Final TV Report Card: Grading the Sci-Fi Shows of 2015/16
Summer is kicking into gear, which means that most of our favorite shows (minus summer favorites like Orphan Black and Mr. Robot) have sadly come to an end. And while some of them we definitely won't miss (*cough*Minority Report*cough*), many sci-fi shows have risen to the level of high art this past year. Read on to see which shows flunked (or almost flunked), which shows made the grade, and which show got our one solitary A+ grade.
Second Chance season 1: D-
Second Chance boasted a strong central performance, but no amount of talent could have overcome the hokiness of this take on the Frankenstein myth. It wasn't nearly as batshit as this year's other Frankenstein adaptation, Victor Frankenstein, but it was as nondescript as its ridiculously generic name, which is even worse. This is one cancelled show that doesn't deserve a second chance (ugh, sorry).
Minority Report season 1: D
Minority Report had one of the most well-realized sci-fi futures of all time to play with, and it was just a dud. It wasn't even bad enough to hate-watch (like this season of Gotham, for example), it was just completely and utterly uninspired. The cast was fine but didn't gel together, the futuristic aspects were practically an afterthought, and most of all, it committed TV's cardinal sin: being boring. It just kept getting worse as it went along, which made us breathe a sigh of relief when it was finally cancelled.
Though it was promised that season 4 of Arrow would makeup for its failures in season 3, it seems that the writers have taken some of the worst aspects of the third season (an almost incoherent and unrelated continuing flashback story, an irritating focus on Team Arrow instead of the Arrow himself, and romantic relationships that divert the narrative away from the type of storytelling that made the first two seasons so great) and then turned them up to 11. More long-time fans of the show are now swearing off the program than ever, and with such a change in focus, tone, and scope than what was seen in the show's glory days, it's hard not to blame them for it. The talent behind Arrow seems to indicate that there's always a chance for redemption, but there's no doubt that the show that started DC's TV universe has lost its way and forgotten the very things that brought it its success in the first place.
The Walking Dead: D+
When The Walking Dead began six years ago, it was hailed as a breath of fresh air: a gory, exciting zombie show that actually had a brain, well-developed characters, and thoughtfully realized themes. But somewhere between the fourth and fifth season it started to lose its way, and rely on blatant manipulation and exploitation tactics to boost the ratings. In its sixth season, it completed this slide downhill, and between the hiding-under-a-dumpster debacle and that horrible, horrible cliffhanger at the end of the season, TWD might finally be past its prime. Maybe Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan will inject some new life into the show, which has grown repetitive as all-get-out, but we're not getting our hopes up.
Limitless season 1: C-
Limitless has a couple of things going for it: we always love to see Jennifer Carpenter on our screens, and the chemistry between her and Jake McDorman is perfectly charming. But his character is completely whitebread, Bradley Cooper's cameos should be exciting but are just distracting, and the plot is so riddled with holes, we can't even keep track anymore. Limitless was a somewhat entertaining movie with a slightly ludicrous premise and a completely ludicrous execution, which doesn't exactly scream out for a TV adaptation, and while the show found its footing a little bit as it went along, we weren't exactly heartbroken when it was cancelled.
Heroes Reborn season 1: C-
Whether it's season one of Heroes Reborn or season five of Heroes, this show just doesn't work. It has entertaining moments here and there, especially when HRG is being his old compelling self or Tommy is flirting with Emily. But Miko's video game nonsense doesn't fit in with the Heroes universe, Carlos's entire plotline could be lifted out and no one would miss him, and while we love Zachary Levi, his tortured vigilante character leaves a lot to be desired. They even managed to screw up the nostalgia factor, unceremoniously killing off Molly Walker and turning Matt Parkman evil without any plausible rationale. Heroes Reborn may not be unwatchable, like the later seasons of Heroes were, but it certainly doesn't come close to the cohesive, irresistible storytelling of season one.
Gotham season 2: B-
Gotham has immensely improved from its first season, if only because it fully embraced the crazy. Between making Jim Gordon a cold-blooded killer, all the Jokers, Fish Mooney's resuscitation, and pretty much everything Barbara does, this season threw everything at the wall to see what stuck, almost admirably. But even if it's improved, it's still Gotham, which means an over-stuffing of villains, cheesy dialogue, and an inability to sustain any meaningful theme. It's difficult to grade a show that is clearly not trying to be anything but insane, but a middling grade will have to do.
The X-Files season 10: B-
I'm not going to lie: it was going to be a huge treat to see Mulder and Scully back on our screens no matter what the quality of the show was. But to be completely honest with myself, the revival series usually wasn't very good. The dialogue was often clunky, the soft mythology reboot didn't really make any sense, and with one major exception, none of the episodes were nearly as much fun as they should have been. The genuinely fun and funny "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" brought the grade up significantly, but overall it was a disappointment.
Legends of Tomorrow season 1: B
Legends of Tomorrow got off to a rocky start, and with their huge roster of heroes, seemed almost hopelessly muddled in the beginning of the season. And while some elements of the show worked much better than others (Hawkman and Hawkgirl, in particular, never really found their footing), the performances and fun dynamics between the cast often saved the show. And with the relatively weak villain of Vandal Savage out of the picture for next season, the stage is set for a hugely improved show that focuses on LOT's best elements.
Supergirl season 1: B+ Daredevil season 2: B+ Humans season 1: A- The 100 season 3: A- Star Wars Rebels season 2: B+ Doctor Who: A- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3: A-
Supergirl is not without its problems: its dialogue can get a little cheesy, the relationships are very broadly written, and at times it's a little more "girl power" than feminist. But the writing got steadily stronger over the course of the season, Melissa Benoist and Calista Flockhart's performances are flawless, and it has a sense of energy, optimism, and fun that is sorely needed on the superhero landscape right now. And most encouragingly, one of its best episodes was the utterly charming and adorkable crossover with The Flash, so now that Supergirl is moving to The CW, where it can cross over with the Flarrowverse to its heart's content, we can reasonably expect a higher grade next year.
I so wanted to give Daredevil a grade in the A range, just for Punisher and Elektra alone. Both characters were great additions to Daredevil's gritty, hard-hitting universe, with Elektra showing us a darker, more interesting side of Matt Murdock and Jon Bernthal's Punisher giving us an amazing character study of a war veteran suffering from PTSD. There were many brilliant moments, but there were also many missteps, and between Matt and Karen's inert romance, Matt's inconsistent and often bland characterization, and the mildly racist ninjas, I almost found myself wanting to give up on Daredevil and just watch the Punisher spin-off instead.
AMC's Humans has a very hit-or-miss premise, since sentient androids have been done so many times before. But the show far exceeded our expectations and managed to make the familiar "what it means to be human" conflict feel brand-new. The subplot involving Synth liberation was a little bit clunky, but the rest of it was a sterling example of how to write about artificial intelligence in a meaningful and subtle way.
The 100 was not without its share of flaws—not to mention controversies—this season. There were several mishandled character deaths, as well as some 180-degree turns for characters that weren't sufficiently developed. And while the A.I. plotline became the most well-written and poignant aspect of the season, it didn't 100% live up to its vast potential. But if this season was a little disappointing, it's only because the bar was set so high by the first two seasons, and this was still one of the best shows on TV this year. Read our picks for best and worst of the season here.
We were less than optimistic about Star Wars Rebels' prospects early on last year, but since the show's first season finale, Dave Filoni's second animated Star Wars creation has gone from strength to strength. An expanded 22 episode run did result in the odd filler episode, but it also allowed for some fantastic character development, with 'The Honorable Ones' and its brilliant dive into the psyche of two of the show's more interesting fringe characters being a prime example. Just as it did in Season 1, Rebels saved the best until last, offering up one of the greatest sci-fantasy season finales in recent memory. Between Ezra's grapple with the the Dark Side and Kanan's own physical struggles, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that this show's upward tick can continue into Season 3, which premieres at London's Star Wars Celebration next month.
This season of Doctor Who might have had its hit-and-miss moments, but despite its ups and downs the show managed to deliver some truly stellar episodes. Compared to previous seasons, there were undoubtedly more instant-classic episodes this season- which was largely due to Capaldi finally being allowed to show off his acting chops. Capaldi is clearly well suited to the role of the Doctor, and his status as a lifelong fan of the show was to his credit as he channeled some of the previous Doctors. The writing for his character definitely changed a bit this season, and I would argue that it was for the better. Jenna Coleman's Clara was the perfect companion to Capaldi's Doctor, and the chemistry between the two made for an unstoppable duo. Not since Donna have we seen such a tragic end to one of the Doctor's best friends. Unlike Donna though, Clara got to leave on her own terms ending her time with the Doctor as his equal. This season also gave more brilliantly executed nods to previous episodes than any season in the history of New Who. The Christmas special was a River-centric episode with a beautiful ending that addressed River's last date with the Doctor, which is something we've all been wondering about since season 4. Overall, this season was an engaging emotional roller coaster, and with the announcement of the new companion, we're more excited than ever for the return of the show. - Rhonda Dehaini
Supergirl season 1: B+
Daredevil season 2: B+
Humans season 1: A-
The 100 season 3: A-
Star Wars Rebels season 2: B+
Doctor Who: A-
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3: A-
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still one of the best comic book shows on television right now, and although season 3 had its rough spots, it was an incredibly strong season overall. The show has shown fairly consistent growth since the first season, mostly due to the incredible character development that's taken place. The strong character focused aspects of the narrative are what drives the show forward, and season 3 took advantage of that. New characters were introduced and the rest of the team took enormous strides forward in terms of character growth. Some of the highlights included Daisy's transition into a superhero, the relationship between Coulson and Rosalind Price, and literally everything involving Fitz and Simmons. Agents Morse and Hunter also became some of the most beloved characters on the show this season and, given the circumstances of their exit, I'm hopeful that we'll see them return to the show. The show is constantly learning and growing, and it still had a few sticking points this season. For example, it would have been nice to see the Secret Warriors develop further, Hive fell a little flat as a villain at times, and Daisy and Lincoln's relationship was never the compelling romance it was meant to be. Despite its weaknesses, season 3 proved that the show is still more than capable of coming up with exciting new storylines that let us revel in its endearing weirdness a little more each season. - Rhonda Dehaini
iZombie season 2: A-
iZombie finds it's unique niche by somehow managing to balance perfectly between being a comedy, procedural drama, and a zombie show and it's only been getting better. The show boasts some of the most complex and endearing characters on the CW, and on top of that the storylines have been as engaging as ever. The major plot arcs are always masterfully woven in with the procedural drama and relationship aspects of the show, and this time they concluded in the most surprising season finale yet. The bloody finale served to prove that they aren't shying away from multiple character deaths to prepare us for what promises to be an exciting third season. The show certainly isn't running out of ways to keep things interesting with the finale quickly escalating the drama and intensity, but without sacrificing the heart and humor that keep us coming back. - Rhonda Dehaini
The Man in the High Castle season 1: A
The Man in the High Castle was made for binging, because it takes a little bit of patience. It moves a little bit slowly at first, immersing you in its alternate history and building up the tension in a subtle, nuanced way. But if you give it a chance, it quickly becomes completely gripping, nightmarish, and terrifying, piling on twist after twist until you're left wondering how things possibly got so dark. If there was any doubt that the "Golden Age of TV" was spreading to streaming services, The Man in the High Castle (not to mention the show that took our top spot) should go a long way towards dispelling it.
Agent Carter season 2: A
The second season of Agent Carter was the intelligent, detective noir, 1940s spy show we were all waiting for since the end of the first season. With a brand new setting of sunny LA, the show was even complete with its own genius, superpowered, movie-star villain. Although the tone was decidedly different this season, the show was still every bit as good as it was before, if not better, which makes the cancellation all the more tragic. Whitney Frost was a fantastic villain, although I still felt she went down a little too easy in the end. Ana was my favorite new addition to the cast this season, and she only added to the dynamic between Peggy and Jarvis, which has been a huge part the show since day one. Jason Wilkes was also a wonderful fit with the cast, and the resulting love triangle between Jason, Peggy, and Daniel worked well as a subplot without feeling forced. There were so many amazing moments this season including the return of Dottie, Peggy and Daniel finally getting together, and the trippy musical dream sequence. After leaving off on a cliff-hanger, we're desperate for the show to get picked up by a streaming service. Agent Carter's story is far from over, and as long as there are those willing to tell it, the fans will never give up hope that Peggy will return to our screens where she belongs. - Rhonda Dehaini
The Flash season 2: A
The Flash has somehow continued to deliver on so many different levels after its phenomenal first season. The emotion in this show has been huge, and somehow, the writers have been able to ensure that the show's emotional focus doesn't take away from some of the best, over-the-top action scenes currently being featured in a superhero show. One of the only major complaints that can be legitimately aired about the season is that a few of the one-shot episodes unrelated to the main plot seemed somewhat unnecessary and a bit more dull than the others. Of course, the show made up for that in some pretty big ways, however. The cast continues to deliver heartwarming performances, and character development, the introduction of new characters, and the show's way of handling what could easily become overly convoluted crazy sci-fi plot devices have each been handled almost perfectly by the writers. Of course, everything came full circle with a fantastic season finale, and the way things wrapped up gave this season of The Flash a feeling of total completion while simultaneously providing the hype for what could be an even more fantastic season 3. Though DC is doing a lot of exciting things with TV and film lately, The Flash undoubtedly remains at the zenith of the company's current live action endeavors. - Zain Charkawi
The Leftovers season 2: A
I was among those who loved the first season of The Leftovers, relentlessly grim as it could be, but even I have to admit how much the series improved this season. Adding the tiniest bit of levity and wry self-awareness made all the difference, and transformed this show from a great show to a classic show. It's still incredibly dark, and at times despairing, but the confidence and artistry of the writing allows it to get away with almost anything. A character starts running people down with her car, with almost no consequence? Okay, we'll accept that. Nora might be the chosen vessel of the demon Azrael? Sure! The afterlife is a fancy hotel where you become an international assassin and prevent your nemesis from becoming president? Do what you need to do, The Leftovers, we're right here with you.
Jessica Jones: A+
Jessica Jones was not a perfect show, but it was pretty damn close, and important enough that I just had to give it the A+. It's consistently compelling and well-written, with a pitch-perfect performance from Krysten Ritter and the most terrifying Marvel villain we've seen thus far. It's also the most feminist show I've seen in a long time, foregrounding female relationships, developing complex and unapologetic female characters, and handling the subject of rape and abuse with thoughtfulness and sensitivity. It's not only the best superhero show on television, but one of the best shows on television, period.