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Sci-Fi TV Staff Picks

Sci-Fi TV Staff Picks

tv shows to watch


When it comes to TV, not everyone is on the same channel. We asked people here at the SETI Institute to share some of their top picks for sci-fi tv shows . . . we hope some of these might keep you busy!

Simon’s Sci-Fi TV Picks:


Simon Steel - Senior Director of Education and STEM Programs
Sci-Fi TV shows have been an integral part of my life, from hiding behind the sofa during Dr. Who episodes as a child (can still happen), through my first mindblowing encounter with Star Trek (The Ultimate Computer, circa 1968), to thinking that such incredible shows could never be made again, until the chance discovery of Firefly. Here are five shows, not necessarily my Top 5, that I think people may enjoy discovering, or re-discovering, as a chance to escape the troubles of our world for the troubles of others!


Dr. Who Poster

1. Dr. Who – the Billie Piper years. (2005-08) Season 1-4 of the New Era
(Available for rent on Amazon Prime and YouTube)

A Time Lord and his/her companions travel in their time machine save the past, present and future Universe. Although it seems logical to segment Dr. Who by doctors, I think the assistants create their own story arc too. The Billie Piper/ Christopher Eccleston season was the perfect blend of imagination, dark humor and terror. Back behind those sofas!




The Expanse Poster

2. The Expanse (2015) 4 seasons (5th is in production)
(Available free with Amazon Prime)

The appearance of an invasive alien entity shatters an uneasy peace between arrogant Earth, militant Martians and oppressed Belters. Intelligent, exciting and beautifully imaged fight for freedom and survival between the moons and asteroids of the Solar System.







3. Firefly (2002) 1 season.
(Available for rent on Amazon Prime)

A crew of space smugglers give passage to a pair of hunted siblings that puts them in a cat and mouse chase with the sinister Planetary Alliance, and just about everyone else. Brilliant, funny and exciting Space Western with the best cast of characters since the original Star Trek.






space 1999 

4. Space 1999 (1975-77) 2 seasons
(available free on YouTube)

A nuclear waste meltdown blows the Moon is blown out of orbit (OK, ignore the physics of this!) and carries the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha through the galaxy fighting for survival. Heavily influenced by Star Trek but darker (especially the first season), this show is as much a window on the 1970s as it is on the future.






blakes 7 

5. Blake’s 7 (1978-81) 4 seasons
(Available free on YouTube)

A band of criminals (and the most arrogant AI in science fiction history) find an abandoned alien spacecraft and take on the evil Terran Federation. What happens when you give the creators of Dr. Who zero budget and tell them to create an anti-Star Trek space opera? Answer – the worst special effects in TV history and the darkest dystopian future ever created. Ignore the cardboard spaceships and join the fight for freedom!




Pamela’s Sci-Fi TV picks:


Pamela Harman – Director of Education
I’m also a fan of Firefly and original Star Trek. My short list of shows features powerful female characters, a tale of uncertainty, a golden oldie, some ’70’s fashion, and cornucopia of episodes to keep you entertained and asking, ‘what just happened?’


Orphan Black Poster

1. Orphan Black (2013 – 2017) 5 seasons
(Available Free with Amazon Prime or YouTube subscription)

Emmy winning Tatiana Maslany is brilliant as multiple clone sisters, seeking to unravel a complex web of conspiracy. Sarah, the protagonist, a scrappy single mom with a history, meets her sisters and must save herself and daughter from a tragic ending.






futurama Poster

2. Futurama (1999-2018)
(in reruns on SyFy and Comedy cable channels)

This Emmy winning animated series follows the adventures of Philip J. Fry, a pizza delivery boy, who was accidentally frozen in 1999 and thawed out on New Year's Eve 2999. He finds himself working for Planet Express, an interplanetary delivery company. The small group mostly fails to conform to future society, from the producer of The Simpsons.




life on mars Poster

3. Life on Mars, U.S. version (2008-2009) 1 Season
(Available Free with Amazon Prime)

A science-fiction crime drama, finds the main character, detective Sam Tyler, unsure of his situation after inexplicable transport from the present to 1973. Excellent cast and performances. Adapted from the original BBC, also worth watching.




xfiles Poster

4. X-Files, (1993-2002, 2016, 2018) 11 Seasons
(available with YouTube or Hulu subscription)

Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are tasked with de-bunking FBI cases of the paranormal. He believes in the paranormal; she is a skeptical M.D. As the agents become pawns in a shadowy conflict, they become close and trust only each other. Gillian Anderson won an Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG and Saturn award for playing the strong female character, Scully, leading to “The Scully Effect.”




xfiles Poster

5. Twilight Zone, the original (1959)
(Available Free with Amazon Prime, Hulu or Netflix subscription)

The classic, "There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This series explores the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone." and source of the weird “do di do do, do di do do” soundtrack, enough said.




Seth’s Sci-Fi TV picks:


Seth Shostak – Senior Astronomer


invasion Poster

1. Invasion (2005-2006) 1 Season
(Available on Amazon Prime Video and iTunes)

This one-season wonder featured aliens who use natural disasters as decoys to mask their pernicious presence. They appear first in Florida – a serious breach of sci-fi protocol. After all, it’s well known that all fictional aliens must first muster in the American Southwest. Somehow these evil extraterrestrials are attracted either by Florida’s flat landscapes or the possibility of a fried gator sandwich. When not taking over the bodies of humans, the aliens live underwater – which makes you wonder how they could be so technically advanced. Try smelting iron at the bottom of Lake Okeechobee. The network canceled this show just as the story line was getting some traction, by the way.




under the dome Poster

2. Under the Dome (2013-2015) 3 Seasons
(Available on Amazon Prime Video and CBS All-Access)

Based on a fifteen-pound book by Stephen King, this series demonstrates what sheltering-in-place could really be like if, for some unclear reason, a massive, crystal dome – looking like a transparent, room service plate cover – descended on an idyllic New England town. The dome cuts the inhabitants off from the rest of the world (while also slicing a hapless cow in two. The show’s intro features this bisected bovine every week, which should be an aid in ordering intelligently at Ruth’s Chris.) So, will the trapped townies ever escape, or are they destined to spend the rest of their mundane lives annoying one another while trying to figure out what it all means? Thanks to the popularity of this series, it went on and on … and many viewers eventually felt that the cast deserved to be confined ad infinitum.




project blue book poster

3. Project Blue Book (2019)
(Available on Amazon Prime Video)

A dramatized version of the celebrated Air Force investigation of UFOs conducted in the early 1950s. Unlike that study, which concluded that the various “sightings” and other proferred evidence that motivated the Project could not be ascribed to either aliens or secret Soviet technology, this TV series will likely please die-hard UFO fans. Viewers are fed an all-too-familiar plot in which evil and conspiratorial government types try to keep the public from knowing the truth: Namely, that aliens have paid a visit. Why the authorities would keep this quiet (even if they could) is always a good question, but apparently the military thinks the public might go nuts if they learned that extraterrestrials were prowling the countryside. Of course, this ignores the truth that the public is already nuts.




Jasmín’s Sci-Fi TV picks:


Jasmín Arriaga Hedges - Graphic and Web Designer


Eureka Poster

1. Eureka (2006-2012) 5 Seasons
(Available on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and Youtube rental)

The show follows new Sheriff Jack Carter as he oversees a unique town named Eureka that is home to the world’s smartest and leading scientists. While not a genius himself, Jack has to rely on street-smarts and experience to tackle problems caused by mysterious accidental or intentional misuse of science and technology. What if technology does more harm than good? And what if it goes too far?






People of Earth Poster

2. People of Earth (2016-2017) 2 Seasons
(Available on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Youtube rental)

This show takes a comedic approach as it navigates through the lives of not only the members of a support group called “StarCrossed” for alien abductees but the lives of the aliens who previously abducted them. I especially like the point of view of the aliens as they try to figure out why humans are the way that they are and then figuring out what makes being a human especially good, yet terrifying.








The Orville poster

3. The Orville (2017-present) 2 seasons so far
(Available on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Youtube rental)

With executive producer Seth MacFarlane and it being an obvious parody of Star Trek, the Orville hits deep with particular storylines that will require attention when we meet another alien species. What role, as humans, should we play in another world’s politics? Is it ethical for us to interfere in traditions and other world’s norms? With comedy at the forefront, this show makes you think without feeling depressed afterward.





Stargate SG-1 poster

4. Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) 10 Seasons
(Available on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Youtube rental, iTunes)

Instead of flying into space to find other planets and civilizations, a military team travels through an ancient alien gate called a Stargate. The Stargate was left over by the first inhabitants of Earth who were called the Ancients. They became so advanced, they left to explore other worlds leaving the stargates in control of an alien race called the Goa’uld. The Goa’uld decided to use these Stargates to enslave humans in history not only on Earth but on other planets as well. This United States Air Force special operations team uses the Stargate as a way to protect and free all of these enslaved civilizations.





Westworld poster

5. Westworld (2016-present) 2 seasons, 3rd currently airing.
(Available on HBO Now, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video)

It’s challenging to provide a synopsis without revealing major spoilers, but I’ll give it a try. Westworld is a theme park for the wealthy and elite, and it takes place in the not so distant future in which people pay big money to realize their fantasies with the Androids, “hosts,” that inhabit the park. The hosts, including Dolores Abernathy, have to endure the horrid abuse at the hands of these extreme humans as she is programmed not to hurt humans. All seasons explore the meaning of life and who gets to control it. It is a heavy show with lots of details, but you’ll be at the edge of your seat each episode.





Beth’s Sci-Fi TV picks:


Beth Johnson - Social Media Coordinator
I’ve been a fan of sci-fi my whole life, starting with Star Trek (which I was expressly forbidden to pick for this list). Since then, I’ve leaned toward shows that have a lot of character growth. My list is full of those shows. And then there is the cheesy fun that is Buck Rogers.


Eureka Poster

1. Eureka (2006-2012) 5 Seasons
(Available on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and Youtube rental)

Eureka starts with your average “fish out of water” trope. The town of Eureka, which is a super-secret research location sheltered in a protective dome, hires a new sheriff. Everyone in town is a genius, including the local cafe owner and the CEO of the company. Everyone that is except for the sheriff and his deputy. Of course, when people mess with cutting edge technology, something inevitably goes awry, and hijinks ensue. I adored this show, and I was sad when it ended. It had a definite influence on my decision to return to science.





Stargate SG-1 poster

2. Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) 10 Seasons
(Available on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Youtube rental, iTunes)

This series continues the saga based on the 1994 movie Stargate. While different actors play the main characters of Jack O’Neill and Daniel Jackson, the premise is the same and expands on the exploration of the galaxy. A lot goes on in those ten seasons, and most of it is amazing. They have an especially good twist on a Groundhog Day time-loop episode. This show is our current go-to for binging during this time. You can add in Stargate Atlantis (2004) when you get to that point and see Jason Momoa’s big break. NOTE: The first season was on Showtime and had a few moments of nudity.





Timeless poster

3. Timeless (2016) 2 seasons plus a two-hour movie
(Available on Hulu)

I loved this show. I was annoyed when the network canceled it and slightly mollified when they made a two-part series-ending movie. The premise is the usual time travel show -- shadow organization is causing trouble in the timelines, and this group of Do-Gooders is trying to prevent them from causing chaos. A billionaire tech giant backs their endeavors in the first season. The second season (spoiler alert) they lose their funding, and the show honestly gets even better as they deal with that problem. The series finale movie wraps everything up with tidy bows.





The Orville poster

4. The Orville (2017-present) 2 seasons (Season 3 in production)
(Available on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Youtube rental)

I was forbidden to recommend Star Trek. The Orville is to Star Trek shows as Galaxy Quest is to Star Trek movies, though. I am not a huge fan of Seth MacFarlane; however, a lot of people I knew recommended I watch this show anyway. We gave it a try, and my husband and I binged it in a few weeks. I am looking forward to season three. Everything about The Orville is smart, funny and interesting, from the characters to the plots to the sense of humor.





Buck Rogers poster

5. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979) 2 seasons
(Available on NBC and USA Network online)

I did not consistently watch this show when it originally aired. I have vague memories of bits and pieces. A year or so ago, my husband decided to correct this problem, and we binged both seasons. Everything about Buck Rogers screams the 70s. It’s delightfully cheesy and silly -- for the first season. The second season is entirely different, and I’ve had arguments with friends over which is better. I prefer the first. Your mileage may vary. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though.






Franck’s Sci-Fi TV picks:


Franck Marchis - Senior Planetary Astronomer


Battlestar Galactica Poster

1. Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) 4 Seasons
(Available on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and Youtube rental)

AI, decimated civilization, space… what could be wrong?








The Expanse Poster

2. The Expanse (2015) 4 seasons (5th is in production)
(Available free with Amazon Prime)

Obviously the best TV show at the moment.







The Man in the High Castle Poster

3. The Man in the High Castle (2015-2019) 4 seasons
(Available with Amazon Prime)

Because I also love history...







V Poster

4. V (1984-1985) 1 season
(Available on iTunes)

For the trauma it gave me when I was a teenager and probably one of the reasons I work at the SETI Institute







Colony Poster

5. Colony (2016-2018) 3 seasons
(Available on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes)

Because it could happen anytime :-)







Eureka Poster

Special Bonus: Eureka (2006-2012) 5 Seasons
(Available on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and Youtube rental)

The way science and our scientists should be.







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