Batshitinsane conspiracy Sci Fi in the SyFy mold
March 19, 2015 5:39 PM   Subscribe

Two of my favorite terrible TV shows are Zero Hour (so bad it was canceled less than halfway through its first and only season) and Ascension (SyFy miniseries). Plz help me find more. Spoilers for those shows below the fold.

Zero Hour has Rosicrucians vs Nazi Zombie Fanatics who are on a quest to clone Jesus to cause the Second Coming. In the middle are the intrepid reporters and interns at Skeptic Magazine, who are drawn into a hunt for a series of clocks to find the location of the True Cross. Or something.

Ascension has a fake generation starship built so they can breed superhumans, or... something. It's unclear. On the ship there are beautiful people who... do stuff. And outside there is Plotting and Intrigue. There's a "BIG TWIST" in nearly every episode, each one making less sense than the last. When they're not twisting, the dialogue is amazing ("We're going full Snowden!!"). It is arguably almost a good show (unlike Zero Hour, which is actually bad).

Both shows seem to walk the knife edge of simultaneously taking themselves seriously while also making no sense at all. They're nutty. I want more of this. Any ideas?
posted by BungaDunga to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Millennium. The first season is just a conspiracy-themed police procedural and is actually quite good - the second season goes full bonkers. I haven't made myself watch the third, but it's supposed to be midway in between. It sounds like exactly what you want, and you can totally get it on DVD.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:51 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Harsh Realm, maybe? It was another Chris Carter effort, but even though I was a ginormo X-FILES fan and even also liked MILLENNIUM, the pilot of HARSH REALM had me wincing and saying ".....dang, Chris."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:01 PM on March 19, 2015

I haven't watched this, but Australian series Danger 5 sounds up your alley.
posted by bluecore at 6:02 PM on March 19, 2015

Just realized the obvious other show in this vein was The Event, which is similar to the original two I posted, but was missing something vital. I remember it stopped upping the insanity ante and settled into being fairly dull, and I didn't stick with it. Maybe it would benefit from bingewatching.

Danger 5 is wonderful but not quite right- it is insane, but without the Very Serious Biznis vibe I'm looking for.
posted by BungaDunga at 6:19 PM on March 19, 2015

Millennium, absolutely.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:34 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nowhere Man was a genuinely good sci-fi conspiracy show, but it was also bugfuck crazy. And the original Prisoner and The X-Files of course are the apex of this sort of thing.

Lexx was a different sort of sci-fi show... it was somehow a big, tragic space opera and a goofy, bonkers comedy, sometimes within the same episode. I've compared it to the original Star Trek a lot, in the sense that one episode is great, the next is kind of blah, the one after that is bad in a truly astonishing, life-changing way, and the one after that is so good you can't believe it's the same show that was so bad the week before. Maybe think of it as Farscape times Game of Thrones with a side order of Red Dwarf, but weirder. (Note that the entire third season is pretty much so bad you can just skip to the series finale. I have never seen another show shit the bed like the final season of Lexx.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:36 PM on March 19, 2015

Orphan Black is full of bonkers plot twists. It might be too good for your criteria, though, and it may not take itself quite seriously enough.

Terra Nova. People go through wormhole into DINOSAUR WORLD because CRAPSACK FUTURE. Plotting and intrigue ensues. There's also heartwarming family plots, but there are enough people getting eaten by dinosaurs that I still consider it watchable. Got one 13-episode season before being taken out behind the woodshed and shot, but the season holds together pretty well (and has a really bonkers ending).

Also, Revolution! Post-electricity apocalypse with science-magic, takes itself very seriously and makes no sense at all, lots of pretty people being serious and fighting.

Or The 100 -- pretty pretty petty criminal teenagers are sent from space to re-colonize a destroyed post-nuclear apocalypse Earth. Drama ensues on Earth and in space.

I believe Revolution, Terra Nova, and The 100 are all available on Netflix, btw.
posted by pie ninja at 6:42 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's not conspiracy exactly, but there's certainly lots of government intervention and cover-ups etc in The 4400, which was about the mysterious return of 4400 missing persons, all at once, with varying mysterious abilities they seem to have gained during their abduction. Some of it is painfully cheesy, and it definitely takes itself too seriously. I liked it enough to buy it though.

More on the kind of supernatural mythos side rather than conspiracy (though secret occult conspiracy is still a kind of conspiracy), you could try Haven. Audrey Parker, an FBI agent who has a knack for dealing with uncanny situations, goes to a small town ostensibly in Maine (really Nova Scotia) to investigate weird shit. She stays because a lot of the people who live there seem to have The Troubles, which manifest as weird supernatural powers, often uncontrollable. There's overall mysterious plots around a woman who looks exactly like her who was there 27 years earlier and disappeared; what causes The Troubles, etc. Sometimes very monster-of-the-week but again, quite enjoyable if not Great TV.

I quite liked The Event, though it had its problems, and was definitely frustratingly unresolved. Orphan Black is also totally up your alley except, as pie ninja says, it's actually really bloody good.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:48 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I loved Ascension just for its production design.

I really only have one suggestion, but before I get to that, there's this list of programs shown on SyFy, which is probably good for hours of aimless surfing and discovery.

On preview, I totally agree with Ursula Hitler on LEXX. Quality was unbelievably variable, but when it was good, it was pretty fucking awesome. They weren't above doing some things that were in incredibly bad taste (and funny as hell, too). Disclaimer: I have all four seasons on DVD.

The one show I want to recommend isn't exactly science fiction, but if you're looking for batshitinsane yet also compelling narrative: Profit. From the Wikipedia article:
... the series was a precursor to the early-21st-century trend of “edgy” TV melodramas (featuring dark themes and multidimensional characters) such as: The Sopranos; Mad Men; Nip/Tuck; Dexter; Breaking Bad and The Shield. Controversial themes (largely stemming from the lead character’s amoral, Richard III-style ways) made the show uncomfortable and unfamiliar viewing for mainstream U.S. audiences and Fox network affiliates at the time, leading to its cancellation after just three episodes (not including the pilot) aired.
Every word of that is true. I think all 8 episodes are on Netflix now, and I watched them all marathon-style about a year ago and the show still holds up after 18 years.
posted by doctor tough love at 7:06 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

How about V? Either the original 1983 miniseries or the more recent tv series?

Alien reptoids undercover on earth!
posted by MsMolly at 7:36 PM on March 19, 2015

I hope that you have seen Fringe. If not, the first season of that is quirky and kinda good. Subsequent seasons are bananas and flat-out terrific.

Also seconding The 4400 which is a bit like Ascension in that many of the parts from which it is built are prestige quality, while others are silly gibberish.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:05 PM on March 19, 2015

I haven't seen it yet, but the new show Dig seems to be aiming to be something along the lines of Zero Hour for people who watch Homeland.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:11 PM on March 19, 2015


The second season (which is winding down now) is particularly batshitinsane.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:58 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Special Unit 2 is kind of fun.
posted by gudrun at 9:10 PM on March 19, 2015

Alias was ostensibly a spy thriller, but the main MacGuffins were a series of devices, manuscripts etc. by a long-dead genius inventor who makes Da Vinci look like Forrest Gump, and whose gadgets carry the show into the SyFy direction quite strongly at times.

Good cast, including a nobody named Bradley Cooper who has a bright future. Created by JJ Abrams, so there are no rules binding the show to this reality or that, including a few character twists that would make General Hospital put its foot down. The tone is a little uneven from season to season-- it had trouble keeping an audience due to the demands of the story's continuity, so some season are more episodic as they tried to get new viewers. They failed, though, and their 5th season was abbreviated by cancellation, resulting in the 2-part finale that is pretty clearly about 8 episodes that were abridged heavily, producing a very giddy pace for the wrap-up, which was unexpectedly... satisfying.

I think The Pretender might qualify. Half Quantum Leap, often very lightly so, and half conspiracy-tastic.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:07 PM on March 19, 2015

If you want to hate-watch some mind-bogglingly idiotic TV made by a bunch of folks who really should have known better, then Terra Nova, mentioned above, is a must-see.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:31 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by bfranklin at 4:32 AM on March 20, 2015

Before Liam Neeson developed his particular set of skills, there was a Spielberg-produced miniseries called Taken. Roswell! Multigenerational secrets! Aliens! Young Dakota Fanning! And the shibboleth of batshitinsane SciFi, Matt Frewer!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:14 AM on March 20, 2015

Speaking of Frewer, don't forget the Dan Ackroyd-produced/narrated non-union Canadian X-Files equivilent, Psi Factor!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:16 AM on March 20, 2015

The Leftovers.
posted by jbickers at 5:35 AM on March 20, 2015

Utopia might scratch the itch, I've just finished the first season and it is ridiculous (and also super beautiful). A strange comic book is popular on the internet and a group of fans have a meetup... and then ended up being hunted by a super secret ex cold war group who are determined to get hold of it and its secret messages.

If you like batshit insane, I second Alias. Its hard to describe it without giving away any of the many plot twists and incredibly left field happenings, and it got even more insane as time went on.
posted by litereally at 8:10 AM on March 20, 2015

Just wanted to jump in and wholeheartedly second Utopia. Make sure you find the BBC fictional series, and not the FOX reality show (which was likely also batshitinsane, but not in the way you intend).
posted by rtimmel at 11:18 AM on March 20, 2015

You guys are amazing. Utopia, Fringe and Orphan Black are favorites of mine already. Off to go check out all the others.

I loved Ascension just for its production design.
So much this. They did an amazing job, with the caveat being it didn't feel quite pseudo-60s enough for me. But it's gorgeous- I love the amount of apparent effort went into something so bonkers. Wikipedia says it wasn't picked up for any more episodes which is a damn shame.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:31 AM on March 20, 2015

I never finished Jericho, which was very self-serious, so I don't know if it went full cheese, but it may or may not be awful enough for your criteria.

Less on the conspiracy track, but heavy on the WTF, I recommend Otherworld, if you can find it. It's pure strange. A family on vacation goes through a portal in a pyramid, and winds up on a fascist alternate earth. Jonathan Banks plays the man antagonist.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:14 PM on March 20, 2015

Oh, also, Day Break had some conspiracy elements that didn't get explored as deeply as they could have, because it only ran one season. Also, more Jonathan Banks.

Awake had some conspiracy elements, and a batshit quality to its premise, but handled as well as that premise probably could be.

Both of these, the conspiracy stuff is less X-Files world-spanning madness, and more police-corruption stuff, but they each have a sufficiently reality-bending premise to make up for that.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:22 PM on March 20, 2015

The Lost Room. Daffy. Loved it.
posted by Dan Brilliant at 4:06 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Warehouse 13 wasn't exactly a conspiracy but could delve into the batshitridiculous at times.

Perhaps Eureka as well?
posted by jgreco at 5:01 PM on March 20, 2015

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