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Which dystopia would you rather live in: the year we’re currently having, or one of these fictional universes? For many people, it seems the answer is anywhere but here. At a time when everything feels like it’s falling apart, people have taken more interest than ever in dystopian sci-fi, worst-case scenario visions of what past authors feared would come to pass. Maybe watching others fight through unprecedented grimness makes us feel better about fighting our own — or maybe the universe just has a dark sense of humor. Either way, dystopian fiction is blessedly back on the rise, and it makes for some seriously bingeable TV. From classics like Westworld and Black Mirror to cult favorites 3% or The 100, your dystopian TV playlist is waiting below.
While the worlds represented in these various dystopian worlds vary greatly, ranging from an infiltration of zombies to eyesight being wiped out, theocratic rulers taking over, and more, the central question of many of these TV shows remains the same. How will the irrepressible human desire to be known, loved, and free fight its way out of these new confines? In a world where all seems lost, how does that first spark of humanity flicker back?
Dystopian cinema has plenty to offer in terms of CGI and production design, and the aesthetics of these imagined worlds alone are awe-inspiring. But I have a feeling it’s this triumph of the human spirit that keeps us returning to the dystopian genre now more than ever, when we need inspiration from heroes whose mounting obstacles mirror our own.
Art imitates life in these dystopian TV shows — by watching them, and being inspired by their heroes, we can make sure life imitates art right back.
A version of this story was originally published in 2020.