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
Season 2 of Netflix’s hit Altered Carbon is here with big changes. While season one brought ten episodes to the screen, season 2 will consist of eight. The story itself is based on the 2002 novel by author Richard K. Morgan and is set more than 360 years into the future. In this future, a person’s consciousness can be transferred into another by means of a device called a cortical stack. These devices are implanted in the vertebrae in the back of the neck and can be transferred to a new body after death.
Altered Carbon dropped a double-length trailer showing off more of the new Kovacs in action. Watch…
Will Yun Lee (The Good Doctor) began the series as the main character Takeshi Kovacs and is said to be returning in a limited capacity. Joel Kinnaman (Suicide Squad) took over as Kovacs when Lee’s “body” died but his return for season 2 is unknown. Anthony Mackie (Avengers: Infinity War, Captain America) is set to be the vessel for Kovacs in season 2 as he is continuing his quest to find his long lost love Quellcrist Falconer, again played by Renée Elise Goldsberry, while also investigating a series of brutal murders.
Simone Missick (Luke Cage), James Saito (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) are new additions to the cast with Lela Loren (Power) join as the charming governor of planet Harlan’s World.
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.
While the SyFy Channel has been happily cancelling shows like The Expanse left and right, they’ve allowed The Magicians stay on the air. Now wrapping up its fifth season, The Magicians is the longest-running scripted show on the network. So of course they’ve cancelled it.
SyFy announced The Magicians won’t be back for a fifth season. The show’s remaining five episodes will be allowed to air, and then it’s done.
The Magicians producers Sera Gamble and John McNamara immediately spoke out to explain to fans why the show has been cancelled. Here’s what they say: “It played out kind of the way it’s played out almost every season. With the exception of Season 4 into Season 5, we never knew whether or not we’re going to get picked up. It was always a discussion—never really about the creative—about the financials and you always know, with any show, that there’s this kind of fine line between what it brings in and what it costs.”
Sounds like standard operating procedure on a network infamous for axing shows willy-nilly. It’s amazing they were allowed to stay on this long, given SyFy’s track record. They continue, “And as the creators of the show, we understand that. We had the sense going into this season that Syfy, in particular as our first platform, was kind of hitting the point of ‘The cup is full and there’s no more room.’ It’s not going to necessarily expand in terms of revenue, it’s not necessarily going to contract in terms of revenue, but it is going to cost more.”
It sounds like SyFy simply wasn’t willing to pay for the show to delivery quality programming.
Here’s the official statement about the sci-fi show’s cancellation from the network: “The Magicians has been a part of our Syfy family for five fantastic seasons. As we near the end of this journey, we want to thank [executive producers] John McNamara, Sera Gamble, Henry Alonso Myers, Lev Grossman, and our entire brilliant cast, crew, writers and directors for their beautiful creation. But most of all, we thank the fans for their tremendous support and passion. Because of you, magic will be in our hearts forever.”
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.
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
The Brides is a pilot being worked on for ABC from the executive producer of Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The show is about the Brides of Dracula and Gina Torres is set to star as one of the sexy vampire brides.
The Brides is described as a “sexy” modern reimagining of the classic Dracula vampire tale and Dracula will be in it. However, the show is focused more on the three ladies in Draculas life. Gina Torres will play Cleo, leader of the female vampire trio the show is focused on. Cleo was a queen in her former human life, but now she’s Drac’s top vampiress and a real-estate mogul in New York City.
The Martian Chronicles
James Gunn is not one to sit still. He is currently working on The Suicide Squad for DC then has Marvel’s Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 3 on deck. So, with those two huge projects going, you’d think he doesn’t have room on his plate for anymore. You would be so mistaken. Gunn has just be asked to take on a TV adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s short The Martian Chronicles according to The Illuminerdi. He will be Executive Producing and directing the project.
The Martian Chronicles was first a collection of short stories that Bradbury turned into a novel in 1950 and revolves around humans fleeing a devastated Earth to colonize Mars and the conflicts that ensue between Martians and humans.
The story has been previously adapted as a mini-series in 1980 that Bradbury himself stated he found “just boring”. Chances are with Gunn at the helm, boring it won’t be. There is no word as to which network or streaming service it will be attached to, but once we have word, we will pass it along.
NBC is working on a new Battlestar Galactica TV series to put on their upcoming Peacock streaming service. They’ve tapped the creator of Mr. Robot, Sam Esmail, to make it happen.
The new BSG was originally being reported as a total reboot of the franchise, but now it seems it may actually be set in the same universe as creator Ronald Moore’s iconic Battlestar Galactica series from the early 2000s.
Ronald Moore himself spoke out about the new show, saying Sam Esmail called him. Here’s what he was told, “Sam called me and was very gracious, he didn’t pitch me the story so I don’t know. But he said his plans and he wasn’t going to re-start the show and recast it but he wanted to do something in the same universe. Sam’s amazing and I love Mr. Robot. I was like, you know, ‘You’re an amazing guy and amazing writer, go with God!’“
Quantum Leap Reboot
NBC is working on a new version of the classic nineties sci-fi television series Quantum Leap. 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. Now it’s happening
No official word yet on if any of the original Quantum Leap cast, which was led by Scott Bakula, will return for this new reboot. But Scott Bakula went on The Talk and discussed it. He had this to say when asked if he was coming back: “I don’t know, I don’t know.” And when asked what he thought the new Quantum Leap would be like he answered, “There are so many things going on right now that need to be put right, that are currently going wrong, that Beckett would be very, very busy. Lots to do.”
Currently, however, Bakula is busy shooting NCIS: New Orleans. The sci-fi 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.