The Top 15 Honorary SFX Shows

TV shows that aren’t strictly speaking SFX shows, but that you think we should cover anyway, for the hell of it

Boundaries? Who needs ’em? On SFX we’re often asked how we decide whether we should cover something or not, and although there is a rough rule of thumb (there has to be some kind of fantasy or sci-fi element) rules are made to be broken, and some films, TV shows, books and comics are undeniably difficult to impose definitions on.

So for once we’re ignoring the rules and going on good old gut feeling.

We asked you on Facebook , Google + and Twitter to nominate your favourite non- SFX shows that you think deserve to be made honorary SFX shows. We didn’t give any guidance for your reasoning; the reasoning was entirely up to you (though mentioning in the blurb that we wanted you to stop Dave Golder getting Sharpe into the list seems to have Derren Browned you into acting in the exact opposite way somewhat). And here are the most popular results:

15 The IT Crowd

2006-present
Channel 4 (UK)
Created by: Graham Linehan
Starring: Richard Ayoade, Chris O'Dowd, Katherine Parkinson

What is it? A sit-com about the IT department at Reynholm Industries: geeky genius Moss, work-shy geek Roy and their manager Jen who knows so little about IT she thinks you can destroy the internet by typing “Google” into Google.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? Like many other shows in this list, it has solid geek credentials, with a set dressed like a museum of computer history, Roy’s sci-fi T-shirts and random props such as a V For Vendetta mask in the team’s office. But it’s more than juts the references that make The IT Crowd SFXy. It can be surreal bordering on fantasy with software that can predict when you’ll die and a Goth living in isolation in the cupboard (Richmond) like a shy vampire. In fact, the whole of Reynholm Industries feels like an alternate universe (Roy even refers to floor five as the Land Of Beautiful People) but that should be no surprise from the man who created the zombie-priest-infested Craggy Island for Father Ted (which almost made his countdown too).

.

.

14 Due South

1994-1999
CTV (Canada)
Created by: Paul Haggis
Starring: Paul Gross, David Marciano, Callum Keith Rennie

What is it? The cases of a cynical American police detective and an upright Royal Canadian Mounted Police constable in the city of Chicago.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? Championed massively by our very own Jayne Nelson (who we suspect may have arranged a Twitter campaign) Due South actually stakes a very good claim to being an SFX show: it featured a ghost. Mountie Benton Fraser was regular visited by his father’s spirit, whose advice could be as absurdly useless as often as it was useful. You could claim that the ghost was all a figment of his imagination, but as Jayne points out, “Three other people saw him too! I am flippin’ tired of pointing this out.”

.

.

13 Leverage

2008-present
TNT (USA)
Showrunners:
Chris Downey, John Rogers
Starring: Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman, Aldis Hodge, Christian Kane, Beth Riesgraf

What is it? Hustle meets Spooks in a show about a thief, a grifter, a hacker and a retrieval specialist, headed up by former insurance investigator Nathan Ford, who use their skills to right corporate and governmental injustices inflicted.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? The first in a number of shows in this list that combine credulity-stretching crime capers with reality-challenging technology, random sci-fi references and geek-gasmic guest casting (Mark Sheppard, Wil Wheton, Brent Spiner). Alec Hardison (the computer expert, of course) is the resident sci-fi expert, making most of the pop culture references – primarily Trek but Doctor Who also gets a nod – but the rest of the team aren’t averse to geeking out either. For example, Eliot, the team’s muscle, once admitted he wanted to dress as a Klingon. Amazingly, though it may be a bit of cliché to have the computer guy as the geek, Hardison isn’t the usual TV nerd – you could almost call him sexy.

.

.

12 Hawaii Five-0

2010-present
CBS (USA)
Showrunners:
Peter M Lenkov, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci
Starring: Alex O'Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, Masi Oka, Lauren German

What is it? A remake (and extreme makeover) of the ’60 and ’70s US show about an elite squad of cops in Hawaii.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? The main cast, for a start, reads like the guest list at a convention – Moonlight ’s Alex O'Loughlin, Battlestar Galactica ’s Grace Park, Lost ’s Daniel Dae Kim and Masi Oka from Heroes . The guest stars promise more autograph opportunities too – James Marsters, Terry O'Quinn, Greg Grunberg.

More than that, 5-0’s headquarters are so high-tech they look like something out of Minority Report ! They use technology that’s just on the cusp of reality that often comes across like pure sci-fi, in that you’re suspicious it would never work in real life.

Then there are the producers: Kurtzman and Orci from Fringe , Alias , etc. That’s why it’s so pacy and witty. And the writers clearly know their geek stuff and litter the scripts with geek references, and not just the usual suspects: recently Danny and Steve watched Enemy Mine, discussing it as though it were a classic (although Steve didn’t agree).

.

.

11 A Very Peculiar Practice

1986-1992
BBC (UK)
Created by:
Andrew Davies
Starring: Peter Davison, Graham Crowden, David Troughton, Barbara Flynn

What is it? An askew drama series about the medical centre in the cash-strapped Lowlands University (the recent sitcom Campus on Channel 4 ripped it off mercilessly). Peter Davison features in yet another Doctor role, as the new staff member in a team that includes a right-wing boor, a bisexual ice queen and an old soak.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? It was all about the atmosphere. It was so surreal at times that it felt like it existed in a parallel universe, especially with its never-explained pair of badly-behaved nuns who would ride motorbikes or plot arson in the fringes of each episode. There were also bizarre dream sequences and some increasingly off-kilter plotting, including a story about an acoustics student unleashing noise terror at a rock gig. The final episode, “The Death Of The University” features the American vice-chancellor getting the university involved in psychological/military experimentation and animal testing leading to a student revolt that’s like something out of a Kubrick film. From an era when TV drama wasn’t created by committee to a predefined format, A Very Peculiar Practice didn’t cross genres, it simply didn’t care what genre it was in.

.

.

10 Veronica Mars

2004-7
UPN/The CW (USA)
Created by:
Rob Thomas
Starring: Kristen Bell, Percy Daggs III, Teddy Dunn, Jason Dohring, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Chris Lowell, Francis Capra

What is it? A series about a budding high school female detective set in a fictional Californian town. Part Nancy Drew, part The OC , part Raymond Chandler, part Whedonverse.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? Joss Whedon once declared Veronica Mars his favourite show, and then went on to make a cameo appearance in an episode, which boosted its geek credentials exponentially. But it did, indeed, often feel like Buffy The Vampire Slayer minus the supernatural elements (though there were hints of a ghost in the second season). Witty dialogue, stylish teen soap, a film noir vibe and clever, cliché-inverting plotting that combined a case of the week with larger plot arcs featuring big bads meant that stylistically, if not themically, Veronica Mars felt like a part of the Buffyverse. The vampires, clearly, were just hiding in the shadows, and you just knew Kristen Bell’s Veronica would be able to kick their asses if called on to do so.

.

.

9 The Mentalist

2008-present
CBS (USA)
Creator:
Bruno Heller
Starring: Simon Baker, Robin Tunney, Tim Kang, Owain Yeoman, Amanda Righetti

What is it? The California Bureau of Investigation enlists an unusual consultant – a former (fake) stage show medium, Patrick Jane, who’s a kind of über-Derren Brown, with an almost supernatural ability to pick up on clues to people’s personalities and thoughts.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? To be honest, The Mentalist didn’t get a huge amount of votes, but we’ve bounced it into this list for a sound, solid reason: it is enormously popular on the SFX forum. Aside from Doctor Who , it’s getting more hits on its thread than any other show. That’s something we cannot ignore.

Why is it so popular with SFX posters? Partially, we assume, because Jane is increasingly revealing himself as Professor X. At the start of the series, you could believe he was just “reading” subtle signs that gave people away, or manipulating them through suggestion. By series four he was mind-controlling entire juries to declare him innocent of a murder he committed in front of hundred of witnesses, and correctly predicting that a man was a murderer because he had air conditioning in his office. It’s all getting a little silly.

The show also has its own Vulcan in the emotionless Cho – by far the best character on the show. And Grace Van Pelt has Image Comics superheroine hair.

.

.

8 Spooks

2002-2011
BBC One (UK)
Created by:
David Wolstencroft
Starring: Peter Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Rupert Penry Jones, Miranda Raison, Hermione Norris, Richard Armitage

What is it? 10-series show about MI5 agents getting killed regularly.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? Oddly, the BBC spy show Spooks received a lot more votes than 24 , despite many people noting the similarity between the shows – the way the terrorist adversaries often came across like supervillains and the use of cutting edge technology which seems one step ahead of what’s actually possible in the real world. Maybe if SFX was a US-based site 24 would be in this list instead? On the other hand, Spooks does feel a lot like a small screen James Bond, and arguments about whether SFX should be covering Bond or not have been raging for years.

.

.

7 Castle

2009-present
ABC (USA)
Created by:
Andrew W Marlowe
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Susan Sullivan, Molly C Quinn

What is it? Crime writer Richard Castle becomes an unofficial adviser to cop Kate Beckett, who happens to be one of his fans.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? It stars Nathan Fillion. That appears to be enough for some people. But it’s also a show unashamedly stuffed with geeky references; in one episode Fillion don his Mal costume from Firefly again; in another the catalyzer from Firefly’s “Out Of Gas” is used as set dressing; in another he utters the line, “I was aiming for his head!” It’s also very, very good. You should be watching it.

.

.

6 The Big Bang Theory

2007-present
CBS (USA)
Created by:
Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady
Starring: Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg

What is it? A phenomenally successful US sitcom about flat-sharing geeks. Friends with added nerd-babble.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? Well, it’s an easy sell, isn’t it? But though we know a lot of you love it, we’re glad it was beaten by the next – British – show. Because as brilliant funny as Big Bang Theory can be at times, it does have a slightly patronising “laugh at the performing monkeys” feel, whereas the next show features geeks you actually wouldn’t mind being seen down the pub with.

.

.

5 Spaced

1999-2001
Channel 4 (UK)
Created by:
Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson
Starring: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Nick Frost, Mark Heap

What is it? Sitcom about an aspiring comic book artist and comic book store assistant Tim Bisley, who spends more time on his PlayStation, while weird stuff happens around him.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? Spaced did the whole sci-fi referencing shtick so naturally, so brilliantly and so cleverly, most other shows trying the same kind of vibe since have appeared slightly clunky as a result ( The Fades , we’re looking at you). The referencing went beyond merely namechecking shows: the iconic slow motion fight scenes (which have become part of pop culture themselves), the Star Wars skits and especially the rants (“ Babylon 5 is a big pile of shit!”) all make Spaced the Rolls Royce of Geekaganza TV.

And the moment when Tim explodes at a kid in his comic store who dares to buy The Phantom Menace is a Lord’s Prayer for all those of us old enough to know why such things matter: “You are so blind! You so do not understand! You weren't there at the beginning. You don't know how good it was! How important! This is it for you! This jumped-up firework display of a toy advert! People like you make me sick! What’s wrong with you?! Now, I don’t care if you’ve saved up all your 50ps, take your pocket money, and GET OUT!”

.

.

4 The Simpsons

1989-present
Fox (USA)
Created by:
Matt Groening
Starring: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer

What is it? Oh come on, we don’t need to patronise you by answering that, surely.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? After over 20 years of aliens, monsters, ghosts, sci-fi film skits (our favourite is still The Planet Of The Apes one), annual Halloween specials, geeky guest appearances and fantasy plotlines, surely the onus is more on SFX to argue why it isn’t an SFX show. All we can say in our defence is that it would be the thin end of the wedge. As a cartoon, if we let The Simpsons in where does it all end? We’d have to be doing features about Scooby Doo and Winsome Witch . Which, some might argue, we should.

On the other hand, The Family Guy isn’t in this list, because we have covered it. And no, not just because it’s The Simpsons for the cool kids, and we’re desperate to look cool. Family Guy ’s Star Wars specials have enabled us to include things like Blue Harvest , in a similar way that we cover Futurama – because they’re more overtly sci-fi. But we admit, it’s an argument full of holes.

.

.

3 Sharpe

1993-2008
ITV (UK)
Created by:
Bernard Cornwell
Starring: Sean Bean, Daragh O'Malley

What is it? Historical drama set during the Napoleonic Wars featuring a working class super soldier who rises through the ranks and annoys his snobby superiors by winning the war for them.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? Well, he’s a superhero, clearly, possessed of superhuman fighting abilities, who appears at all the great battles of the period and wins them virtually single-handed. He even has his own special costume – favouring green while everyone is wearing read. Plus, he has a “crew” of loyal followers who feel like his own bridge crew and he’s pitted against some very fanciful villains. Put some massive lobes on Pete Postlethwaite’s odious donkey-riding Obadiah Hakeswill and you’ve pretty much got a Ferengi.

Okay, we were slightly surprised by how well this show did in this vote, but you can’t deny the power of the Bean (a genre fave) and it’s good to see a show with zilch geeky references connecting to our readers on a deeper level.

So, who wants Sharpe In Space ?

.

.

2 Sherlock

2010-present
BBC One (UK)
Created by:
Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

What is it? A modern-day version of Sherlock Holmes

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? Moffat writes it. That’s clearly enough for you lot. It also helps that it’s effortlessly brilliant and Cumberbatch’s Sherlock feels like a Doctor in waiting.

.


.

1 Dexter

2006-present
Showtime (UK)
Developed by:
James Manos, Jr
Starring: Michael C Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Desmond Harrington, CS Lee

What is it? A bloodstain pattern analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department moonlights as a serial killer.

Why should it be an honorary SFX show? This delightfully perverse show won the vote by a huge margin, and it’s easy to understand why. And it’s not just because it’s brilliant, and hasn’t suffered much from the quality seepage you’d expect from a show into its sixth season (with two more just commissioned!). Stylistically, it feels like a comic book adaptation, with stylised direction and editing, and Dexter himself, it can be argued, is a kind of anti-superhero – he may not have superpowers (then again, neither does Batman) but he does fight crime in an extreme way (he only kills bad guys) using a secret identity. It features some outlandish villains as well – the ice truck killer, the Trinity killer – who don’t feel too far removed from certain Batman baddies.

If they could just introduce an alien or a time-traveling murderer, we’d willingly cover it!