When Doctor Who returned to television I was excited and cautiously optimistic. I had been consciously avoiding a lot of the news and commentary about the new season so that I could better maintain that cautious optimism, but as we are nerds and nerds talk. So I, inevitably, saw a tweet that put a damper on my excitement.
Why it gotta be dark?
I’ve written about my frustration with the direction of television before: the increasingly dark tone that permeates through most science fiction/fantasy television. While I think it does have its place, I am eager, begging even, for more balance. The Doctor Who I first fell in love with was a balance of dark spooky tales with light-hearted fun romps through space and time. While the show still maintains its humor, the tone and look has gotten increasingly darker and the moments of levity more infrequent.
I, personally, need levity in television, and with the world so full of dark and depressing news, I think everyone else needs it too. So here are five science fiction/fantasy shows you can watch right now that aren’t dark and don’t require a sad nap at the end of each episode. I don’t think it's a coincidence that all of these shows are no longer on the air, but I do hope that we are offered shows of their caliber and quality again soon.
Eureka — SYFY — available to stream on Netflix
To me, Eureka is the gold standard of light and uplifting science fiction. It’s about a town full of scientists and the hijinks that inevitably ensue. There are stories that touch on sensitive subjects such as consent, identity, gender roles, and neural atypicality. But it’s done with humor, the color palette is bright and very rarely is there a “bad guy.” When something goes wrong in Eureka, more often than not it’s because someone had good intentions and terrible follow through. That’s not to say that there are no stakes. Throughout Eureka’s five seasons, there was loss and heartbreak and Joe Morton monologues that rival his best work on Scandal. What is more important is by the end of an episode of Eureka you felt entertained, optimistic, and more fortified to face the actual darkness that is the world.
The Librarians — TNT — available to stream on Hulu
I wrote about The Librarians before TNT cruelly canceled the show after 4 seasons. The TV spin-off to the made-for-TV movies starring Noah Wylie centered on a team of Librarians for the fictional Metropolitan Public Library, who are tasked with finding and protecting magical and mysterious treasures around the world. Similar to Warehouse 13, another show very close to making this list, The Librarians did not shy away from speaking about evil and violence. It just did so with whimsy, humor, and heart.
I also loved the way the show played with gender roles. Rebecca Romijn plays Eve Baird, the Guardian of the Library and the Librarians. While she’s beautiful, she’s also strong and extremely capable. Christian Kane plays Jacob Stone, a rough and tumble cowboy who is also a genius, knowledgeable and passionate about art, architecture, and history. He is even secretly earning his doctorate and publishing under a pseudonym so his family doesn’t know where his true passion and gifts lie. In a more traditional show, Christian Kane would be the Guardian while Rebecca Romijn was the renaissance expert. These simple shifts in television norms help to make The Librarians a refreshing and enjoyable alternative to the dark offerings of science fiction/fantasy TV.
Wonderfalls — FOX — episodes can be found on YouTube
Wonderfalls was criminally underrated and only aired for four episodes, though we were blessed to have the first season released on DVD. The show is about Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas) an underachieving Ivy League graduate who works in a souvenir shop, Wonderfalls, in Niagara Falls. When some of the souvenirs start speaking to her with riddled instructions, Jaye believes she’s going mad, but still feels compelled to follow those instructions and in doing so, begins to help people. Wonderfalls is full of the quick wit, deadpan delivery, and fantastical narratives that Bryan Fuller would go on to perfect in his subsequent projects but what I love most about it is its raw and unvarnished feel.
It’s so easy to relate to Jaye, a young woman who is trying to get by without trying too hard but knows that she has more to give the world as soon as she can figure out what that more is. This is a very weird show but that strangeness is exactly the reason it’s so lovable. The muses who torment Jaye by singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” until she follows her instructions, her family who worries about her but have no clue how to connect with her, and the friends who don’t believe she is hearing voices but don’t immediately call the hospital when she matter of factly tells them that the stuffed bear told her to do something. Wonderfalls was a great show and deserved more, but what else do you expect from FOX?
Pushing Daisies — ABC — available to stream on CW Seed
American Gods, Hannibal, Dead Like Me Bryan Fuller is known for dark and intense television shows, but he also created one of the most heartfelt, beautiful and unique TV shows to ever air.
Pushing Daisies was cruelly derailed by the 2008 WGA Strike and was never allowed to reach its full potential but in two short seasons, it was able to set the gold standard for a TV show with a fantastical premise that always left me feeling better and more lighter after watching it. If ever there was a show that married all of my favorite elements of story, fantasy, police procedural, and light romance, Pushing Daisies did it all and did it all to perfection. Ned and Chuck and the weird yet loveable cast of characters surrounding them dealt with death and murder but did so with humor and a fantastic color palette.
Star Trek: The Next Generation — CBS — available on Netflix, CBS All Access and Hulu
I could kick myself for my stubbornness in waiting so long to watch Star Trek but thanks to Netflix and binge watching I am a full fledged card carrying Trekkie. Even though I may tell you that Star Trek Voyager is my favorite series in the franchise, I could only make that claim because Star Trek: The Next Generation set the path and the blueprint for what makes a great Star Trek series and crew. Star Trek is not perfect, it suffers greatly from the all too common white savior trope and its magical science that has somehow eliminated racism, poverty, war and hunger without ever explaining exactly how those issues were overcome. It would be quite easy enough to unpack those issues but while you’re watching the show you’re struck with its seeming limitless optimism and belief that, given enough time and resources, humans can escape the prejudices that have held us back for so long. What the show succeeds in most, for me, is being that place of escape when the ills of this world become overbearing. Having Jean-Luc Picard give a stirring speech and watching the crew work together to find a solution that is neither violent or exploitative. TNG affords me the ability to be optimistic and hopeful of the future, even if it only lasts for 40 minutes.