If you enjoy space operas, fantasy series, and supernatural detective stories than you’re probably tuned into the Syfy network on a pretty regular basis. Syfy (previously Sci-Fi) has been producing science fiction series years before it became mainstream. Though the network may not have the same budget and viewership as HBO or AMC, Syfy has managed to turn out some pretty impressive original series since they launched in 1992.
After coming off a particular strong couple of years that have given us 12 Monkeys, The Expanse, and more, we’re counting down the best shows to ever come out of the Syfy network. Quality is the only criteria, as some of these shows may have only lasted a season or two and never managed to find a mainstream audience. But as we well know, some of the best series are short-lived and never fully appreciated at the time of their release.
So let’s take a look back at a few of those lost gems and new treasures with The 15 Best Syfy Original Series, Ranked.
15. The Magicians
Adapted from the novel by Lev Grossman, The Magicians follows Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) who enrolls at the secretive Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy in upstate New York, where he trains extensively to become a magician. Meanwhile, Quentin’s childhood friend, Julia Wicker (Stella Maeve), fails to be admitted, and is forced to study magic elsewhere. Much to his surprise, Quentin discovers that his favorite Narnia-esque fantasy series, Fillory and Further, is based on real life, and that the dangers he once thought were fictional are actually threatening mankind. In the pilot episode, Quentin even summons the story’s Beast to the university, where it weaks havoc on the teaching staff.
The first season of The Magicians premiered in December of 2015 and brought in around 1.5 million viewers per episode. The show was met with positive reviews thanks to its creative storytelling and impressive special effects. The series marked the beginning of a strong year for Syfy and The Magicians will be back for its second season on January 25, 2017.
14. Tremors: The Series
Fans of the Tremors film franchise were in for a treat when Sci-Fi announced that they were launching a weekly series to pick up where the third film left off. Michael Gross returned to play the famed graboid hunter, Burt Gummer, who protects the tiny town of Perfection Valley, Nevada, from El Blanco, a 30-foot underground worm that hunts its prey by sound.
Despite delivering on the campy, blow-em-up tone of the original film (minus the Kevin Bacon), Tremors: The Series only lasted for thirteen episodes. In this instance, the network actually tampered with the series during its original run, which may have resulted in a declining audience and the show’s eventual cancellation. Apparently, Sci-Fi was unhappy with a number of the episodes and decided to air them out of order, which resulted in some haphazard editing and inexplicable flashback sequences that disrupted the show’s narrative. Tremors: The Series was later aired in its intended order on the G4 Network, but the damage was already done and the uproarious show never returned for a second season.
13. The Expanse
The Expanse has had such a solid start that it earns a spot on this list despite being only ten episodes into the series. This 2015 Syfy original is one of many space operas that the network has produced, but The Expanse is adapted from the promising novel series by James S. A. Corey and throws a heavy dose of detective noir into the mix.
The story is set two hundred years in the future after the Solar System has been fully colonized. Thomas Jane plays Josephus Miller, a detective assigned to track down a missing woman. Meanwhile, a winding conspiracy threatens the peace between Earth, Mars, and the nearby asteroid belt. The series was an instant hit, impressing viewers with its cinematography and claustrophobic sets, while Jane, who previously starred in Boogie Nights, The Mist, and Deep Blue Sea, brings his star-power to spearhead the show’s cast.
12. Warehouse 13
This Syfy series features two secret services agents living in an X-Files type of world as they go on Raiders of the Lost Ark type of adventures to locate and protect sacred artifacts. If that premise doesn’t get you interested in watching (or rewatching) Warehouse 13 than we don’t know what will. This intriguing hook incited Syfy’s third largest series premiere to date, and the sixth episode of the first season brought in an impressive 4.4 million viewers.
Joanne Kelly and Eddie McClintock play Secret Service Agents Myka Bering and Pete Lattimer, who are stationed in the barren South Dakota landscape at the top secret warehouse, which was designed by Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and M. C. Escher to better increase the safety of storing the extremely powerful artifacts. The popularity of the series only increased when it continued to build upon the Syfy Universe, as characters from the show crossed-over into Eureka and Alphas, and vice-versa.
11. The Dresden Files
Another under appreciated Sci-Fi original, The Dresden Files only ran for one season after premiering back in 2007. The show was adapted from the ongoing novel series by Jim Butcher about a contemporary wizard living in present day Chicago. Though the series deviated from the source material, the 12 episodes were still chock-full of ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and especially, wizardry.
Paul Blackthorne (who now plays Quentin Lance on Arrow) was cast as Harry Dresden, a wizard who often teams up with investigators to solve supernatural cases. The series explores Harry’s past following the death of his witch mother and the appearance of Harry’s powers throughout his adolescence. Unfortunately, the series failed to bring in a substantial audience and was never renewed for a second season. But with a plethora of Dresden novels to draw from, we can’t help but hope for a relaunch of the series on one of the many new platforms available today.
10. Being Human
Normally shows that are adapted for American audiences tend to massively fall short of the original. Luckily, Syfy’s Being Human was able to capture the essences of the BBC series, while infusing it with enough new ideas to keep the reboot feeling fresh. The story begins when Aiden, a vampire, and Josh, a werewolf move into a new house together in Boston and discover that they’re going to have a third roommate named Sally… who just so happens to be a ghost.
Being Human was able to draw in more viewers during the network reruns, and more than half of the show’s audience was female– a first for the Syfy network. Sam Witwer, Meaghan Rath, and Sam Huntington play the three housemates, who all struggle desperately to live normal lives despite their supernatural abilities. The series ran for four successful seasons, each 13 episodes a piece, and became one of Syfy’s most successful shows during the winter season.
9. Face Off
Unlike the other series on this list, Face Off is a reality show that pits prosthetic makeup artists against one another as they create sci-fi and horror related prostheses. Every week the artists are given three days to come up with a full makeup character to match the chosen theme. Each episode usually ends with one player being eliminated from the pack, until there is a final winner that receives a cash prize and a chance to advance further in the film industry.
The show provides an in depth look at makeup effects that many sci-fi and horror junkies will find fascinating. Face Off has run for 10 seasons to date (often two a year) and is already set to premiere its 11th season on January 24, 2017. Many of the judges on the show are accomplished makeup artists who have worked on projects including Beetlejuice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Avatar. And there’s always a chance that a celebrity guest, like Kevin Smith, Brian Grazer, and The Walking Dead‘s Greg Nicotero, will pop in and make a cameo appearance.
8. 12 Monkeys
Based on the 1995 film of the same name (which was loosely based on the 1962 French short film La Jetee), 12 Monkeys wrapped up its sophomore season earlier this year on Syfy. Much like the premise of the film, the series takes place in the not-so-distant-future after a deadly virus has eliminated over 90% of the human race. Aaron Standford, who previously played Pyro in the X-Men series, is cast as James Cole, a man who is sent back in time to track down the Army of the 12 Monkeys in an attempt to prevent the biological terrorism from ever happening.
As opposed to just copying the style of the original film, the series continues to branch out and draw on more recent time travel thrillers, including 2012’s neo-noir Looper. With 26 solid episodes under its belt, 12 Monkeys is already scheduled to return for a third 10-episode season sometime next summer.
Haven follows FBI Special Agent Audrey Parker, played by Emily Rose, who is sent to the small town in Maine that is afflicted with a supernatural plague known as “The Troubles.” Parker ends up quitting the FBI to join the Haven Police Department where she deals with problem that arises from “The Troubles” while trying to discover her true identity.
The Stephen King novel The Colorado Kid served as inspiration for the series, which frequently references a number of King’s other works, especially It and Misery, making it a must-watch for horror lovers. The show received mixed reviews from mainstream critics for some of its weaker story arcs, but many praised actress Emily Rose, who elevates the believability of each episode with her strong performance. Even though she’s playing a character with no family or past, Rose keeps us grounded in the series as Audrey Parker continues to unravel the mysterious hidden within Haven.
This Syfy original follows a CIA-based group of individuals who possess superhuman abilities not unlike the X-Men, swapping out the term mutants for “Alphas.” Academy Award nominated actor David Strathairn plays Dr. Lee Rosen, a neurologist and psychiatrist who leads the group of five Alphas as they investigate criminal cases, often committed by the notorious group of renegade Alphas known as the Red Flags.
Despite only lasting two short seasons, Alphas had many clever moments and strove to avoid the pitfalls that have plagued many similar superhero stories. Alphas certainly didn’t reinvent the genre, but it provided a nice balance of witty dialogue, impressive effects, and three-dimensional characters. Unfortunately, like far too many of the shows on Sy Fy network, ratings began to dip dramatically in the second season, falling from the original pilot audience of 2.5 million to less than a million, and Alphas ended with an unsolved cliffhanger.
5. Stargate Atlantis
The first Stargate spin-off series, Stargate Atlantis immediately follows the events of Stargate SG-1‘s season seven finale and season eight premiere. Much like its predecessor, Atlantis played heavily on ancient mythology and the series begins when the Stargate Command send an international team to explore an Antarctic outpost, which is eventually revealed to be the lost city of Atlantis. Joe Flanigan plays Major/Lt. Colonel John Sheppard, who is recruited into the Atlantis Expedition due to his expertise in ancient technology.
The show was a ratings success for the Sci-Fi Channel, and it even managed to find a larger audience abroad. Though the series was nominated for a total of 62 awards, it failed to live up the success of its predecessor and ultimately only ran for five seasons. And if you’re wondering why SG-1 failed to make this list, we chose to include it on our list of the best series on Showtime instead.
A prequel to Battlestar Galactica, Caprica takes place 58 years before the Cylons destroy the Twelve Colonies along with much of the human race. The show explores the creation of the cybernetic race and how they came to turn against their human inventors. Esai Morales plays Joseph Adama, the father of future Battlestar Commander Bill Adama from the original series.
Initial reviews of Caprica were overwhelmingly positive, calling the show an intellectual puzzle propelled by human emotion, as opposed to just flashy visuals. Sadly, these positive reviews could not save Caprica, and the promising series produced only 19 episodes. After a mid-season hiatus, the ratings fell below a million viewers per episode and unfortunately Syfy pulled the remaining shows from their schedule. Though the series was meant to be accessible to new fans, its connection to Battlestar Galactica may have alienated potential audience members. The series was later released in its entirety on home media.
3. Z Nation
If you prefer your zombie entertainment with a heavy splattering of humor, then this Syfy original provides an alternative to AMC’s increasingly bleak zombie epic. Z Nation is a mish-mash of genres: action, horror, drama, sci-fi, comedy. It provides a little bit for everyone and throws sprinting zombies into the mix to up the intensity.
The story is set years after a virus outbreak has eliminated most of the population and left many others zombified. Keith Allan plays the mysterious Murphy– the only known survivor of the ZN1 virus. His blood is thought to contain the cure for infection, and a rag-tag group of survivors attempt to transport Murphy from New York to the last known CDC in California. Of course, the road trip is far from a vacation.
This Syfy original series is set in the fictional town of Eureka, Oregon, which is almost exclusively inhabited by scientific geniuses. The story follow Sheriff Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) who investigates the misuse of technology with the help of the local geniuses. Though Jack is often dumbfounded by the wonders (and dangers) of the technologies invented in Eureka, his simple ideas and experience as a U.S. Marshall brings another perspective to the community of scientists, which often helps save the day.
Eureka is one of the longest running original series for Syfy, and its lighter and often humorous tone attracted an average of 2-3 million viewers per episode. When it was announced that Eureka would be cancelled after five seasons, many took to the internet to protest the network’s decision. But it was ultimately Comcast, a controlling partner of NBCUniversal, that made the finally call, as Eureka was too expensive a show to make for such a small audience. Fortunately, the larger than usual budget gave us five enjoyable season complete with some slick visuals which even earned Eureka a nomination for Outstanding Special Visual Effects.
1. Battlestar Galactica
Easily the most beloved series to come out of the Sci-Fi channel, Battlestar Galactica became popular with mainstream audiences due to its lack of the technobabble that is so often synonymous with space operas. The series is set in the distant future, where humans live in a cluster of planets refereed to as the Twelve Colonies. After the Cylons, a cybernetic race created by the humans, launch a nuclear assault against the Colonies, the crew aboard the the old military ship Galactica must search for refuge on a planet called Earth.
The series was based off the original 1978 show that only lasted for a season. This reboot started as a miniseries, which was eventually expanded into a weekly show that ran for four seasons. Battlestar Galactica was widely acclaimed by critics and it went on to win three Primetime Emmys including Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for the episode “Daybreak: Part 2.” The show was even named one of the 100 Best TV Shows of All Time in TIME Magazine, easily landing it in the number one spot for best Syfy original.
So what’s your favorite Syfy original series? Let us know in the comments!
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