Last week, I watched a special on the 20th anniversary of the SyFy Channel, and it reminded me that the network is capable of good programming if they put their mind to it.
While it didn't originate the "Stargate" franchise, it certainly nurtured it and turned it into one of the most successful sci-fi franchises ever. It gave us the grand space opera "Farscape," perhaps one of the most innovative series ever created, and re-imagined a cheesy '70s show called "Battlestar Galactica" into one of the sharpest commentaries on modern society on the tube (not to mention entertaining).
Somewhere along the road, SyFy lost its way. It's now know for pseudo-reality shows like "Ghost Hunters," or mediocre TV series such as "Warehouse 13" or "Alphas," or those schlock Saturday night TV movies. Instead of great remakes like "BSG," they now give us the dreary US version of "Being Human."
SyFy used to carry great imports like "Doctor Who" and "The Sarah Jane Adventures," but gave up on those as well as BBC America stepped in. SyFy axed the promising "BSG" prequel "Blood & Chrome," featuring a young Bill Adama as a rookie cadet during the first Cylon War. The network will air the pilot in February, but having already seen the series online on YouTube, it's frustrating to know there won't be any other episodes.
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Meanwhile, fantasy-themed shows like "The Walking Dead" or "Falling Skies" are drawing huge ratings for other cable networks that don't even have a sci-fi theme to them.
But, there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon. I've watched the first two episodes of "Continuum," and it's actually pretty good. The series, which will premiere Jan. 14, stars Rachel Nichols as a cop fighting terrorists in 2077 when they get transported back to 2012. There, she hooks up with a young computer hacker Erik Knudson to try to round up the terrorists before they screw up the past.
It's kind of like "Terminator" in reverse and does a very solid job of balancing action with plot and character development, which has lately been a foreign concept on SyFy. While certainly not on par with something like "Walking Dead," "Contiuum" actually has a chance to be the first solid show on the network since "BSG."
And, coming in April, SyFy is launching the ambitious "Defiance." Set in a future in which aliens have arrived on Earth and live alongside humans. Created by "Farscape's" Rockne O'Bannon, the show has an interactive online game component that both complements the TV shows and gives viewers a chance to go on their own adventures set in that world. It's actually a pretty neat concept. (Imagine if "Star Trek" had that.)
I'm not sure if SyFy has new people running things, but at least there are some glimmers of life there, and I'm excited at imagining greater, for once.
THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: Not a whole lot on the networks other than Christmas specials, but it's a big night on cable as "Burn Notice" (USA, 9 p.m.) airs a two-hour season finale with the CIA closing in on the gang.
Meanwhile, following a new "It's Always Sunny" (FX, 10 p.m.), there are two episodes of "The League," including the season finale.