They say that Sci-Fi and comedy don’t go together. This is usually true, but there are still those rare gems that make TV worth watching. For your viewing pleasure, here is my list of the five finest Science Fiction sitcoms, along with a quick look at five bad ones to balance things out.
This excellent BBC series is actually more of a historical show, but uses Time Travel as a plot device to get the job done. Gary Sparrow is a TV repairman from London who happens to wander down the wrong side street one day and turn up in the middle of World War II. While there he meets Phoebe, the pub landlord, and builds a second life in the past.
This is a tremendously funny show that puts a new spin on the old double-life farce. It’s a bold idea that really works and the writing is so good that it even survives a few cast changes in its later years.
I was a late arrival to Invader Zim, only discovering it many years after its untimely cancellation after it had been recommended to me by nearly everyone I had met. Created by Johnen Vasquez, the brain behind the Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Squee comics, Invader Zim is a weird and wonderful animated series that aired on Nickelodeon. The show follows the misadventures of Zim, an alien who believes he has been sent to Earth to take over, but is actually only there to get him out of the way. His plans are foiled by Dib, a local boy who has an obsession with the paranormal.
This show is not only brilliantly funny, but it has a beautiful art style that is all its own. Animated shows aren’t for everybody, but if they’re your thing then this is a must see.
If any show sums up the 80s perfectly for me, it must be Alf. This goofy family show about a pop-culture literate alien that goes to live with the typical sitcom family was the perfect balance between overacted drama and endearing kitsch. The show’s biggest strength comes not from its ability to poke fun at the clichéd family sitcom while exploiting the same format. However, it hasn’t aged too well these days and so is probably only worth re-watching if you have a strong nostalgic streak.
I’m sure this will be at the top of many people’s lists; it was a very close second. Since it arrived back in the year 1999, Futurama has gone from being Matt Groening’s red-headed stepchild to one of the most entertaining shows on TV. As The Simpsons becomes more and more like the embarrassingly drunken older sibling, Futurama has really had chance to shine. Packed full of cultural and scientific references, a single episode of Futurama appeals to a wide audience, with humour that reaches from the insanely intelligent to the ridiculously dumb. True, it hasn’t been the same since its cancellation and return, but at its peak this is still a great show for sci-fi fans.
Here it is. The King of the Science Fiction sitcom. Running for eight years before cancellation, Red Dwarf has since returned for specials (and an upcoming new series) on digital channel, Dave. Still hugely popular, the series takes place 3 million years in the future and follows Dave Lister, the last human being alive. With him are Rimmer, Kryten and the Cat; a hologram, robot and humanoid cat. Amazingly funny, and exploring many of the same themes are some of the more “serious” science fiction shows out there. Red Dwarf went where no sitcom had gone before.
So, what about the duds?
3rd Rock from the Sun
I will never understand how this series lasted for six seasons. The day to day adventures of a group of aliens hiding out on Earth, pretending to be a typical American family. Six years and not a single good joke.
Here’s a tip for the future. Always have low expectations when it comes to TV shows based on adverts. Geico’s cavemen is freed from his massively overrated commercials to star in this astonishingly bad series.
Lost in Space
Yes, I know. It’s a classic. But it’s not a particularly good classic. Science Fiction is a genre in which the sky is the limit, Lost in Space gave us one 60s TV family in the same building week after week. Oh, and the only alien was a chimp wearing fake ears.
Created by Rob Grant, one half of the two-man team behind Red Dwarf, a lot of people thought The Strangerers would be at least half good. While the show had a couple of good ideas here and there, the budget was tiny and the acting came off like it had escaped from a sketch show.
Another astonishing six year success. In fact, My Hero was only cancelled when original star Ardal O’Hanlon left and was replaced by the increasingly awful James Dreyfus. A British superhero spoof in which every joke was groan worthy, every plot was predictable and every moment was agony.