A lot has been made about how we’re in a golden age of television, and those proclamations aren’t wrong. Full of weighty prestige dramas and epic spectacles, the offerings on the small screen are as good as they’ve ever been. And don’t worry, sci-fi fans, the TV overlords didn’t forget about us. There’s plenty of amazing sci-fi series episodes to dig into.
Right now, we have tons of compelling speculative fiction to choose from on the small screen. There’s plenty of space adventures, robots, harrowing dystopias, artificial intelligence run amok, and all the usual genre bells and whistles to be excited about. To the point where it can be a tad overwhelming.
There’s so much it’s hard to keep up with. To that end, we’ve assembled a list of what we think are the best sci-fi series currently airing, either literally or metaphorically, and those about to air. For the sake of convenience, we broke them into two categories: returning and new.
Returning Sci-Fi Series
James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse novels are some of the best sci-fi out there right now. They combine soaring, epic space opera with twisty, gritty noir and tales of political intrigue. Not to be outdone, the TV adaptation captures the same feel and spirit.
Combining strong performances, well-developed characters, escalating tension, solid production values, and compelling arcs, this sci-fi series is one of the best genre offerings on the small screen since Battlestar Galactica. For three seasons the adventures of the Rocinante and her crew found a home on Syfy before it was cancelled. That was a bummer, but the silver lining is the show found an escape pod. Amazon Prime picked the series up for a fourth season, it debuted December 13, 2019, and they have already re-upped for a fifth.
Our review of The Expanse’s fourth season says “…what was already one of the best shows in the history of television, got even better.”
It took a while for The Orville to figure out what it was. Both a spoof and a love letter to Star Trek, it’s part camp, part reverent homage, and those elements didn’t initially mesh all that well together. But when it finally found its footing, it was well worth the wait.
Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi saga of a down-on-his-luck space captain and his mid-tier exploratory vessel blasts off for some great sci-fi. It offers a balance of character-driven stories and irreverent humor. Goofy, fun, and engaging, it’s become of the most unique genre offerings on television at the same time it tips a cap to earlier generations. The next season will only be available on Hulu.
Star Trek: Discovery
The first sci-fi series developed exclusively for CBS All Access, the network’s fledgling streaming service, Star Trek: Discovery also delivered our first new Trek series since Enterprise wrapped up in 2005. Set before The Original Series, Discovery expands on the world we know, features great new characters, and recontextualizes the classic series, framing the subsequent adventures of Kirk, Spock, and the rest.
It’s full of familiar Star Trek wonder, thrills, and values, but also represents an evolution of the franchise, carving out a solid niche and identity of its own. Season three boldly goes sometime in 2020.
After completion of Star Trek: Discovery season 3 we’ll get a fourth season. CBS has officially renewed Discovery for Season 4. In the past they’ve waited to see how the show does before committing to more of it, no doubt because of the massive budget involved in putting together such a special effects heavy series. But apparently they’re confident about Season 3, which should makes fans confident too.
Lost in Space
This isn’t your daddy’s Lost in Space. It’s not even the Matt LeBlanc-starring 1998 movie. (Thankfully.) Netflix’s new adaptation of the classic series trades in the dated camp for tense, action-packed sci-fi full of spectacle and thrills. Like its predecessors, it follows the Robinson family, marooned on a remote planet trying to survive and befriending a mysterious robot along the way.
With slick production and performances, this sci-fi series grounds the deep space story in well-wrought family dynamics and drama, never skimping on the tension, jeopardy, or heart. And there’s still plenty of room to grow as it moves forward and evolves.
Rick and Morty
Time travel, spaceships, alien invasions, mind control, Szechwan sauce, Rick and Morty hits all the sci-fi series sweet spots. Fans are practically frothing at the mouth for the highly anticipated fourth season of Dan Harmon’s animated comedy.
Who doesn’t want to go on more adventures with a mad scientist and his dim but earnest grandson? Inventive, hilarious, and much more philosophical than it initially appears, this is one of the most original, off-the-wall shows on TV, in any format. It can make a suburban neighborhood every bit as fantastic and adventurous as planets in the far flung reaches of space.
The Man in the High Castle
Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name, The Man in the High Castle takes place in an alternate reality where the Axis powers won World War II. The Nazis and the Japanese Empire have divided the United States, but a surging underground network may have the tools to bring down the totalitarian regimes.
Complex and ambitious, and full of detailed, spot-on world building, the series encompasses great characters, fantastic performances, and gripping stories. While it diverges from the source material, this sci-fi series still deals with many of Dick’s regular themes and political concerns, many of which feel especially pressing and prescient in the modern world.
A high-tech theme park where visitors pay a hefty price to indulge their wildest dreams and most base desires is a good start for a heady sci-fi series. But in the hands of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, Westworld takes that premise and turned it into a twisted, sprawling mystery that fans delight in parsing out, examining the most minute clues and espousing elaborate conspiracy theories after every episode.
Visually stunning, full of narrative gymnastics, and concerned with esoteric notions of identity, self, artificial intelligence, and more, it’s one of the most compelling, immersive sci-fi shows on TV. We’re all curious to see where season three goes, and HBO will take us there in the first half of 2020.
- Get more in depth on Westworld Season 3 with our Westworld Season 3: All We Know Guide
The new version of Doctor Who is still producing new shows and in its twelfth season. Jodie Whittaker took over the role of The Doctor from Peter Capaldi during the show’s 2017 Christmas special, becoming the first ever female Doctor.
Many would say the legendary sci-fi show peaked around the end of the David Tennant’s time playing The Doctor or in the first season of the Matt Smith era, but Doctor Who’s longevity is undeniable. What’s not certain is how much longer this current incarnation of The Doctor’s adventures will continue.
Recently ratings for the show have plummeted, amidst ongoing complaints about increasingly weak writing and accusations that Doctor Who is now being used to push a political agenda. Despite good reviews from critics, the twelfth season’s ratings have nosedived from week to week.
Season 12 has been the least watched season of the Doctor Who’s entire run, with recent episodes being viewed by only 4.6 million people, down from the 5 million plus the show was doing when Peter Capaldi was still playing The Doctor and waaay down from the 8 million viewers a week the show regularly recorded during Matt Smith and David Tennant’s eras of the character.
Watch it while you still can, there’s no telling how much longer Doctor Who will last.
New Sci-Fi Series
For All Mankind
Hey Ronald D. Moore, we see you there. The producer of Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and more returns with a new sci-fi series based on the idea, what if the space race never ended? In an alternate version of the 1960s, For All Mankind imagines a world where the USSR beats the U.S. to the Moon and envisions the fallout from that event. It looks tense and thrilling and full of high-stakes drama, on both an individual and global scale. The series assembled a strong cast and it’s a piece of the newly launched Apple TV+ streaming service.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen is one of the most celebrated superhero graphic novels of all time. Rather than a straight adaptation—which Zack Snyder already did in 2009—Damon Lindelof and HBO structure their series as a follow up.
Though not a straight translation, it still tinkers with similar themes, deconstructs the idea of superheroes, and expands the world as it breaks new ground. Set in an alternate reality 2019—where there is no internet or smartphones, and Robert Redford is President—a white supremacist group devoted to Rorschach, attempts to incite a violent revolution. Reviews have been through the roof, as if we weren’t already excited enough to dig into the upcoming dystopia.
Star Trek: Picard
Patrick Stewart was hesitant to return to playing Jean-Luc Picard, and so he hasn’t even considered reprising the character since playing him in Star Trek: Nemesis. Ultimately though, it was the sour taste left in his mouth by the much reviled Nemesis that helped convince him to return to Starfleet. He explains…
“Hugh and I were so thrilled when the last thing we did for X-Men was Logan… It was the best X-Men experience we both had, because we were the same characters but their world had been blown apart. Next Generation didn’t end like that. In fact, our last movie, Nemesis, was pretty weak.””– -Patrick Stewart on why he agreed to do Picard
So here we are, with more Star Trek, please. In particular, more Jean-Luc Picard. It’s 20 years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis and in Star Trek: Picard we find the Starfleet captain now retired on Earth, hanging out in a vineyard with his dog, haunted by ghosts from his past. When a mysterious young woman shows up on his doorstep, helping her compels him back into his old life and, much to our glee, back to adventures in deep space. Bonus, he’s bringing some old friends along for the ride. Jonathan Frakes, Jeri Ryan, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, and more all make appearances, as well as tons of new faces.
Why Jean-Luc Isn’t In Uniform
You won’t see Jean-Luc Picard in his Starfleet uniform in Star Trek: Picard. That’s partly for storytelling reasons and partly because actor Patrick Stewart refused to wear it. Here’s how he explained it to CINEMABLEND…
“Well, of course I wasn’t in costume because I only appear very briefly in my uniform, and this was another one of the rather presumptuous conditions that I laid down, that I didn’t want to wear a uniform in this, because I felt it very important that we put a lot of distance between Next Generation and what we are seeking to do here in this.
Not ignore it, no, not at all. But so far as the character’s concerned, halfway through Season 3 of Next Generation, I no longer knew where Jean-Luc started and Patrick Stewart left off. We became melded, and has never left me. So there was actually nothing that strange to be stepping into Star Trek: Picard, because he’s never actually left me. He has always been there, and it’s a relationship that I am happy to continue with. That’s an understatement. I’m absolutely thrilled to continue.”– -Patrick Stewart on Picard being out of uniform
Picard Commenting On Modern Politics
Patrick Stewart says the story of Star Trek: Picard is a direct responses to the current events of the world. He explains it this way…
“Picard… was me responding to the world of Brexit and Trump and feeling, ‘Why hasn’t the Federation changed? Why hasn’t Starfleet changed?’ Maybe they’re not as reliable and trustworthy as we all thought.”– -Patrick Stewart on Star Trek: Picard
If you’re wondering which side of the Brexit and Trump debates Star Trek: Picard will fall on, Patrick Stewart makes that crystal clear. Speaking of the current state of Britain he says, “I think we’re f—ed, completely f—ed.” And then on the United States, “There is a time limit to your f—ed state, which is four years away.”
Bringing Back Data
We know Data will be involved, since he’s been seen in the trailers and Brent Spiner is in the cast list. What we don’t know is how involved he’ll be. Is he just a memory? A holodeck projection? Or is he alive? The latest teaser for Star Trek: Picard seems to be hinting at Data pretty heavily, the music used in it is Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies: which was the last song Data sang before his death in Star Trek: Nemesis. Watch…
Hugh Of Borg
One of the most important new faces in this sci-fi series is Jonathan Del Arco as Hugh. Well he’s not totally new, he first played the Borg character Hugh in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “I, Borg”. He hasn’t been seen in Trek since then, but this is what he’ll look like on Picard….
Here’s the new Borg Look 😉https://t.co/SFxt0SV2en— Jonathan Del Arco (@JonathanDelArco) December 22, 2019
The Enterprise D
Speaking of returning cast members, one of the most important members of the team set to return is the Enterprise D. That’s right, the Enterprise from the Star Trek: The Next Generation television show, not the one from the movies. In the new trailer here, we get shots of Picard sitting on the Enterprise D’s old Ten Forward lounge.
Guinan hasn’t been spotted yet, but don’t be surprised if she shows up serving drinks and wisdom since this seems to be some sort of flashback.
Will Worf Return?
One of the big questions a lot of fans have is whether the show will bring Worf back. Executive producer Alex Kurtzman had this to say about whether Worf will appear in his sci-fi series…
“It’s totally possible. I think Worf is such an amazing character. The rule for this season was we’re only gonna bring in characters if the story can’t tell itself without them. That became the bar for each character. We didn’t just want to throw people in because they were in Next Gen. . . . We actually weren’t even thinking of bringing Marina and Jonathan back until halfway through the season when, as we were breaking story, something came up that made it very clear they needed to be in the story. So a deliberate reason is, because the bar. Is there’s a great reason to bring Worf in? Sure, anything’s possible.“– -Kurtzman on Bringing Worf Back
Given that it’s possible they’ll bring Worf back, the next question is would they change the way he looks to make him look like the new Star Trek: Discovery Klingons? Rest easy fans, here’s what Kurtzman says…
“Well, he would have aged, right? But he ages a lot differently. [But] he’s gotta look like Worf. We’re not changing that.“– -Kurtzman On Bringing Worf Back
Picard lands on CBS All Access on January 23, 2020.
Come on, it’s Star Wars, of course we’re going to be hyped for Lucasfilm’s first live-action series. One of Disney+ flagship sci-fi shows is The Mandalorian, developed by Jon Favreau. Set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, the series follows a bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) on the fringes of that far, far away galaxy. A kind of space western, we see the early days of the First Order and get a different perspective on the Star Wars universe. The stacked cast includes Gina Carano, Giancarlo Esposito, Nick Nolte, Taika Waititi, Ming-Na Wen, and Carl Weathers, among others.
Our review of The Mandalorian says of it, “What matters most is that The Mandalorian, more than anything Disney has produced outside of Rogue One, actually feels like Star Wars. “
With films like Ex Machina and Annihilation under his belt as a director—not to mention Dredd, 28 Days Later, and more as a writer—we’re on the hook for whatever Alex Garland does next. And that’s creating the FX limited series Devs. When her boyfriend disappears, computer engineer Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) investigates the monolithic tech company she works for, a company run by Nick Offerman that specializes in predictive technology and artificial intelligence.
There aren’t a ton of details about this sci-fi series beyond that yet, but this is a promising premise and should allow Garland to continue to explore his fascination with AI, humanity, and technological advancement.
It’s been kicking around for a while, but TNT’s series adaptation of Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, and the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige it’s based on, is almost here. After a failed attempt by scientists to reverse climate change kicks off a new ice age, the last remnants of humanity pile onto a perpetual motion train.
As with the source material, this version of the story also digs into issues of class conflict, power dynamics, and survival in this microcosm of society. Orphan Black’s Graeme Mason currently serves as the showrunner—there’s been a steady stream of behind the scenes drama, upheaval, and turnover—and Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly front the fantastic cast of this apocalyptic climate nightmare.
Sci-Fi Series In Development
Quantum Leap Reboot
NBC is working on a new version of the classic nineties sci-fi television series Quantum Leap according to Slashfilm. The show would be a way for NBC to push their new streaming service, being called The Peacock.
A Quantum Leap revival with an entirely new cast was briefly considered in 2009 by the SyFy channel, but it never went into development. No word yet on if any of the original Quantum Leap cast, which was led by Scott Bakula, will return for this new reboot. Currently, however, Bakula is busy shooting NCIS: New Orleans. The show’s other star, Dean Stockwell, is now 82-years old and hasn’t worked as an actor in nearly five years.
The original Quantum Leap was about a man named Sam Beckett traveling through time by leaping into the bodies of other people. He’d make changes in history and when he was done fixing what was wrong, he’d leap into another body in another time period.
There could, of course, be so many more entries on this list. On the returning side we have side we have series like The 100 among others slated to make come backs.
As TV continues its golden age, there’s also an impending landslide of potentially great sci-fi on the way and in various stages of development. Most are just a bit too far out to include here, but there’s exciting stuff on the horizon. Apple TV+ has the long-in-the-works adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, HBO and J.J. Abrams are developing the mysterious Demimonde, there’s that Cassian Andor series from Disney+ and Tony Gilroy, and maybe, just maybe, if we hope hard enough, that Y: The Last Man adaptation will actually happen.
And we haven’t even mentioned Grand Morrison’s Brave New World adaptation for NBC’s streaming service, a new attempt to tackle Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books, or the potential Dune series that explores the Bene Gesserit order. It’s a good time to be a sci-fi fan who owns a TV.