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11 sci-fi cop TV shows worth watching

Sci-fi cop shows
Rachel Nichols on Continuum, one of the alien cops of Space Precinct, and Michael Ealy on Almost Human. Pic credit: Syfy/Sky One/Fox

Mixing different TV genres can be a tricky thing. Fans tend to like one genre over another, so putting together a regular cop procedural drama and a sci-fi series can lead to bad TV shows.

Yet now and then, television is good at mixing sci-fi and crime nicely. Most are about federal agencies such as The X-Files or Fringe and do an excellent job with some mysteries.

It’s more enjoyable when a show takes a plot that would fit Law & Order or Blue Bloods and then sets it in the future or an alien planet. Amazingly, several series can pull that off.

It helps when the creators can use the freedom of a sci-fi series for stories a regular cop series could never pull off. The best ones will never forget it’s the human element that always matters, no matter the fantastic setting. 

While they may seem odd at first, these eleven shows are wonderful mixing sci-fi and cop series well so even non-sci-fi fans can enjoy the unique crime drama. 

Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon Season 3 release date
Anthony Mackie in Altered Carbon. Pic credit: Netflix

How do you solve a murder in a world where death has been conquered?

That question is at the heart of this daring Netflix series. Over 360 years in the future, humans have found a way to download their minds into younger bodies and become immortal.

When a millionaire is put in a new body, he hires a former soldier (now in the body of a cop) to find out who murdered his older form. This sets off a search for a dark conspiracy.

The show boasts a top-notch cast (including Anthony Mackie as the new “sleeve” for the cop in Season 2) and some wild action in its futuristic setting.

While lasting just two seasons, this is a stunning new vision of what a cop show can be. 

Manifest

Melissa Roxburgh
Melissa Roxburgh returning as Michaela on Manifest on Netflix. Pic credit: NBC

While it’s not always the focus, police cases are crucial in this recently revived NBC (now Netflix) series.

In 2013, a plane takes off from Jamaica, but when it lands in New York, the passengers are stunned to discover it’s 2018, and the world believes they’ve been lost for five years.

The main character is Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh), a cop dealing with how her former fiance is now married to her best friend. Like other passengers, she receives “callings” that aid her in investigations. 

Michaela has to handle the cases and work with her ex while also aiding her brother (Josh Dallas) to figure out what happened to them. 

Thankfully, the revival promises to answer the series’ many questions, and Michaela solving the greatest case of her career.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz
Jorge Garcia, Sarah Jones, and Sam Neill in the Fox sci-fi series Alcatraz. Pic credit: Fox

This 2012 Fox series puts a spin on the legend of the world’s most famous prison.

A series of crimes has a San Francisco cop (Sarah Jones) and a conspiracy buff (Jorge Garcia) discovering a great secret:  When Alcatraz Island was shut down, all prisoners and guards there vanished without a trace.

Somehow, they are all returning to the present day, looking completely unaged. With the aid of a mysterious agent (Sam Neill), they have to catch the convicts and figure out how they came back.

The series layers many mysteries with the inmates and Jones’ surprising connection to one of them. It also mixes some good cases as several crooks recreate their old crimes in a modern setting.

While the series was canceled before it could conclude, it’s still a fun mix of sci-fi and cop show with a great setting.

Life On Mars/Ashes To Ashes

Life on Mars franchise
John Simm (with Philip Glenister) on the BBC series Life On Mars and Keeley Hawes in the sequel series Ashes To Ashes. Pic credit: BBC One

These two British shows utilized the same fun concept to show a clash of different periods.

In 2006, Inspector Sam Tyler (John Simm) was run over by a car. He wakes up in 1973, now a cop for a rough division. Sam continues to wonder if he’s dreaming or actually gone back in time.

The show has fun with a modern cop sent back to when forensic work was almost nonexistent. The normally by-the-book Sam has to adapt to a far rougher time for both cops and England in general.

The show is fun, especially Sam’s boss Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) and some top action in a retro-’70s setting.

The sequel series has a female detective (Keeley Hawes) sent to 1981 to meet several of the same characters. Her tale is more notable with a modern woman in a backward time. 

Both shows leave it up in the air if the characters are back in time or not, with the sci-fi theme adding to the old-school action. 

Space Precinct

Space Precinct
Some of the alien cops of the 1990s syndicated show Space Precinct. Pic credit: Sky One

It’s cheesy (even by the standards of the 1990s), but this syndicated British show was a fun take on the cop series.

It takes place in a futuristic world where some human cops work alongside aliens dressed in regular police uniforms. The crimes can range from high-stakes drama to some light comedy. 

The special effects are notable with old-fashioned model work, while the makeup on the aliens is quite impressive.

There are good plotlines of time travel and artificial intelligence, yet the human element remains as a human cop’s instincts are needed to crack alien cases.

It’s fun watching a Chicago cop be chewed out by an alien boss, and the fact it’s played like a straight cop drama in space just makes it more enjoyable for modern audiences.

Frequency

Frequency
Riley Smith and Peyton List in the CW time-travel cop show Frequency. Pic credit: The CW

Based on a 2000 movie, this 2016 CW drama is an intriguing turn on time travel.

Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List) is a cop who can communicate via radio to her late father Frank (Riley Smith) in 1996. She manages to warn Frank to avoid his impending death.

But doing so alters history as Raimy’s boyfriend no longer remembers her. Worse, a serial killer who should have died long ago is alive, and his victims now include Raimy’s mother.

Now, the father and daughter have to work across time to fix what went wrong. It’s intriguing to see how Frank’s past actions alter Raimy’s present and the cases occurring in each timeline.

While it was canceled after 13 episodes, the CW let the producers put together a special wrap-up to close the tale out nicely for viewers.

Alien Nation

Alien Nation
Lauren Woodland and Eric Pierpoint in the Fox adaptation of Alien Nation. Pic credit: Fox

Adapting a cult film, this 1989 Fox series begins years after an alien starship crashes on Earth. The inhabitants, nicknamed “The Newcomers,” soon settle into human society.

The main focus was on a human cop (Gary Graham) partnered with a Newcomer (Eric Pierpoint). The series obviously used the aliens as an allegory of other marginalized groups to enhance the drama.

There were wild touches such as Pierpoint’s character becoming pregnant and then-new technology like video phones. 

Yet, the human element remains as the series tackled powerful issues on prejudice and sharp social commentary. Ignoring the alien appearances, this could have been like any cop drama of its time for a great watch.

Almost Human

Almost Human
Karl Urban and Michael Ealy as future cops in the Fox sci-fi series Almost Human. Pic credit: Fox

Sadly marred by network interference, this 2013 Fox drama was a terrific sci-fi crime show.

In 2048, a cop (Karl Urban) recovering from an attack that left him with one arm is forced to partner with a human-like android (Michael Ealy). The pair have to handle a variety of futuristic crimes.

The series gets better as it goes as the banter between Urban and Ealy is excellent. It avoids most cliches as it turns out Urban actually enjoys a near-bulletproof partner and his insight into cases. 

The crimes are inventive, with futuristic drug gangs, genetically engineered fighters, and more backed by top-notch special effects. 

It’s too bad Fox didn’t know what to do with it to cancel it after only one season, but it deserves to be remembered as a top crime and sci-fi series.

Continuum

Rachel Nichols
Rachel Nichols as Kiera Cameron in the sci-fi drama Continuum. Pic credit: Showcase/Syfy

This fabulous Canadian series takes an obvious concept and turns into a genius parallel to the modern world. 

In a corporate-controlled 2077, a band of terrorists flees execution by traveling back to 2012. Along for the ride is Protector Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols), who poses as a modern cop to stop them from altering history.

The trick is that the “bad guys” actually have a point fighting a totalitarian system our “heroine” is trying to protect. It blurs the lines even while showing some nifty sci-fi action as Kiera adapts to being a “modern” cop.

The time-travel tricks are wild (including rewriting the entire series at one point), but the show’s true power is in discussing society and how even a good cop can be fighting on the wrong side. Amazingly intelligent, it’s worth the time to track down.

Person Of Interest

Person of Interest
Taraji P. Henson, Amy Acker, Michael Emerson, Jim Caviezel, Kevin Chapman, and Sarah Shahi in the CBS drama Person of Interest. Pic credit: CBS

What began as a typical CBS procedural transformed into a gripping cyberpunk crime drama hailed as one of the best network shows of its time.

An eccentric millionaire (Michael Emerson) develops a machine that can warn people in danger or about to commit a crime. He and an ex-black ops soldier (Jim Caviezel) try to help those in need alongside a cop (Taraji P. Henson) and her semi-corrupt partner (Kevin Chapman).

The cast later adds Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker while transforming into a tale of warring artificial intelligence machines and some sensational action such as tackling a conspiracy of rogue cops with Caviezel’s character posing as an officer himself.

While pressing serious questions on security in today’s world, the series kept fans on their toes to its explosive ending and was always interesting to watch.

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