In the late 1970s, Battlestar Galactica was my favorite television show. Today, I find it embarrassingly cornball — but my god, what a strong start it had! The original movie was unlike anything ever offered by television science fiction. And although it was criticized, even sued, for being insanely derivative of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica could've been a much greater show had it maintained that early momentum and enjoyed a little network support. Unfortunately, by mid-season it went off on weird metaphysical tangents (remember Count Iblis and those angelic light ships?), lost any sense of grittiness you'd expect from a post-apocalyptic story and was constantly preempted by other shows. It would have been interesting to see how a second season of Galactica panned out. Would it have returned to its more exodus-oriented roots, or moved even closer to its retarded television half-cousin, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (a sci fi show that inexplicably DID get a second season)? Alas,the greatness of Battlestar Galactica would not be fully realized until decades later.
Kolchak The Night Stalker (1974)
Like Battlestar Galactica, the series began with an impressive television movie that was so popular it was spun into a late-night horror series. Darren McGavin was the perfect antihero, playing the poorly dressed, pushy, and socially inept reporter Carl Kolchak. Unfortunately, the show quickly became a weekly "creature feature" with formulaic scripts... but McGavin was so brilliant that it didn't matter. As a kid, I remember watching these episodes late at night with my cousin and never being able to get to sleep afterwards. Had they allowed Kolchak to continue, and perhaps expand his investigations, this could very well have been The X-Files before The X-Files.
UFO was a quintessential late-1960s-early-1970s television production. Its clever vision of the near future was infused with Nehru jackets, plastic furniture and some heavy societal messages as well. Although it's often compared to Gary and Sylvia Anderson's later show, Space:1999, UFO is far superior. Although ostensibly about Earth resisting invasion from a nameless humanoid race, some of the episodes strayed very far from the space themes to tackle subjects like racial intolerance and compassion. A standout episode entitled "Survival" has a stranded human astronaut and alien being putting aside hostilities to survive on the lunar surface. If you can get past the "groovy factor" of UFO, you will find a show that, at its best, was quite compelling.
This all-but-forgotten show had all the elements of a good Lost / Fringe / The X-Files-type TV thriller. There was clearly a grand story arch intended for the series, filled with government conspiracy, marine monsters and human mutations. In the one season, it was hard to see where the show was headed, but I was definitely hooked. But even for a sci-fi loving public, the premise of giant sea creatures ravaging the earth was probably too out there. Unfortunately, it ended leaving behind more questions than answers.
The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (1993)
The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. gets props for two major reasons: it starred Bruce Campbell and its unique premise was unlike anything else on TV in the early 1990s. The series followed the adventures of a lawyer-turned-bounty-hunter who often found himself in jams that were otherworldly to say the least. The unconventional plot lines were also what killed it, as most of the viewing public just didn't get the show. Ironically, the paranormal show that followed it on Friday nights became a phenomenon — The X-Files.
Do you suppose there are network suits at Fox still kicking themselves for canceling this brilliant show? If there aren't, there should be. Although not the first show to claim to be a Western set among the stars, in Firefly the characters actually wore long brown dusters and carried six-shooter-type sidearms. The show inspired a loyal fan base and a brilliant movie (Serenity), but unfortunately failed to find a strong viewership and Fox cancelled it without even showing all the finished episodes. It's still a series I can watch over and over again for its amazing ensemble cast, clever writing and irreverent humor.
Dark Angel (2000-2002)
Dark Angel was about a genetically-enhanced super soldier named Max who escapes the laboratory where she was created and lives as a fugitive seeking justice. The show was notable for being created by James Cameron (Terminator 2, Aliens, Avatar) and introducing Jessica Albato horny fanboys everywhere. Like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Dark Angel was a rating success that tanked in its second season thanks to a misguided time slot change. Still, it set a very high bar for science-fiction action shows, especially where stunt choreography was concerned. Many of the action sequences were on par with some of the best you'll see in motion pictures.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009)
In my opinion one of the best science-fiction series in the last ten years, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles had engaging stories, a great cast and a credible take on John and Sarah's life as perpetual fugitives playing at being a family. Thomas Dekker may very well be my favorite actor to portray John Connor, imbuing him with compassion, strength and enough angst to make you believe he's a real seventeen-year old. You can see the great hero of the resistance trapped in this adolescent's body, struggling to have a normal teenage life while controlling a mother who verges on psychotic. The series started out as a ratings winner but lost half its veiwership by the second season. It's too bad Fox didn't give SCC a chance to reclaim its audience in a third season. My guess is that Year Three would've been outstanding.