“Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.”
I don’t really need to remind you what show that line is from (I hope). This is not a ranking of the best sci-fi TV shows from the 1990s—which means there will be no Next Generation. No Star Trek shows at all, in fact.
No, this is about those shows that fall into a weird space as far as ‘90s TV culture goes: the gaps in between heavyweights. The shows that filled countless afternoons and evenings for many of us, but only for a little while.
These are the shows that you definitely watched at some point, but haven’t thought about in probably 5-10 years. When you’re reminded about them, you go “ohhhhhh yyyeahhh that’s right!”
And, for a couple of these, maybe, just maybe, you haven’t seen them at all.
These are the sci-fi television shows from the ‘90s that you completely forgot about, until right now.
Eat your heart out Stephen Strange, because Sliders was tackling the multiverse way before the MCU was even a twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye.
Sliders follows the journey of a ragtag bunch of misfit scientists (and one singer) as they travel through the multiverse, experiencing alternate Earths as they try to figure out a way to get back to their home Earth.
For at least the first two seasons, this was actually a good show. Perhaps it was my kid brain, but I enjoyed visiting worlds where penicillin hadn’t been invented and you might run into another version of yourself at any moment. Not to mention the fact that John Rhys-Davies absolutely crushed every scene he was in, because of course he did.
But frankly, this show wasn’t forgotten sometime in the oughts or the 20-teens—it had oozed out of our brains easily by season 4, which probably should have never been made in the first place (and it was five seasons long).
Is there anything more ‘90s than Jonathan Brandis?
No, no there isn’t. And yes, that’s Chuck Norris.
So when Brandis lends his talents to a weekly sci-fi series on NBC, you know it’s a big deal. And for me, it really was. I loved this show.
The plot is so damn easy—basically, someone walked into a room full of NBC execs and said, “Star Trek but in water.” And while they all looked at one another making sense of the idea bomb just dropped on them, they added: “Oh, and Jonathan Brandis is the Wil Wheaton.” Then presumably they all cheered, lit cigars, sat back, and let the checks start rolling in.
But while the show was popular at its release, ratings basically started plummeting from thereon until it was abruptly canceled in the midst of its third season. When I learned that, I think my reaction was mild surprise that there ever was a third season.
When I was a kid I assumed Scott Bakula was basically the most famous human on the planet and everyone would crack up anytime I pretended to be talking to an invisible hologram from the future that only I could see. Turns out they lock you in a padded room and let you talk to the nice doctors when that happens.
In the near-ish future, Dr. Sam Beckett theorizes that time travel actually is possible, with one catch—you can only move around within your lifetime. But when Beckett tests this theory on himself, he finds that he is stuck “leaping” from time to time. Oh, and he’s leaping into the bodies of other people at seemingly critical moments in their personal lives and/or history.
Quantum Leap lands on lots of cult-favorite lists to this day and might be one that you technically didn’t forget about. As a kid, I remember loving it every time he’d leap into an awkward situation, like the body of a woman about to kiss a man. Today, some of those episodes might be prove to be a little problematic.