Sanctuary, the first show filmed entirely on green screen, is free to stream on Pluto and Tubi.
At one point, the internet was used to release “webisodes,” micro-budget television shows put together by determined artists, and one of the best was Sanctuary, an eight-episode sci-fi series out of Canada. SyFy was so impressed it purchased the rights and made a television series out of it that ran for four seasons, from 2008 to 2011. Today, every episode is available to stream on either Pluto or Tubi, with no subscription fee and no additional charge, which is great news, as the show was the first of its kind to be filmed entirely on a green screen.
Sanctuary starred Stargate-SG1‘s Amanda Tapping as Dr. Helen Magnus, the head of the Sanctuary network that provides a safe haven for Abnormals, mythical beings including mermaids, Big Foot, and plenty of original creations for the show. Joining Tapping were Robin Dunne as Dr. Will Zimmerman, Emilie Ullerup as Ashley Magnus (Helen’s daughter), Ryan Robbins as Henry the lycanthrope tech genius, and Christopher Heyerdahl as Big Foot and also John Druitt, though he was known by the name “Jack” for part of the 19th-Century.
In addition to Abnormals pulled from myth, legend, and folklore, Sanctuary included historical figures, from a steampunk-powered Dr. Watson (Peter Wingfield) to Druitt being the real Jack the Ripper, and best of all, the delightfully deranged vampiric Nikola Tesla, played by Jonathon Young. This strange alchemy powers the first few seasons of Sanctuary as the team battles against the Cabal, a group that wants to use Abnormals for a nefarious purpose.
As with the inventive Farscape, the tight-budget constraints of the series put an emphasis on character and snappy dialogue over action sequences, giving Sanctuary a throw-back feel to what sci-fi television used to be. That is, of course, except for the high-tech behind its production since only a handful of episodes include physical sets. Other than those few episodes, the rest of the series was entirely shot on a green screen with high-definition digital cameras, the first of its kind to do so.
To help make Sanctuary a success, Amanda Tapping gave up extra pay as an executive producer, instead having her money go towards the creation of digital sets. The show was a passion project for all involved, and it shows, even if it didn’t elevate the genre as Battlestar Galactica did just a few years earlier, at its worse, it’s still a solid show that plays with the monster of the week format.
Standout Sanctuary episodes include Season 2 Episode 9, “Penance,” which features Amanda Tapping’s old co-star Michael Shanks as an Abnormal working with the mob. The multi-part season finale, “Kali,” includes a dance number, while Season 1, Episode 11, “Instinct,” plays with the found-footage genre by showing the episode through the camera of a news crew that wanders across an Abnormal hunt.
Halfway through the series, the “monster of the week” is scrapped to instead focus on an epic storyline about Hollow Earth, which significantly increases the show’s cast, adding new characters from another off-shoot of humanity, including Adam Copeland (WWE’s Edge) as a Resistance fighter, and Adam Worth (Ian Tracy), the inspiration behind Jekyll and Hyde. At the same time, Sanctuary’s visual effects take a step up, with the impressive Hollow Earth city and a series of massive monsters taking center stage.
Not as funny as Eureka or Warehouse 13, but not as dark as Battlestar Galactica, Sanctuary strikes a balance between Syfy’s other original shows while embracing the “do more with less” philosophy of other Canadian shows, such as Lost Girl and Bitten. Easily binge-able thanks to Pluto and Tubi, the 59 episodes that make up the series will fly by, and though there was supposed to be a Season 5 that never happened, don’t worry, there’s a definitive ending.
Now’s a good time to watch Sanctuary, as MPCA reported a few years back that Amanda Tapping is on board for a revival series now that the rights have been purchased from NBCUniversal. There hasn’t been much news on the show since, except that they were looking around for executive producers, but as with her other famous series, fans are hopeful for a return to the world of Abnormals and twisted literary figures at least one more time.