WGA Finally Gives Sci-Fi The Credit Its Due

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You know, we could debate ‘lists’ all darn day, but I saw an article last week that – as a sci-fi fan – I thought gave us cause for celebration.

Science fiction often gets dismissed as crass, quick, or cheap writing by many industry professionals (think ‘Hollywood’). Despite the fact that many of the top-grossing motion pictures of all time either directly or indirectly owe much of their magic to sci-fi, for some reason Tinseltown executives dismiss it as “entertainment for the dumbed-down masses.” I’ve always believed they think such things because they genuinely don’t understand legitimate sci-fi (as opposed to basic fantasy).  God knows studio execs don’t understand basic math, either, so maybe they think it ‘stupid’ as well.

Anyway, the reason for some modest celebration is the fact that the Writers Guild of America recently released their list of the Top 101 Best Written TV Shows, and, believe it or not, sci-fi found a few notable mentions.

(The #1 spot was awarded to The Sopranos. I could pick plenty of gripes with that, but I’ll let it pass in favor of mentioning the programs I was more interested in.)

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#3: The Twilight Zone

I gotta admit that I was never much a fan of this one growing up. Rod Serling’s adventures in sight and sound never seemed to be on any broadcast channel in my youth, so I didn’t discover it until I was much older. Still, I’ll admit there was plenty of genius wrapped up in the program’s writing, acting, and execution. I recently received a copy of an ‘episodes only’ release from a distributor (Season 2), and I have to say that I’m honestly gobsmacked about how well the show holds up even today.

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#26: The X Files

For my tastes, there’s still an awful lot of tripe on the WGA list; mine would have The X Files coming in a lot higher, especially if I could dismiss quite a bit of what went down in Seasons 7, 8 and practically all of Season 9. Otherwise, the genius of Chris Carter’s search for the truth ‘out there’ was a powerhouse of entertainment in Fox TV’s weekly line-up. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll concede that the movies felt either bloated or unnecessary, but when the show was on a high it was a legitimate high. (Did I ever mention my wife and I, while in Vancouver, actually did a tour of some of the show’s shooting locations? That was a hoot.)

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#27: Lost

Alright, parts of Lost were definitely heavy sci-fi, but so much of it ended up feeling an awful lot like fantasy with that ‘are they dead or aren’t they dead’ ending. You can count me as part of fandom that felt insulted by Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof’s ending – cop-out is the word that comes to mind – but, as they say, it is what it is. Season 1 and Season 4 were pretty terrific.  Like everyone else, I was perfectly fine suffering through some of the more traditional drama elements just to see where it was all headed.

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#33: Star Trek

I’m one of the contingent who’ll always tell you that Gene Roddenberry hit one outta the park when he conceived Star Trek. Granted, where it went – how it evolved through various movies and TV series – maybe wasn’t quite where he intended for it to go, but it remains a tentpole for Paramount Pictures and, when handled properly, it’ll always prove to be so. Plus, those original characters – the trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy – truly give life to the franchise’s best stories.

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#35: Twin Peaks

Yes, yes. I know. This isn’t sci-fi – not in any way, shape or form – but I couldn’t pass up mentioning it because I stuck with it … from its opening scenes all the way until the bitter end (which still cries out for a follow-up, if you ask me). Plus, it had Kyle uber-cool Maclachlan and hubba-hubba Sherilyn Fenn.  It’s my column, so I thought I’d mention it.

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#38: Battlestar Galactica (2005)

This one always got too much critical praise in my book. It wasn’t that the storytelling wasn’t solid. It wasn’t that the acting wasn’t interesting. It wasn’t that the real-world comparisons weren’t legitimate. It’s just that I never saw it as the best thing ever aired on Syfy (then Sci-Fi). That acclaim goes to Farscape. Still, Ronald D. Moore did some very solid work in retooling BSG for a new generation … but really? Starbuck? A girl? Then dead? Then what? An angel? Really? Call me sexist, but I prefer the Dirk Benedict version. (You kids, get off my lawn!)

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#40: Game of Thrones

Again, not sci-fi, but I thought it deserved a mention here, giving the coverage it gets. Great program. Outstanding production details. Superior writing. What’s not to love?

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#79: Star Trek – The Next Generation (tie)

Again, I nod toward the genius of Gene’s insistence on bringing back Trek to television with this later crew aboard an all-new Enterprise. Granted, his involvement was fairly circumstantial after a point (due to his declining health), but there were so many terrific hours of great human drama brought to life with these characters, these strange new worlds, these new civilizations … you get the drift. Hats off to the WGA for giving it the recognition it deserves.

Google the entire list if you’re interested, and check it out. There are some other great programs included on it – such as The Prisoner and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, for example – and I’m sure you can – like I did – find fault with some choices.

Lists are great for that – they give us inspiration to consider our own, and they certainly give us fodder to point out the errors in theirs. We could probably argue for hours about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ some programs get overlooked, but, in the end, I felt a modicum of excitement over the fact that science fiction is finally getting some of the kudos it much deserves.

What say you?


  • Brian

    How could you fail to mention Arrested Development at #16.

    ^^ Uh, Brian, what’s sci-fi about Arrested Development?

  • Dino

    How would you have Lost ending?

    ^^ Dino, I would’ve liked it for Cuse and Lindelof to, at least, attempt to answer, say, 1/10th of the questions they had raised/posed, and I honestly would’ve been fine with that. Ignoring the mountain of questions they raised in favor of ending it with a basic “yep, they’re all dead” wrap-up was a cop-out … but let’s not see this article and thread evolve into a Trash Lost thread ’cause that wasn’t my intent.

  • Dino

    Where else could they have gone? I was satisfied.

  • David R

    In fairness (not agreement) to Hollywood, a lot of the more successful sci-fi properties don’t really tap into the true potential of the genre realized in its literary or indie incarnations. Basically, I feel like a lot of truly successful sci-fi movies are rather on the dumb end of the scale.

    That said, The Twilight Zone is and always be an amazing achievement.

  • Anyone can throw a handful of actors wearing the clothes they auditioned in into a present-day setting with banal dialogue and overly predictable events. Sci-Fi and Fantasy television is much more involved and complex and usually requires deeper comprehension on behalf of the audience – it baffles me that some people consider it “entertainment for the dumbed-down masses.” Good to see it getting some well-deserved recognition.

  • Dzuksi

    What about Fringe – some stellar writing in that show :/

    ^^ Agreed. Fringe is one that’ll probably stand the test of time and get a nod eventually.

  • Star Trek below Lost? Pitiful. You really think Lost is going to be as big and beloved as Trek still is in 50 years? Please. It was a show that was great for two seasons when they focused on the characters and then it devolved into a complete mess that we had to sit through for curiosity’s sake while the writers flailed every dumb fantastic trope they could at us and forgot what made it good in the first place. BSG had a similar problem, but I’d take it over Lost all day, every day too.

  • Angela

    Since you’re breaking the sci-fi rule anyway… no callout to Buffy? I was really surprised to see that so high on the list. Not because I didn’t like it, but because of what you said that there’s usually bias against those types of shows. Good on them for recognising some of the amazing writing that went into that one.

  • Vagelis

    The Shield should be at top 10,quite easily.

  • A completely predictable list. Most of the list certainly deserves to be there, but when they include Star Trek TOS and TNG, but ignore Deep Space Nine, they’re obviously using criteria other than the actual quality of writing.

    Also, does Game of Thrones really deserve to be on the list when it’s merely an adaptation of a preexisting work?

  • danielrandkai

    The Wire only at nine? And not better than The Sopranos?

    Gar-bahge.