I used to think sci-fi TV had to be a guilty pleasure, whatnot like eating all the icing from a piece of birthday cake (not that I’ve ever done that). Sci-fi is for geeks—it’s a cult thing, a fringe thing, right? I mean, most people have seen an episode of Star Trek, but only the die-hard have seen every episode of the spin-offs, and movies, and—Comic Con? Shhh…act like you don’t know what it is.
That’s how it used to be, anyway—but no more! Comic Con is huge, baby, and I’m coming out of the sci-fi closet!
And not just because all the cool kids are doing it: sci-fi TV is, hands-down, the best genre for gender equality in all the ‘verse. The men are swoon-worthy sensitive paragons of ass-kicking manhood, and the women are brilliant, equally ass-kicking feminist heroines. Oh, how I love me some sci-fi TV.
There is much to love: action, adventure, cool gadgets that just might be real. But for me, it’s always been about the characters. I don’t have room to cover all the shows and all the characters I love, but here’s a rundown of some of my favorites:
My husband introduced me to sci-fi via Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although I loved that show and its characters, it wasn’t until Voyager that I became a die-hard fan.
While attempting to capture a renegade ship, Captain Kathryn Janeway strands both Voyager and the ship she is chasing in a distant galaxy. The two crews become one and must work through their differences to get home.
Captain Kathryn Janeway: The only female captain who stars in a Star Trek show, Captain Janeway is everything a captain should be: decisive, intuitive, dedicated to her ship and crew. She’s a survivor, she’s stubborn, and she isn’t afraid to be vulnerable with those who know her best. If I was going to be stranded halfway across the universe, there is no one I’d rather have to get me home.
Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres: Probably my favorite female sci-fi character of all time, B’Elanna is a woman after my own heart. She’s got a fierce temper, she’s smart as a whip, and she’s always struggling to make the parts of herself fit together. She’s half-human, half-Klingon, and all awesome.
Lieutenant Tom Paris: Ah, my first sci-fi crush. Tom Paris is the epitome of the archetype that sci-fi handles so beautifully: the reformed bad boy. When we first meet him, he’s a rebel and he’s never ever gonna be any good. But over time, he stops his womanizing, figures himself out, and becomes just plain dreamy while flying spaceships and taking out nasty aliens.
First Officer Chakotay: Chakotay was the captain of the runaway vessel that Janeway chased; he becomes Janeway’s first officer and close friend. His approach to life is informed by his Native American spirituality—he is a deep thinker, a fiercely protective first officer, and damn fun to watch in action.
Firefly follows the crew of Serenity, another ship without a home. But this time, the crew isn’t trying to get home–they’re fighting for their survival in the aftermath of a universal civil war. Captain Mal Reynolds opposes the unification of the planets by the Alliance, an interplanetary governing body with a nasty streak.
Captain Mal Reynolds: Mal, Mal, Mal. Now here is a true rebel with a cause. He’s more rough and tumble than most of the guys in sci-fi—his sensitive side must take a back seat, as he is too busy fighting the establishment to let his love light shine very often. He represents another archetype that sci-fi handles so well: the hero fighting against insurmountable odds, the broken soldier, the vulnerable man getting a grip and going on with his bad self.
Zoe: Mal’s second in command, Zoe is fiercely loyal to her captain. She is just as fierce a soldier as Mal, but less broken by defeat. She is one of the strongest characters I have ever seen in sci-fi: a true warrior who never cries and rarely even breaks a sweat.
Kaylee Frye: The ship’s engineer, Kaylee seems like someone you’d meet in high school. A kid with a knack for engines and a heart for adventure, she’s sensitive, a bit naive, and a genius with a starship.
Inara Serra: I watched Firefly before I examined gender in media very closely; I’d like to re-watch this show just to analyze Inara. She’s a self-employed prostitute who takes on female as well as male clients; she considers herself a professional, and takes no flak from any man about her business.
Based on the 1994 film Stargate, starring Kurt Russell, the TV series explores the adventures of a U.S. military team who must go up against a race of narcissistic aliens bent on planetary domination. One of my favorite things about this show is the mythology involved: the Goa’uld, the aliens, are named after Egyptian Gods and Goddesses.
Colonel Jack O’Neill: He’s Macgyver! OK, no, he’s not. But still–you gotta love Richard Dean Anderson. As Colonel O’Neill, he speaks my native tongue: smartass. And he always gets the bad guys.
Captain Samantha Carter: Captain Carter is so freaking brilliant; she solves all the science problems, and the guys depend on her to save the planet in about a million ways. She doesn’t take any bullshit from anyone, but she doesn’t pretend to be masculine. She’s just herself, and she rocks the Casbah.
Daniel Jackson: You know how in movies there’s always this gorgeous woman who hides her beauty behind glasses and frumpy clothes, and then she sheds that ugly duckling getup and struts the strut on the catwalk like she owns that bad boy? Well, in Stargate, the ugly duckling turned jaw-dropping beauty is a man: you don’t realize how gorgeous Daniel Jackson is until somewhere around the beginning of the third season, when he cuts his hair and loses his glasses. Trust me: it’s worth the wait. Daniel Jackson is like an alien ass-kicking Indiana Jones who’s been lifting weights in secret for a couple of years. And he’s sweet as all get-out. What’s not to love?
Teal’c: Teal’c is an alien: a Jaffa whose body was created to incubate the infantile form of the Goa’uld. He leaves his wife and son, and his planet, to join SG-1 in their fight, and to lead his people to freedom. He has a wry sense of humor, carries himself with great dignity, and is both graceful and fierce in battle. Again, what’s not to love?
My latest love is Eureka, a show about a small town in the Pacific Northwest that was established to let the world’s greatest scientific minds invent to their heart’s content. As generally happens with me and sci-fi, I have slowly developed a crush on Sheriff Jack Carter, who is a wonderful father, supportive boyfriend, insightful detective, and selfless protector. And as also generally happens, I have come to admire the women in the show like they’re my sisters: Allison Blake, a medical doctor and brilliant scientist, and Jo Lupo, a former special ops soldier and current deputy, are women who solve problems and fight the good fight every day, often leading the charge.
That’s what sci-fi does: it either ignores gender and race and just lets people be who they are, or it consciously examines gender and race. For example, Stargate draws parallels between the Jaffa and slaves, and allows Teal’c’s fictional battles to represent real-life battles on earth; on Eureka, Jack babysits Allison’s youngest child, modeling masculine caretaking, and jokes with Jo about whether they are having “girl talk” or “boy talk” when they discuss their love lives.
That is why sci-fi is the best: it shows us dystopian utopias in which people, whoever they are, are just themselves. And kicking ass at it.
If you haven’t given it a try, check out sci-fi TV—you’ll be glad you did. And the best part is that I could only give you a sneak peek—there are tons more characters on the shows I love, each of them worthy of heart-palpitating admiration. And tons more shows to explore—in sci-fi, another adventure is always just around the corner.