Why is it that the best shows on TV always seem to get cancelled? Is there something about an unfinished story that makes a martyr out of an otherwise average program? Or is there some group of devious executives who subsists on the power of broken dreams?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but there does seem to be a weird number of interesting, well-written and high-concept shows cancelled long before they met their potential. On the other hand, there are also hundreds of garbage shows that were cancelled after a season or two, and some that run for ten. But let’s focus on the positives: check out these shows that should have had more time on this earth.
No list of unjustly cancelled TV shows would be complete without including this Joss Whedon masterpiece. Cut down in its prime, Firefly proved that producing a pioneer/Western/sci-fi show is not only possible but also a fantastic idea.
With a rich universe sadly untapped and a cast of complex characters (shockingly complex, given their short TV lifespans), the adventures of Captain Reynolds and his strange but cohesive crew were halted by a few catastrophic events.
Most of the issues Fox, the show’s parent broadcaster, had with the show were content based: the lack of sexual tension between two main characters, a sub-plot revolving around the grim realities of prostitution and a two-hour character-building pilot are just a few.
Whedon, known for his insistence on dictatorial creative control and stubbornness, was certainly the cause of some friction with Fox. But the main reason Firefly was cancelled was the fault of Fox: it not only switched the exposition-filled pilot with a later episode, it also marketed the show as a wacky comedy. In the minds of the 2002-era Fox executives, a space opera/Western hybrid couldn’t be anything but a comedy, could it?
Freaks and Geeks
Judd Apatow’s ensemble dramedy about high schoolers in the 1980s may not sound relevant to modern audiences, but the realistic character depictions, dry wit and spot-on setting (according to my parents, who actually were in high school in the 80’s) spoke to enough of an audience to create a cult following.
The show was cancelled after only one season, mostly due to the unorthodox creative choice of focusing on the high school underclasses, the “freaks and geeks” themselves. Network executives felt the characters needed some traits that would make them superior in some way to the popular kids and jocks who were constantly succeeding where the main characters failed. But what made the show so beautiful was that it appreciated characters who had no narrative superpower, no hidden talent or potential that would prove all the high school haters wrong. The nerds and outcasts weren’t given value by the show because of their utility to society, but because of their kindness and compassion.
On the bright side, many of the stars of Freaks are doing well these days: cast members like James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel became stars after their stint on the show. Judd Apatow is a semi-household name, and Martin Starr, who played the hilarious Bill Haverchuck, plays a completely different (but still chortle-worthy) character in the next entry.
Some readers might be familiar with the first two entries on this list, but few will remember the short-lived Apatow comedy from 2009-2010. Similar to Freaks in some ways, Party Down revolves around a group of aspiring actors (and Adam Scott’s failed actor Henry) working catering as a day job. Airing on the Starz network gave the show the ability to be raunchy by TV standards, with occasional frontal nudity (both male and female, which is unusual).
In a lot of ways, Party Down was destined to be cancelled from the beginning. With edgy, sometimes obscene humor and characters whose actions explicitly question the value of traditional lifestyles, the sometimes depressing ensemble comedy only lasted for two seasons before folding.
Although it’s always a shame to see great ideas killed off before they have the chance to develop, it’s important to remember that sometimes keeping shows on life support is worse than letting them go gently. Remember what happened to Arrested Development and Community. The nightmares. The nightmares never truly leave.