Which Sci-Fi TV series are worth watching?

I’ve been going through the various Sci-Fi TV shows available on Netflix. There seem to be dozens, some of which I know very little about: Farscape, Andromeda, Earth: Final Conflict, all the Star Treks, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, all the Stargates, Dr. Who, X-Files, Space: Above And Beyond; the list goes on.

Many of these series have hundreds of hours worth of episodes, making watching through them all not an option at this point. So which ones are worth the time? Which ones have deep and interesting plotlines and aren’t just ‘cheap hack writing trying to cash in on the Star-Trek fanbase’?

(Of course I’ve watched some series already, but I’d hate to rule those out from the discussion for others so I’ll leave the question open-ended for all series)

  1. Firefly
  2. Battlestar
  3. X-files
  4. Farscape

I’m sure there are more, but that’s a great start.

Babylon 5 is the gold standard. Watch it from the start and stay with it (though you can skip the fifth season, which is just OK)

Quantum Leap is probably second. Great from start to finish and with a depth of characterization and purpose that few have even come close to.

Next is Firefly.

The first two seasons of Farscape were great, but when it jumped the shark it jumped the shark and became pure unmitigated crap.

Firefly, followed by Babylon 5, the new Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, the first few seasons of Stargate SG-1. After that they get muddled.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 is the best of the Treks, and one of the best sci-fi shows ever, IMHO. Doesn’t require any knowledge of the Trek universe other then what you’ve probably already picked up through osmosis from pop-culture.

The rest of the Treks either haven’t aged well (TNG) or were pretty bad to start with (Enterprise, Voyager).

Firefly is probably the SDMB favorite, and it only made it to 13 or so episodes (plus a movie), so you can pretty much watch the whole thing in a week or two.

X-files is good and has the advantage of not being yet another space opera, though it goes on a couple seasons longer then it should have.

Babylon 5 is good when its good, but suffers from a lot of bad episodes (and the special effects haven’t aged well, they were a CGI early adapter, when in retrospect they probably should’ve stuck with models). If you watch, I’d get someone on the board to recommend the “essential” season 1 episodes and just watch those, as a lot of season 1 suffers from a particularly bad/good ratio.

Futurama is a cartoon sci-fi spoof from the Simpsons creator, and as good as the Simpsons was in its haday.

Star Trek is the reason it all exists, and it’s very watchable, although definitely from a different time in terms of effects, storytelling techniques, and contemporary mores. TNG is also very good but takes quite a while to get moving (there are successful S2 episodes and by S3 it’s hit its stride, but S1 is dire). DS9 also takes a little while to get going (not as long) but it’s engrossing and wonderful taken as a whole. (Voyager ain’t bad, but it’s not as ambitious as the others, and Enterprise was boring in S1, sucky in S2, mostly OK in S3, and really good in S4. There’s other shows more worth your time.)

Firefly is great but it’s a somewhat revisionist take, so I wouldn’t start there. Also it’s very brief (~10 or 12 eps, I think). Battlestar Galactica is hard to recommend because it was so good in the first season, then it was wildly uneven for a couple years, and then really bad with an occasional bright spot for the final season or so.

Finally, I’d very highly recommend Fringe, which is a few eps away from the S3 finale; presumably S4 will be the final season. I don’t know how accessible it is, and the first season, while mostly entertaining, is much less well organized than it became. But starting about halfway through S2 it has been really great and the character work they’ve been doing this year is astounding.


I found Babylon 5 and the Star Trek spinoffs to be pretty dire (at least not to my taste).

Firefly is fantastic, as is** Doctor Who** (from 2005 onwards). I liked the new BSG, although it could do with trimming some of the fat.

In no particular order here is what I would watch, for no other reason than I like them:

  1. Firefly - its 13 episodes, won’t take long.
  2. Farscape - watch all the way through. Some episodes are weak, but the overall arcs are good and the character development is great.
  3. Dr. Who - Start with Eccleston Doctor and go forward. Jump back to earlier episodes if you want.
    3(a) - Torchwood - watch after or in sequence with Dr. Who. First two seasons are often cringe worthy but get better as they progress. Third season/mini-series is worth the time of watching the two bad seasons.
  4. Quantum Leap - Its good, less so when they try to add the story arcs about Sam getting home. Good episodic tv.
  5. Chuck - Not stictly Sci-Fi, but arguably so in some aspects. Plus, if you like Sci-Fi, you may enjoy this show.
  6. Star Trek: The Original Series - Good Sci-Fi, often written by some of the best writers of the time. Dated storylines now, but that would be true of most Sci-Fi written in the '60’s.
  7. X- Files - Yeah sure watch it, but know this: You will never be satisfied. There is no thought out ahead of time plot or story arc going on here, and it makes less and less sense until one day you just kinda stop watching.

Stuff I haven’t watched or won’t:

Bablyon 5 - Have heard so much good, but have never got around to watching. Its on my list of things to do.
Star Trek - All other incarnations - Look, the original series may be the beginning of much of sci-fi fan culture these days, I don’t consider that a good thing necessarily. I was a big fan of the original series books but was disillusioned by the lack of internal consistency and the way everything not ST related got pushed off the bookstore shelves. Since then I have found The Next Generation to be frightful bore fest on TV (couple of the movies were good), and the other incarnations were just … flaccid.
Battlestar Galactica - To continue my sci-fi heresy, I have watched some episodes of this from the mini-series and scattered throughout its run, and it is just awful.

Stargate - Special mention. SG1 is a often light hearted, not take itself too seriously, fun show to watch. There are serious moments here and there, but over all good for most of its run. When Richard Dean Anderson leaves, turn off the tv. I gave Atlantis a shot, but the premise, the characters and so forth were all too stock. Universe is, or was, trying something different. It will not be given a chance to develop, and it had a few flaws that kept killing it as it tried to get better.

I would say that there are many different flavours of sci-fi out there, and it really depends on what sort of mood you are in.

Battlestar Galactica - Relentlessly grim series, often tackling controversial issues. Its a fairly involved plot line, so its something you need to commit to and watch in order. Absolutely brilliant in places, but sometimes, I’m not in the mood for ‘dark’.

Farscape - Slightly crazy series (with characters that often border on the insane). Can be very funny in places, but can also be very dramatic when it wants to be. Some people were put off by its use of muppets, but if so, they are really missing out. Mostly a “single ep” type show, although with lots of 2 and 3 parters

Babylon 5 - Long, drawn out plot line, which unfortunately makes the first series seem a bit weak, but if you stick with it, it pays off big time. Sets and FXs are looking a bit ropey these days, and there is a couple of dodgy performances acting wise, but if you can see through this, its very enjoyable.

Stargate - Mostly frothy sci-fi, where the plot is neatly tied up at the end of the episode. Does have its moments though (and can be quite funny in places). Good for when you want an unchallenging hour of TV.

Dr Who - Hmmm… how to describe this? Well, the sci-fi stuff isn’t very “sci” at all. Its more like a show about a wizard in a box. It is also aimed at the whole family, and some of the plotlines are squarely aimed at kids (if you have kids, make them watch it with you, they will love it). When its bad, its a bit embarrassing, but when its good, it is amazing.

Firefly - Enjoyable episodic series, with some very well written dialogue and great characters. Shame it was killed off just when it was hitting its stride though.

And then there is all the star trek stuff, which often feels like its churned out, without having much to say. TNG and DS9 have some really good stories, but best off avoiding Voyager and Enterprise though

Just because no one else has mentioned it, the first season (but sadly, ONLY the first season) of Earth: Final Conflict is pretty amazing.

The new Battlestar Galactica is very very good (and contrary to other opinions expressed, it remains consistently good throughout).

I enjoyed Firefly…I think I would say Dollhouse counts as a good, relatively short sci-fi series as well.

I liked ALL of the Star Trek incarnations – some series are definitely better than others, but there are high points in each series.

Farscape and Dr. Who are worthless. I’m curious about Babylon 5 but never have been able to watch any of it.

I loathed Babylon 5. I thought it was awful in every way. And yes, I watched the whole thing, waiting for it to get good. But I appear to be in a vanishingly small minority, so take that for what it’s worth.

I’d recommend Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and Dr Who. Star Trek and X-Files are hit and miss. The rest I haven’t seen.

You won’t find many people to go against Firefly. Do try to watch them in the correct order, though, rather than the broadcast order.

Babylon 5 is excellent too, and a lot of later programmes have blatantly stolen a lot of ideas from them. Was very big on long-running story arcs, which a lot of later programmes have done too. In fact I blame them for the “we don’t have episodes” trend in modern TV which produced plot-free, constant-cliff-hanger rubbish in which nothing ever happens, like Lost.

I wouldn’t bother with Andromeda, not bad and with some very good episodes, but nothing special. Same goes for Earth: Final Conflict, and in both the fifth series especially should be avoided.

X-Files and Stargate both have a lot of episodes, some of which are very run-of-the-mill, but the good ones are very good indeed. X-Files myth-arc episodes best avoided, the more light-hearted ones are the ones to watch.

Obviously, Star Trek is the one all the others get judged against, and is the behemoth which dominates the whole genre.

nBSG is like Marmite, you either love it or you hate it.

Quantum Leap’s alright, too, good to watch but nothing special. Looks a bit dated, too, and has the old-fashioned idea of self-contained episodes. Certainly the best of the bog-standard sci-fis there were so many of during the 90s, back before the schedules were filled up with reality TV and all that cheap, mass, rubbish. Other honourable mentions in that category go to Space Above and Beyond, Dark Skies, First Wave, Earth 2, probably Earth Final Conflict, Sliders, that sort of thing.

I’d also like the recommend some English sci-fi, some of it quite different from your space-opera type stuff, specifically “Jekyll”, “Invasion Earth”, “Primeval”, “Sea of Souls”, and, of course, “Red Dwarf”.

Depends what you are looking for. A short or long series? Some shows were cancelled before they were able to conclude their plot lines. Some wrapped things up too short leaving alot of loose ends, some are still going.

SG-1 has 10 seasons to watch plus 2 features which try to resolve their final story arcs.
SGA - has 5 seasons but ends abruptly.
SGU - While dark and dramatic, was getting better but it’s cancelled after this season so hopefully they have a chance to end it well.
BSG is very good and ended appropriately.
Both Farcape and Firefly ended prematurely.
Doctor Who is a massive series with a ton of history and backstory. You can start at it’s ressurection in 2005. It’s entertaining and will continue endlessly.
Anyone watch Sanctuary? I’ve heard it’s good but haven’t watched it yet.

Of course, not really Sci Fi but… I’ve just heard that MST3K is available on Netflix! Woo Hoo!

Recommendations… The short answer is:

Battlestar Galactica

Lesser shows but still worthy:

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

In a class of its own:
Doctor Who


These are all quite dark and serious compared to most other sci-fi television. On a continuum from darkest to lightest, they are Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, Sarah Connor, Dollhouse, and Firefly.

All of these programs except Battlestar Galactica (and arguably, Dollhouse) were cancelled before they could complete their story.

Caprica’s movie-length pilot was just awful but the show got better really fast.

You either like Doctor Who or you don’t. I’m a big fan and think you should definitely check out the new series. If you like that, you may like Torchwood as well.

One of the very best of all time(IMO) is a little known series that only ran for one season: Dark Skies - it foreshadowed the X-Files, Forrest Gump (historical name droppers like Carl Sagan, Jim Morrison and many others.) Can’t recommend it highly enough.

The original Outer Limits

The Prisoner (1967–1968) Very esoteric, but cult following

Fringe (2008–2013) My personal favorite

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (1993–1994) Fun tounge-in-cheek action with great foreshadowing “The Next Big Thing” Bruce Campbell at his best. Also, early steampunk themes.

The Avengers (1961–1969) Large cult following, but not for me. Too British.

The Wild Wild West (1965–1969) One of the all time classics. Some of the very first Steampunk in wild west, cowboy action.

Jonny Quest (1964–1965)
TV Series- - A kids show for sure, but my favorite when I was young. Still makes me smile when I see the re-runs.

For lots more:

Babylon 5

Can’t say enough good things about this show. I only watched it within the last year, so no nostalgia factor weighing in. Went into it knowing literally nothing. Came out BLOWN AWAY. I disagree with all the criticisms honestly. I don’t think the CGI was bad. I don’t think there are very many bad episodes at all.

There are other sci-fi shows I love but mentioning them in the same post as Babylon 5 is out of place.

Babylon 5
Terminator: the Sarah Conner Chronicles

I like Hyperdrive.

I’m always surprised when I come in and read a post by me from a couple years ago.

I was right, by the way.

Did you watch any and what did you think?

Why has no one mentioned Lexx? Surely someone besides me saw it. I didn’t even think it was horrible.