AS SEEN ON

by Allison Levy | 2/14/11 11:00pm

A somewhat embarrassing confession: I really like sci-fi. My obsession with the genre came on unexpectedly sometime over the course of the past TV season one day I was a respectable Gleek and the next I was prioritizing ABC's alien invasion series "V" over the rest of my Tuesday lineup and reading about time-travel theories in "Lost." Embracing my inner sci-fi geek has not been easy, but I believe my newfound love for sci-fi shows speaks to TV's ability to introduce viewers to new genres and ideas.

At first, I understood my fondness for science fiction as a testament to television's unique ability to repackage unfamiliar genres in a more easily digestible and thus enjoyable form.Thankfully, I recently had the opportunity to see the flaws in my logic during an in-class Skype session with SyFy channel's president of original programming, Mark Stern '85. When I presented my theory to Stern, he suggested that if I took a step back and gave sci-fi movies and books a chance, I might end up liking them as much as their silver-screen counterparts.

I was skeptical, to say the least. I'm one of the few people I know who has never enjoyed a "Star Wars" film. But as I considered some less iconic science fiction films, I realized that my initial reluctance to embrace sci-fi outside the realm of television was really due to pop culture's tendency to marginalize and underestimate the genre.

As Stern so eloquently put it, sci-fi is commonly perceived as "a genre for 25-year-old virgins in their parents' basement." But myth is exactly that, and science fiction when done right has enormous potential to transcend demographics.

Stern philosophized that science fiction provides the ideal venue to address issues facing society. By removing itself from the realm of immediate possibility, sci-fi disguises its true subversive nature in order to continue subtly challenging the status-quo.

Consider a scene from a recent episode of "V," in which the series' protagonists torture a Visitor ("V"-speak for a reptilian alien masquerading as a human) in order to extract information from her. On one hand, in a weird, five-year-old boy way, nothing is cooler than seeing an evil alien getting what's coming to them especially when that means you get to feast your eyes on gore that's so campy, there might as well be tents. On the other hand, the moment that the morally upstanding Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell), with a cold look in her eyes, orders another member of the resistance to skin the V, the series opens an entirely different can of worms.

Campy gore and moral ambiguity, however, are in no way limited to sci-fi on television. But, to some extent, I still believe that sci-fi is at its best when it's on TV. Television's ability to take on complex, interwoven storylines, its serial narrative structure and the resulting opportunities for cliffhangers help sci-fi achieve levels of suspense and complexity of imagination that any good work of sci-fi needs.

But these qualities of television extend far beyond sci-fi. TV is, at its core, a mass medium. A series' livelihood often depends on its ability to appeal to those beyond its target demographic, thus necessitating a certain amount of accessibility. In this manner, television has the ability to open the eyes of the wayward channel-surfer to stories that they'd never encounter in the realm of film or literature. It allows us to move past our preconceived notions of genre and taste and find ourselves in exciting new worlds literally.

So, call me a nerd if you must. But if you'd please excuse me, I need to get back to watching all of "The X-Files" on Netflix.