Best Science Fiction TV Of the 90s

I was wondering if there was any sort of agreement on the SDMB of what the best science fiction television of the 90s was. A couple ground rules first: 1. At least part of one season has to have been shown in the 1990s to count. 2. It doesn’t have to be drama, but I suspect the majority of the list will be. 3. It has to have aired on US TV regardless of country of origin. And 4. New episodes only, no reruns.

A partial list of qualifying potential shows, both from memory and Wikipedia:

Star Trek: The Next Generation
ST: Deep Space Nine
ST: Voyager
Stargate SG-1
The X-Files
3rd Rock From the Sun
seaQuest DSV
Babylon 5
Quantum Leap
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Outer Limits (1990s version)
Earth: Final Conflict
RoboCop (TV series)

Feel free to add more, of course. Cable or broadcast is fine.

For me, a list would probably start off with Stargate SG-1, followed closely by early X-Files and Futurama. Never watched Babylon 5 (which I expect to get a lot of votes) since at this point I’d have to start from the very first episode on DVD to make any sense out of the storylines. I also expect Buffy to get a ton of votes and some of the other shows listed, like Andromeda, Earth: Final Conflict, and Sliders to get absolutely none, though all three had their moments at times.

There’s that blond space cadet on Fox who opines on legal matters. Heavy on the fiction, but weak on the science

My preference, however, is for ST: NG, where the aliens are more intelligent and better spoken.

Babylon 5


Babylon 5 for me too, but I also want to add a vote for Red Dwarf.

One more for the ballot:

Red Dwarf

My vote is for Babylon 5, SG-1, ST-TNG, and Seaquest. In that order.

Sliders does come in on the top half of the list though

Edit: TNG after the series matured when Riker got facial hair and they rebuilt Worf’s head.


B5 is the second best thing on television ever, any genre (The Wire being the best), so there’s simply no competition.

As a continuing narrative, B5 is better than The Wire, but the latter has more gravitas.

Buffy and Angel count as SF? If so, them. Futurama stikes me as more satire than SF.

I’d pick Outer Limits as the best series that is inarguably SF. Next Stargate, mostly because it didn’t take itself too seriously, B5’s great flaw.


If Buffy and Angel are Science Fiction, I don’t see any colorable argument for excluding Futurama from the genre. It has the standard SF tropes in far greater abundance, even if it is using them mostly for humorous ends.

I could never get very far in Babylon 5. It just seemed too cartoony to me. Maybe it was just the early seasons.

But that means for me it’s Deep Space Nine. Avery Brooks could bring it like a pissed off madman.

“Television” and “science fiction” are two terms that are pretty much antithetical and don’t really belong in a sentence together, except in the context of “Science fiction, a genre unrepresented in the medium of television…” This isn’t to say that there isn’t a certain amount of entertaining science-fantasy and space opera, but these don’t really qualify as science fiction. For instance, I’ve quite enjoyed Firefly, but there’s virtually nothing scientifically factual about it (even though they do get the silence in space thing correct) and it doesn’t delve into deep questions of science and philosophy; indeed, when it comes time to toss out some technobabble solution, Whedon deliberately has a character avow to not understanding it (“Put that in captain-dummy-speak, Kaylee”) and reject a particle-of-the-week plot resolution. Good writing, and genre-bending dialogue, but not science fiction.

Generally speaking television is too fast-moving and instant-gratification-fulfilling to cope with real science fiction, and television studio executives can’t cope with bending their little brains around actual science concepts. On occasion, Star Trek: The Next Generation approached something like good science fiction concepts (typically having ripped them from print stories decades old) but tended more toward the space opera end of the spectrum.

I’d love to see some actual science fiction–an anthology series adaptating classic stories of Larry Niven, Fredrick Pohl, Greg Bear, Arthur C. Clark, Steven Baxter, et cetera–but they’re costly to produce, difficult for many people to understand, and don’t appeal to a wide enough demographic to be profitable.


Dealing with the definitions is tricky. To me, Angel and Buffy are more or less fantasy drama, which is distinct from sci-fi to me. Futurama, while set in space/future just don’t feel like it belongs in this discussion. That said, I can’t define why I feel that way.

I’d say my favorite is definitely The X-Files. I feel like it’s one of the few shows in that list which stood on it’s own outside the genre. I think most people who don’t enjoy Sci-fi find Star Trek: The Next Generation (the best version) is a bit insufferable.

On top of that, X-Files was so versatile. It could be hilariously funny, serious drama, love story, monster movie, and cops & robber show all at once. It’s variety and originality set it above the rest.

And I’m waiting for the Firefly fans to descend and moan about it being left off the original seed list.

I’m going to guess that you’re going to be in the minority with this narrow and rigid definition of Sci-Fi. While having much of the story grounded in scientific fact and dealing with larger human concepts might make for better sci-fi I don’t think that is the only thing that can carry that label.

My sentiments exactly. B5 is my “desert island” show, the one show I’d take if one was all I could have.

I don’t think “better” is a proper comparison; something like Firefly or the original Star Wars trilogy can be considered excellent storytelling–not bad or lacking at all–but makes no pretense at being “about” science, except insofar as featuring space ships, direct energy weapons, robots, et cetera. Indeed, Firefly is clearly a classic band of thieves type adventure set in a hybrid Old West/space milieu; think The A-Team meets Bonanza, or Maverick combined with Black Sheep Squadron. And of all the influences for Star Wars–films like The Hidden Fortress, The Dam Busters, and The Guns of Navarone–are basically war movies with a small band of rebels viing to perform a quixotic task at near-hopeless odds. This can make for good storytelling, but you could set it in medieval England, or Ancient China, or during the American Revolutionary War by changing a few bits of dialogue and reworking the sets without losing anything essential to the story. There’s nothing wrong or inferior with space opera or science fantasy, it’s just not about science or philosophical ideas relating to. My only real objection to calling this stuff science fiction is that it masks actual science fiction.

And I’ll now retreat back into my dark corner and mumble to myself about how great it would be if someone would make a faithful adaptation of A Canticle for Leibowitz; dark humor, social satire, and deep existential philosophy all mixed into one. It’s not going to happen, though, and if it did, it would end up with phaser cannons and Omega-13 devices.


Babylon 5 (In fact, we just watched “Severed Dreams” 5 minutes ago.)



And a bunch of “other shows.” The rest aren’t in the same league as my top 3.

Firefly didn’t premiere until 2002, so that’s why it’s off the list.

I don’t want to get into an argument with you, but the definition of science fiction being about science hasn’t been used within the industry for decades. Many prefer to call the overall genre speculative fiction and call what you are talking about “hard science fiction” (ignorance fought, even I didn’t know that the term was first used in 1957 - I would have guessed the late 60’s, early 70’s). That kind of sub-division of the genre leads us to cyberpunk, space opera, etc for SF and New Weird, Goth, etc for Fantasy). I firmly believe that had the market fractured along hard lines like that back in the '50s and '60s that SFF would never have moved out of the geek shops and into the major bookstores. And that’s not even to begin to discuss the artificial nature of such distinctions and the potential bounds it places on authors (I have actually heard one author say of another, “Well he shouldn’t be writing that kind of stuff. He’s <sub-genre> and should stick to what he knows.”). I think we’re all better off with a lot of fuzzy descriptors.

Also, real true hard science fiction generally sucks at story telling.

My favourite from the list is Quantum Leap. But I wouldn’t necessarily objectively call it the best of the 90s. I’d probably list Star Trek:TNG for that accolade.

I’m not a fan of B5 or Buffy.