A basic cable station launched in 1992, SyFy has been a mainstay of sci-fi television viewing for decades. Only growing in prestige since its beginnings, it was originally called the Sci-Fi Channel, but its mission has been the same. Over the years, the channel has produced or licensed dozens of genre television shows, each with their own successes and hardships.
Basic cable is not exactly known for its incredible track record of artistic merit, as its production decisions tend to be sharply scrutinized. While we may now be in the Golden Age of TV, that doesn’t mean every single choice is a good one. As you might expect, SyFy is no exception to this, and has plenty of its own errors, including the actors cast in its shows.
This list counts down the best and the worst of SyFy’s casting decisions, the highest highs and the lowest lows. From old favorites like Battlestar Galactica to newer shows like Killjoys or The Magicians, every show has an opportunity to cast the perfect actor in a role, or one that’ll make fans regret the day they started watching.
We’ll alternate from entry to entry so the negative is always buffered with positivity, but remember this– no show is immune to this, any casting director or actor has the chance to make or break a character, and it’s not always within their control which outcome occurs, because of all the factors that play into it.
These are some of the most memorable characters in the entire sci-fi genre.
Here are 11 Casting Decisions That Saved SyFy Shows (And 9 That Hurt Them).
The role of the young, hotheaded soldier is one well-worn by all kinds of narratives, and science fiction is no exception. Battlestar Galactica put an indelible spin on the trope, however, with Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, played by Katee Sackhoff. A military brat and an ace pilot, Starbuck was a brash, occasionally inebriated jolt of energy to the show.
Sackhoff put her mark on the character so thoroughly that most fans remember her as the “true” Sarbuck, instead of Dirk Benedict.
The original 1978 Starbuck was a slick charmer, but Sackhoff brought a rough-and-tumble attitude that instantly made her a fan favorite.
The actress has gone to have a main role in Longmire and all kinds of supporting roles, but BSG fans will always know her as Starbuck.
How do you make being a werewolf seem uncool? Ask Sam Huntington, who played Josh the werewolf on SyFy’s Being Human, a remake of a British show of the same name. A dramedy about three roommates who happen to be a vampire, a ghost, and a werewolf, it was always the latter that seemed to drag the show down.
Granted, some of this is due to confusing worldbuilding and a frustrating back-and-forth relationship with his beastly nature, but Huntington just wasn’t as magnetic as the other series leads, Sam Witwer and Meaghan Rath. Huntington’s Josh was just so whiny that scenes with him occasionally felt like a chore.
Say what you will about Killjoys, the SyFy adventure series that drew frequent (and not always favorable) comparisons to Firefly, but everyone knows that they cast the right person as their lead.
Hannah John-Kamen plays Dutch, a bounty hunter with a shadowy past, and she brings blockbuster-style charisma to a show that needed it.
John-Kamen has had a huge 2018, with supporting roles in Tomb Raider, Ready Player One, and Ant-Man and the Wasp. Her star power alone could explain why Killjoys has been renewed for a fourth and fifth season, with the fifth to be the conclusion.
Her portrayal of Dutch turned heads and garnered interest in the show, which helped cement its success.
SyFy’s horror anthology series Channel Zero got off to a somewhat rocky start. A cast anchored by Paul Schneider failed to really sell the gravity and spooks to fans of a spectral television channel and a monster made of teeth.
Schneider’s Mike is a child psychologist returned to his hometown to reconcile with past trauma, and he finds that his obsession with an old TV show has something much more sinister involved. The problem was, Mike was never that interesting a character, and Schneider’s brooding wasn’t all that fun to watch.
Thankfully, the series is an anthology, and it moved on to more rewarding stories in later seasons.
Fans of Law & Order: SVU may not be aware, but Chris Meloni actually has a long history of raunchier, edgier projects. Case in point: he is currently giving his all to Happy!, a show that seems him star as a delusional, substance-abusing hitman who talks to an imaginary flying unicorn.
While Patton Oswalt’s casting as the imaginary friend was also a huge boost, it’s Meloni alone that makes Happy! work.
Critic after critic has said that the world of the show wouldn’t function without him, as his unperturbed, confident portrayal of Nick Sax makes the nonsensical world and occasionally underwhelming dialogue seem funny and fresh.
Science fiction and fantasy writers have a bad habit of writing characters that look like adults but act like children, and it doesn’t always pan out. It takes a skilled actor to make that dynamic pay dramatic dividends, and that didn’t happen with Z Nation’s Lucy.
Tara Holt plays Lucy, a quarter-zombie character that ages extremely rapidly. Starting as a baby, she is an adult in no time, and actually perishes of old age at 3-4 years.
This was an interesting idea, but in practice the character was just annoying, as her childish worldview made her conversations less than stellar and also got her into a ton of trouble. In the end, Tara Holt just couldn’t do anything to right the ship.
Sometimes all it takes for an actor to do a good job in a role is to give off the right kind of attitude. Colin Ferguson is one of these, as his portrayal of new sheriff Jack Carter won over fans with his simple, everyman charm. Jack is thrown into a town populated by genius scientists, and constantly has to adapt to newer and weirder threats to the citizens.
It’s Colin Ferguson’s ability to always be confused and nonplussed while not seeming stupid that sells the character.
Not every audience member is going to connect with the geniuses on the show, so they need a common man to anchor them. Ferguson was able to provide that, as Jack’s intuition was matched by Ferguson’s competent-yet-bewildered demeanor.
For a show about Armageddon to work, you need a really fun villain. Unfortunately for SyFy’s Dominion, Carl Beukes didn’t make that happen with the archangel Gabriel. Gabriel is the leader of the angels, who in this series are the enemies of humanity, as they believe global domination is their right.
Gabriel ends up in a conflict with his brother Michael over the Chosen One; the last glimmer of hope for mankind. The problem was, Beukes never quite looked or felt the part for the leader of all angels.
Shorter than Michael, scruffier, and grimier, Beukes never brought much power or significance to his villainous schemes and plots. Beukes is a fine actor, but he wasn’t the right man for this job.
Not every spinoff show is as lucky as Warehouse 13. Most tend to fizzle out after a season or two, yet Warehouse 13 (a spinoff from Eureka) managed to find a fanbase for five full seasons, thanks in large part to the fans’ connection to the main cast.
We could praise several different actors for their work here, but the most integral was Joanne Kelly.
Kelly played Secret Service agent Myka Bering, a meticulous, by-the-book agent with an excellent memory and a mysterious past.
A problem that plagues these types of characters is they can be too unemotional for real resonance with the audience, but Myka avoided that, thanks to some heartfelt performances from Kelly.
Caprica, SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica prequel series, should have been interesting but oftentimes it just wasn’t. Case in point: Sister Clarice, played by Polly Walker.
Clarice should have been a magnetic villainous role – something the parent series was known for. In fact, producers had envisioned Clarice as filling a similar role as James Callis’ Gaius Baltar – a hybrid of villain and comic relief.
Well, that didn’t happen. Instead, Caprica’s viewers (few though they were) remember the show’s momentum had a tendency to screech to a halt when Walker came on screen.
Despite Clarice being a zealot with delusions of grandeur aiding and abetting a extreme cell, Walker just never managed to make the character click.
Ask any fan of Z Nation who their favorite character is, and there’s a strong chance they’ll tell you it’s Russell Hodgkinson’s Doc. Half psychologist and half dealer, Stephen “Doc” Beck injects a wacky energy into the show that can’t be ignored, whether he’s quoting The Grateful Dead or fighting zombies.
Hodgkinson plays Doc with a classic hippie delivery that immediately endeared him to many fans.
There’s a reason that in a zombie show (a genre known for characters getting bumped off) Doc has stuck around. The writers know they’ve got a good thing going with Hodgkinson playing the doctor, and they’re not going to mess it up.
Every Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan loves Mary Jo Pehl. One of the show’s main writers and a pillar throughout its existence, she helped make it what it is. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it was the right decision to elevate her to main villain status in the show’s run on SyFy in the late ’90s.
Pehl played Pearl Forrester on MST3K, the mother of the original head mad scientist, Clayton (Trace Beaulieu). When Beaulieu left the show, Pehl stepped up from recurring character to main cast member, becoming the new “head mad.”
She was never hated by the fans, but it was with more toleration than relish that viewers watched her scenes.
The Magicians, SyFy’s series based 0n Lev Grossman’s novel of the same name, made its mark by drawing comparisons to the Harry Potter and Narnia series–if those series had been more adult and set in college.
Few characters exemplify the dangerous, biting heart of the show better than Hale Appleman’s Elliot Waugh.
Elliot is a gifted disciple of physical magic and becomes the High King of the magical land of Fillory, but the character didn’t connect with fans through his magical powers. Instead, Appleman’s injection of sarcastic commentary, a carefree attitude, and soft heart are what really endeared him to us. The Magicians wouldn’t be the same without him.
Even talented actors can end up hurting the shows they join. For evidence, look no further than Mark Sheppard’s turn as Romo Lampkin, a morally sketchy lawyer from Caprica City who annoyed fans to no end on Battlestar Galactica.
Lampkin episodes were notorious for being odd and frustrating, as the character was less a person and more a collection of sleazy tricks and psychoses.
A pathological liar and a kleptomaniac who suffered at least one psychotic break in the show, Lampkin was all over the place and Sheppard’s characterization didn’t help. There was never any sense that he was a real, understandable character. He ended up being more of a distraction from the main action of Battlestar Galactica than an addition to it.
Alphas, SyFy’s foray into the ubiquitous superhero genre, did not last very long, despite positive reviews. The main reason that it received even a second season (and those nice reviews we mentioned) was the performance of one David Strathairn. Strathairn played Dr. Lee Rosen, a sensitive, compassionate scientist working to improve the lives of those gifted with superpowers.
Strathairn’s performance was magnetic yet subtle, emotional yet intellectual.
He was an excellent lead for the series, provided a caring voice to the superhero genre, and it didn’t hurt that he brought serious credentials to the table, being an Oscar-nominated actor.
All in all, Alphas was lucky to get him, even if it never made it to a third season that would have resolved some cliffhangers.
Just end the show already! That’s basically what fans had to be thinking when the classic sci-fi show Stargate SG-1 was renewed for a ninth and tenth seasons with a new actor in the lead role.
After beloved protagonist Jack O’Neill (and actor Richard Dean Anderson) left, the lead was given to a new character, Cameron Mitchell.
Ben Browder played Mitchell, after having led another SyFy show, Farscape. His own character’s main conflict came from trying to unite the other characters under his command, which is somewhat reflective how the fans felt about him.
Just as a rule of thumb: if your character is obviously just a less-liked stand-in for another one, maybe don’t cast the actor in the first place, especially if he’s already made a name playing a similar character in a similar show.
How do you make a show about the end of the world enjoyable? That was the challenge set before the writers of 12 Monkeys, SyFy’s show based on the movie of the same name, and with some help from Emily Hampshire, they did a pretty great job.
Hampshire played Jennifer Goines, a gender-swapped role played by Brad Pitt in the movie, and absolutely nailed it.
Jennifer has visions of the future but can’t easily communicate them, and she ends up in a lot of wild situations. From traveling the world to presenting stories of all genres, whenever Jennifer is on screen the audience can count on having some fun.
At the end of the day, you need your lead to be likable. Andromeda was a mediocre show that managed to last five full seasons, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any earnest fans of it these days.
This lack of any real impact can mainly be attributed to the main character, Dylan Hunt. Hunt just wasn’t pleasant to watch, as Kevin Sorbo never managed to present his role in an engaging way. Worse still, the show seemed to focus more and more on Hunt as it went on, despite most of the supporting cast being more intriguing that Hunt himself.
The show lasted five seasons, but without a compelling lead, it may as well have been canceled after one.
Everyone knows the best part of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the robots, but not everyone knows that not all the show’s robots are born equal. Some seem just better engineered to connect with the fanbase and make riffs on old movies- -and when they’re successful, it’s in large part thanks to the voice actor.
Bill Corbett voiced and operated Crow T. Robot for three seasons on SyFy’s run of MST3K, and he was an instant fan favorite.
Crow’s crude jokes had already endeared him to the fans under the operation of Trace Beaulieu. Some were worried Corbett wouldn’t stack up, but he put the doubters to rest very quickly, and Crow continued to be a series mainstay.
It can be hard casting a central character on a sci-fi show, as some of the above entries should prove. But sometimes, a show gets it so right that it can barely function without them.
Richard Dean Anderson is an example of this, as he played Jack O’Neill on Stargate SG-1 and became so synonymous with the character some viewers aren’t even aware it wasn’t his first major role.
One of the biggest backhanded compliments a show can give an actor is when it runs into trouble as soon as the character leaves the story. This happened with Jack O’Neill, as he left Stargate after eight full seasons as its lead. The show only lasted two seasons without Jack as the lead, hough he did return in guest roles.
Who’s your favorite actor in a sci-fi show? Let us know in the comments!
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