It sure has been a year!
Oh, right, we're only at the halfway point of 2020. Who knew that this year would make all of us suddenly understand what it feels like to take whiplash-inducing, timey-wimey ride on the TARDIS? But thank the gods for television! And since COVID-19 lockdowns required so many of us to spend March through May quarantining in our homes, it's not surprising that a lot of new television was consumed by all of us.
Thankfully, there was no shortage of it coming at us on broadcast, cable, and streaming to occupy our ocular sockets. And the scripted side of television offered an embarrassment of riches in which to partake, and catch up with. That includes ambitious sci-fi and fantasy television shows that helped us process our isolation and loneliness and worked generally to metaphor the hell out of the human condition. A lot of it has been great, so SYFY WIRE has curated the crème de la crème of 2020 genre TV in this handy guide so you can binge what you missed, perhaps in the next six months, all of which we think are very worthy of your time.
And to clarify, while there are plenty of unscripted genre gems like Fox’s LEGO Masters or Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian on Disney+, we’ve kept this list to scripted series that have aired in 2020.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 7 (ABC)
After an extended hiatus, the Marvel TV spin-off series from the MCU is back for one more adventure — taking the team through time to thwart an alien invasion. The series finale season has been a quick reminder of why S.H.I.E.L.D. has lasted so long in the first place, with compelling characters, clever twists and plenty of comic book action to keep the story rollicking along. By throwing the team through time, this season has allowed the show to explore different eras and play around with all kinds of pieces of the Marvel mythology in new ways. The first half of the last season most notably crossed over with short-lived sister series Agent Carter, even recruiting fan favorite Agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) to join the team for the final stretch, giving fans a wild new wrinkle for the legacies of both shows. You get time travel, aliens and LMDs — and that’s barely scratching the logline. — Trent Moore
Devs, limited series (FX)
Alex Garland’s lived in the world of cinema for most of his career, but his heady approach to sci-fi storytelling has always been hit or miss with mainstream crowds. Ex Machina appealed to many, while Annihilation was a trippy novel adaptation that went very much its own way in the process. If you like Garland’s work, there’s been a creeping feeling that the medium in which he excels was rapidly finding less and less space for his storytelling. Gratefully, FX made a space for him with Devs, his eight-hour, existential exploration of technology, humanity and grief. Television has given him room to let his storytelling breathe along with a budget that doesn’t compromise his cinematic vision. As such, Devs is a memorable ride that collects some disparate characters into a story that weaves together violence, romance, and heartbreaking loss and sacrifice against the cold backdrop of unfettered technological advancement. Is it an easy watch? Not always, but it’s a worthy one. - Tara Bennett
Evil, Season 1 (CBS)
Writers Robert and Michelle King dabbled in sci-fi through their 2016 series, Brain Dead, placing literal zombies into politics. It didn’t quite click. But with Evil, they’ve given horror a go and knocked it out of the park. It plays out as a quasi-procedural that feels like the lovechild of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. The series centers on a trio of very different investigators (Katja Herbers, Mike Colter and Aasif Mandvi) looking at miracles, exorcisms and other possible supernatural occurrences to determine their authenticity, or not, for the Catholic Church. The stories are often chilling, very surprising and quite unsettling with how they weave real-world scenarios into the oddities of the serialized mysteries unfolding. There’s nothing like it on broadcast television and that in itself feels like a true unicorn for TV. - Tara Bennett
The Good Place, Season 4 (NBC)
It’s no secret The Good Place is one of the most acclaimed, celebrated and generally awesome comedies of the past decade. And in its finale season, creator Michael Schur (The Office, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and his writers brought this story about nothing less than the meaning of life itself to a fitting end. The series combined a stellar cast with thought-provoking execution that only got more ambitious as it went on. The series finale, “Whenever You’re Ready,” jumped ahead into the new afterlife Chidi, Eleanor and the gang helped create, to reach the point where they all found fulfillment in an eternity together. It was sweet, it was earned — and more than anything — it left all of us squalling like babies by the time it was over. The rare final season, and series finale, that truly lives up to the hype. - Trent Moore
Locke & Key, Season 1 (Netflix)
After half-a-decade of development false starts at different networks and streaming services, a failed pilot (or two), and plenty of reworking along the way — Locke & Key was finally adapted to TV this year on Netflix. The supernatural series, based on the hit comic book series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez, follows a grieving family that returns to their ancestral home that keeps a bevy of secrets that can be unlocked with a variety of mysterious and magical keys. The kids are tasked with protecting the keys from an evil force out to take control of them, and as expected, there are plenty of twists along the way. It’s just scary enough to keep you on your toes, and the magic of the keys is realized with some eye-popping visuals. The first season makes for a tight, teen-focused thriller — and a second season is already in the works.- Trent Moore
Manifest, Season 2 (NBC)
High-concept, genre, mystery shows have been a dime a dozen since Lost, with rarely any lasting more than a season. But NBC’s Manifest has managed to beat the odds and find its legs. The show follows a plane full of passengers who mysteriously return home after disappearing for several years — except for them, it’s only been a few hours. It only gets weirder from there, as the passengers start hearing whispers of things they need to do, all the while trying to figure out if their recaptured lives might have an expiration date. The show has taken a slow boil approach to building out its mythology, and it’s worked, doling out answers while deftly asking new questions — all without losing focus on the family drama that ties it all together. Season 2 is where the show really found its footing, and looks to set up an even stronger turn in Season 3. - Trent Moore
Project Blue Book, Season 2 (HISTORY)
If you love period pieces, great investigation partnerships, and had a thing for The X-Files, then Project Blue Book is the binge you’ve been waiting for. One of the few scripted series on HISTORY, the Aidan Gillen/Michael Malarkey led series blends the true history behind the U.S. Army’s investigation into UFOs and reframes some of the famous cases into a weekly mystery. The upscale production values make for an authentic immersion into the era of boots-on-the-ground investigating with the added upgrade of well-placed 2020 visual effects. Cases that everyone has heard of, from Roswell to Area 51 and more, get dusted off and made new via the dogged pursuits of Dr. J Allen Hynek and Captain Michael Quinn. Even Close Encounters of the Third Kind shows up in Season 2, and all of it feels fresh and worth investigating anew. - Tara Bennett
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Season 5 (Netflix)
Dreamwork’s Animation’s retelling of the classic 80’s cartoon series has been a game changer from day one. Created and showrun by Noelle Stevenson, she came at the series with a millennial's sensibility blending humor, female empowerment and character diversity in all capacities from the start. She and her writers put forth a glittery, complex, coming-of-age story around Adora/She-Ra and her friends that was never afraid of portraying characters with flaws and vulnerability, while going on adventures that continuously framed how failure actually makes us stronger. In the last season, the show wrapped up a lot of storylines and fulfilled promises subtly woven into the fabric of the show that framed LGBTQ characters as just as normal and beautiful as everyone. It gave us an ending that showed copious character growth, and that redemption and love are worth the hard work it takes to earn them. - Tara Bennett
Stargirl, Season 1 (The CW)
Think Smallville meets Supergirl, with a healthy dose of Riverdale to add a bit of edginess — and that’s Stargirl in a nutshell. The series had a strange path to the small screen, first announced as a DC Universe exclusive that turned into a co-production with The CW (episodes stream on DC Universe a day ahead of their network airings). But despite the odd bedfellows, the show has proven to be a whole lot of fun. It has a certain small town charm, like an even smaller take on Smallville, as a young hero finds her footing trying to thwart lingering evil. And she’s also balancing high school drama and the supervision of her former superhero sidekick stepdad who is trying to keep her safe. For comic fans, the show is also a masterful easter egg hunt, reveling in deep cut DC Comics mythology as it builds out its own corner of the multiverse. If Season 1 is any indication, this adventure has a whole lot more stories worth telling. - Trent Moore
Star Trek: Picard, Season 1 (CBS All Access)
If you’re a true Star Trek fan, then bringing Star Trek: The Next Generation characters back to television is always going to be a great thing. And if you add Patrick Stewart reprising his seminal role as Jean-Luc Picard, along with many of his former castmates joining him, then life is good for sci-fi fans. Gratefully, Star Trek: Picard wasn’t just an exercise in nostalgia-baiting. In fact, it provided an often-unexpected reframing of many of the classic characters in a way that showed character progression and pertinance for today. The series captured a palpable sense of scope and scale born out of the weight of a lifetime of choices made by Picard and his circle. Regret, consequences and ultimately the power of redemption are touched upon while weaving in fan pleasing mythology from the Borg to Romulan vengeance. Not perfect, but time spent with these actors and characters is time well spent. - Tara Bennett
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Season (Disney+)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars was always going to end in a familiar place. The Republic has fallen, the Empire has risen, and Anakin Skywalker has betrayed the Jedi Order. But Clone Wars’ final season was never going to be about those story beats, even after six years off the air. For years, Clone Wars had been building to a finale featuring the series’ two most important elements: the tragedy of the Clones and Ahsoka Tano.
And that’s exactly what longtime fans got. The Clone Wars Season 7 is a multi-tiered triumph that explores the lowest points of Coruscant, introduces exciting new characters, and details the final moments of the Republic’s fall — not with a Death Star-sized bang but with a somber Ahsoka looking out over the destruction she could not stop.
Like with all parts of the Star Wars universe, Season 7 lends itself to spin-offs and speculation, but over the course of 12 episodes, writer/director Dave Filoni and his team ultimately crafted what are, arguably, some of the best Star Wars stories of all time. - Caitlin Busch
Upload, Season 1 (Amazon Prime Video)
This near-future, virtual reality dramedy features world-building that’s just as entertaining as the story it's telling. Hailing from Greg Daniels, best known for co-creating the U.S. version of The Office and then Parks and Recreation, Upload follows a young man (Arrowverse alum Robbie Amell) after he dies in a suspicious car crash and finds his consciousness uploaded into a virtual reality afterlife. Believe it or not, that’s just the elevator pitch, as the story weaves from love story, to murder mystery, to corporate intrigue, to comedy — oftentimes from scene to scene. Amell and co-star Andy Allo (who plays his afterlife concierge, of sorts) are perfectly cast to tell this story, with chemistry for days. The 10-episode first season proved to be the perfect length to let this concept live and breathe. Even better? Season 2 has already been commissioned, so jump in knowing the story is definitely headed somewhere. - Trent Moore
What We Do in the Shadows, Season 2 (FX)
Jemaine Clement’s series adaptation of his own mockumentary film of the same name has only gotten sharper and more ridiculous with age. Season 2 benefits from more ambitious writing overall, and it’s fabulous cast embracing their characters with even more confidence. This is a show that frames every weird pronunciation and inflection as high art, and finds some absurdly funny nuance in the smallest details. And it’s constantly finding ways to skewer vampire tropes with fresh takes. Plus, it introduces new classics like Matt Berry’s incognito persona, Jackie Daytona, Colin Robinson’s office power trip, and the Superb Owl party. Depressed? This show is the cure (for at least 28 minutes). - Tara Bennett