As Parks and Recreation's lovably geeky Ben put it, HBO's Game of Thrones is "a crossover hit. It's not just for fantasy enthusiasts." If we had a dollar for every person who has told us "I don't normally like that kind of thing, but..." We would have at least several dollars. As long time fantasy and sci-fi fans — geek and proud, y'all — as well as impassioned TV lovers, we're pleased that Game of Thrones has shown a whole new audience that dragons don't inherently make a story less accessible. And we want to help you learn about the other geeky, sci-fi and fantasy hits that can appeal to a broader audience.
Maybe you've stumbled upon Game of Thrones and discovered this whole genre thing isn't as much of a turn-off as you thought. Or maybe it's the other way around, and you've joined the rank of book lovers who are starting to realize that TV has evolved into a fully-fledged and valid storytelling medium in its own right. Either way, you find yourself wanting to explore more. But it's hard! There are so many shows out there to pick from.
Well, we're here to help, with six fantastic genre shows that we think are worth checking out for anyone. These are shows that we think can appeal to people on any part of the geek spectrum — especially women, since one thing they all feature is fantastic female characters. For ease (and to keep this from being a repeat of every other "Top 10 genre shows" list out there) we've stuck to shows that are currently on air — with one impossible-to-exclude exception. Happy watching!
1. Battlestar Galactica (2003): Let's start with the exception: Battlestar Galactica, which in our opinion should be a must-see for any Game of Thrones fan. It may seem odd, but SyFy's 2003 remake of a cheesy '70s space opera shares a lot of DNA with HBO's epic fantasy series. Expansive ensemble cast? Check. A more realistic take on an often unrealistic genre? Check. Moral ambiguity? Check. Strong and varied female characters in narratively powerful roles? Check times infinity. From badass viper pilot Starbuck to President Laura Roslin, the women here are some of the best to ever grace the small screen.
And like Game of Thrones, BSG is not afraid to go dark. Where GOT examines the interplay of power and moral corruption in a broken system, BSG looks at things from the opposite end of the spectrum: What happens when society falls apart? The plot revolves around the last remnants of humanity running from the rebellious robots who blew up their home planets, and the show constantly calls into question the viewer's commonly held morals. How deeply do you believe in democracy? When does survival of the whole trump the lives of a few? Is vigilante justice ever okay? Right and wrong are never as simple as you think. It's not just one of the best genre shows ever, it's one of the best dramas, period.
2. Fringe: This cult-hit just got renewed for a fifth and final season, so now's the perfect time to jump on board. The show follows FBI agent Olivia Dunham and the special Fringe Division as they investigate bizarre cases every week — think Law & Order with a whole lot of pseudo-science thrown in. The cases of the week range from creatively disturbing to deeply touching, but what really makes Fringe great is the larger myth arc, which involves multiple universes, switched identities, and epic romance. The plot is just as sprawling as Game of Thrones, and while the cast is smaller, their relationships are just as painful and complicated, and the performances are fantastic — John Noble as Walter Bishop could give Peter Dinklage a run for his money. Bonus: It stars Joshua Jackson (Pacey from Dawson's Creek)!
3. Misfits: All three seasons of this cheeky British dramedy are available for free on Hulu, so there's no excuse not to watch it. And watch it you should. Irreverent, borderline absurdist, and surprisingly heartfelt, Misfits is the superhero show for people who don't like superheros. It chronicles the adventures of a group of young offenders who gain superpowers when an electrical storm hits them on their first day of mandated community service. Unlike NBC's Heroes, which quickly went off the rails, Misfits sticks with the premise of "regular people with powers." Instead of epic crimes to solve and villains to battle, the misfits are stuck dealing with telepathic babies and accidental zombies. The show is constantly hilarious, but it's the well-drawn characters — each distinctly flawed, layered, and believable — that makes it a must-see.
4. The Walking Dead: Although AMC's zombie epic has the tendency to drag a bit, it picked up steam in the back half of Season 2, delivering some truly jaw dropping moments. If you want another show that blends a classic genre trope with all the trappings of high quality cable drama — solid acting, good cinematography, realistic dialogue — The Walking Dead is currently your best bet outside of Game of Thrones.
5. Archer: If you're still not really sold on this epic genre show thing — Game of Thrones is the exception for you, not the rule — how about you try easing into geek TV using a more familiar path? Forget Family Guy or The Simpsons; these days if you want a biting animated comedy FX's Archer is where it's at. The consistently laugh-out-loud show plays with (and mocks) tropes you're probably familiar with from spy movies like James Bond. If you enjoy Tyrion and Bronn's snarky wit and don't mind things getting a bit dirty, this dysfunctional spy sitcom might be just your thing. Plus: The ladies rule the show.
6. Once Upon a Time: ABC's hit new show has been a bit uneven in its first season, but its modern twist on fairy tales is fun, and its characters are great. We're intrigued by its ever-unfolding mystery, and as the season goes on it's moving high and higher on our list of can't-miss shows.
On a lighter note.... If you want more lightweight fare to balance out Game of Thrones' brutal world, SyFy has some fun offerings. Personally, we're big fans of Eureka, a delightful little show that's currently finishing its last season, about a high-tech town and the sheriff who protects it.
Older Shows to Check Out: X-Files, Firefly, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Frank Herbert's Dune, Xena: Warrior Princess, Carnival, Lost, Babylon 5... And this list is hardly exhaustive.
Did we miss a favorite? Throw out your own suggestions in the comments below!
Check out all of Wetpaint Entertainment’s Game of Thrones coverage.
Catch the next episode of Game of Thrones on Sunday, May 6 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
Rebecca Martin is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @BeccaMartin47.
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