Five Ship-Based Shows You Should Watch

If you are looking for an outer-space romp, here are five recommendations for your next sci-fi binge!

We love great science fiction, whether it’s classic stories of space exploration, time travel, and alien invasions or modern tales of twisted technology and parallel universes. But which of the countless shows spread out across network TV, cable, and all these streaming services are actually worth your time?

We’re starting a new series of show recommendations highlighting both classic and modern genre shows, which you can read here on the site or watch on SciFi Stream’s new YouTube channel! We just launched the brand new channel and hope you check it out.

In this kick-off list we are looking at five ship-based shows that are just fun to watch. These are the more lighthearted shows that have a sense of adventure and a great sense of humor, along with characters you just can’t wait to spend a Saturday night with. If you want to see more videos like this, plus news and analysis around sci-fi and fantasy television, subscribe to SciFi Stream on YouTube for more recommendations to come.

With our five picks here the emphasis is definitely on fun! Of course there are many great shows set on ships that are tonally very different. Think the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica, for example: it has its lighter moments and is highly entertaining, but you wouldn’t call it a wise-cracking romp through outer space.

So, without further ado (and in no particular order), here are five great genre shows to watch to get your outer space fix:

Farscape cast


Aired: 1999–2004 (SCI FI Channel)
4 Seasons + Miniseries
Episode Guide

Astronaut John Crichton is catapulted from near Earth orbit through a wormhole to a distant part of the galaxy. After an accidental collision with an alien fighter makes him the Peacekeepers’ Most Wanted, Crichton falls in with the most unlikely of unlikely crews ever. Moya is a living ship and a former prison transport, and the various aliens on board are escaped prisoners.

Ben Browder stars as Commander John Crichton, alongside Claudia Black as an “irreversibly contaminated” ex-Peacekeeper, the radiant Aeryn Sun. Anthony Simcoe is Ka D’Argo, a hot-headed Luxan warrior who would rather turn and fight than flee into the Uncharted Territories.

Virginia Hey plays the Delvian priest Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan, an empath who is wise and deeply spiritual, but also something of an anarchist who has a wicked streak. Then there’s the Nebari thief Chiana, rescued by the crew in Season 1 and played by Gigi Edgley. Moya’s pilot (whose name is “Pilot”) is voiced by Lani Tupu, who also plays the main antagonist Captain Bialar Crais. As an animatronic puppet built by the Jim Henson Company Pilot is an engineering marvel. But that’s nothing compared to his deeply tragic backstory.

Finally there’s Rygel XVI, once Dominar to more than 6 billion Hynerians. Voiced by Jonathan Hardy, Rygel is the wildcard on the crew: one minute he’ll be ransacking your quarters and trying to con the local traders, and the next he’s revealing what he suffered at the hands of Peacekeeper torturers.

Farscape aired on the SCI FI Channel in the U.S. from 1999 to 2003. A miniseries event, The Peacekeeper Wars, wrapped up the story in 2004. Those incredible seasons saw some of the deepest character explorations and richest mythology ever put on television – all while embracing the absolutely bonkers, from giant space whales and one-eyed DRDs to body swapping, lobsters that know when you’re lying, and one episode that is entirely animated (Season 3’s Loony Tunes inspired “Revenging Angel”).

The show excels at mixing emotion and comedy, high-stakes science fiction drama with … well, fart jokes. Give Farscape a try — it’s easily in my Top 5 list of all time.

Dutch, Johnny, and D'avin (Killjoys)


Aired: 2015–2019 (Syfy Channel)
5 Seasons
Episode Guide

Killjoys is a space adventure like no other, following a crew of bounty hunters who take on warrants throughout the 4-planet system known as the Quad. Dutch, John, and D’avin are officially licensed members of the RAC (or “Reclamation Apprehension Coalition”), but the jobs they take ultimately bring them face-to-face with an ancient power that threatens everyone and everything they love.

Hannah John-Kamen as Yalena Yardeen, better known as “Dutch,” captain of the ship (whose A.I. is “Lucy”). Dutch isn’t afraid to use her beauty along with her highly trained combat skills to get the job done. It’s clear from the start that this Killjoy is not quite what she seems. All that training definitely came from somewhere …

Dutch’s best friend and right-hand man is Johnny Jaqobis (played by Aaron Ashmore, of Smallville and more recently Locke & Key). Johnny is a fellow RAC agent who is a little more “what you see is what you get.” The two have been partners for years, and Johnny is always quick with a tech fix and even quicker with a quip. Their brother-sister dynamic is a lot of fun to watch.

Finally there’s Johnny’s actual brother D’avin (played by Luke Macfarlane). D’avin is a former soldier who falls in with Dutch and Johnny in the show’s first episode, joining the team and signing up to be a Killjoy. He’s the older brother, but definitely the newcomer to this world.

Killjoys aired for five seasons on Syfy Channel, from 2015 to 2019, with a total of 50 episodes. Unlike some others on this list the show wasn’t cancelled prematurely, so newcomers can go in knowing they’ll get a full story. The show’s deeper mythology unspools slowly, but as secrets are revealed the story turns into an intriguing and high-stakes conflict. The characters are well-drawn, the dialogue is snappy, and as much as they tease each other it’s clear there is nothing this crew won’t do for each other.

Killjoys is a show about family (both biological and found family), and it’s a hell of a fun ride.

Kryton, Lister, Rimmer, and Cat (Red Dwarf)


Aired: 1988–2020 (BBC Two, Dave)
12+ Seasons

“Fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun!” Red Dwarf is a mainstay of British science fiction television – even today, more than 35 years after it first premiered. It’s the show that just keeps coming back. As of this video the newest revival, Red Dwarf: The Promised Land, aired in 2020 as a TV movie.

More than any other show on this list, Red Dwarf falls squarely into the sub-genre of a space comedy. Craig Charles plays Lister, a third-class technician who was the lowest ranking crew member on board the mining ship Red Dwarf. Lister is shoved into stasis as punishment for smuggling a cat on board, and as a result he survives the radiation leak that kills off the crew. When he’s revived three million years have gone by, and Lister is the last human being left in the universe.

Also starring is Chris Barrie as Arnold Rimmer, a by-the-book comedic straight man who used to be Lister’s bunkmate. He’s revived as a hologram by the ship’s deadpan computer, Holly (Norman Lovett), in order to keep Lister company. Especially in the early years, a lot of the show’s comedy comes from the “Odd Couple” pairing of Lister’s carefree laziness and Rimmer’s neurotic adherence to order.

Also on the ship as it flies through space from one misadventure to the next is Cat (Danny John-Jules), from a race of feline humanoids that evolved from Lister’s cat in the ship’s hold during the three million years he was in stasis. Cat is a constant source of amusement and annoyance as he brings his very feline instincts (and sense of style) to every day on board the ship.

Finally there’s the series 4000 sanitation droid, Kryten (portrayed by Robert Llewellyn), who became a regular part of the crew in Season 3. The crew rescued him from a crashed ship, where Kryten had been dutifully serving his crew for many years without realizing they were all dead.

Red Dwarf originally aired for nine seasons on BBC Two in the U.K., starting in 1988, and quickly built a cult following. In the U.S. the show could occasionally be found late at night — if you could adjust the rabbit ears just right to get your local PBS station. Since the show went off the air in 1999 the cast has returned for multiple revivals. That includes a 3-episode story in 2008, a 6-episode season in 2012, two more seasons in 2016 and 2017, and 2020’s The Promised Land movie.

There was even a failed pilot for a U.S. version of the show in the early 90s, which NBC was probably wise to shoot down. It even had future Deep Space Nine actress Terry Farrell as Cat! Now I have to find this pilot somewhere …

If you are a fan of British humor it’s a safe bet you’ve already heard of Red Dwarf. It’s a must-watch, or at least a show you really need to sample for yourself. But if you find the likes of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers not to your liking, you might enjoy Red Dwarf as an occasional walk on the weird side. “Better dead than smeg!”

The Orville cast


Aired: 2017–2022 (FOX, Hulu & Disney+)
3 Seasons
Episode Guide

The next pick for great ship-based shows is The Orville, or Star Trek: The Next Generation – Seth MacFarlane Style! The Family Guy creator is a huge TNG fan, and when he got the opportunity to make his own sci-fi comedy for FOX MacFarlane gave it all the trappings of the Enterprise D … only with more jokes!

The Orville aired two seasons on FOX before moving to Hulu and Disney+ for its third and (so far) final season. If you tried this show when it first debuted and decided it wasn’t for you, it’s definitely worth giving another chance. The show improves by leaps and bounds as it goes, and once the producers were freed from FOX’s broadcast network they were really able to find the show they actually wanted to make. That’s not a live-action Family Guy with space ships. It’s actually a thoughtful, action-filled, and sometimes very funny adventure series.

Seth MacFarlane himself stars in the show as Ed Mercer, Captain of the U.S.S. Orville. It’s a mid-level exploratory vessel that is part of the Planetary Union, which is very much like the Federation. This is not the flagship of the fleet by any stretch, and the show starts with something of a Lower Decks vibe. But Mercer and his crew end up making the ship a home, and before long the Orville finds itself in the middle of a galactic war.

Ed’s first officer is Commander Kelly Grayson (played by Adrianne Palicki). The two used to be married, and serving together actually helps them to move forward with a healthy relationship. Then there’s Scott Grimes as Lieutenant Gordon Malloy, J. Lee as Lieutenant John LaMarr, Penny Johnson Jerald as Doctor Claire Finn, and Peter Macon as Lieutenant Commander Bortus, a Worf-like fish out of water from the planet Moclus.

This is a great cast of really different and interesting characters. The most interesting ends up being the super-strong Lieutenant Alara Kitan, played by Halston Sage; and the robot Isaac, played by Marc Jackson and playing a kind of Data or Spock role on the ship. Isaac comes from a fully artificial race of sentient androids called the Kaylon, and like Brent Spiner’s character he’s interested in exploring the subtler dynamics of human behavior. But, unlike Data, Isaac is entirely dispassionate and often seems perfectly happy to drop a relationship and go back to his computer terminal.

If Season 1 was sometimes a little rough (there are good episodes there, but the tone is kind of all over the place), Season 2 made it clear that MacFarlane and team wanted to make a legitimate sci-fi adventure drama and not just a comedy show set on a spaceship. Thanks to the pandemic and the change in broadcasters, fans had to wait more than three years for Season 3, subtitled “New Horizons.” But when it arrived — there’s a good case to be made that this is one of the best runs of 10 episodes any sci-fi show has ever pulled off.

Mal, Zoe, and Jayne (Firefly)


Aired: 2002 (FOX)
1 Season + Movie
Episode Guide

Science fiction fans reading a list like this on the Internet are probably well acquainted with Firefly by now. Captain Malcolm Reynolds (played by Nathan Fillion) leads a unique crew of misfits on board the Firefly-class trader ship Serenity. After coming out on the losing side of a civil war, it’s a new chance for Mal and his crew to cut out a new life for themselves amidst an overbearing central government called the Alliance. “Find a crew, find a job, keep flying.”

Oh, and they’re being hunted by the secret police because the girl they took on as a passenger might be a laboratory conditioned super assassin whose brother broke her out.

Firefly is a space western, and a show that’s known even outside of sci-fi fan circles. It’s famous for two things: being awesome right out of the gate, and being the greatest show that FOX ever prematurely cancelled. It is fair to say that the network brass never understood creator Joss Whedon’s real vision for the series, nor trust him to grow a series that could have ended up as big or bigger than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show was already on life support when it debuted in the fall of 2002. FOX even aired episodes out of their intended order, and (much like The Orville years later) they promoted it as an action comedy.

Mal is a smuggler with a heart of gold, who wants to be more cutthroat than he actually is deep down. Joining his crew is his no-nonsense war buddy Zoe (played by Gina Torres), along with her husband Wash – the ship’s pilot (and dinosaur lover), played by the great Alan Tudyk. Adam Baldwin is the muscle, a mercenary named Jayne Cobb who is looking for the next payout. And Jewel Staite is the young mechanic Kaylee Frye, a sweet and wholesome grease monkey who loves pretty things.

Morena Baccarin as Inara Serra is a regular passenger and paying customer. Inara is a Companion, a high-class courtesan who Mal is definitely in love with. Ron Glass plays Shepherd Book, the religious man with a shady past. And Sean Maher and Summer Glau board Serenity as a mysterious brother and sister looking for transport … no questions asked. (And there’s definitely something not right with that girl.)

Firefly managed to produce 14 mostly brilliant episodes, but the network only aired 11 of them before canceling the show and taking it off the air. Fans would have to wait for the DVD release and a second run on the SCI FI Channel to see the last three episodes. What we got was an astonishing breadth and depth of heart, wit, character development and relationships, and the seeds of a larger plot. Most shows need a few episodes (or even a few seasons) to really find their voice, but Firefly was great from the first frame. The writing is crisp, the world is fully realized, and the casting is pitch perfect.

Fortunately much of that story did finally end up being told. Firefly won a loyal fanbase of “Browncoats,” and in 2005 the cast and crew returned with the feature film Serenity. It’s still painful to think about what we lost, and how high this show could have flown. But what we did get is definitely worth watching … and rewatching, and rewatching again!

What are your favorite shows set in outer space? Let us know in the comments which show you think should make the next list!

Consider subscribing to SciFi Stream’s brand new YouTube Channel, and share this piece or the video with a friend who is looking for their next sci-fi binge!


Darren is a fan of all things science fiction, and founded the popular Stargate website GateWorld in 1999, followed by SciFi Stream in 2007. He lives in the Seattle area.

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