There’s a theory that says that science-fiction shows are the barometer by which a decade’s social aspirations, fears and cultural consciousness can be deduced. While the space faring sci-fi of 50s-60s (The Twilight Zone, Doctor Who) reflected humanity’s need to understand its place in the universe in the nuclear and space ages; shows from the 90s and 2000s (like The X-Files, Fringe) reflected our fears of global terrorism. Following a gap in the 2010s; science fiction is making a comeback and that too on a medium that itself was once considered science-fiction – Streaming TV!
So here are the top 10 sci-fi series that you should definitely stream and binge this year, and we tell you why.
#1: Stranger Things (Netflix Original)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Eleven and her D&D obsessed crew already. Set in a small town of Hawkins in the 80s, the first season deals with the sudden disappearance of Will Byers. Will’s mom, friends and the town sheriff Hopper, while trying to find Will, realize that something is ‘Upside Down’ in Hawkins. A gripping season 1 packs in concepts ranging from evil government projects and monsters to parallel dimensions. Stranger Things tries to strike a fine balance between Sci-fi, fantasy, cuteness and horror – and it succeeds. Packed in a gripping short season format; Stranger Things is one of the most binge-able shows Netflix has to offer – science fiction or otherwise.
#2: Dark (Netflix Original)
Trust the Germans to take the core beats of Stranger Things, mash it with lovecraftian horror time-travel and create a precisely engineered sci-fi show that is gripping, horrifying and endearing at the same time. Dark, one of the first German-language original Netflix shows is set in a small German town of Winden. Teenagers have gone missing and one of them is the son of town’s police officer Ulrich. Meanwhile Jonas, a teenager is dealing with his father’s suicide and all of it seems to be connected to the town’s nuclear plant and its connected series of caves.
Dark is, well, dark; yet it’s beautiful too. Weaving concepts of time, fate, good and evil in a metaphysical frame, Dark is most certainly THE show to stream in 2018.
#3: Black Mirror (Netflix Original)
Black Mirror, in its “Netflix Original” avatar is now a tent pole series for Netflix. Created by Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror takes the fears and anxieties of today’s post-smartphone and Wikileaks age, mashes them in the blender borrowed from The Twilight Zone and serves it with a splatter of dystopia, grunge and blood. In an episodic format, Black Mirror takes one scientific or technological concept at a time and attempts to show how far humanity can take the consequences in the dystopian direction.
#4: The Expanse (Netflix Exclusive)
The Expanse is set in a distant future where Man has colonized the solar system and the three prime independent colonies of Earth, Mars and The Belt are bound by an uneasy peace. Amidst all this is Thomas Jane’s character (Josephus Miller), an asteroid belt born space-cop, on a mission to unearth a missing person’s case. Parallel to Miller’s storyline, an incident on board James Holden’s (played by Steven Strait) cargo ship has destabilized the uneasy peace between the colonies. In a true sci-fi noir format lives, events, intent and characters coincide; blending contemporary political and societal commentary and brilliant visuals with noir format storytelling – likes of which I have only seen in pages of my favourite comic books.
#5: Electric Dreams (Amazon Exclusive)
Although similar, unlike Black Mirror, Electric Dreams deals with more high-concept sci-fi inspired by Philip K. Dick’s work. There’s is no mandate in Electric Dreams to be dystopian, which is a welcome relief, yet leads to inconsistent tonality. But a diverse and stellar star-cast that includes Richard Madden, Anna Paquin, Steve Buscemi, Bryan Cranston and Terrence Howard more than make up for it. What sets Electric Dreams apart is the feeling you get after each episode. While things may get bad and dystopian, the show never lets you forget that as humans, we are sentient, emotional and the core of it, empathetic beings. Electric Dreams also lets you see the kind of impact Philip’s work has had on the science-fiction we’ve been consuming for decades.
Now let’s quickly round up the bottom 5 on the must-binge list:
#6: Altered Carbon (Netflix Original) – This is the latest offering from Netflix and is being touted as one of the best science fiction shows out there. After watching season 1, the hype seems to be real. Set in a world where consciousness can be downloaded on “stacks” and put in other available bodies, the show follows the story of Takeshi Kovacs, a former rebel, who is reanimated in a new “sleeve” (body) to solve a murder of one of the richest men in the Earth Empire. The show’s visuals have the blade runner vibe and the action is top notch – making it a must watch.
#7: The OA (Netflix Original) – The OA is set up as a psychological mystery drama – with roots in science fiction, fantasy and faith. Prairie Johnson, the show’s lead, remerges after she went missing several years ago. Back and no longer blind, Prairie narrates her story, of when she went missing, to a bunch of seemingly unconnected people. What makes The OA stand apart is the ability to connect with the audience emotionally and forget for a moment that this is indeed a show about parallel dimensions, science and time.
#8: Star Trek: Discovery (Netflix Exclusive) – Star Trek: Discovery, till its season finale a few weeks back, would have been in the top 5. However, Discovery, which started out as one of the most diverse, gripping and divisive shows out there – is now a reminder of how studio interference and fan backlash can alter the course of shows for the worse. The show’s greatest strength was that it was the Star Trek for today’s day and age. What Discovery’s characters and storylines reflected consistently is the conundrum we all have in the post-Trump era. In the face of adversity, hate and ruthless fascism – how do we fight and how do we survive, without losing the values we were trying to uphold in the first place. The episodes are extremely fast paced and the narrative not afraid to make bold choices. Star Trek: Discovery set in a timeline few years before Kirk and Co. is still a must stream – however, I would recommend against binging the show, the narrative is not designed for that.
#9: The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Original) – Set in an alternate timeline where the Nazi’s won the war, Man in the High Castle follows the story of Juliana and Frank who chance upon newsreels which show another timeline where the Allies won – given to them by the “Man in the High Castle”. The show follows their adventures as they try to unravel the mystery of the reels and fight the Axis overlords.
#10: Travelers (Netflix Original) – Travelers is fluffy, fun science-fiction and time travel drama that does its job well, without pretension and is therefore binge-able. Travelers as the show’s name suggests, is about time-travellers from the future, who send their consciousness back in time into various bodies to prevent a bleak future (yeah, pretty much X-Men: Days of the Future Past). But the show maintains a tight pacing and while working with generic sci-fi tropes, brings a certain amount of freshness to it, the way Fringe did, a few years ago.