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The Best Geek TV Shows of the Past Twenty Years

Sure, it’s quite a limb to venture out on. (And quite a sentence to end with a preposition. Boo-yah!) But, Christ on a cockroach, if anyone’s equipped to put together this list, it’s a geeky TV-phile like myself. Who spends way too much time thinking about these sorts of things.

In this case, a generation is intended to include 20 years, so any shows produced and broadcast before 1987 are out of luck. That means no Twilight Zone (you didn’t actually expect me to consider the 2002 version, did you?), no original Star Trek, and no early-1980s cartoons like Transformers, G.I. Joe, He-Man, or Thundercats.

No anime. There are enough good anime series out there to merit a list of their own. Otherwise, I’d be glad to include shows like Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell and Fullmetal Alchemist.

Only one show per canon. So you’ll find Star Trek: The Next Generation, but no Deep Space Nine or Voyager. Buffy, but no Angel. Batman: Animated, but no Superman: Animated. Futurama, but–sadly–no The Simpsons. (If you watch, you know that they do, in fact, exist in the same fictional universe.) And Stargate: SG1 is all you get… you’re sure as hell not getting Stargate: Atlantis.

Finally, candidates were screened against the Formula for Great Geek TV.

The final contenders were ranked according to the passion of their respective fans, size of fanbase, series longevity, the endurance and impact of their legacies, the pervasiveness of their franchises (spin-offs, movies, comic books, t-shirts, midnight showings of classic episodes at local movie theaters, etc.), and–ultimately–their adherence to the Formula.

And, of course, the final ranking is a result of my subjective–yet painfully well-informed and objective–interpretation of these criteria. Enjoy.

The Best Geek TV Shows of this Generation

30. Space: Above and Beyond
29. Dead Like Me
28. Clone Wars
27. Mystery Science Theater 3000
26. Farscape
25. Stargate SG1
24. Wonderfalls
23. Smallville
22. Carnivale
21. Alias
20. The 4400
19. Sliders
18. Veronica Mars
17. Batman: The Animated Series
Justice League Unlimited*
16. Freaks and Geeks
15. Futurama
14. Arrested Development
13. Family Guy
12. Jericho
11. Twin Peaks**
10. Doctor Who
9. Babylon Five
8. Heroes
7. Quantum Leap
6. Battlestar Galactica
5. Firefly
4. The X-Files
3. Star Trek: The Next Generation
2. Lost
1. Buffy The Vampire Slayer

* As Kelson points out in the comments, Batman: TAS and JLU are both from the same canon. In fact, Bruce Timm was a producer on both. My love for JLU clouded my judgment. Therefore, JLU gets booted from the list, and Batman: TAS–as the seminal work that opened up a whole new genre of animation–remains.

** I was bound to make one or two gross oversights, and this was one of them. Thanks to Jordan Lund for reminding me about Twin Peaks in the comments.

Honorable Mention:

Jake 2.0





Not considered, for even a second:

Birds of Prey

The Dead Zone

Highlander (Every episode is further insult to the original movie.)

Ok, let’s have it. Thoughts? Comments? Concerns?

45 comments… add one
  • allaboutduncan September 21, 2007, 8:32 am

    Great list and I don’t think I’d remove any shows, but Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited and Clone Wars should all three be higher up. Batman revolutionized American animation and introduced mainstream America to the idea of intelligent, series animation. JLU expanded on that and Clone Wars, just because each 2-minute episode was 100 times better than any of the three prequels.

  • Great White Snark September 21, 2007, 9:00 am

    Hey, Duncan, believe me, on my personal list, all three of those would be near the top. Justice League is my all-time favorite ‘toon. But I had to take into consideration other factors when compared to other shows, like longevity and size of core audience. Now that I think about it, though, the seminal work of Batman should probably be higher on the list. Good call.

  • nickolai September 21, 2007, 11:15 am

    I agree, nice list. I’ll have to take your word for a lot of these shows (Babylon 5? The 4400?), but I have to argue the MST3K should be higher up as well.

    Also, no Outer Limits? I know it’s a blatant rip-off of/homage to Twilight Zone, but I thought it was great.

  • Great White Snark September 21, 2007, 1:02 pm

    Nickolai, I’m not even a fan of Babylon 5, but the fact is, it’s got a crazy-loyal fanbase, apparently the storytelling is tight, and the franchise kept spitting out made-for-tv movies. Plus, it was written and produced for the most part by geek icon J. Michael Straczynski.

    MST3000 is definitely a beloved geek show, but the audience was never terribly large. It was in a niche in a niche.

  • Nima September 21, 2007, 1:18 pm

    I realize this is a generally unwatched show that was canceled very early on, but “Threshold” was actually pretty good.

    In addition to starring smokin’ hot Carla Gugino, it was created by David S. Goyer (of Blade and Batman Begins writing fame) and Star Trek alumnus Brannon Braga.

    More info via Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threshold_%28TV_series%29

    Also, if animation counts, then “South Park” belongs on the list, probably near the top.

    Otherwise, pretty good list.

  • Great White Snark September 21, 2007, 1:21 pm

    Wow, you had me at Carla Gugino and David Goyer, but I don’t even remember Threshold. Thanks, I’ll check it out.

    I considered South Park, but it doesn’t fit the Geek Tv Formula particularly well. It’s not a “geek” show, per se.

  • Great White Snark September 21, 2007, 1:26 pm

    PS. Well played, Nima. There appears to be a Threshold marathon on Sci-Fi on Oct 4.

  • Cindi September 21, 2007, 1:27 pm

    I can’t believe my husband actually knows the names of the actors in any show, much less “Threshold.” I’m impressed.

    GWS, were you happy that Terry O’Quinn won an Emmy for lost? Or were you a Michael Emerson fan?

  • Great White Snark September 21, 2007, 1:34 pm

    Different Nima.

    Totally indifferent to the Emmy awards, with the exception of 1) the appearance of Stewie and Brian from the Family Guy, and 2) the intro of the nominees for Best Comedy Writing.



  • Cindi September 21, 2007, 1:38 pm

    Oops. Sorry. But there aren’t that many Nimas out there. So don’t bite my head off.

    Family Guy is pretty awesome.

  • Great White Snark September 21, 2007, 1:50 pm

    Methinks someone is being a bit sensitive. If there were biting, I promise you’d have an open wound, oozing with geek cooties.

  • Cindi September 21, 2007, 2:44 pm

    I was teasing (and trying to avoid emoticons). But “open wound oozing with geek cooties”: why, that’s just hot.

    Speaking of biting, what’s with the preponderance of vampire titles on this list? OK, there’s only one. But I never got the whole Buffy craze, or vampires in general. It just seems like a lame metaphor for sex. And I’d rather have the real thing. My neck is ticklish.

  • Kelson September 21, 2007, 2:59 pm

    You’ve doubled up on the Timmverse canon by including both Batman: TAS and Justice League Unlimited. Unless you meant “The Batman” instead?

  • Great White Snark September 21, 2007, 4:12 pm

    Isn’t that the sad thing? That emoticons can actually save people from misunderstandings? Sigh.

    K, you’re absolutely right. I broke my own rule. The Batman from the Animated Series and the Batman from JLU are one and the same. I think my own love of JLU clouded my vision. JLU shouldn’t be on the list.

  • sharon September 22, 2007, 10:50 am


  • sgg September 22, 2007, 11:03 am

    Ok, I might agree with not putting highlander on that list, but I loved it all the same… maybe because I didn’t see the movie until I was already a fan of the show.

  • Great White Snark September 22, 2007, 3:47 pm

    Sharon: “Hmm,” yourself.

    Southern Geek Gal: I’m sorry your initial experience with Highlander wasn’t shaped by the first movie, but I recognize that the show was probably entertaining in its own right.

  • Eric September 22, 2007, 5:36 pm

    Did you people not see Spaced?! It’s one of my favorite shows and has the most geeky references. Simon Pegg was funny before Shawn of the Dead.

  • Great White Snark September 22, 2007, 6:05 pm

    Hey, Eric. I have seen Spaced, and although I think Pegg’s best work is still seen in Shaun of the Dead, that didn’t influence its exclusion from the list. Its audience here in the States (yep, I’m totally U.S.-centric) wasn’t particularly sizeable. Worth an Honorable Mention, though. Good catch.

  • Jordan Lund September 22, 2007, 6:11 pm

    You might want to change this to “Best Geek Shows Available on DVD” because you exclude Max Headroom. How could you forget NN-n-Network 23?

    If you’ve never seen it there are bittorrents of it floating around. It’s beyond me why it’s never made it to DVD.


    You should also consider Twin Peaks which had high geek appeal. It was Lost before Lost was Lost. It’s finally getting the DVD release it deserves here next month I think… Yup. October 30th.


  • Great White Snark September 22, 2007, 9:09 pm

    Jordan, Max Headroom first appeared in TV (in the UK) in 1985, so he falls outside the scope of this list.

    On, the other hand… you’re absolutely right… Twin Peaks was a complete oversight. It was a landmark piece of TV that fits all the criteria that I cited in the post.

  • Chris Johnston September 23, 2007, 4:22 am

    Actually, I saw Highlander the night it opened, and there was a lot of unintentional laughter from the audience, due to the cringeworthy writing and acting.
    Christopher Lambert was totally unconvincing as a Scotsman, and his swordfighting skills were quite weak.

    Adrian Paul, on the other hand, impressed me to no end, because he’d studied several different martial arts for 7 years prior to making the series, and was already a master swordsman.
    Also, he’s British, so his accent wasn’t an issue.

  • Great White Snark September 23, 2007, 11:14 am

    Thankfully I was too young and naive to appreciate those nuances when I first saw the film.

    The problem is that the original movie had a plot that obviated the need or possibility for any sequels or extensions.

  • sgg September 23, 2007, 12:41 pm

    I think most fans of the show (like me) have collectively decided to accept the show happenings as canon and ignore the craziness that was the movies (especially the latest one. Egad it’s awful.) The producers have never made much of attempt at continuity, so you either have to accept it or give up – and there are lots of people in both camps.

  • Great White Snark September 23, 2007, 12:47 pm

    And I’m sure a lot of it has to do with which canon you stumble onto first.

  • Chris Johnston September 23, 2007, 3:07 pm

    Not neccessarily. As I said, I saw the movie opening night.
    Actually, I was probably more impressed with it until I saw how much better a swordsman Adrian Paul was, then I revised my opinion.
    Now I can’t watch the original movie.
    But even on opening night, I couldn’t get past the handwriting analysis scene: “So what you have here is a guy who pretends to die every once in a while…”

  • Great White Snark September 23, 2007, 4:18 pm

    Stop making so much sense, Chris. All this rationale discussion of Highlander is making my considerably tiny brain throb. And not in a good way.

  • Chris Johnston September 23, 2007, 8:25 pm

    Okay, I’ll stop now.
    But if you ever get a chance, watch the two-part episode “Unholy Alliance”, featuring Roland Gift of Fine Young Cannibals as the baddie. (It’s available as a stand-alone DVD.)
    Best swordplay of the series, IMHO, among other things.

  • Allison September 24, 2007, 1:09 pm

    I LOVE the 4400. LOVE. I’m so happy to see that on your list.

  • Great White Snark September 24, 2007, 1:17 pm

    Hey, Allison… I was definitely hot for the 4400 in the first couple of seasons, but it lost me somewhere along the way. Still obviously a great geek tv show, though.

  • Gillian September 24, 2007, 3:46 pm

    I’m rewatchign the whole of Buffy right now and am remembering just how geeky it is. The fact that I’m one of a series of friends who feel it essential to rewatch every signle episode also says something.

  • Great White Snark September 24, 2007, 5:36 pm

    I’m not too far behind you, Gillian. I’m currently rewatching the entirety of Firefly (not as considerable as Buffy, but still…) for the third time.

  • Tal September 25, 2007, 1:36 am

    Firefly ties with Star Trek DS9 for my top

  • Chris Johnston September 25, 2007, 3:52 pm

    Only your third viewing, GWS?
    What kind of Browncoat are you?
    Should be on your 17th!

  • Great White Snark September 25, 2007, 7:29 pm

    It took a long time, but I’ve learned to live with my shortcomings. I hope you can learn to live with them, too.

  • Nathan D September 30, 2007, 1:06 pm

    Clearly The 4400 deserves an honorable mention.

    And for Quantum Leap to score so high on the list is a travesty. I mean, Quantum Leap beats Carnivale, Alias, and Freaks and Geeks? Pshaw.

  • elcapt September 30, 2007, 3:34 pm

    As a Buffy geek viewing your list (and kudos for such a good list, btw) a few thoughts:
    -MST3K should either be second or first – after The Twilight Zone, it is the ultimate in geekery.
    -I appreciate the small audience caveat, but part of the allure of the shows on your list is writing that is not appreciated by the general, mainstream public, nor are most of these popular beyond cult status. That you omit The Simpsons in favor of Futurama is proof of this.
    -Veronica Mars, my favorite post-BTVS show, doesn’t strike me as a geeky show.
    -No ‘My So-Called Life’ – shame shame! As good and deserving as Freaks and Geeks is, MSCL is far superior on all geek quotients.
    -Buffy is the better show, but Firefly has so much more geek cred.
    -The only other omission I noted was Roswell, but that is obviously debatable.
    Anyway, I found your site thanks to your list, enjoyed it, look fwd to reading more.

  • Great White Snark October 2, 2007, 1:11 pm

    Nathan, some of the decisions pained me, as well, but I tried to stick to the ranking criteria.

    El Capitan, Veronica Mars faithfully portrays geeks, so it fit the criteria I established here. By that measure, My So-Called Life would more or less qualify.

    I think it’s a bit of a stretch saying Firefly has more geek cred. Perhaps you haven’t been to a midnight showing of Once More With Feeling in your local theater.

    Glad you enjoyed the list! Look forward to having you back.

  • CDriK October 12, 2007, 2:29 pm

    Hey, I think u greatly underestimated 2 TV series:
    – Dilbert cartoon
    – Red Dwarf

    They should be in the top ten…

  • Tim-1 October 21, 2007, 11:56 am

    Good picks on this list, but I was disapointed Enterprise was not on it. I hear a lot of critisism about this show but I loved it!

  • get-tah-bed-jawsh November 22, 2008, 10:11 pm

    Twin Peaks, Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Neon Genesis Evangelion and X-files are my favs and I’m glad to see most of them in this list. I’m going to check out a few series that I havent heard of (Lost, Firefly, & BSG),and if anyone can think of ones I might like let me know!

  • Ben December 25, 2008, 10:18 am

    Did you take a peek at my dvr?

  • B-Gad December 25, 2008, 10:49 am

    I’m echoing CDriK in saying that Red Dwarf definitely deserves a spot on there. It was awesome geekery of the highest form.

    If I may, I’d like to add a real-life based show, Ghost Hunters. For the paranormal geeks in us, it’s total crack, and Jason, Grant, Steve, and Tango are fantastic folks.

  • DreamFever February 13, 2009, 4:21 am

    Ummm, where exactly is Farscape in this list?

    Babylon 5 should be higher up as well. Personally I would put either of those two, or BSG, in the top spot because BSG is my current obsession.

    BSG all kinds of awesome and James Callis should be the new Doctor Who. Hell, why not make Tricia Helfer the Companion?!

    Firefly rocks my socks too.

  • David February 5, 2011, 5:32 pm

    Farscape, MST3K and Doctor Who are all far too low on this list.

    DS9 was, as a whole an entirely better show than TNG, TNG took 2 whole seasons to find it’s legs and peaked at the end of the 3rd season. From there on in, it just went down into bad morality play. DS9 was much more dramatically fulfilling.

    By sheer output Doctor Who belongs on top of this list. 2 spin off series (one more than Buffy) countless comics, magazines and novels. Over a 100 licensed audio dramas with the original casts.

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