2013 was one hell of a year for cancelled TV shows. Last year we saw Arrested Development make its 4th season/Netflix debut after 7 years off the air. We saw fans band together to support and fund a Veronica Mars movie. The Killing was un-cancelled, for a second time. It seems like now, more than ever, shows that were “cancelled too soon” are a major part of the television landscape. Personally, many of the shows that I’ve loved the most have been cancelled before their time. And if I come across a new show that I really love, I get scared, because history dictates it will be swiftly axed. So here I’d like to share with you my list, my five favorite shows that were cancelled too soon.
5. My So-Called Life
Aired: ABC, 1994-1995, 1 Season
“We had a time.”
In 1994, 15-year-old Angela Chase dyed her hair from brown to “crimson glow” and nothing was ever the same again. My So-Called Life so perfectly captured that strange teenage time and energy where nothing and everything makes sense and you’re finding new friends and falling in love and breaking the rules and just sort of…being for the first time. My So-Called Life is the teen show that all other teen shows now strive to be. It was never contrived, it was honest and simple and unprecedented. The characters didn’t sound like they read the dictionary for fun on the weekends like the kids from Dawson’s Creek. In the pilot Angela has some incredibly teenage lines like “Cheerleaders: can’t people just cheer on their own? To themselves?” and “I cannot bring myself to eat a well balanced meal in front of my mother. It just means too much to her.” The storylines weren’t over the top and weren’t billed as teachable moments. Rickie was primetime network TV’s first gay teenager. Rayanne had a drinking problem. Jordan was damn near illiterate. But these things were never sensationalized, and instead were allowed to be organic story elements. The cast brought a youthful energy to the show and the writing exposed what it really feels like to be a teenager. It may have aired twenty years ago, but My So-Called Life feels just as relevant now as it did in 1994.
ABC was prepared to pick up the show for a second season, but the young Danes was more interested in pursuing her film career and declined to return. That combined with low ratings led ABC to pull the plug. I think My So-Called Life lasted just as long as it needed to. Would a second season have been nice? Sure! It’s sometimes fun to think about where the characters might have ended up. Would Graham and Patty stay together or split up? Would poor Brian ever get the girl? How would the relationship between Angela and Jordan unfold? (my guess is messily). But My So-Called Life is also perfect as a small collection of episodes, a small collection of stories. A perfectly preserved account of the early 90s teenage experience with impeccable writing and acting.
4. Veronica Mars
Aired: UPN 2004-2006, The CW 2006-2007, 3 Seasons
“Well, you know what they say. Veronica Mars, she’s a marshmallow.”
You could hardly go a day last year without hearing about the unprecedented success of the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter campaign. With the movie coming out this March, there’s all kinds of renewed interest in this scrappy, noir-ish teen detective show. Veronica Mars is the show on this list with the most “original episodes”, airing 64 episodes over three seasons. The show aired on UPN and The CW after The WB and UPN merged before the show’s third season.
The first two seasons of Veronica Mars are amazing; the third season is decent .This show holds the honor of being the best “teen genre” show I’ve ever seen. Smart writing, complex and relatable characters with realistic relationships and genuinely awesome mystery storylines set Veronica Mars apart. And the father daughter relationship between Veronica and Keith is one of the best on TV. Creator Rob Thomas successfully combined the mystery/detective and teen genres to create a show that has universal appeal and memorable, passionate characters. The first season arc revolves around Veronica investigating the murder of her best friend Lily Kane and is full of delicious twists and turns.
The third season wasn’t the best because the network pushed the creators to go with shorter arc mysteries rather than season long puzzlers. The change led to a season that felt disconnected, even though the writing was still better than most shows out there. Not happy with the third season performance, The CW pulled the plug, leaving the stories of Neptune unresolved. One of the greatest things about Veronica Mars has always been the cast and crew’s fervent championing of their show. When asked about a potential movie, show star Kristen Bell would always give fans (known as Marshmallows) hope that it could happen, and here we are seven years later seeing that movie dream becoming a reality.
3. Arrested Development
Aired: FOX 2003-2006, 3 Seasons & Netflix 2013, 1 Season
“There’s always money in the banana stand.”
Another show to see revival last year, Arrested Development was always a show before its time. As the Ron Howard narrated opening credits say Arrested Development is “the story of a wealth family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.” The Bluth family certainly put the fun in dysfunctional and watching that dysfunction unfold onscreen was so enjoyable. Between straight laced Michael (Jason Bateman), boozy Lucille (Jessica Walters), incarcerated George Sr. (Jeffery Tambor), flighty Lindasy (Portia de Rossi), clueless Tobias (David Cross), arrogant GOB (Will Arnett) and immature Buster (Tony Hale) the Bluths are one super strange bunch. I don’t think there’s a better family comedy out there. Add to that the fact that Arrested Development was so cleverly written and full of quirky references and jam packed with famous guest stars and you’ve got one very memorable show. What was so unique about Arrested Development was how visual many of the shows gags were. It was a show created for the DVR era before the technology was widespread. That’s part of the reason the show has become so popular on DVD and Netflix, there’s just no way to catch everything in one viewing. I’ve watched the series probably five times and I still pick up new things in each episode.
I watched Arrested when it aired on FOX. I think I stumbled onto the first season shortly after it started airing and stuck with the show through timeslot changes and a shortened third season. Every time I tuned in I was surprised to find the show was still on the air. It was just so wonderfully weird and the fact that it lasted as long as it did is kind of amazing. I was also lucky enough to attend the panel at The New Yorker Festival in 2011 when creator Mitch Hurwitz announced that a fourth season of new episodes was officially in the works. Arrested Development managed to make an amazing comeback when the fourth season debuted on Netflix. And it also became one of the first shows to really embrace the new “television” landscape, playing into the binge-watching format that Netflix allows and encourages. With another season in the works at Netflix and a possible feature length film in development Arrested Development is another prime example of the power of passionate and dedicated fans and creators who are willing to revisit beloved, cancelled shows.
Aired: FOX 2004, 1 Season
“I was assaulted by a middle-aged Texan hausfrau during an act of kindness.”
Wonderfalls is the story of Jaye Tyler, Brown educated Niagara Falls souvenir shop cashier whose life is turned upside down when inanimate objects begin talking to her and requesting she carry out tasks. Sounds totally crazy and bizarre, right? Well it is. And it’s also amazing. Leave it to show creators Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Hannibal) and Todd Holland (The Larry Sanders show, Go On) to come up with such an out there concept and make it work flawlessly. Between an amazing cast including Caroline Dhavernas, Lee Pace, Katie Finneran and Tracie Thoms and impeccably different writing, Wonderfalls was unlike anything else on TV. And it many ways it eschews description. It’s funny and biting and heartwarming and odd but none of those words even begin to accurately categorize it. And that was part of the reason the show was cancelled. Ultimately FOX didn’t know how/chose not to promote the show and pulled it from the air after only four episodes.
Wonderfalls is loosely based on the Joan of Arc legend and was slated to premiere in fall of 2003 alongside Joan of Arcadia. FOX was worried about putting Wonderfalls against Joan and pushed the premiere to midseason. When it finally debuted in March the reviews were positive but the ratings were low and after one episode the network moved the show to a different timeslot. And then they didn’t bother to advertise the change. And then they cancelled the show. And I’m still bitter about it.
I have to be honest; this is my favorite TV show. And for me picking a favorite show is like picking a favorite child, so I didn’t come to this decision lightly. Wonderfalls premiered on my birthday and I watched the first episode and fell madly in love with it. And when I came back a week later to watch again the show was nowhere to be found. And so I forgot about this strange little show for two years. Then in 2006 I bought the DVD on a whim and was surprised and excited to have finally found the show that got away. Wonderfalls doesn’t have a massive fan base, but the DVD and reruns on Logo a few years back have helped it grow. And those of us who have seen the show are extremely passionate about it. So this is a PSA: if you haven’t seen Wonderfalls, do yourself a favor and give it a watch. You’ve never seen anything like it, and I bet you’ll love it.
Aired: FOX 2002, 1 Season
“Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”
You can’t talk about “brilliant but cancelled” TV without talking about Firefly. Joss Whedon’s one season wonder is a powerhouse in pop culture. Part space saga, part western, all Whedon. Firefly followed the lives and adventures of the nine crew members of the “firefly-class” space ship Serenity and aired on FOX in 2002 but the network pulled the show after airing eleven of the show’s fourteen episodes. After the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Firefly is the perfect next step in the Whedon evolutionary canon. The show featured Whedon’s patented quirky dialogue and a new take on the futuristic space genre. The cast included sci-fi favorites including Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Summer Glau, Alan Tudyk and Morena Baccarin. Firefly also featured a pre-Mad Men Christina Hendricks.
The show was interesting because it followed people who fought on the losing side of a war and their quest to maintain an existence as outlaws. Firefly also managed to transcend the traditional action-y sci-fi model and focused on character driven stories. While watching the series, you can feel just how much of a family these characters have become. With elements of Chinese culture (and swears in Mandarin to get around censors) and a true traditional Western feel and energy that complemented the show’s space setting, Firefly was incredibly unique.
And before a Veronica Mars movie or a fourth season of Arrested Development were even considered, Firefly was busy being revived in movie form. The feature film Serenity was released in 2005 by Universal Studios thanks in part to the passionate and persistent fandom, whose members are known as Browncoats. The show has easily achieved cult status and is often (and rightfully) referred to as the ultimate example of shows being cancelled too soon.
Honorable mentions include: Pushing Daisies, Freaks and Geeks, Better Off Ted, Twin Peaks, Dollhouse, Go On and oh so so many more.
Taylor McDaniel- @tlmcdaniel
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