Sci-Fi, action, and thrillers
‘Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams’
You could call this Amazon Prime’s Black Mirror, and you wouldn’t be wrong. The Show is an anthology sci-fi series based on stories from the late science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick, whose work inspired Blade Runner and Amazon series The Man in the High Castle. Electric Dreams‘ first season explores injectable consciousness, mind readers, humans beings replaced by robots, and a genocidal presidential candidate, to name a few.
The production value is impressive, with Hidden Figures and Moonlight actress Janelle Monae playing an artificially intelligent robot in a metallic suit that looks convincingly realistic. Like Black Mirror, Amazon’s sci-fi series employs some major stars, including Terrence Howard, Bryan Cranston, Steve Buscemi, and Anna Paquin. Those looking for a gripping dose of dark sci-fi will definitely find it here.
Doctor Who revolves around a Time Lord, referred to as “The Doctor,” who travels through time and space in his TARDIS, a ship disguised as a British police box. Alongside his human companions, he battles villains using his boundless imagination and intelligence while attempting to prevent history from being changed. The Doctor Who episodes available on Amazon Prime Video are part of the series revival that began in 2005, which are based on the original series that ran from 1963-1989.
Since the lead character can transform his appearance, the audience gets to watch a musical chairs of lead actors in the role. The Doctor is currently played by Jodie Whittaker, the first female lead in the series’ history, following an acclaimed run by Peter Capaldi (pictured above). You never know who or what you may come across when The Doctor hops out of that time machine, but the results are always enticing.
Imagine a future in which humans have colonized every part of the solar system. The Expanse turns that hypothetical future into a powerhouse sci-fi drama. The series is set 200 years from now, and centers on a conspiracy that threatens to wipe out the human race. Don’t let the CGI effects and space setting fool you, The Expanse is a riveting drama that tackles the nuances of human conflict in a way that rivals shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld.
The first three seasons of the series are currently available to stream, and Amazon picked up the series for its fourth season in early 2019.
‘The Man in the High Castle’
World War II seems to be the most common source for the “What if?” scenario in fiction. The Man in the High Castle, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name, starts with the premise that not only did the Axis powers win the war, but they also occupied the United States afterward, with Imperial Japan governing the West Coast and the Nazis controlling the territory east of the Rockies.
The show follows a few different characters living in different regions as they try to endure the occupation and simultaneously investigate a mysterious film reel that depicts an alternate universe where the Allies actually won the war. Dick was a true visionary author, and The Man in the High Castle captures the otherworldly, authoritarian nature of the world he imagined. Rich with intrigue and superb direction, The Man in the High Castle is an exciting thriller.
In this critically acclaimed British series, a young woman named Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) has a chance encounter with a woman who looks just like her. This sets Sarah down a path to discovering that she is one of several clones who have been created as part of an ongoing experiment. Soon, she is at odds with the corporation that created her, and a mysterious organization that wants to get rid of her. It’s a fast-paced thriller that takes the time to explore themes of self-identity and bioethics.
For those who enjoy the political maneuvering and messy military battles of Game of Thrones but want something a bit more grounded, Vikings is sure to please. A down-to-earth historical fantasy saga, Vikings chronicles the rise of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) from farmer to legendary warrior. Ragnar sails around Northern Europe searching for plunder, accompanied by his warrior wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), and other allies.
It’s a grim series, drawing on the legends surrounding Viking raids in the Middle Ages. Although not the most historically accurate show, Vikings does maintain a grittier aesthetic than some of its fantasy contemporaries; there’s a lot of blood and a lot of mud.
‘The Twilight Zone’
One of the most important anthology series in television history, The Twilight Zone was a showcase for some of the best writing talent on TV in the ’60s, with literary greats like Ray Bradbury contributing scripts. Under the direction of showrunner Rod Serling, each episode offers a unique science fiction/horror tale examining a variety of subjects.
Although it’s an old show, and thus light on special effects, the concepts it explores are as brilliant (and disturbing) as anything on television today. The stand-alone nature of the episodes means you can pick it up at any point you want, too, without worrying about continuity or recurring characters.
David Lynch was an accomplished arthouse director even before 1990, with films like Blue Velvet and Eraserhead under his belt. His move into television must have seemed an odd choice at the time given TV was often seen as a fairly lowbrow medium in the early ’90s, but ever the visionary, Lynch brought the format to new heights, crafting a compelling serialized narrative with all the surreal imagery Lynch’s films are known for.
Set in the titular town deep in the Pacific Northwest, Twin Peaks begins with a mystery — the death of local homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee.) FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) arrives to investigate, quickly encountering the many strange characters living in Twin Peaks and uncovering the salacious secrets lurking beneath the surface of their pastoral lives. A mere two seasons in its original run, Twin Peaks is relatively brief, and it fizzles out somewhat once the mystery of Laura Palmer is solved. However, it stands out as one of the weirdest, most imaginative shows ever on television.
‘American Horror Story’
The horror anthology that is Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story, though novel, continues to surpass expectations with every passing season. Each essentially functions as a self-contained miniseries, focusing on a repertory cast of characters and a storyline that features its own beginning, middle, and end.
Each season — whether it revolves around a coven of witches, an insane asylum, or a haunted house in the middle of Los Angeles — features lavish set pieces and campy aesthetics, both of which add to sterling performances from the likes of Lady Gaga and the award-winning Jessica Lange. Many of the seasons even take a jab at current social issues, and they often leave a weird and wonderful impression. Well, that, and an awful taste in your mouth.
‘Star Trek: The Original Series’
A groundbreaking science fiction series from writer Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek follows the crew of the Enterprise as they travel the universe on a mission of peace and exploration. Starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in the roles that launched them into stardom, the series is a cornerstone of television history. Each episode explores timeless philosophical and social ideas.
Star Trek was also famous for incorporating an ethnically diverse cast in the politically tumultuous ’60s, making it a show that was far ahead of its time. Roddenberry envisioned a future where humanity would bring its very best traits and ideals out into the universe, and the show shares his boundless idealism. The primitive special effects can make Star Trek seem a bit cheesy to the modern eye, but even its most inept action scenes have a certain bizarre charm to them.