If Supernatural, then this trio of sci-fi stories
Story recommendations based on the formula of character development, suspension of disbelief, and memorability.
When I read the prompt for this challenge, I was first struck by the idea that there could be a formula that would encapsulate all of the different shows and movies that I enjoy, given that I like stories from a variety of different genres. I started wondering if I could figure out what elements made them so appealing if I focused on science fiction. The result was a list of qualities I need to find in a show in order to enjoy it, followed by a list of recommended shows.
Is it memorable?
When I think about which stories I tend to recommend to others, I think about ones I have read or watched sometimes years earlier. A story that is memorable and has a lasting impact on a consumer, even years later, is, I think, truly the mark of a great tale. Stories that I can’t remember even a few minutes after reading or watching simply don’t make the cut. And there are a lot of those in the world.
Am I attached to the characters?
The characters must be intriguing for the story to hold my interest. I don’t go in for slapstick comedies with zero character development, nor do I go in for monster movies where the focus is on jump scares and I don’t care who gets eaten. I want to be able to see the characters as human. I want to see their thoughts, feelings, choices and relationships as if they were people I might meet at an event, or at a workplace, or on an airplane.
Can I suspend disbelief?
This one is especially important when it comes to the fantastical or science fiction shows that I will be recommending below. I want to watch stories that unfold in a world in which I can immerse myself, regardless of the genre. I don’t want to see any glaringly obvious holes in the mythology. I also don’t want to see nonsense, an attempt at world-creation that simply doesn’t make sense and doesn’t facilitate that critical suspension of disbelief.
My list starts with SUPERNATURAL. Not because it is the oldest (it ran from 2005-2020), but because I think it probably has the biggest cult following of the series I am going to recommend. I love Supernatural because, although I would probably call it fantasy more than sci-fi, it has all of the elements listed above and also touches on some similar themes to the shows below. It asks us to consider some intriguing questions about family, death, choice, and what really defines a monster in this world. If you like Supernatural, then consider the following....
The 100 (2014-2020) is loosely based on the book series written by Kass Morgan. The premise is that the last members of humanity have been living in space for almost 100 years following a nuclear apocalypse on Earth. Unfortunately, their space station is on its last legs and so, the Chancellor sends a contingent of 100 teenage delinquents down to Earth to see if the planet has recovered enough for them to live there.
The beginning seasons introduce us to a version of Earth that is almost unrecognizable and later seasons push the boundary of Sci-fi into fantasy, in my opinion. What is recognizable is the theme that other humans are always the most dangerous part of a hostile environment. The characters are put in difficult situation after difficult situation and what intrigues me is wondering how I, or anyone I know, would respond to such events. Would I sacrifice other human beings for the sake of humans I love? Would I be capable of a mercy killing? Would I be able to live with the choices I made in survival situations or would they haunt me to the point of madness? A show that raises questions instead of just spoon-feeding answers is what makes a good story.
Travelers is another sci-fi endeavour which premiered in 2016 and ran for three seasons before being canceled. The premise is that the future is so terrible, special agents are being sent into the past (really, our present) in order to try to change key events and “fix” the future. The audience gets glimpses of this post-apocalyptic future, but no more. The story is more about the time travelers establishing themselves in the lives of their host bodies, trying not to be seen as suspicious, and navigating relationships with other Travelers as well as the relationships their host body had before they arrived.
The world is recognizable and this made it easy to suspend disbelief. I also couldn’t help but root for characters whose mission is to make the world a better place to live. The questions that arise are along the lines of the delicate dance the characters must perform while they are in the past. How much can they risk interfering with the timeline? How important are relationships? What do they owe to the life of the person who used to live in their host body? I plan to rewatch this series soon - another good sign!
Dollhouse comes from writer/ director Joss Whedon and premiered in 2009. Much to the dismay of fans, it ran for only two seasons. The premise is that after making an agreement with the Rossum Corporation, people have agreed to have their minds wiped and to live in an underground mansion known as the Dollhouse. These “dolls” are blank slates in the House, but can be implanted with a personality and skills to suit the requests of wealthy people who hire them to be whoever they want to spend time with.
The premise was intriguing to me because like the episodes of The 100, it brings up questions of morality and how we choose to respond to injustice. It also makes me think of the infamous line from Jurassic Park which reminds us that just because we CAN do something, that doesn't mean we SHOULD. Where are the lines of slavery and exploitation here? How do people rationalize these acts? What are the potential consequences of using a technology that seems to give the user control over someone else's body? The show doesn't provide ultimate answers to these questions, of course, that is up to you to decide in the context provided by the story.
Stories always have villains and conflict and it can be a challenge to introduce ones that are new or innovative or otherwise capture the attention and spark the imagination. Supernatural, The 100, Travelers, and Dollhouse ask us to think about how we know when someone is the "bad guy" and what we do about it. They ask us to look at how we are defined (or not) by the choices that we make when confronted by the villains. Will we make choices that support our sense of self as decent humans, or will we make choices out of desperation that force us to rethink how we see ourselves and how we see humanity? If you like stories with characters that make you think, stories that are memorable, stories in places that take you away from your immediate surroundings, then I highly recommend immersing yourself in the above worlds.