“I’ll have a zombie with that”: The pop culture mainstreaming of sci-fi and fantasy

I was thrilled to be asked to guest post on an amazing site called inclassicstyle.com and naturally the topic was television in some form. In this re-post of my article, I wax lyrical about my history of watching TV before moving onto an examination of the way in which sci-fi and fantasy, once the outliers of television, are now firmly in the mainstream …

 

 

“Hi. My name is Andrew and I am a TV addict.”

And so begins another session at TV Tragics Anonymous, a group I happily joined way back in my distant childhood—okay, well not that distant but we didn’t have iPods, the internet, or (gasp) HBO, so this pop culture past, when I reflect on it, often feels like an episode of When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth—and I have no intention of leaving the group anytime soon.

When we first started, it was all Hart to Hart, CHiPs, To The Manor Born, Charlie’s Angels, and as many M*A*S*H episodes as the local TV channel could play in a night.

 

(image via duderocket.com)

 

Somewhere around university, my focus switched to Cheers, Magnum P. I., Family Ties and MacGyver . . . and yes ALF (it was a phase).

And, of late, rather than fossilizing in place, neck deep in nostalgia—it is not as much fun as it sounds although The Golden Girls cheesecakes taste as good as ever—we gravitated increasingly away from brief flirtations with reality TV (look, we liked Jeff Probst OK?) to heartily embrace The Walking Dead (not so much the zombies thank you), True Blood, The Mindy Project, Falling Skies, Grimm and Bored To Death . . . and yes ALF re-runs (OK so it wasn’t a phase).

 

(image via sweetsantuary.wordpress.com)

 

Let’s face it, I am hopelessly addicted to TV and I really don’t see that changing anytime soon, a great relief to the good people at TV Tragics Anonymous who love my weekly recreations of The Gilmore Girls Friday night dinners. But here dear readers, and I hope it’s okay to refer to you in those faux-familiar terms, it’s all about TV and nothing but TV.

 

(image via thewb.com)

 

For my maiden voyage on the good ship In Classic Style, I thought I would regale you—pull up a seat and make some popcorn . . . comfy? Good, let’s continue—with my thoughts on this year’s television season as it draws rapidly to a close.

It’s been, like any recent year, a mixed bag, but what really stood out for me as I surveyed the detritus of failed shows (hello 666 Park Avenue and Last Resort, a show which cemented the idea that no one should ride in a submarine anywhere: ever) and those that soared like very well-written eagles, was the way that science fiction (sci-fi) and fantasy entered the mainstream in a big way.

It had been building for some time admittedly with the various Star Trek and Stargate incarnations, and of course The X-Files gathering fervent support from loyal fans, while the Syfy channel found success with a raft of shows like Battlestar Galactica, and Eureka, Sanctuary and Farscape.

 

(image via thetvwatchtower.wordpress.com )

 

While these highly imaginative shows were popular among the geekarati, they nevertheless remained niche shows. Successful moneymaking niche shows, yes, but niche nonetheless. (I shall hereby cease use of the word niche for the next two paragraphs or two . . . maybe.)

Then, lo and behold, almost in tandem with the mainstreaming of geek culture, thanks largely to the information-rich internet and social media sites like Twitter (also an addiction; you have been warned), sci-fi and fantasy leapt over the primp and proper white picket fence surrounding “normal” TV and made a home for itself.

Shows like Once Upon a Time, Grimm, and True Blood found their way onto the viewing schedules of otherwise good apple pie-eating wholesome folk everywhere, and suddenly it was cool to stand around the water cooler talking about vampires, Snow White and the impending zombie apocalypse.

But the show that has really put the sci-fi and fantasy cat among the Law and Order-loving pigeons is AMC’s The Walking Dead, part of a wave of apocalyptic shows like Falling Skies, Revolution, which came close to rescuing NBC from the ratings basement, and the soon-to-debut video/TV hybrid Defiance.

 

(image via stevenbenjamin.weebly.com )

 

I suspect that no one ever thought a show about a plucky band of dysfunctional survivors doing daily battle with an army of zombies, and their fellow human beings, would become a ratings juggernaut. But, it has done so, and done so spectacularly with the most recent episode “Prey” attracting 10.5 million viewers, with almost an extra 5 million added in if you include the encore screenings. I still can’t believe HBO passed on the show. Their loss.

It may have tapped initially, like many of these shows, into a 9/11 uncertainty about the state of the world and a possibly bleak future, but it has remained popular because of its great plot and characters you can care about. People will keep coming back for those two necessary things. Mainstream audiences have acquired a taste for quality otherworldly drama, whether on earth or out in space, there is no going back.

The genre wall is broken, the geeks have indeed inherited the earth—well, at least the apocalyptic version of it—and TV will never be the same again.

Posted In TV

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