Top 10 lists are always tricky if you let them marinate in your head for too long. “Do I give priority to how important the series is,” I wonder, “or how objectively good it is, or how much I personally enjoyed it”. Such was again the case when I challenged myself to make a top 10 lists of shows that take place in outer space. This installment of Top 10 Tuesday challenged me in many ways, and I might never feel 100% confident in my list. That being said, I have decided on this as my personal list of top 10 TV series that take place in outer space.
10. Space: Above and Beyond
Before the 2003 remake of Battlestar Galactica, 2 former writers from The X Files, did the whole “serious space drama about humanity fighting back against their own creations” thing. Space: Above and Beyond was significantly ahead of its time, which meant what that usually means, it was canceled after 1 season (and 1 hell of a cliffhanger). Debuting in 1995, and running for 1 season of 24 episodes, Space: Above and Beyond was created by Glen Morgan (Intruders) and James Wong (American Horror Story). While the series is not available on any streaming or digital distribution channel, its is available on DVD.
09. Martian Successor Nadesico
Martian Successor Nadesico premiered in 1996 in Japan. I clearly remember the impact the series had on me. The juxtaposition of comedy and drama made for one of the most impactful dramatic moments I have seen in an anime. Nadesico ran for 26 episodes, spanned 4 volumes of manga, featured a sequel movie, a planned (but cancelled) sequel series, and an OVA (Original Video Animation) spin off of the anime within an anime, Gekigangar III. Martian Successor Nadesico is available to stream on Hulu Plus.
08. Outlaw Star
A seemingly significant inspiration for the Joss Whedon series Firefly, Outlaw Star remains, in my opinion, the epitome of the space western genre in anime. Outlaw Star follows the adventures of Gene Starwind and James Hawking, who find themselves in possession of a mysterious girl, and a prototype spaceship. Outlaw Star aired on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block in 2001, but the 26 episode anime series aired in Japan 3 years before in 1998. From my own research, I was unable to find a streaming source for Outlaw Star, through Funimation apparently owns the streaming rights.
Debuting in 1999, the first episode of Futurama followed series protagonist, Fry, as a pizza delivery boy in New York City who is accidentally frozen on New Years Eve 1999. Instead of waking in the year 2000, Fry is unfrozen in the year 3000. It is in this time that he befriends a thieving robot and a mutant cyclops before going to work for his distant descendant in an intergalactic delivery company. Created by The Simpsons mastermind Matt Groening, Futurama flourished in quality as The Simpsons sharply declined. The series was cancelled, and then brought back, much like Family Guy before it, though the series unfortunately came to its final conclusion in 2013. Futurama will cross-over with The Simpsons this year in the latter’s 26th season. Futurama can be streamed through Netflix.
06. Cowboy Bebop
Perhaps the most popular anime outside of Dragon Ball Z in the west, Cowboy Bebop matched stunning animation with swagger, and a gritty back story that grounded the drama, despite the comedy. Cowboy Bebop was also a first introduction to the music of beloved anime composer Yoko Kanno for many anime fans. There was even a hollywood adaptation in development with Keanu Reeves (The Matrix) tapped to play series protagonist Spike Spiegel. The series is primarily made up of episodic adventures that are tied together by the backstory of Spike, his lost love, and the shadows creeping in from his past as a member of a notorious crime syndicate. Cowboy Bebop’s 26 episode run can be streamed through Adult Swim, where it has continually rerun for 13 years.
05. Doctor Who
Doctor Who recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, though most current fans likely started somewhere in the modern run which began in 2005 with the 9th iteration of The Doctor. The Doctor is currently on his 12th (13th if you count the War Doctor) time traveling and mystery solving iteration. Peter Capaldi holds the mantle now as a more alien and older Doctor. Doctor Who succeeds where many other cheesy over the top science fiction series fail, by throwing all caution to the wind in the writing of complex scenarios. It wont always makes sense, but it doesn’t have to, because the ride is worth it. Doctor Who has the amazing ability to go anywhere and anywhen, the past, the future, Earth, space, and beyond, it can always be fresh. Doctor Who streams on Netflix and Hulu, new episodes air on Saturdays on BBCAmerica.
04. Mobile Suit Gundam
Mobile Suit Gundam debuted in 1979, and has since become the defining franchise of all all things mecha. Like Star Trek, Gundam has many series, movies, books, and a massive dedicated fan base. Also like Star Trek, Mobile Suit Gundam has multiple timelines, and alternate versions of Earth and its colonies. Some stories in the Gundam-verse follow the primary timeline of the story, while others strike their own path, including 3 of the most popular Gundam series Wing, Seed, and 00. Common tropes of the Gundam franchise include a masked blonde foe who changes allegiances, heavy political maneuvering, and a conflict between the citizens of Earth, and a colonial group from space. In the original series and timeline it is the Earth Federation and Zeon in conflict, with Char Aznable donning the mask, though alternate stories also often feature a masked antagonist, like Zechs in Gundam Wing. The original Mobile Suit Gundam now streams on Crunchyroll.
03. Star Trek
The big daddy of all space bound science fiction, Star Trek first debuted nearly 50 years ago, and has since spanned 5 official TV series, 3 movie timelines, and perhaps the largest and most dedicated fan base in all of science fiction. Nearly every science fiction fan has a Trek they identify with, for me it is Deep Space Nine. I was never drawn into the original series, I never got hooked on Next Generation, I was never a big fan of the movies, but for some reason Deep Space Nine really grabbed me. Perhaps it was the writing, Deep Space Nine’s writer room included the creator of our top pick on this list, and our top pick from our Top 10 Showrunners list. Though I think a lot of it was the politics of war that often mirrored our own middle eastern conflict, before September 11th seared its horror in our minds forever. For more on Star Trek read Kat’s retrospective on the series here. All 5 Star Trek series stream on both Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime Instant Video.
So what could take out Star Trek? Actually, 2 series surpass its placement on my list. First up is Joss Whedon’s space western Firefly, the much beloved, but short lived, 13 episode adventure. Firefly brought a lot of fun and adventure to space, with a crew of shameless criminals traversing the galaxy in search of their next score. Like with all Whedon projects, the strengths of Firefly reside in the writing and the chemistry between the actors. In that sense, Firefly might just be the absolute height of Whedon’s charms. The dialog is quick and witty, but also contains a western vernacular that is mixed with occasional bursts of Chinese that makes the spoken language of the series distinct. Character-wise, Whedon is able to put together a true cross section of lovable rogues by avoiding the constraints of high school found in Buffy. From the momma’s boy mercenary, to a geisha-esque “Companion”, Firefly covers a large swath of misfit criminals. Firefly streams on Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime Instant Video.
Top place goes to Ron D. Moore’s 2003 remake of the campy 1970s Battlestar Galactica. Ron Moore took on Galactica, not as a fan of the original, but as a means of exploring a different kind of space series than he was afforded in his work on various Star Trek series. Battlestar Galactica handled science fiction with less glamour, and more military grit, while bringing in spirituality and cryptic mystery. Starting as a 2 part mini series in 2003, a TV series sprung out of that backdoor pilot in 2004, the same year that LOST also tackled science fiction with the addition of spirituality and cryptic mystery.
Like LOST, Battlestar drew us in with a more conventional story, before addicting us to a web of mysteries that kept us enthralled throughout. Who are the humanoid cylons? What was their plan? Where is Earth? Who are the final 5? While reactions to the finale are mixed, at best, the series kept us intrigued throughout. Great music, and feature quality special effects (the best to hit TV until Game of Thrones), brought the gritty realism and serious tone that evened out Battlestar Galactica as a total package series. Unfortunately, Battlestar Galactica has just recently been pulled from Netflix, meaning the only way to stream it now is by buying episodes or seasons a la carte.
I can already feel the disagreements of others. Did I get the list wrong? Did I leave off your favorite show? Tell me in the comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows, terrestrial or otherwise.