Article – A New Golden Age of Science Fiction on Television

TL;DR – After a long pause during the 2000s we are seeing a new golden age for Sci-Fi as shows go back into space and more.

A New Golden Age of Science Fiction on Television
A New Golden Age of Science Fiction on Television


The other day I was working on a review and then something dawned on me, for the first time in a long time I was excited by the many different Science Fiction shows coming out of television. We were going into the stars, exploring the future, and in some cases just getting plain weird. It was a joyous moment because I remember a time when it was like this before and the long valley in-between the two peaks. So today, I wanted to take a moment to talk about where we have come from, what is so exciting about now, and why we are seeing this new Golden Age.

I had the great joy of spending my formative years during the last Golden Age of Science Fiction on television during the 1990s and into the early 2000s. It was not the case that you had to search to find something decent, it was instead the case that you had to use the VCR to make sure that you didn’t miss things as they aired at the same time. We had the joyful oddness that was Farscape, four different iterations of Star Trek on TV where two were fantastic, one was pretty good, and the other at least finished on a strong note. You had TV shows like Babylon 5 experimenting with long-form storytelling decades before the rest of prestige television caught on. There was the bombastic Stargate, the weird X-Files, interesting settings like Earth 2, we had to Escape from Jupiter and then of course Return to Jupiter. Even in animation, we were reaching for the stars with shows like Cowboy Bebob, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Beast Wars: Transformers.

However, like all things, nothing lasts forever and soon shows started disappearing from the airwaves. Why did this happen, oh for a lot of reasons that compounded together. There was collateral damage from cable networks merging, poor executive decisions, the one channel that was meant to be the beacon instead ran away from the genre at warp speed, and of course, there was the impact of September 11 that is still working its way through the entertainment industry to this day. There were still shows that shined during this period, we got Stargate Atlantis & Battlestar Galactica, however, if it was Science Fiction, it tended to be stuck on Earth. While that did mean the frustration of shows like Lost, there were still gems popping up like Fringe, Eureka, and The 4400s. However, even when they tried to start something new like Firefly it was not long for this world. It was a dark time, but like all dark ages, this too shall come to pass and we are finally seeing that happen today.

The Expanse. Image Credit: Amazon Studios.
The Space Opera is a welcome return to the small screen (well not so small with size of TVs these days). Image Credit: Amazon Studios.

For the first time in a very long time, we have seen the return of the Space Opera in all its glory and this is not even counting the shows that are apparently in development (please let Red Mars & Star Trek Picard be good). One of the best examples of this, and also of how to do an adaptation right comes from The Expanse or as I like to call it the show that demonstrated that Shohreh Aghdashloo should be cast in all things. This is a show that understands the main themes and character pressure points from the original books and shows this with the courage to move timelines around and add in new stories and still have it work. It is a world full of harsh contrasts, compromises, righteous characters forced into murkiness, and moments that leave you heartbroken, even when you know they are coming. It is a show that revels in that hard spectrum of Sci-fi but never ignores people, politics, and religion. To be honest, if you have not gotten a chance to watch it, I highly recommend it.

To add to this we have the often absurd The Orville and the return of Star Trek after a fifteen-year absence with Discovery. The Orville spent its first season yo-yo-ing from deeply sincere to almost childish farce while never quite getting that balance right but then season two came and they found their groove. Discovery started with war, went across universes, and found what it meant to be a crew in the process. It is a show that reinforced the fact that Michelle Yeoh should really be allowed to do whatever she wants. Though I do feel at this point the need to point out that both shows are good, so to the fans you don’t need to tear each other down, because trust me it will not always be this good. To add to this we have the playful Killjoys, the reimagined Lost in Space, the slow burn that was Final Space, and the off-beat insanity of Rick and Morty.

Star Trek Discovery. Image Credit: CBS Studios.
This Golden Age is a blend of the old and the new. Image Credit: CBS Studios.

However, it is not just the space opera that has seen a resurgence, we have seen the whole gamut of Science Fiction explored in recent times. Shows that use Sci-Fi to explore interesting concepts, new stories, even to blend and bend genres. One of the big players here is, of course, HBO’s ‘please don’t stop watching now Game of Thrones is overWestworld. This is a show that while it does not always work, it is always interesting. It is a show that has a whole episode in Lakota because it can, that blends timelines almost seamlessly, and has some of the best music on TV at the moment. But Westworld is just the tip of the iceberg, we have a show form Denmark about rain turning deadly, the exploration of inequality in Latin America through the lens of the post-apocalyptic, the blending on the ancient and the future with Cleverman, a world full of clones in Orphan Black, love and science in Sense8, and the what if you don’t die of Altered Carbon. Indeed, if there is one show that exemplifies this more than anything else there is the mind-bending and fascinating The OA. It is a show that almost defies categorisation as it is part Sci-Fi, part supernatural, part fantasy, part religious discourse, part synchronised dance appreciation society. Unfortunately, it looks like we will not be getting a third season, but a show where you can have a sentient octopus and that is not even the most bonkers thing in the season is one that is hitting for the fences. Indeed, even shows that made it through the dark ages like Doctor Who have felt comfortable to be more adventurous in this new Golden Age. This, of course, is not even starting on all the Science Fiction films being released on streaming services like Annihilation.

The question is, why are we having this new Golden Age? And well, much like the Dark Age it looks like it is a combination of factors. To begin with, there was the rise of prestige television at the end of the 2000s. This started on American cable before filtering through the rest of the media industry. No longer was the TV just the forgotten cousin to the rest of the entertainment industry, it was pulling in big numbers, big stars, big budgets, and new stories. There was also more competition than ever before in the form of video games, YouTube, and more, so TV channels needed something would cut through the noise. This also occurred at the same time as the rise of streaming networks. Streaming services have a different monetisation method than traditional media and here bringing people in is key and if you have good sci-fi you have a built-in base of people for your service. In the age of social media, it is almost a necessity that you need to get people talking about your shows, and if nothing else sci-fi fans are willing to go that extra mile. Also, people do follow trends and when you look into the world of media at the moment the Science Fiction genre is going gangbusters in films and video games.

The OA. Image Credit: Netflix.
A show where a sentient octopus is not the peak is a show that is pushing boundaries. Image Credit: Netflix.

In the end, there may be a multitude of factors that have led to this new Golden Age in Science Fiction on Television. But honestly, I don’t really care for why I am just happy that it is. I am happy that we are getting the full spectrum of Science Fiction shows, both hard and soft, weird and wonderful. I am happy that people are experimenting with the genre again, even if it does not always work. Honestly, it is good that we are finally thinking again of the future because that is how we reach for the stars.                          

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

What is your favourite show from this New Golden Age of Science Fiction?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.

Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of 3%, Adventure Time, Altered Carbon, Black Mirror, Cleverman, Doctor Who, Final Space, Orphan Black, Rick and Morty, Sense8, Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek Picard, The Expanse, The OA, The Orville & Westworld  


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