly male-dominated world of superheroes, "Jessica Jones" is a standout exception. She failed as a superhero, so now she puts her abilities to work as a private detective while occasionally perpetrating acts of heroism.
"Red Dwarf" is quite possibly the first TV science fiction parody. Evoking tones found in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," this low-budget laugher was a pure BBC creation.
This one's worth watching if only for Lena Headey's infinitely badass turn as Sarah Conner. Garret Dillahunt does his oily best as the main bad guy.
The original "Twilight Zone" made an indelible impact on the television landscape. The reboot was something of a casualty of society, as the old suspense-horror plotlines just didn't have the shock value anymore.