List Fillers: Is It Sci-Fi?

Do we throw anything into this genre?

Hello everybody. So, I’ve been pondering various topics for this blog. I was looking for a show to review that is not a Netflix original (I’m trying to diversify). So I entered “science fiction tv shows” into Google to see what pops up. In typical Google fashion, a bunch of lists appeared. You know the lists: “10 Sci-Fi Shows To Watch”, or “The 100 Greatest Sci-Fi Show of All Time”.

I started clicking on the various articles and started giving them a scroll. I saw the usual suspects: X-Files, Stranger Things, Black Mirror, Doctor Who, Star Trek, etc. But the more I looked, the more I noticed something. Some of the shows I really wouldn’t consider “science fiction”.

I guess the genre can be subjective. What’s science fiction to you may not be science fiction to me, and vice versa. But some of the titles I saw feel like is a bit of a reach. So, I thought I would explore the topic by defining science fiction, some typical science fiction tropes, and shows that I see that may fit the trope but still may not be considered science fiction.

Science Fiction: Defined

According to Merriam-Webster’s website, Science Fiction is “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component”. So, science is the core of science fiction. But how much science is the question? The show Eureka is textbook science fiction. You have a bunch scientists living in a science town where mysterious science things happen. Of course, there’s some comedy, sexual tension, and romance. But, the science keeps the story going. As the definition says, it’s the imagined science that is the orienting component.

But this is a glaring example, what if you have something more nuanced? Then I have to ask myself, “If I take out the science bit, is this story still plausible?”. I think when you’re making a list, you have to ask yourself this question, since science is the cornerstone of science fiction.

Sometimes I think that these list makers take a little bit of a sci-fi trope in a show and use that as a reason to throw it on a science fiction list. Let’s look at some of these tropes and a few shows I found on the lists. And then let’s ask ourselves, was that really sci-fi?

It’s In The Future

It could be 10 years or 1,000 years from now. If it happens in the future, it’s science fiction. In a way, I kind of get that. As time goes by, technology changes. The environment changes. After all time is science right? Shows like Doctor Who play with time all the time, and that is about as Sci-fi as you can get!

Then, there’s the dystopic future. The future where there’s a nuclear explosion or a scientific advance gone wrong. The world is grey, you can’t drink the water, humanity is barely surviving, or there’s a coup that changes the societal landscape.

The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a future such as the latter. But does that make it science fiction? I don’t think so. The setting is very militant and very patriarchal society. Does the infertility due to pollution make it science fiction? Not really. The core of the story lies in the politics and class struggle more than the infertility. In the list of plot devices, the infertility angle starts us out, but it doesn’t drive us forward.

I actually conducted a poll on twitter (@couchandchill) asking if The Handmaid’s Tale is science fiction. It was more a less an even split. Some people said it is, some people said it isn’t.

It’s Weird

If it’s strange or unusual, then it must be science fiction. If that’s the case, then you should throw The Bachelor in this category. You don’t get stranger than that! Just because creators think outside the box, doesn’t mean the show is science fiction.

On one of these sci-fi lists, I saw the show Twin Peaks. I was a little perplexed. A town full of weirdos does not make it sci-fi. That’s another problem. I feel like people make this lists without watching the show. Twin Peaks is a mystery/thriller/drama in a creepy little town with creepy little people. There’s a town on the Virginia/North Carolina border that can be Twin Peaks.

At Least One Episodes Has The Word “Science” In It

This one really makes me mad. In my blogging life, I’ve made many lists. Some of them contain 20+ items. So, I understand when you’re desperate to fill in the blanks, grasping at straws. But that doesn’t mean you throw all the shows at the sci-fi wall and hopes one sticks.

Someone needs to explain to me how MINDHUNTER is science fiction. Mindhunter! I was so livid when I saw this. It goes back to the previous statement that people do not watch the shows they put on these lists! And I know how this person justified adding this particular show to the list. It’s because it involves behavioral science.

First of all, Mindhunter is based on a true story. Second, it’s a crime thriller without a hint of sci-fi. If you’re going to put Mindhunter in this category, you need to put CSI, Criminal Minds, and NCIS in there as well.

Let me tell you something. When you throw a show in a genre willy-nilly, and people are using your list to find something to watch, you are misleading them. If you put Mindhunter in the science fiction category, and the viewer watches it based on your list, then they may not like the show. They may say, “this is a terrible sci-fi show”. You may be able to change my mind about Handmaid’s Tale and Twin Peaks fitting in the Sci-fi genre. When it comes to Mindhunter, I will not budge! Fight me!

Wrapping It Up

So, what are your thoughts on this topic? Do you agree with me? Or, do you beg to differ? I’m totally open to having my mind changed (except for Mindhunter. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one). Give me your thoughts!

If you want some anime discussion, I posted my thoughts on Vinland Saga over on Couch and Chill (couchandchill.com). I will see you later!

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