After five seasons, Fringe will air its series finale tomorrow night, and hopefully, it will be a nice conclusion to a strong, overall series. If, however, the end of Fringe means that you won’t have any sci-fi television in your life anymore (there’s not a ton of great sci-fi television out right now), you may be searching for a substitute. If you haven’t seen them, I would suggest any of the following: Battlestar Galactica, any series from Joss Whedon, any series that lasted more than a year from J.J. Abrams, any of the Star Trek series and, above all else, X-Files. But those are kind of obvious choices and you’ve probably already seen them. If you’re a huge sci-fi dork, the following series will also be obvious choices. But if you’re a more casual sci-fi fan looking to dig a little deeper, these shows might satisfy your sci-fi itch after the loss of Fringe (I’d also add as an honorable mention, if you’re a fan of The Chin, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.).
Doctor Who — Everyone knows about Doctor Who, but relatively few (at least in America) watch the show because they have a certain idea about what the series is. If you haven’t watched it, it’s not that. The grandaddy of all sci-fi shows (it precedes even Star Trek), it’s actually older audiences who are the most reluctant to dip into Doctor Who because many of them have negative associations with the original series that their parents used to watch on PBS (and that creepy theme song that haunted their nightmares when they were very young. Just me?). Ignore all Doctor Who episodes before 2005 (not that they’re not any good, but they are very dated, and the productions values, well, let’s just say the villains look like they were created from items lying around in someone’s bathroom), and jump in with the ninth Doctor in 2005, the phenomenal Christopher Eccleston. Once you get immersed in it (and it may take a few episodes), the new Doctor Who will blow you away. If you love Fringe, the whole parallel universe arc is very much straight out of the 10th Doctor’s (David Tennant) episodes. More than any other sci-fi show, however, Doctor Who has a huge heart at its center, clever mindf*ck writing (from Russell T. Davies and, later, Steven Moffat (Sherlock Holmes, among others), and characters with whom you will get immensely invested in, only to have them heartbreakingly stripped away from you. If you don’t watch Doctor Who, you will probably think all those that do are huge dorks (I did), but after you watch a few seasons, you’ll probably become one of them (I did).
Torchwood — Torchwood is a Doctor Who spin-off, although it isn’t at all necessary to see Doctor Who to understand it. It’s similar to Fringe, in that it’s a team of law enforcement types investigating paranormal activity, except that all the paranormal activity seeps out of a rip in the space-time continuum. The first season is a little clunky, because Torchwood very much wanted to be Doctor Who for adults (there are sex scenes, and a lot of “adult behavior,” and the show tried to hard to be “edgy”), but season two settles down into a gripping and complex sci-fi series, leading the way to a mini-series, Children of the Earth. It a five-episode mini-season that may be one of the best sci-fi seasons of any show, ever. It is dark, and it is devastating, and it is seriously mind-blowing. But do not, I repeat DO NOT, attempt to watch the American version of Torchwood, no matter how much you love the characters. It is miserably bad.
Quantum Leap — Older television watchers know what Quantum Leap is, but you’d be surprised at how many younger viewers — the same people who haven’t heard of John Hughes — haven’t heard of Quantum Leap. It is the best, people, and one of the most fun sci-fi shows to marathon. The first season is kind of rocky, but once the series found its footing, it became one of the most captivating shows on television. There’s very much a procedural component to it: Each week, Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) leaps into the body of someone else from a different time period (but within Sam’s own lifetime), and rights a wrong. It’s a late 80s/early 90s network show with some occasionally cheesy elements, but it’s surprisingly profound: There’s lot of existential questions about faith and God that are presented. I will never completely understand the series finale, but I will always love it (and I’m very surprised the show hasn’t yet been rebooted).
Life on Mars — Life on Mars is a nifty little cop show about a guy, Sam Tyler (John Simm), in a coma who is transported back into 1973, where he continues to investigate crimes as part of a 1973 law enforcement unit. What neither the audience nor Sam Tyler understand, however, is whether he is dead, dreaming from his coma, or was transported back in time. Thanks to the amazing performance of Phillip Glenister, it also works as a brilliant cop procedural (there’s a lot of sketchy ethical issues to contend with) with a sci-fi element buried underneath. I actually preferred the sequel to Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes (with the gorgeous Keeley Hawes) because I thought it wrapped up the series in a more satisfying way (and, ultimately, answered some questions about Life on Mars). Great cast notwithstanding, don’t bother with the American series.
Continuum — I just started Continuum this week (it’s a Canadian sci-fi series that’s currently airing on SyFy), but the strong reviews from the Canadian series and the compelling premise makes me think that it might end up being a good substitute for Fringe. The series stars the super-hot Rachel Nichols (Alias, Star Trek, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra ) as a police officer from 2077, where the world is controlled by corporations. She gets inadvertently sent back in time to 2012, where she is tasked with stopping a gang from her time from starting a war to ensure that corporations do not eventually take control of the planet. So far, it feels very much like a cross between Life on Mars and The Terminator, and I’m not sure where it’s headed, but the pilot was very promising. It’s too early to say whether it will turn into a procedural, or if there will be a lot of mythology elements to it. I’m hoping for a nice mixture, a la Fringe.
Alphas — I had decided to include Alphas in this list before news broke yesterday that SyFy had cancelled it, after two seasons. I have only seen a handful of episodes, but they were fun, thanks in large part to David Straithern, one of the best character actors around. The show comes from screenwriter Zak Penn, and to say his career has been hit or miss would be an understatement (he worked on The Avengers, a couple of X-Men movies, The Last Action Hero and PCU, among others). Alphas is basically another version of X-Men or Heroes. The premise is as recycled as anything, but the writing is good, and it’s more fun than Heroes was, which obviously got bogged down in its own mythology. I think the best way to describe would be “good summer sci-fi.” Light, breezy, and action-y.
Roswell — This show is not an easy sell: It features a young Katherine Heigl, Colin Hanks, and it’s kind of like Twilight, except instead of vampires, it’s aliens who have to immerse themselves into high school and pass themselves off as humans, while their human friends help them to keep their secret. But it had some Buffy the Vampire Slayer-like elements, some episodes were great (others were not very good), and as the show progressed, it moved further away from the teenage relationship drama and toward the sci-fi mythology. I think the biggest selling point besides some familiar faces (Emile de Raven, William Sadler, Jason Dohring), however, is that Roswell came from Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood), and while it’s not amazing sci-fi television, it is an easy and pretty show to watch, and much better than you’d expect it to be.