One of the hazards of getting attached to a science fiction show is that it can be canceled at any time. That’s a risk with any television show but a sci-fi show’s higher special effects budget is certainly going to be a consideration when considering whether or not to renew it.
We wouldn't mind if it was just the bad shows that got the can, but some of the best sci-fi tv shows of all time have been canceled over the years. However, by some sweet miracle, canceled shows do occasionally get to claw their way back onto our screens, especially if there are enough people craving a conclusion. Sure, there are some relentlessly toxic “fans” out there, whose awfulness has been amplified by the internet and that’s never okay. But there are others who just want to know whether Lt. Sideiron saved the world and declared her love for the alien queen.
There’s no critical mass of fans that can force a company to reverse their decision, but it can help tip the scales or, alternatively, convince another network to step in. That’s what happened with most of these five sci-fi shows which, against the odds, got to live again, though whether they made the most of that opportunity is open for debate.
Firefly, Joss Whedon’s space-faring western, was canceled even before its first season concluded. Framing space as a new, lawless frontier, its world is relatively low-tech compared to the likes of Star Trek and even Alien. Everything, not just the crew’s ship, Serenity, feels like it’s held together by string and good luck.
Serenity is also the name given to the two-hour Firefly movie, which landed in movie theatres three years after the series was canceled. More dramatic than the show, it does tie up some plot threads. It didn’t perform well enough at the box office to launch a new run but it’s still a solid conclusion to the show.
Disney Plus is, apparently, in the process of rebooting Firefly (opens in new tab), though there’s been no news in a while. Creator Joss Whedon almost certainly won’t be involved because multiple people who worked with and for him have come forward with reports of verbal abuse, threatening behavior, and more (opens in new tab).
“What kind of shoddy sci-fi show has Muppets in it?” That was our reaction the first time we saw Farscape and yes, that’s Muppets with a capital M, because the show was produced by the Jim Henson Company and executive produced by Jim Henson’s son, Brian. But we’re glad we persisted because Farscape is some wonderfully off-the-wall science fiction.
It follows the story of John Crichton, a modern-day Earth astronaut who ends up being catapulted into another galaxy. He joins the alien crew of a sentient starship, has his brain filled with ancient knowledge, is chased across space for that knowledge, gets cloned, and... well, you’ll just have to watch it to find out.
It was canceled after four seasons, ending on one hell of a cliff-hanger, but got a reprieve in the form of The Peacekeeper Wars, a two-part, three-hour special. You can tell that a season’s worth of ideas have been trimmed down to fit into the special, but it’s a superb send off for the show. It even includes a special-effects heavy finale that gives the two warring powers a much needed wake-up call.
3. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Not to be confused with Genndy Tartakovsky’s non-canon cartoon, Star Wars: The Clone Wars kicked off with a two-hour CGI film and carried on for six seasons, canceled in the wake of Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm.
What makes it such a great series it that it explores aspects of the Clone Wars that the movies didn’t have time to. It sports several new characters, including Ashoka Tano who’s shortly to get her own Disney Plus series (one of the many upcoming Star Wars TV shows we’re looking forward to). What makes her so great is that through her eyes, we start to see the cracks in the Grand Republic.
The final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars came nearly six years after the end of the previous season and features a now heavily disillusioned Ahsoka. The first few episodes feel like filler, but the second half of the series picks up the pace and, colliding with Star Wars Episode III: Return of the Sith, tying everything up neatly.
As premises go, Sense8’s set-up is pretty wild, not least because Lana and Lilly Wachowski, creators of The Matrix, and Babylon 5’s J. Michael Straczynski all had a hand in it. It’s also pleasingly LGBT positive, exploring sexuality, empathy, gender, and more.
Eight people end up psychically connected, able to share thoughts and sensations, but they’re scattered all over the globe, so they can’t just meet up for a coffee and sort things out. On top of dealing with these new abilities, while trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life, there’s a sinister organization after them whose intentions are less than honorable.
Season 2 ups the ante, ending on a cliffhanger, which after Netflix canceled the series, was it. But, a year later, we thankfully got one final two-and-a-half-hour finale. Like Farscape’s Peacekeeper Wars, it crams almost too much in, but it’s a real gamechanger that ties up most of the “sensates” stories. Oh, and it ends on one hell of a bang.
This animated show follows the adventures of Fry, a delivery boy who ends up in the future, working as a... er, delivery boy. Along with his fellow Planet Express friends and one of the coolest spaceships in sci-fi, he gets into all manner of trouble. It’s from Matt Groening, who also created The Simpsons, so it’s very tongue-in-cheek but can, at times, be a little dark.
Sadly, it was canceled by Fox in 2003 after only four seasons. Later, reruns on Adult Swim drummed up enough interest for Comedy Central to help produce four straight to DVD movies which could be chopped up into episodes to air on the channel.
And it worked. Sort of. The movies don’t really work as movies and, because they were designed to be chopped up, they don’t really flow properly. However, their success did lead Comedy Central to commission two more seasons of 26 episodes each.
And then... Futurama was canceled a second time, this time by Comedy Central. The good news is it ended on one of the show’s finest episodes and the even better news is that, eight years after it concluded, Hulu has picked it up for a new season, set to air sometime in 2023 – one of many awesome upcoming sci-fi TV shows to add to your calendar!