A look at the 9—count ‘em, 9—sci-fi TV shows premiering in January

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Jan 8, 2016, 12:00 PM EST

If you think there have been too many shows on television to keep up with, it’s not your imagination. There were more scripted television shows in 2015 than in the history of television. While half of me is exhilarated by the fact that sci-fi has taken its place in the mainstream, the other half is a little overwhelmed by the amount of choice. Now your choices are even more overwheming: January 2016 is airing nine, count 'em, nine new genre shows. (#nerdworldproblems)

I’ve come up with an overview of these series -- most of which, mercifully, have truncated first seasons -- to help you set your television-watching schedule. Note that this guide does not include returning shows, like Agent Carter, Sleepy Hollow, Arrow, Flash, which brings us to a total of 25 freakin’ genre shows. All. in. January. (#nerdalert).

Or better yet, watch them all, particularly if you own Dish’s new Hopper 3, which can record 16 channels at once. In which case, enjoy your eyeball-searing television experience. (#nerdvana)


The Shannara Chronicles

Premiere: January 5. MTV.

Based on a series of novels by Terry Brooks, The Shannara series was a rather blatant, um, “homage” of Lord of the Rings, with elves and quests and swords. But it was a must-read for fans in the 1980s who had exhausted Tolkien and Zelazny’s Amber series and were still waiting for Guy Gavriel Kay and Terry Pratchett to come along.

However, this show, which takes place in a fantastical, post-apocalyptic Earth, very much has a style of its own. Young elven Princess Amberle becomes a Chosen, a guard of the Ellcrys tree, the first woman in memory. But this high fantasy is balanced by a  surprisingly modern attitude. At one point, Amberle tells an older woman, “I need your help.” The older woman asks plainly, “How far along are you?”

My take: With dialog like that, along with co-star Manu Bennett, I’m in.



Premiere: January 12. ABC Family 

Shadowhunters is based on Cassandra Clare’s six-book series The Mortal Instruments, (which, as you may recall was turned into the 2013 film, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones). In the series, young Clary Fray learns she’s a shadowhunter, that is, born with angelic blood. However, our heroine was given an extra dose of angel blood in utero, which means she kicks demon tail with extra emphasis.

With a teenage audience firmly in marketers' cross-hairs, the action (demons doing dirty deeds) and the creepy emotional troubles (love interest Jace Wayland may or may not be Clary’s brother) will be less Supernatural, more The Vampire Diaries.

My take: If attractive young demon hunters in a PG-13 setting are to your taste, please enjoy. But it’s not to mine. I’m passing.



Second Chance

Premiere: January 13. Fox

A dead policeman, Ray Pritchard, is brought back to life in a new body, one that’s stronger and faster than you’d expect from a revenant. That’s because the body he inhabits has been genetically spliced from multiple fabulous sources. But he’s still the same 75-year-old man on the inside. And that man was a jerk.

When the show begins, Pritchard works to find his killer, as well as to repair the relationships (his son called him “selfish”) he damaged during his first chance. Along the way, he gets help from twins Mary and Otto Goodwin, the Frankensteins to Pritchard’s Frankenstein’s Monster. 

My take: Despite the presence of Robert Kazinsky, who played the evil Warlow in True Blood, I’m neither grabbed nor repelled. Therefore, I’m waiting for friends’ recommendations.



Premiere: January 14. USA

It’s the near future, and aliens, who are prepping to take over the world, have sent a force to occupy the world’s major cities. The sick and weak are culled. Food is scarce. And Will and Katie Bowman are just trying to stay alive with their two children…and find their missing third child.

The family’s survival is placed in jeopardy when Will is arrested. Proxy Snyder, who collaborates with the aliens, suggests that if Will helps expose the leaders of the Resistance, he can have his son back by telling him, “Good things come to the loyal.” Only one big problem: Katie is with the Resistance.

My take: It’ll be nice to see Josh Holloway as someone other than Lost’s Sawyer (whose smoldering bad-boy routine appealed to everyone but me) and even better seeing The Walking Dead’s Sarah Wayne Callies as someone other than Laurie. Initial reviews are good but not great, so I’ll be recording it as a binge watch some time in the undetermined future.


Legends of Tomorrow

Premiere: January 21. CW

The DC Universe takes some of Arrow and The Flash’s characters, adds a few new ones to the mix, stirs them up with a mission to save the future, and voila. Instant superhero team. 

In this show, time traveler Rip Hunter, played by fan favorite Arthur Darvill, arrives to recruit our protagonists. To stop the villainous Vandal Savage, Rip has to bring the soon-to-be legendary team to the past (and I assume, eventually, to the future). From what we’ve seen in the trailers, this team will have to be extra BAMF-y to compensate for the fact that they’re wearing bell bottoms.

My take: If you’re one of Arrow/The Flash’s many fans like me, you don’t need me to tell you it looks like more of the same action-packed fun. And if you haven’t yet joined the DC-verse party because you don’t want to play catch-up with the previous seasons, here’s your chance to start anew. Thumbs up.



Premiere: January 23. Esquire TV

Hwaet! Beowulf is the hero of this epic Old English saga-turned-TV show, and he has more than Grendel and his mother to contend with. Returning to his home, the Shieldlands, after the death of his adoptive father, Hrothgar, Beowulf has to survive court intrigue…and Hrothgar’s unwelcoming son. It’s a loose adaptation, to be sure. 

This show, which will air here in the U.S. on Esquire TV, was actually produced by the UK channel ITV. Season one began airing in the UK on January 3.

My take: Historical fantasy, the likes of The Bastard Executioner, Camelot, and Atlantis, have rarely fared well in recent years, much to my disappointment. I would have been more enthusiastic here, but initial UK reviews have been mixed. Unless the show picks up speed in the future, I’m giving Beowulf a pass.


The X-Files (miniseries)

Premiere: January 24. Fox

The 1993-2001 series is one of my all-times favorites. After all, it's not every series that balances horror, humor, and paranoia with as much dexterity. Even though ardent fans recognized the need to close the X-Files, we kept the home fires burning for Mulder, Scully, and their trust issues. We’re being rewarded with a six-episode miniseries.

In the upcoming series, creator Chris Carter promises us we’ll be getting everything we loved about the original X-Files--and that includes alien conspiracy and monsters of the week episodes. And what X-Files run would be complete without a humorous episode? Oh look, there’s an episode entitled “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.” I'm already grinning.

My take: I saw the first episode at New York Comic Con, and I thought it was good but not great. I found Mulder more obsessive than determined, and Scully seemed weary of him; the bones are there, but Carter just needs to flesh it out. Still, this is my most anticipated television show of 2016, and I will watch the hell out of it.


The Magicians

 Premiere: January 25th. Syfy

Another trilogy-turned-TV show, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is beloved by readers, who liken it to a more grown-up Harry Potter. At the beginning of the book, a young man tries to interview at Princeton, but finds himself interviewing for Brakebills, a school of magic, instead. 

Amusingly, our geeky protagonist Quentin Coldwater is in love with a fantasy series of novels. And as the books (and TV show) progresses, he learns these novels are real. Dangerously so. 

My take: It’s like Harry Potter, but the characters are adults, and they have to actually study--which makes it two up on the Boy Who Lived. Also, the novels are on my reading pile, so I’m looking forward to comparing the two. I'll be watching it.



Premiere: January 25. Fox

Initially a creation of Neil Gaiman, Lucifer had his own comic book written by the fabulous Mike Carey (and if you haven’t read his Felix Castor novel series, you should get on that immediately). In 75 issues, Lucifer cemented himself as one of Vertigo’s most popular villains. 

Bored with reigning in hell, Lucifer vacates the premises and moves to Los Angeles, where he runs a nightclub (how very devilish of him). Soon he finds himself teamed up with a policeman to solve crimes. It seems the Morningstar has an ability to get everyone to confess their darkest desires—everyone except the pretty female cop he teams up with. 

My take: I’m up for Lucifer, with one caveat: The previous Vertigo series-turned-TV show was the cruelly neutered Constantine. (Sidenote: Both Constantine and Lucifer appeared in Neil Gaiman’s iconic Sandman.) The fact that this show is on a mainstream network, rather than a more adult platform, means that it too will lose much of the bite that made the comic book so delightful.

Also, the plot “otherworldly being teams up with cop to solve crimes” is practically cliché.