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 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 sprit. Combining strong performances, well-developed characters, escalating tension, solid production values, and compelling arcs, it’s 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, set to debut December 13, 2019, and have already re-upped for a fifth.
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 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.
The first 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.
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, it 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.
Time travel, spaceships, alien invasions, mind control, Szechwan sauce, Rick and Morty hits all the sci-fi 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.
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, it 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 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.
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 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.
New Sci-Fi Series
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. Like Star Trek Discovery, Picard lands on CBS All Access in January 2020.
Come one, it’s Star Wars, of course we’re going to be hyped for Lucasfilm’s first live-action series. When Disney+, their new streaming service, launches this year, one of their flagships will be 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’ll also reportedly 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.
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 the upcoming 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. Early reviews have been through the roof, as if we weren’t already excited enough to dig into the upcoming dystopia.
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 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.
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 and a little program called Doctor Who, 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.