Inside Television: Sci-fi series set out to answer questions - and could deliver plausible theories

 

"Science fiction," said Ray Bradbury, “is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it's the history of ideas.” If that’s true, then TV drama has lately been shirking its responsibilities and indulging instead in escapist genres like fantasy (Game of Thrones) and period drama (Mad Men, Downton Abbey). Now, sci-fi is back in a big way. So does that mean we’re once again ready to engage in some serious thought?

Last week the premiere episode of new sci-fi series The 100 set a ratings record for E4, Amazon’s Prime Instant Video service is hoping to get in on the action with the Halle Berry starring Extant, and the most anticipated new series of the autumn, HBO’s The Leftovers, is also in the science fiction genre.

The first notable trend of the new sci-fi is that trends are much easier to identify than they once were. Long-running series like Star Trek used a space odyssey premise to touch on a different ethical dilemma each episode. During it’s first run, Star Trek famously confronted militarism, intolerance and included the first inter-racial snog on television. These new shows are comparatively limited in their themes, but the concerns they do have remain more or less consistent from episode to episode and series to series. These concerns are, if you like, built into the shows’ very DNA.

When the second series of Channel 4’s excellent conspiracy thriller Utopia begins on Monday evening, it will continue its interest in how genetic science might save or damn the human race. Last season we discovered that The Network’s objective was to prevent war and genocide by introducing a virus/vaccine which would sterilise 90 per cent of the population. Horrific eugenics experiment? Or genius act of heroism? Part of Utopia’s appeal is that both seemed applicable. By the end of series one, even the show’s most sympathetic character, paranoid nerd Wilson Wilson, had switched sides.

The Leftovers, which will air on Sky Atlantic, is also concerned with a mass extinction event, only it takes place after the fact. In a small US town police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) struggles to maintain normalcy after two per cent of the world’s population just vanishes. The 100, skips forward another century to a time when nuclear war has left Earth uninhabitable. A group of teenagers are dispatched back to the surface, not to investigate, as they at first believe, but to conserve rapidly dwindling resources for those who remained on the space station.

Over-population, reproduction, population control; how will the human race survive? And does it even deserve to? These are the questions that all the new sci-fi series set out to answer. To the relief of viewers of sci-fi’s last big let-down, Lost, it looks like they may even deliver some plausible theories.

The Maracanã can't match Morse

On Sunday evening, the World Cup final will be airing on both ITV and BBC One from 7pm until at least 10.30pm - later if the match goes into extra time. That’s great news for fans of high-drama, high-level sporting events, but what about everyone else? Perhaps you’re avoiding the football in protest at the tournament’s increasing lack of fair play and sportsmanship. In that case, try ITV3’s marathon of 60s-set Endeavour from 7pm - young Morse is the ultimate gentleman. Are you bored of football’s macho stereotypes? Then you’ll want The Night Watch (BBC2, 9pm), an adaptation of Sarah Waters brilliant novel on wartime social conventions. And if you simply find the competitive tension unbearable let The Sky at Night (BBC Four, 10.15pm) remind you of how insignificant it all is, in the grander scheme of things.

CATCH UP

University Challenge: Class of 2014, BBC iPlayer

Ever wondered what academic swots do for fun? This two-part documentary has the answer: more swotting. We meet the teams preparing to enter the 2014 University Challenge tournament, and they’re a fascinating bunch. It’s the past contestants, however who reveal most about how higher education shapes intelligence. Particularly Gail Trimble, aka the show’s cleverest ever contestant.

http://bbc.in/1sqVtUg

Couples Come Dine With Me, 4oD

Even if you thought you’d already had your fill of Channel 4’s dinner party reality show this new twist on an old recipe is surprisingly moreish. Three couples compete to host the best dinner of the week, but the real drama is what goes down in the kitchen. Too many cooks spoil the broth, especially if they happen to be married.

http://bit.ly/1tsQwhS

Extant, Amazon Prime Instant

Amazon are hoping this will be the series that turns their Prime Instant Video service into a realistic rival to Netflix, and it’s obvious why. Exec-produced by Steven Spielberg, Extant stars Halle Berry as an astronaut who returns from a 13-month solo mission to discover she’s mysteriously pregnant. To complicate matters, her husband John (Goran Visnjic from ER) is on a sinister baby-making mission of his own.

http://amzn.to/VQJwwk

Penny Dreadful, Sky Go

This gothic horror series got off to a slow start but the finale has left us gagging for series two. Eva Green has found her calling playing preternaturally calm mystic Vanessa Ives, but it’s Rory Kinnear who will send a shiver down your spine. As Frankenstein’s monster Caliban he manages to evoke a tear of pity, even while murdering blameless old men and throttling defenseless women.

http://bit.ly/1mPALy3

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada