As viewers of TV shows, we’re looking to be transported to a different world. And whether that place is in space, the future, or just a slightly different version of a city you know, there’s at least something relatable about that fictional realm.
In an effort to bring familiarity to a show, writers sometimes manage to hit the nail on the head, by foreseeing an outcome or imagining a technology that actually comes into fruition. Still others have predicted a future that we haven’t yet seen, but may not be too far off. Whether it’s an eerie coincidence or a look at a still-possible dystopian society, these TV shows are all prophetic in their own right.
1. Black Mirror
Channel 4’s Black Mirror was such a hit with international audiences that Netflix, which had optioned the rights to the series, commissioned 12 new episodes in 2015. Each episode tells a different story, however, as creator Charlie Brooker once told The Guardian, “they’re all about the way we live now — and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.”
Because almost all of the episodes have poignantly forced the viewer to look inside themselves and the world around them to see where we may be headed, it’s hard to pick just one that could be telling of our future. But it’s the very first episode that has a truly shocking reality to it.
In “The National Anthem,” the British prime minister is blackmailed via a ransom video posted on YouTube, and the price he ends up paying is grave: The man is forced to have sex with a pig in order to save the life of a member of the royal family, and the act is videotaped.
Less than four years later, rumors circled that the real prime minister, David Cameron, had also committed a sexual act with a pig when he was younger. The media frenzy surrounding this was known as “Piggate,” but there was never any evidence that the claim was true.
2. 30 Rock
A show about a comedy sketch show written by sketch comedy writers, 30 Rock was almost eerily on the nose at times. And political commentary was often at the forefront. This is, after all, the series that formed Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin’s friendship, without which we wouldn’t have Baldwin’s provocative run as Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live.
Though there were several amazing predictions made by the series, one of them seems particularly apt in regard to Trump’s presidency. Before Baldwin dressed up as Trump officially, he played Jack Donaghy, a conservative businessman who gets into politics. What’s more, in Season 2, when Donaghy briefly works for the George W. Bush administration, he makes a motivational speech that begins with the words, “We have a chance to make this country great again.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
3. The Twilight Zone
The beloved sci-fi classic anthology series The Twilight Zone set a precedent for the genre — and TV, in general. In fact, the show is so influential that it has been brought back multiple times in various forms, and there have even been rumors of a third revival in the works.
The number of technologies and events predicted by The Twilight Zone is staggering. From 3-D printing technology to global warming, Rod Serling’s seemingly fictional series has sadly seen its haunting tales continue to come to fruition in some form or another in the real world.
4. The Simpsons
When a series (even an animated one) runs for as long as The Simpsons has, it’s bound to get a few things right. But the most famous and shocking of these predictions is particularly relevant in the current political climate.
In the Season 11 episode, “Bart to the Future,” we get a glimpse into what the year 2030 looks like in this fictional world. Lisa, Bart’s little sister, is president, and tasked with cleaning up the mess made by President Trump years before. Though Lisa remains a child in The Simpsons‘ timeline, perhaps a similarly minded woman out there will see this premonition as a call to run for office.
5. Star Trek
Like The Twilight Zone, the various iterations of Star Trek both on TV and in film were major influences on sci-fi pop culture. But outside of entertainment, many of the space gadgets used in the franchise have been realized in the years since.
Tablet computers, virtual reality, and natural language user interfaces like Siri and Alexa all bear a strong resemblance to items used by those aboard the Starship Enterprise. And other possibilities, like teleportation, are still a ways away, but we’re making progress.
6. Gilmore Girls
The eponymous girls are known for always being in tune with pop culture and general world news. In fact, Gilmore Girls includes frequent relevant references. And because trends always come back around, it’s often more on the nose than you’d expect.
In a 2004 episode, Lorelai who is frustrated that her beau has been away all summer, yells to Luke before hanging up the phone, “See you when Hilary’s president!” If Hilary Clinton had won the election in November 2016, this would have been an even crazier coincidence, as the limited series revival arrived on Netflix that very month.
7. Parks and Recreation
When a show like Parks and Recreation employs a time jump, audiences expect the kind of funny possibilities explored in the final season of this workplace comedy. But we certainly don’t expect them to accurately predict the future.
The humor in the above joke is that the Chicago Cubs were on a very long losing streak, so the idea that they might actually win the World Series in the near future was comical. But in 2016, win they did, and we’re sure residents would agree that it’s had a positive effect on their city as a whole. Of course, the show’s creator, Michael Schur, had done his research, and saw that the team was on an upswing, so this was actually a reasonable prediction.
Scrubs, a medical comedy that aired on NBC (and for two seasons on ABC), is oddly known for its accuracy. Though the series relied more on the chemistry between the characters than the technical aspects of working in a hospital, its focus on relationships and genuine interactions gave it a more realistic air than shows like Grey’s Anatomy.
One particularly cartoonish character who rarely added to the grounding of the show? The Janitor, who frequently said things others deemed ludicrous. In a 2007 episode, he told J.D. that he believed Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan. Four years later, the leader was found and killed in that very country. Talk about prophetic.
9. The X-Files
Back on the sci-fi track, The X-Files focused on extraterrestrial life and the paranormal. But like Mulder having to frequently open Scully’s eyes to the truth, the show often gave viewers a look at what the future held.
One common theme was the mistrust of government officials. As creator Chris Carter explained, the relationship changed after the Watergate scandal, and by exploring this mentality in his series, the real-life political landscape became clearer. In particular, the events surrounding Edward Snowden were unsurprising to him, and the parallels between Snowden and our X-Files heroes are apparent.
10. Arrested Development
Dating back to the first season of Arrested Development, there have often been comparisons drawn between the Bluths and the Trumps. A failing real estate business, a buffoon of a patriarch, and a wealthy, yet incompetent family that frequently draws attention to itself? All of this was obvious.
But things got eerie in recent years. In 2014, one of Season 4’s central plots involved George Bluth, Sr.’s idea to build a wall between Mexico and California, which Lindsay eventually used to become a candidate for office. Not long after this, Trump pitched the very same plan during his presidential campaign. Coincidence, or is Trump a fan of the show?
11. The Last Man on Earth
Though it hasn’t happened yet, The Last Man on Earth may be onto something. The Fox comedy toes the line between light and dark humor as it depicts a post-apocalyptic scenario not far in the future, in which a deadly virus has killed off most of Earth’s inhabitants.
While it’s hard to say whether things will get quite so bad in the next decade, the series did use recent events to make a comedic point. In the first episode after Trump took office, we see the decline of our nation through the eyes of Kristen Wiig’s Pamela. This clip perfectly represents the show’s balance of goofy and sadly poignant comedy, but hopefully, things won’t play out quite so terribly in the real world.
A few of the shows on this list have predicted a future that’s still some time away. Joss Whedon’s cult hit Firefly — a space western, as it were — takes place 500 years from now, in a time when Earth is no longer a viable planet, and humans have taken to the sky. If this seems implausible, bear with us.
Though not trying to actually tell us what the 26th century will be like, Whedon took many factors into account, including the increasing threat of climate change, the idea that China could become the leader of the free world, and a deadly battle between the government and the resistance. If anything, recent events may suggest that he was too optimistic, and this post-apocalyptic galaxy is not as far off as we’d hope.
Whedon’s network follow up to Firefly is a bit more grounded, so to speak, but no less terrifying. Though we’re not yet at the level of the events shown in Fox’s sci-fi drama Dollhouse, the 2020 post-apocalyptic future depicted is still a scary possibility.
The titular dollhouse refers to a place where people, like our heroine Echo, are kept, their minds wiped clean over and over again as they are “rented out” to the wealthy as play things. But humanity is a tricky thing, and this technology spreads, wiping out civilization. We’re unlikely to get to this point just yet in the real world, but as android capabilities increase, it seems inevitable that human mind control will become a problem at some point down the line.
Combine the Western setting of Firefly and the humanoid technology of Dollhouse, and what do you get? Something along the lines of HBO’s Westworld, a captivating landscape of twists and turns that takes place in an adult theme park of the future and the center that keeps it running.
We don’t know when in the future Westworld is supposed to take place, but the idea of the park doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility years down the line. Catering to the desires of the wealthy is a theme of the series, as well as how far we can push technology.
Maybe we should take heed, lest we end up with a pack of angry sentient robots.
15. The Handmaid’s Tale
One of the most interesting things about Margaret Atwood’s original novel, published in 1985, is that its themes are shockingly timeless. In a profound lesson in how history repeats itself, Atwood drew only upon similar events in order to construct a world that seems simultaneously so deeply foreign and so scarily relatable. And the show, for which she acts as a producer, does the same, more than 20 years later.
The totalitarian society that arrives post-nuclear attack and is lead by a religious, fear-based leadership? It feels foreign, yet in some ways, not. We thankfully have yet to see anything as dramatic as a mass infertility and the actual, modern slavery that Offred and company experience in The Handmaid’s Tale, but the underlying themes are already present in the messages of today’s alt-right religious movement.