The Top 7 Most Embarrassing Moments in Science Fiction

A list! An internet list! Ooooh, Shiny! Clickey-clickey!

Let’s face it, despite our brains being larger than that of the general populace, even sci-fi fans are drawn to internet lists like Mynocks to Kessel running smuggler ships. It would be easy to cobble together another “Top 10 best sci-fi series EVAR” that get pushed out by lesser websites, slap it on the site for people to howl that I left off their favorite show and call it a solar day.

But that’s not how I roll, peeps.

Instead, I present the worst moments of sci-fi. We’re still in a golden age of sci-fi where every network carries at least one show and we even have a channel that shows only Science Fiction (and wrestling… um, wha?), but that was not always the case. The Cause stumbled for many years and still has missteps of judgment where we all grimace as the skeptics nod their heads and proclaim that sci-fi is just for kids. So I have cobbled together the top 5 moments, the ones that slow us down or stopped us altogether. They are actually in chronological order, but we do love lists so —

7 . Lost in Space — When they lost their nerve.

Mention “Lost in Space” nowadays and you instantly think “Danger, Will Robinson”, Dr. Smith’s bumbling idiocy and if that chimp they strapped the phony ears to ever went on a rampage and ripped off a cameraman’s face.

But did you ever watch the first 10 episodes? They were compelling, thoughtful, dangerous stories of a family that’s trying desperately to survive in a hostile universe. Watch the pilot episode and Dr. Smith actually KILLS a guy, and then tries to kill the Robinson family using the reprogrammed robot. Now that’s good sci-fi.

So what happened? Well, for one, it’s hard to justify keeping a guy on your ship who wants to kill you every episode, so the writers had to soften Dr. Smith down. The comedy trio/uncomfortable sexual grouping of Dr. Smith, Will Robinson and The Robot instantly appealed to the youth market and the network seized upon it. From that point on, it became dumbed down, space pirate, camp that resembled the Adam West “Batman” more than a survival series. Nonetheless, the short-term effect was ratings gold, GOLD I say Will!

The long-term effect was to play into every skeptics hands that Science Fiction was silly, children’s fare. In this case they were right. Well, at least Star Trek was on the same years so it offset the… uh oh…

6. Star Trek — “Spock’s Brain”

Trek fans rejoice! Your long hours of letter writing (present day emailing), picketing NBC (present day sending nuts) and pamphlet circulating (er, blogs?) have done the impossible! You have actually saved your show in a first ever decision from a network! Huzzah, you’ve earned this! Here is the premiere episode of season three: A planet of intellectual morons, ruled by women (no jokes here!) steals Mr. Spock’s Brain and puts in a computer (huh?). Kirk and company beam down with the brainless body of Mr. Spock and are captured by the Sudoku challenged women (no jokes here!) and must free themselves and return Spock’s Brain to it’s body!!

Considered one of the worst of the 79 episodes, “Spock Brain” was the ridiculous, insulting episode served up to the fans following their tireless work to save the show. True, NBC did the series no favors by slashing the budget and shifting it to the Friday at 10pm time slot. Still, the sight of Spock, brainless but controlled by a hat like device, stumbling around put a bad taste in the fans mouths and guaranteed the show would be cancelled.

This of course left William Shatner time to…

5. Bill Shatner Performs Rocket Man.

In the pre-Star Wars 70’s, we almost lost the thread on sci-fi. SF Shows were few and far between and films were a joke. Even worse, someone let Shatner out of his cage and he went ahead and recorded his now famous album “The Transformed Man”.

He followed this up with a performance during the Science Fiction awards where he outdid his Star Trek episode “Two Kirks” bit with THREE SHATNERS. The universe shuddered that day as a sweaty Bill spoke his way through the song with two pretaped versions of himself (If they were real, then this becomes Sci-fi’s BEST moment.). The audience, shocked and disoriented mustered applause at the end, but were later found washing those same hands crying “dirty, dirty, dirty…”

I’m not sure many saw the broadcast, but you only need the disaster to happen once for the memories to linger. Speaking of that…

4. The Star Wars Holiday Special

It is the stuff of legend. Let’s see we got:

  • 1. A story line set around a family of Wookies who DON’T speak English, leaving us to guess what they are saying.
  • 2. Bea Arthur
  • 3. A drugged out Carrie Fisher singing some terrible “festival of light” song to the Star Wars theme music.
  • 4. Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill sleepwalking through their performances.
  • 5. Harvey Korman as a 4 armed cooking show host.
  • 6. Art Carney as a friend of the Wookies (Bet you a million dollars he had no idea what a Wookie was before the show. Probably still didn’t after.)
  • 7. Jefferson Starship (I can see the pitch “Hell, they got the name ‘Starship’ in their title”) as a holographic rock and roll band.
  • 8. Bea Arthur.

This was a franchise killer if there ever was one. It only aired once and Lucas wisely has destroyed every legal copy around. Unfortunately, for those of us who stayed up and WATCHED the thing, it is seared in our minds as only traumatic events can. Aside from the mildly interesting Boba Fett appearance, this show was a cheaply made, awkwardly produced money grab by Lucas and company. He learned his lesson — until…

3. Jar-Jar Binks!

For all the Lucas haters out there, the line of incrimination begins at the Star Wars Christmas Special and runs through Jar-Jar. This cloying, irritating CGI abomination almost instantly reduced any goodwill from a Star Wars fan to the franchise by half. Aside from the fact that he was vaguely racist, he just wasn’t FUNNY, a prerequisite for characters billed as “comic relief”. The only “relief” came when Lucas wisely pushed Jar-Jar into the same vault as the Christmas Special and locked the key. The damage was done and the next two films had to work extra hard to escape the Gungan’s insidious plot to make the second trilogy unwatchable.

2. The Matrix Reloaded

When The Matrix came out, the Singularity of Science Fiction had arrived. With amazing special effects, badass fight sequences, Star Wars-like mythology and trendy people in trendy (black) clothes, The Matrix showed the world that sci-fi could be mainstream and cool.

Then they made a sequel.

Reloaded isn’t terrible, just self-indulgent. Gone was the lean, sharp story telling; replaced now with a bloated plot, too many characters (Jada Pinkett? Really?) and too much CGI. What was once a simple story of “Beat the bad guys”, morphed into keymasters, dreadlocked twins and French dudes that we just didn’t care about.

Of course, what I’m really building up to is this: The rave.

Yup, an entire franchise was sacrificed so that hip, trendy people living underground could dance in a sweaty sexy montage. This was when sci-fi fans just lowered their heads in their heads in the movie theater and shook them slowly.

1. January 1st, 2001

I’m not talking about the classic Stanley Kubrick movie, I’m talking about the actually date. See the movie 2001 is a masterpiece of Science and Fiction — a best guess as to how the future could/should turn out from one of the world’s smartest scientists and authors. With moon bases, commercial space flight to orbiting space stations and a manned mission to Jupiter, it seemed logical and desirable. After all, the very next year we landed on the Moon. The Frelling Moon!

January 1st, 2001 is embarrassing to all Science fiction fans because we’re still stuck on Earth. 32 years after that film came out and 29 since the last Apollo mission, we still haven’t gone back to the Moon, much less landed on Mars (But we have probed Uranus!) Sure we have the internet, Xbox and the carpool lanes but the basic tenet of Science Fiction to explore has fallen by the wayside and as guardians of the future, we have to take a little blame for it. We can only look to the hazy sky now and know that we missed a golden opportunity. There will be no real life Star Trek, Star Wars or 2001 for our generation. Most people recovered from bad hangovers January 1st, 2001. Science Fiction fans sighed and pulled out their copies of “2010” and “3001”, hoping maybe they’ll get one more shot.

Well, there it was. You know what the best part of internet lists are? They’re always right! Let’s print this baby out and put it in a time vault for the next generation to learn from. This is pure gold pressed latinum!

Wuzat? You have a better list?! Well, there’s a comment section on this site, Admiral, use it! Take me to task or tweak the list but be warned: bring your “A” game or you just might make next years list. That is, if there is an internet next year…


  1. Jen says

    Not necessarily a comment on the list itself, but SOMEBODY likes Farscape. Not that I mind.

    Maybe that should be on the list? Frelling idiots canceled it, and it kinda killed them for a while. When BSG ends, I have no reason to keep watching them at all anymore.

    Although, they were saying there was going to be those “webisodes”, but so far I have heard pretty much nothing about that… Anyone know anything?

  2. Patricia says

    I was illuminating someone about #5 just yesterday. Bernie Taupin introduced that act, and I’m quite sure he thought it was probably a pretty good idea at the time the show’s producers pitched it to him, but then, by the time Shatner #3 showed up, probably tried to kill himself with a plastic fork. It’s on YouTube, BTW (what isn’t?) if you need to relive the nightmare.

  3. David says

    The problem with Matrix Reloaded is that it’s made for the Japanese Market (using the manga style), western viewers can watch it but japanese viewers would probably appreciate it more.

  4. says

    You didn’t include the night that Robocop saved pro-wrestler Sting on a pay per view. This one is so embarrassing that pro-wrestling fans think it was embarrassing.

    It went something like this in the wrestling main event:
    “Lex Luger defeated NWA World Champion Ric Flair via disqualification in a steel cage match. The Four Horsemen interfered, and put Sting, who was at ringside, in a smaller cage used earlier in the night to prevent Jim Cornette from interfering in the Midnight Express match. Robocop (yes, you read that right, the one from the movies) came down and “bent” the bars of the cage to free Sting. ”

    This is the comment from the wrestling announcer who worked that:
    “With the WWE returning to Washington D.C. this Sunday for Cyber Sunday, I am reminded of a WCW PPV I helped broadcast featuring the infamous “Robocop” appearance. Fans often ask me my memories of this event held at the D.C. Armory way back in the day and I can assure you that it was not one of the stellar moments of my broadcasting career. The entire storyline made no sense and the concept was ill conceived at best. That matter was simply a case of WCW attempting to out WWE the WWE with the inclusion of a non wrestling facet to the event’s presentation. To describe the Robocop fiasco in a word would be…forgettable.”

    If that doesn’t make a top 10 list of mot embarrassing moments in SciFi I don’t know what does.

  5. skyjedi2005 says

    you forgot the worse offender ever the whining of hayden christensen as anakin, and the noooooooooo! from vader in revenge of the sith.

  6. skyjedi2005 says

    “irritating CGI abomination”

    perfect expression of the prequels as well as the special edition bastardization of the original trilogy.

    i prefer to pretend star wars ended on screen in 1983, true the ewoks were painful ruining of what was good about the first 2 movies but nothing as close as the jar jar abobination. christenson a anakin was a far bigger abonmination to original series fans.

  7. skyjedi2005 says

    by the way the holiday special way not cheaply made it cost what was then astronomical money a million dollars to produce a tv show.

  8. 'notheroldfart says


    >What do I do with the thing my aunt gave me which I don’t know what it is?<

    You put things in it, it’s an unfillable container.
    To win the game you must have tea and no tea at the same time.

    About the Starwars Holiday Special, after years of alchol abuse and unlicensed electro shock therapy I had succeeded
    in purging all memory of that abomination from my head.
    Thanks for reminding me!

  9. says

    How about the so bad its good Buck Rogers in the 21st Century? The embarrassing part is that I still enjoy watching it! Total Guilty Pleasure.

  10. Dee says

    I’m another fan of the whole Matrix trilogy. The fact that it asked the audience to expand their attention span to more than one movie probably did it in for Americans. Someone here mentioned Robocop but what about the Robocop movie sequels? Number one was great and well executed for the time, and even though number two was penned by the great Frank Miller, they managed to destroy the franchise single handedly (it is reportedly why he wanted nothing to do with Hollywood at all until Rodriguez piqued his interest again with Sin City).

  11. kev says

    how can we forget (easily I wish) Jean Luc Picard singing opera to Data in INSURRECTION and later – same movie – DANCING ACROSS HIS READY ROOM… *CRINGE* … while they were setting up those scenes, did nobody suddenly say, hang on, he’s gonna sing opera, is that right?… hang on, he has to DANCE like a drunken sailor over and lean with a girlish sigh against the door frame, are you sure about this Johnny??? Did nobody shout STOP??

  12. Jake Lockley says

    I’d add ‘When the Nuke Went Off on BSG’ to the list. The show has been in a hard flat spin ever since. The whole tangent was pointless and led to stories that have made all the significant events in the series prior to that irrelevant. Each week they try to jump the shark with trumped up drama, mystery and significance but it’s clear when the writers lost their way and started to try pulling rabbits out of their hats.

  13. says

    Personally I think I would have added “Journey to the Far Side of the Earth” to the list. The idea that there is a identical Earth in the exact opposite orbit as us, at the same level of development as us, but never detected each other.

    As for the Star Wars special… I would have included the animated special as well… The only thing that I thought that cartoon was missing was the two stoned aliens from “Heavy Metal”, even though it came out a couple years later.

  14. Marc Savoy says

    You are brilliant, absolutely brilliant!
    To a word, everything you said about “Lost in Space” is precisely how I feel about the show and “January 1, 2001″ speaks for itself.

    At first I wasn’t sure about some of your other offerings but in the final analysis, I have to wholeheartedly agree with all your choices.

  15. jimi says

    Interesting post- but if you were a TRUE sci-fi fan,
    you would keep the hell away from any more
    ‘Uranus’ jokes!

    That crap is soooo old. Please.

  16. Chris the Better says

    There’s a 5min edited version of the Star Wars special (which I agree, is BAD), as well as the actual performance of Shat performing Rocketman on youtube. Shat did a few things before the Trek cult formed, such as this

    And I know it’s not the purpose of the article, but there are at least a dozen things of the recent Star Wars trilogy that could be added to the list.

    Droid, spoken to Yoda: “She’s lost the will to live.”
    When pandamami dies, we see a medical droid giving this craptastic dialogue to the Jedi master, who for the most part has a pretty good 6th sense. The droid doesn’t say anything about diminishing vital signs…it KNOWS what drives people. I mean, was the princess not breathing hard enough when the droids told her to? Is this droid programmed to interpret human-like conciousness and spirituality? What gives this droid the ability to recognize and discern when someone has the “Will to Live”…

    Lucas could of solved this by having Yoda say the line TO the droid, but no, that would make sense. But then again, maybe Yoda was still bummed about not sensing the galactic-wide overthrow.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with you about Jar Jar Binks. I cannot sit through Episode I because of Jar Jar. I have the same regard for Jar Jar Binks as Lucas has for the Holiday Special, and I truly mean that.
    I think the creation and inclusion of Jar jar was that Lucas sat on his wallet, and in looking for it had his head up his butt.
    That’s the only explanation I can come up with.

  17. USAUSAUSA says

    @14 Dee- puhleezz. Not all Americans are mental midgets with 30 second attention spans. Is it comforting to think that? The two Matrix sequels were simply bad movies. Special effects can never overcome bad writing. What was so cool about the Matrix, was ummm, the Matrix? How much time did we actually spend there in the sequels?

  18. Miles Fowler says

    I have always gotten a chill from people saying, “If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we (fill in your humane cause).” Because the trouble is that if we did (humane cause) the same way we went to the moon, the result would be that we would spend a trillion dollars, accomplishing (humane cause) for a total of 14 days over a three year period, and then never do (humane cause) again for forty years (or much more).

    It’s interesting that NASA originally considered building a space station before going to the moon, but then they said, nah, we want to get to the moon fast and dirty. And so they did, but an early space station might have made it easier and–in the long run, cheaper–to stay in space.

  19. says

    You forgot “every major programming decision the Sci-Fi channel has made” on there…of course, that deserves its own post.

    – Canceling “Farscape” (brilliant show, could have done better, it was good enough that they had to make a miniseries that was insanely popular)

    – Canceling “Stargate: SG-1″ (INSANELY brilliant show, longest running U.S. sci-fi show, huge fan base, so stinkin’ popular they’ve had to make not one but TWO movies for it, and the first movie made it on the Top Ten list for Best Selling DVDs in the NATION…the second one likely will too)

    – Wrestling (need I say more?)

    – Pretty much every miniseries/made-for-TV movie they have ever done. I think the only decent one was “Tin Man” but the rest…well, I wouldn’t even call them B-movies. C, maybe, for crappy. Crappy acting, crappy plots, crappy effects…

    (maybe the other networks need to take a hint…when Sci-Fi cancels a show, pick it up, it’s popular)

  20. Forthac says

    I believe that the christmas special was in fact a contractual obligation on lucas’s part, as far as I am aware, he didn’t even want to do it.

  21. says

    You have missed the most horrendous sci-fi movie ever, and that is, ‘Omega Doom’. I love Rutgar, I mean Blade Runner was brilliant…but man…read the script before you accept an acting gig! The worst sci-fi movie I have ever had the displeasure to see.

  22. Jdoe says

    Anyone defending the second two Matrix movies is a frelling idiot.

    Trying to claim that “Americans can’t appreciate a multi-movie story arc” to compensate is just pathetic; it was actually the complete departure from where the story was going (or could have gone) after the first movie that disgusted the American audience… or the people I know, at any rate.

    If you’re going to defend a movie because you lack the intellectual depth and emotional character to pan a sequel to a good movie in some kind of deluded attempt to salvage the series’ dignity, then at least admit you have the substance of a wet tissue paper.

  23. says

    Heh… a sentiment that’s close to my heart. My first paid article was about the failure of the Matrix sequels.

    I struggled to keep an open mind about The Matrix trilogy after watching the second movie. All over the place, I kept reading from them that we were only getting half of the story, that we had to wait until after seeing the third movie to properly evaluate both sequels and the trilogy as a whole.

    I kept my objectivity for that six month span. I tried to fold the new information from the second movie into the wonderful mythology created by the first one. I tried to speculate what different directions they might try to take that mythology, and what wonderful revelations might be possible, and a few of them had intriguing possibilities, if indeed the filmmakers had the guts to go in those directions. That speculation led to some wonderful discussions amongst me and my friends back then.

    Then I saw the third movie, and all was revealed. All I could imagine was that they lied because they couldn’t come up with a decent sequel mythology and they wanted to bait as many people as possible into seeing the third movie so they could have a good box office first weekend, then run away and chuckle.

    I wanted to strangle every last one of them… they’d relegated the Matrix Trilogy to the same level as the Highlander movies: there should have been only one.

  24. ejdalise says

    I liked the second and third movie much better than the first. With the groundwork laid, the story was free to explore interesting side issues relating to the premise. The reverting of M&B (meat and bones) people to primitive garb and practices highlighted the difference in the “made up” world, which obviously serves as a metaphor for our own world, and its faux social-economic structure.

    Further, one could surmise . . .

    . . . damn . . . can’t keep going with a straight face. Crap; of course the last two movies were crap. Not only they were crap, but by their mere existence, they managed to stick some of that crap onto the first movie as well. For now that you know what they were safeguarding, the big question becomes “Why?!?!?!”.

  25. says

    Jar-Jar in the closet with the Christmas Special? Then he managed to escape for Clone Wars. I think I’d add that show to this list.

    Jar-Jar must be around to keep the Force unbalanced.


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