Don’t look now, but Syfy is enjoying its very own network renaissance. After a period of confused stumbling into its new Syfy (previously SciFi) rebrand in 2009, the network is back in the genre TV game with some of the best science fiction and fantasy programming anywhere on television. Part of this TV renaissance has been Syfy’s decision to embrace diverse drama, becoming the place to go if you’re a lady (or dude) looking to watch genre television that doesn’t lazily subjugate women into the victim and/or girlfriend category. The result has been encouraging.
Syfy’s return to speculative fiction form isn’t in spite of its diverse, feminist programming — but, in no small part, because of it. The best science fiction and fantasy reflects our world back at us with the aid of spaceships, monsters, and high-stakes plots, but it only works if it is saying something relevant about our society. To leave out huge segments of that society — half of it, in fact, when female characters are de-emphasized or not represented at all — seems an abject failure of that primary goal.
Some Syfy watchers may associate the phrase “feminist TV” with some sort of marketing ploy or agenda-driven storytelling. To me, that is the most narrow-minded (not to mention least imaginative) way of looking at storytelling. Genre TV that embraces diversity — in terms of gender, race, class, etc. — doesn’t take away from the tales of white male perspective we are most used to, but rather adds nuance and depth. But don’t take my word for it. Just watch Syfy’s current slate of exceptional, diverse programming.
This kind of programming is a breath of fresh air in a TV landscape that has had an uncertain era following a strong class of kick-ass genre TV heroines like Buffy Summers and Aeryn Sun. Though shows like Orphan Black and The Vampire Diaries exist, female-centric stories are often pushed into the more “girly” of genres — i.e. the primetime soap or the romantic comedy. I am all for a good romantic comedy series (R.I.P., Selfie), but, as a female TV watcher who loves science fiction and speculative drama best, there are only so many times I can re-watch Farscape. (Just kidding — there is no limit on the number of times I can re-watch Farscape.)
Enter Syfy, whose new series Van Helsing is a female-centric modern retelling of the classic Dracula-based story to its slate. In honor of its premiere and of Syfy’s current genre renaissance, let’s take a moment to discuss some of the badass, complicated, and narrative-driving female characters the network currently has represented on its increasingly must-watch docket of genre TV shows.