The 20 Best SyFy TV Shows of All Time

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The 20 Best SyFy TV Shows of All Time

The Sci-Fi Channel launched on Sept. 24, 1992, with a dedication to two giants of science fiction, Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov, both of whom served on an advisory board for the network before their respective deaths less than a year before its debut. In the 25 years since, the channel, now rebranded as Syfy, has aired 100-odd scripted series, some of which have lived up to the vision of those legends, some of which have had more in common with the schlocky made-for-TV movies than the imaginative worlds of Roddenberry and Asimov.

The best of those science fiction and fantasy series not only stir our imaginations but offer a reflection back to the plain old Earth that we live on today. Bundled in the stories we tell of alien races and futuristic technology are the politics, ethics, culture and religion of the present, the problems of which—depending where on the spectrum from dystopia (Firefly) to utopia (Star Trek) it falls—are either magnified or solved in the fantastical society on screen. In either instance, they provide a commentary on our own society. And if they’re great, that commentary is subtly wrapped up in believable characters and an engaging story. At their worst, the commentary is preachy, the characters are cartoons and the story is predictable.

We’ve looked back at a quarter century worth of original programming on SyFy and selected our 20 favorite series, which captured our imagination the ways only great science fiction and fantasy can. Some of these were released in partnership with foreign networks like the BBC or Canada’s Space or continued from other networks, but SyFy distributed them all for at least part their existence as first-run episodes in the U.S.

Here are the 20 best SyFy shows of all time:

20. 12 Monkeys

Creator: Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett
Stars: Aaron Stanford, Amanda Schull, Kirk Acevedo, Noah Bean, Todd Stashwick, Emily Hampshire, Barbara Sukowa
SyFy Original Run: 2015-present

12 Monkeys co-creators Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett set themselves up with a pretty difficult task for their show’s first season. Not only did they have to juggle time-travel paradoxes, the post-apocalypse and the nefarious organization behind it all, they also had to make believers out of skeptical fans of the Terry Gilliam cult classic that inspired the sci-fi series, mostly succeeding. Seasons 2 and 3 have expanded the story both in scope and theme, exploring philosophical questions like the meaning of free will. —Rick Mele

19. Killjoys

Creator: Michelle Lovretta
Stars: Hannah John-Kamen, Aaron Ashmore, Luke Macfarlane
SyFy Original Run: 2015-present

This Canadian co-production debuted with minimal fanfare two seasons ago, and turned out to fill the hole left behind by Joss Whedon’s dearly departed Firefly. As the series heads into its third season this summer, it promises even more space bounty hunter action, all wrapped up in a world on the verge of all-out war. Even better, it features breakout star Hannah John-Kamen, who will be all over the big screen this year in Tomb Raider, Ready Player One and Ant-Man and the Wasp. See what all the fuss is about before she’s famous. —Trent Moore

18. Lexx

Creator: Paul Donovan, Lex Gigeroff, Jeffrey Hirschfield
Stars: Brian Downey, Eva Habermann, Michael McManus, Xenia Seeberg, Jeffrey Hirschfield, Tom Gallant
SyFy Original Run: 1997-2002

The crew of Lexx (a plant-ship shaped like a dragonfly that can blow up worlds) is a motley one: a human courier, an emotionless undead assassin, a renegade love slave and a robot head that thinks it’s a love slave. If you think George R.R. Martin’s spins a high body count, check out Lexx. Aside from being oddly sex-charged for a B-grade space opera, Lexx sees the population of two whole universes wiped out (including our Earth), all while half the crew of this insect-shaped ship are on-again-off-again trying to kill (or eat) the other half. And they’re not even all alive to start with! After premiering on CityTV in Canada, the show was eventually picked by by the Sci-Fi Channel, where it ran for four absolutely bizarre seasons. —Ellie Decker & JD Jordan

17. Helix

Creator: Cameron Porsandeh
Stars: Billy Campbell, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kyra Zagorsky, Mark Ghanimé, Matt Long
SyFy Original Run: 2014-2015

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Helix is a claustrophobic quarantine thriller that begins with a throwback virus running wild in a Greenland research station. The show takes a couple of episodes to generate the momentum needed to override its missteps. Two days into its outbreak, Helix just about keeps ahead of its logical inconsistencies and muted performances by ratcheting up the horror quotient. The most intriguing aspect of the series may actually be the contagion itself, a kind of “contained rage” virus that promises an intelligent (and equally malevolent) version of the enemies found in The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later. The show skips any initial mystery about who’s behind the infection, with the lead villain—Hiro, the head of the Arctic Biosystems lab—identified in the opening scene. Hiro comes across one of his scientists, Peter, in the grotesque throes of the disease, which he coolly calls “Progress.” As the show progresses, it delves deeper into paranoia, hallucination and self-mutilation. If you like your sci-fi with a slice of madness and horror, Helix may be for you. —Andrew Westney

16. Warehouse 13

Creators: Jane Espenson, D. Brent Mote
Stars: Eddie McClintock, Joanne Kelly, Saul Rubinek, Genelle Williams, Simon Reynolds, Allison Scagliotti, Aaron Ashmore
SyFy Original Run: 2009-2014

SciFi rebranded to SyFy in early 2009, with the aim of being more inclusive of all parts of the genre television spectrum. Cue that July’s premiere of Warehouse 13, the South Dakota-based sister series to Eureka which focused on a tiny team of irrepressibly quirky federal agents whose job it was to track down supernaturally empowered historical artifacts to store safely away from humanity in a remote and extremely top secret storage facility. Death and destruction and the total annihilation of the known timestream and/or universe were always on the table—and major characters did die—but, like with Eureka before it, Warehouse 13 was far more interested in the jokes and sight gags and arrestingly odd interpersonal shenanigans its endlessly game cast could always be depended on to deliver.

That cast, which originally included Joanne Kelly and Eddie McClintock as classic odd couple co-lead Agents Myka Bering and Pete Lattimer, Saul Rubinek as grumpy Warehouse guardian Artie Nielsen, Allison Scagliotti as punk teen hacker Claudia Donovan, and Genelle Williams as aura-reader Leena, added two bold doses of LGBTQ representation in later seasons with Aaron Ashmore as Claudia’s new partner, the proudly out human lie detector, Steve Jinks, and Jaime Murray as Myka’s new romantic foil, the proudly bisexual, proudly chaotic neutral classic science fiction writer, lady H.G. Wells. Every part of this show was over the top and ridiculous—Lewis Carroll’s mirror, Mata Hari’s stockings, and Lizzie Borden’s compact all played pivotal roles in early seasons, while the marquee from 42nd Street from the Mark Strand Theater trapped the whole main cast in an endless tap dancing routine in the series finale (see above)—and the wild twists of artifact magic were executed, generally, with bluntly obvious CGI effects, but that was what made Warehouse 13 so fun, and such a great legacy for the all-inclusive SyFy rebranding. —Alexis Gunderson

15. Ghost Hunters

Creator: Jason Hawes, Grant Wilson
Stars: Craig Piligian, Tom Thayer, Alan David, Rob Katz
SyFy Original Run: 2004-2016

In terms of sheer influence, Ghost Hunters was one of the most successful shows that SyFy ever produced—or any cable network, for that matter. You’ve surely seen an episode at some point, but were you aware that Ghost Hunters was on the air, showing new episodes, for 12 YEARS and 230 episodes? Through infighting, drama and a grand total of zero confirmed ghost discoveries, this show pioneered an entire format—the “BS paranormal investigation meta-drama.” Rarely has a simpler, more successful formula been so perfectly codified: In each episode, the group travels to a “haunted” location with a good story, does their investigation, wanders around in the dark saying “what the hell was that?!?” and gathers a scant collection of evidence. They then show that evidence to the property owner, pack up, and do it all over again in a new location. And my, how other networks scrambled to rip off that exceedingly basic format. In the years that followed, we got everything from Ghost Adventures and Paranormal State to Ghost Lab and Ghost Asylum, plus about a dozen more. Hell, even Animal Planet’s disgustingly successful Finding Bigfoot was just another Ghost Hunters rip-off that transplanted Sasquatch in for spirits, while keeping the exact same format. All of the most successful variations upon this theme came to the same basic conclusions, the most important of which is this: It doesn’t matter in the least if you never deliver on the title of the show. Audiences aren’t turning in to see you succeed at your goal; they’re watching for the interpersonal relationships and conflicts, in true reality TV fashion. For better or worse, the modern reality TV landscape is deeply indebted to the (non-paranormal) discoveries made by Ghost Hunters. —Jim Vorel

14. Defiance

Creators: Rockne S. O’Bannon, Kevin Murphy, Michael Taylor
Stars: Grant Bowler, Julie Benz, Stephanie Leonidas, Tony Curran, Jaime Murray, Graham Greene, Mia Kirshner, Jesse Rath
SyFy Original Run: 2013-2015

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Defiance was ambitious, a key to any TV show filled with aliens and spaceships. In the near future, seven alien races collectively known as the Votans traveled thousands of years to Earth, not knowing it was inhabited. While some colonists were allowed to settle, the bulk of the refugees remained in stasis on their ships while humans and Votans negotiated for their settlement. When the ships were mysteriously destroyed, the Pale Wars broke out and alien terraforming technology was chaotically unleashed upon the planet, reshaping the landscape and introducing dangerously altered creatures from the Votans’ home worlds. It’s a well-developed backstory, complete with languages developed for the Castithan and Irathiant races by David J. Peterson, the same linguist who created the Dothraki language for Game of Thrones. Grant Bowles stars as Joshua Nolan, a former marine who makes his living scavenging Arkfalls, the scraps of alien transport ships that periodically drop like meteors into the earth, destroying whatever is in their path but providing technology to the highest bidders. But in the pilot, he finds himself thrust into the role of sheriff of Defiance, a common trope in sci-fi shows (think Eureka or Terra Nova) that essentially turns them into police procedurals with a twist, allowing for self-contained episodes where mysteries are solved—and slowing down the overarching epic storyline. The town itself is a futuristic St. Louis, now a small secluded valley with the ruins of the Arch. Unfortunately, during its three-season run, the storytelling and character development could never quite keep up with its sprawling ambitions. —Josh Jackson

13. Happy!

Creators:   Grant Morrison, Darick Robertson
Stars: Christopher Meloni, Ritchie Coster, Lili Mirojnick, Medina Senghore, Patrick Fischler
SyFy Original Run: 2017-present

Not all heroes wear capes. In fact, sometimes bravery comes in the form of an overly peppy animated blue unicorn voiced by Patton Oswalt. In the latest TV trend of adapting beloved grizzly source material (see also: AMC’s Preacher, FX’s Legion), this brand-new series, based on Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson’s cult comic, is a violent, grim and sarcastic tale of what it takes for a former cop (Christopher Meloni’s Nick Sax) to get it together and save a missing girl who’s been kidnapped by a demented drug addict dressed as Santa Claus. Consider Happy!, which also stars character actor Patrick Fischler as a homicidal maniac who truly enjoys his job, to be the antidote to Hallmark holiday movies that nonetheless manages to make you feel warm inside. —Whitney Friedlander

12. Channel Zero

Creator: Nick Antosca
Stars: Paul Schneider, Fiona Shaw, Amy Forsyth, Aisha Dee, Rutger Hauer, Holland Roden
SyFy Original Run: 2016-present

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Drawing inspiration from the Internet urban legends known as “creepypastas,” the anthology series Channel Zero assembled a deeply unsettling locale, featured solid performances (especially from Paul Schneider) and wove a steadily mounting tapestry of dread. I can’t stress enough how refreshing the format is—an hourlong horror drama that is seriously attempting to frighten, one where each season is compressed into a mere six episodes, with the audience knowing in advance that they’ll get a real conclusion. The result, therefore, is almost like a prestige horror miniseries: It reminds one of nothing so much as Stephen King’s IT, with its simultaneous stories in different timelines and themes of horror built around the moments when childhood psyches are shattered. It’s a series that featured one of the year’s best, genuinely frightening pilot episodes, which pulls its protagonist back into a web of small-town secrets and supernatural mystery, full of nightmare-inducing imagery and a persistent feeling of uneasy familiarity. Watching Channel Zero: Candle Cove is a bit like walking past the an abandoned house you were afraid of in your childhood, and then suddenly remembering the repressed story of the one time you ventured over the threshold and discovered the ghosts within. Jim Vorel

11. Eureka

Creator: Andrew Cosby, Jaime Paglia
Stars: Colin Ferguson, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Joe Morton, Debrah Farentino, Jordan Hinson, Ed Quinn, Erica Cerra
SyFy Original Run: 2006-2012

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Set in the quirky, scientist-saturated, totally top-secret Pacific Northwestern town of the same name, Eureka was then-SciFi’s big swing of a counterargument to the gritty seriousness of Battelstar Galactica, which had premiered two years earlier and launched SciFi into the pop culture mainstream. Where Battlestar Galactica was all grays and blacks and cramped metal hallways, Eureka was open sky and lush PNW forests and a cheerful whistling theme song; where Battlestar’s resident geniuses colluded with genocidal humanesque clones, Eureka’s lot over at Global Dynamics tinkered with technological goo and android dogs and pheromonal peptides that cause love stampedes; where Battlestar’s uniformed officers strategized space war against those same genocidal humanesque clones, Eureka’s solitary two—eternally gobsmacked outsider Sheriff Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) and eternally exasperated insider Deputy Sheriff Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra)—used their practical training and relatively astronomical EQ to save the town’s various head-in-the-clouds quantum physicists from the comedic excesses of their own geniuses. This is not to say that Eureka didn’t deal with complex, dark-ish arcs—long before he was the scheming Papa Pope, Joe Morton nearly set Eureka on fire with Dr. Henry Deacon’s grief at losing his wife—but those more serious stories were always offset with Jack’s banter with his Smart House, or Jo’s flirtatiously combative slapstick with bad boy scientist Zane Donovan (Niall Matter), or bumbling super-genius Fargo (Neil Grayston) doing just about anything—including guest starring on sister goofball series, Warehouse 13. The more serious stories were fine, but it was those effortlessly light, entirely un-self-serious touches that made Eureka’s short five seasons such refreshing fun to watch. —Alexis Gunderson

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