The Best New Netflix Sci-Fi Show In the Last 5 Years Avoids a Tired Genre Trope

Not every space-based adventure has to be the same.

The Demeter in 'Scavengers Reign.'

In 2023, Max dropped a haunting and original animated science fiction series called Scavengers Reign. Although the show was critically acclaimed, by May 2024, Max had abruptly canceled the series. But now, Scavengers Reign has made the leap to Netflix, where it’s currently streaming and might just get a Season 2 renewal if we’re lucky.

Chronicling the machinations of a group of human survivors marooned on a planet called Vesta, this series is one of the best sci-fi shows of the 2020s, and easily the best space-based sci-fi show on Netflix since the Lost in Space reboot debuted in 2018. And although there is much to praise about Scavengers Reign, there’s one specific element that sets it apart from most modern sci-fi movies and shows set in space: This is a space show that doesn’t accidentally become military science fiction.

Not all science fiction has to take place in outer space. This has been true for a very, very long time, and yet, when someone mentions a sci-fi TV series, more often than not, our thoughts go toward space. And when we think about space-based sci-fi on our screens, we also start to think about who the captain might be or whether or not the ship has spacey weapons to fight baddies. While there are plenty of popular space-centric, science-fiction novels that don’t have militaristic elements or military hierarchies, the truth is a vast majority of TV space sci-fi do.

Why is this? Well, it's likely because in 1966, Star Trek popularized mainstream science fiction TV, and in a sense, many, many space-based sci-fi TV shows were influenced by it. Ditto sci-fi movies set in space. Even the original Star Wars, which depicts the people in uniform as the villains, eventually, gives all of its characters military designations. Writing in 1978, famed author Ursula K. Le Guin vented her frustration about this tendency, wondering why the movie had to feature a moment “when everyone [Luke, et al] gets into uniform.”

For better or worse, one feature a majority of space sci-fi TV (and several movies) all share is some kind of militaristic hierarchy. Even if the series is not explicitly trying to be “military science fiction.” From Battlestar Galactica to The Expanse to Babylon 5 and beyond, sci-fi shows set in space very often have ranks like captains, lieutenants, and so forth. Even the Doctor in Doctor Who fought in a TimeWar, and was, in fact, a leader of soldiers. (In the 1970s, the Doctor was a also part of UNIT, a military organization on Earth.)

Azi doesn’t need a rank in Scavengers Reign.


That’s why Scavengers Reign is so refreshing. The characters are not part of a military unit, and there’s no sense that the series is ever going in that direction. Scavengers Reign feels closer to the vibe of the first Alien, depicting everyday people who happen to work in space,and are victims of a larger capitalistic reality — rather than officers in a fleet. None of the characters have ranks or titles as part of their names, which you’d think would be more common in space sci-fi TV but is actually much rarer than you think.

Even rebels like the crew of the Rocinante in The Expanse, or the actual members of the Rebel Alliance in various Star Wars shows from Andor to Ahsoka, all have ranks and vaguely militaristic roles. It may not be the point of these shows, but it’s very often a feature.

There’s nothing wrong with this kind of thing, of course. But what makes the basic structure of Scavengers Reign feel so grounded and compelling, is the absence of this trope. The various stranded characters don’t behave the way some other similar stranded sci-fi characters might act partly because there’s not a mission stated here. Azi, Fiona, Mia, Barry, and the others have conflicts, but those conflicts don’t connect to any space fleet’s goals. And that gives the overall story — which involves eerie telepathic aliens, and all sorts of sci-fi goodness — a haunting and human quality, that you can’t always find in other shows.

Because there’s a good chance a huge portion of sci-fi fans slept on it last year before Max pulled the plug, now is a great time to binge Scavengers Reign. It’s not a brand-new concept for a science fiction series. But because of its format, and the realism of its characters, it certainly feels that way.

Scavengers Reign Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.

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