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The Expanse Still Image
Publicity still of The Expanse from IMDB.

Sci-Fi TV: 2019’s Best and Worst

2019 featured many sci-fi television and movies that were less sci-fi than political narrative

This was a great year for genre television. With that, if not with much else, I agree with Wired’s assessment in “5 Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy TV Shows of 2019.” However, it was great mainly in the sense that a lot of genre television was released. It was not so great in the sense of amazing television. I would certainly argue that the terrible balances out the wonderful.

Focusing on the sci-fi TV, here is my list of the worst and then the best sci-fi TV in 2019:

The Worst

1) Another Life

Looking for a show that leaves you wondering what is going on? A convoluted narrative that leads nowhere in particular? A production that attempts, miserably, to indoctrinate you with a “new” and “progressive” socio-political philosophy? Then, boy oh boy, is this the show for you! Another Life is right down your alley.

I’ll never forget watching Katee Sackhoff play Starbuck in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. Her Starbuck was an interesting and lovable character so I was expecting, or hoping for, more of the same from her role as astronaut Niko Breckenridge. However, my expectations were ruthlessly let down. If you’re looking for a filler on TV while you gulp down a quick lunch, then Another Life might be worth a half-hearted watch.

2) Twilight Zone (2019)

Wait, there is a new Twilight Zone (1959–1964)? Yup. I know. I was just as surprised as you. When I began watching Twilight Zone (2019), however, I soon realized why any “classic reboot” hype died down quickly on its release.

If you want a comprehensive overview of the political and social issues that were hotly debated in popular culture in 2019… the new Twilight Zone is a great place to start. Almost every single episode was marinated in divisive socio-political discourse.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Jordan Peele. Even though I disagree with him on just about every socio-political issue, I separate my personal beliefs from what I believe makes good television (and certainly from what makes good sci-fi). For some reason, however, the producers of the new Twilight Zone were under the firm conviction that taking a cherished television classic and flushing it down the toilet by alienating the majority of its fanbase was a great idea. Then again, maybe they weren’t as interested in the show’s performance as in creating cultural chaos. Maybe we’ll never know for sure.

But now for some good news:

The Best:

1) The Mandalorian

Okay, okay, I know what you’re saying: “But Adam, isn’t Star Wars technically not sci-fi?” Well, if Good Omens is treated as sci-fi, I’m sure we can agree that Star Wars is as well.

So why is The Mandalorian so great? Well, it’s the piece of Star Wars that finally stripped me of my cynicism towards the franchise. I was never a huge Star Wars fan growing up (though my dad was a trekkie). So, naturally, I’ve only ever half-heartedly watched the saga unfold on the big screen. With the advent of shows like Rogue One and Solo, however, my coldness towards the Star Wars universe began to thaw. I developed a growing fondness for those stories that fell outside the main story arc, the ones that weren’t all about lightsabers, someone surnamed Skywalker, and wrinkly evil dudes. The Mandalorian finally brought me over the edge to genuine appreciation. While I can’t say I’m a Star Wars “fan” by any means, I will admit, for example, that baby Yoda, the over-discussed cuddly green Cuteness of the Year was at least not aiming at dreary social commentary.

2) The Expanse: Season 4

Although The Expanse has been around for a few years, I can’t work through a list of top sci-fi shows in 2019 without putting it somewhere at the top. If you read my review of Season 4 you’ll know how much I love this show. From its realistic portrayal of space to its intensely mystery-driven narrative, The Expanse is easily one of the best sci-fi shows in recent years. If you’re not an avid fan, start now and make up for lost time.

Looking Back at 2019

Sitting back and pondering the year, I can’t help thinking how I’ve changed as a sci-fi consumer and how my perception of TV has changed.

As with preceding years, 2019 featured many sci-fi television and movies that were less sci-fi than political narrative. None of this surprises me anymore and I suspect that most people who find themselves right of center would not be too surprised either. While it wouldn’t be fair to say that big studios like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc… are owned and run entirely by left-leaning social extremists (I know many wonderful conservatives and moderates who work for big name studios), it would be fair to say this: These studios aim not only to change the socio-political narrative but to subvert the role of media art in our society.

In 2019, I fell out with Netflix. I suppose I had seen this coming but never expected it to be so harsh and drastic. At $8 a month, Netflix was the only streaming service I needed. As other streaming services entered the market, however, Netflix began feeling the pressure to carve out a niche that was harder to compete in. What was once, “Oh, a Netflix original, this is probably good!” became “Oh, a Netflix original… meh.”

I felt bombarded by more and more edgy content, as though Netflix wanted me to know how “adult” it is. Rather than producing a few amazing originals, Netflix started vomiting up a ton of terrible originals. I miss the days when studios cared about the fact that a very large demographic isn’t interested in gory, foul, nude, social commentaries. Maybe I’m wrong but I know I’m not the only one who felt like walking away from Netflix in 2019. It’s a trend worth watching.

Here’s to hoping 2020 is a year of great sci-fi!

If you enjoyed this review by Adam Nieri, you might want to check through these as well for thoughts about films that might interest you, brought to you by Mind Matters News Sci-Fi Saturday:

The Expanse: A Mind Matters TV Series Review
The attention to detail and the realistic portrayal of space set it apart from run-of-the-mill sci-fi.
I love the deep mystery surrounding the show’s central narrative device, the proto-molecule. It is somewhat sentient and is desperately trying to figure out what happened to the civilization that created it and was then wiped out while it lay dormant in our solar system for millions of years.

Nightflyers: A Mind Matters TV Series Review Despite its flaws, Nightflyers does not deserve all the criticism it received. It’s the saga of a ship of scientists making their way through the cosmos to unlock the secrets of a mysterious entity known as Volcryn. It turns out that Volcryn is not the only mystery; the Nightflyer holds many of its own secrets.

The Feed—A Mind Matters TV Series Review: I started out thinking that the show was just the usual ho-hum tyrant-AI-takes-over flick and it is so good to be wrong! Imagine a world where your mind is stored on social media. Now, what happens if someone steals, then abandons it. What will you do?

How To Become Human—A Mind Matters Short Film Review. This new film turns a conventional sci-fi storytelling premise upside down. Rather than an AI struggling to become human in a human-dominated world, we watch a human struggling to be more like an artificial intelligence in an AI-dominated world.

The Outer Worlds—A Mind Matters Game Review: You must discover the dark secret of the Halcyon space colony, despite the greed and corruption of a handful of powerful corporations. After the raging dumpster fire that Fallout 76 (2018) turned out to be, I hesitated to invest my time and money in another role-playing game (RPG) epic. But I am glad I did.

Another Life All fun and games till an AI falls in love. Then it descends into a convoluted drift of uncertain storytelling. And the victim is not primarily the viewer, who has other options. The victim is the art itself.

Alita, Battle Angel A Mind Matters Review: If you love anime and felt betrayed by the flop of Ghost, I would highly recommend Alita.

Ad Astra: The Great Silence becomes personal. The film images the fate of those seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely. In a world where the divine touch of extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t elevate human existence to any level of significance, we are left with Ad Astra: a slow, methodical decay of human significance.

Love, death, & robots Despite the trash and ruined expectations, several shorts were enjoyable and downright fun to watch

Simulation: Would a simulated universe even make sense? A well-crafted short sci-fi film suggests, intentionally or otherwise, maybe not. I’ve seen quite a few sci-fi short films over the years and Simulation is certainly one of the better ones. However, beyond that, I’m not sure this film knows what it is; it’s an identity crisis.

Sprites: Will plausible robots replace movie stars? A short film prepares us to think about it.

Terminator: Dark Fate—A Mind Matters Movie Review. Aside from the fact that it felt like a retextured version of Terminator 2, I was constantly being reminded of the film’s obvious political agenda. Movies like Terminator: Dark Fate don’t seem to be made by people who care about the narrative. They seem to think that they need only make something that looks like a movie but acts as a medium for broadcasting their message to the masses.

Adam Nieri

Adam Nieri has interests in philosophy of science and philosophy of mind and he holds an MA in Science and Religion from Biola University. He has background in social media and marketing, photography/graphic design, IT, and teaching.

Sci-Fi TV: 2019’s Best and Worst