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April 5, 2004

Wonderfell

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You'll notice — by which I mean you almost certainly would not if I didn't point it out — that I've added the newly released Freaks and Geeks DVD to my purchasables list over there on the left. (Though true freaks and geeks have already shelled out for the deluxe edition)

Under that is the complete DVD set of Firefly. I've been watching them over the last few weeks, and they're even better than I'd remembered. It easily makes the list of best science fiction TV shows ever. (Yes, I have an actual list. See the end of this post.)

What these shows have in common is that they were yanked off the air due to abysmal ratings, causing critics to, rightly, gnash their teeth and moan. Over the last few days there's been more gnashing and moaning in anticipation of the cancellation of Wonderfalls, which came today, as I learned from Drew's excellent blog (who knew he even had one? pimping yourself in the comments section does work!)

This time, though, you won't catch me joining the chorus. Oh, the show was OK. But what it was really notable for was suffering the most dramatic fall-off in quality I've ever seen. The first episode was insanely great, not just for its visual style, which has been rightly celebrated, but for its complex plot. Not only did you not know what was going to happen at the end, you didn't know what was going to happen in the next five minutes, and yet everything that did happen made perfect sense. Each successive episode, however, was a more or less straightforward person in jeopardy story, with maybe one twist at the end. It was almost as if the people writing them hadn't even watched the pilot.

If Wonderfalls ever does come out on DVD, Netflix it to watch the first installment, but don't bother with the rest.

So yeah, back in 1999 I came up with a list of the 10 best Sci-Fi TV shows of all time for Playboy. Here they are.


1. Twilight Zone (1959-64)
So deep in our psyche, just try not humming that tune when things get weird. Best episode: Burgess Meredith as a post-apocalyptic bookworm in "Time Enough at Last."
2. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94)
An unwavering moral code, a Shakesperean star, and digital effects that enhance, not replace, great stories. Best episode: The Enterprise blows up before the first commercial in "Cause and Effect."
3. The Prisoner (1967-68)
Stylish, witty, cynical. So what if the villain is an over-inflated condom. Best episode: A double mindfuck in ďThe Schizoid Man.Ē
4. Star Trek (1966-69)
Yeehaw! Space cowboys carouse across the final frontier. Best episode: Joan Collins plays in traffic in "The City on the Edge of Forever."
5. Dr. Who (1963-89)
Eccentric gadabout traverses space and time in a phone booth. Best episode: The Doctor has a chance to prevent the creation of his deadliest foes in "Genesis of the Daleks."
6.Cold Lazarus (1996)
From small-screen philosopher Dennis Potter. 24th Century scientists plumb the memory of a cryogenically frozen head.
7. The X-Files (1993-2000)
But has it overstayed its welcome? Best episode: Peter Boyle as a sad-sack psychic in "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose."
8. Max Headroom (1987-88)
Too clever for its own good. Hawking New Coke didnít help.
9. V: The Mini-Series (1983)
Rag-tag rebels take on gerbil-eating aliens.
10. Quark (1978)
Buck Henry does for sci-fi what his "Get Smart" did for espionage. The crew of an intergalatic garbage scow includes an evolved houseplant and the Doublemint twins.

Honestly, Cold Lazarus doesn't belong there. I was just posturing a bit. And X-Files should get bumped down now as the later seasons diluted the overall quality of the show. Firefly weighs in somewhere at 4 or 5, I'd say.

Since one of my criteria was that a show had to have aired on US TV, I don't need to decide if Ultraviolet is sci-fi or fantasy. What makes something science fiction is a matter of bitter debate, but in my book it's largely a poke-and-sniff test, and while Ultraviolet is about vampires, which would normally rule it out as SF in my book (otherwise Buffy would be way up at the top of the list), it feels more like SF than fantasy. And it's awesome.

Oh yeah, here's my Playboy list of the 10 worst sci-fi shows of all time. And no, I haven't seen Century City yet.

1. Lost in Space (1965-1968)
In its first year it was dreary, juvenile, mirthless and insufferable. Then it got bad.
2. It's About Time (1966-1967)
From Sherwood "Gilligan's Island" Schwartz. Two astronauts are stranded in prehistoric times, then the fun begins. Hypothetically.
3. Wild Palms (1993)
This mini-series starts with a rhinoceros in an empty swimming pool and ends...well, if you ever meet anyone who sat through it, he can tell you how it ends.
4. Galactica 1980 (1980)
Adding a cool year to the title is the last gasp of a dying show. It didnít work for Knight Rider 2000 or seaQuest 2032, and it really didnít work here.
5. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981)
"Beedeebeedeebeedee, show sucks, Buck!"
6. Small Wonder (1985-1989)
Sure hope the neighbors donít find out our daughter is a robot!
7. Meego (1997)
Sure hope the neighbors donít find out our nanny is an alien!
8. Mercy Point (1998)
ER meets Deep Space Nine. Audience meets coma.
9. Woops! (1992)
A comedy about a nuclear holocaust that kills everyone but a yuppie, a homeless man, a black activist, an airhead, a feminist and a nice Jewish boy.
10. Baywatch Nights (1995-1997)
Too many purloined X-Files plots; too few buxom babes running in slow motion.

Posted by Daniel Radosh

Comments

What about "Mork & Mindy?" Doesn't that
make the 10 worst sci-fi list?
(I loved it at the time, of course.)
Although I suppose it wasn't really any more
sci-fi than that "Alf" show. It
was really more of an excuse to show
off Robin Williams in all of his coke-addled
glory.

M&M definitely counts. But as bad as it was, it simply wasn't bottom 10 bad. Though if we were considering only the Jonathan Winters era, maybe.

You'll be putting Babylon 5 in your top ten once we get those DVDs downstairs. Incidentally, I broke down and shelled out the long green for the fancy Freaks and Geeks set. Better than pining away for it for years and spending three times as much for it on eBay.

But Daniel! Jonathan Winters is a comic
genius. He's just not "ha ha" funny. Or for
that matter, "funny" funny. But put JW in a
baby bonnet, and -- whoa! -- you're
in for a wild ride.

I believe there's entire slash-fiction websites devoted to this concept. Not that I have any direct empirical evidence of this, mind you, nor any desire to google for it. It just seems like the safe bet.

You seem to have forgotten Farscape.

I don't think Farscape had started yet when I put the list together. But I also don't think it was good enough to make the top 10, do you?

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