TV used to be the awkward cousin of the movies. Sure, every decade had it’s hit series but up until the twilight years of the 90’s when shows like The Soprano’s and The West Wing helped redefine what could be achieved on a weekly basis from the comfort of your living room, there were relatively few titles that dared try to emulate the high octane thrills, slick visuals, and adult subject matters that your local multiplex was home to.
Thankfully the noughties brought a tsunami of titles that shattered the parameters of what could be achieved via the restrictions of tv, a gradual snowball of triple-A titles that have helped a once snubbed medium for storytelling thrive into arguably the most satisfying and diverse option for visual narratives. To the point where it coaxes actors, actresses, screenwriters and even directors to sojourn from their Hollywood hills and to bask in the budding waters of this swiftly evolving industry.
Sadly I’m not here to bore you with the startling history of modern TV but rather to highlight a certain sub-genre. You see, I’ve been unlucky enough that most of my favourite tv shows of all time have suffered the curse of being cancelled during their first season. I say unlucky, but in truth it’s something that can work out for the series. Shows like My So-Called Life are made masterpieces by their loose thread finales and while others may suffer from not being gifted the time to expand their narratives and flesh out their characters, I for one am always grateful for a succinctly told stellar TV series. I feel as a general rule that if you can’t tell your story in two seasons (ahem – Lost) then you’re dragging your feet.
But I digress. Below I have compiled a list of ten shows that I absolutely adore for one reason or another, all of which never made it past their debut. I honestly highly recommend that you check as many of them out as you can and help support some of these floundered pieces of entertainment.
Other notable shows that didn’t make the list include Wonderfalls (odd, uneven fluff), Kitchen Confidential (quirky fluff starring Bradley Cooper), and Life As We Know It (teen fluff from some of the makers of Undeclared).
My So Called Life
This beautifully honest, touching and heartfelt series from 1994 follows the narrated life of 15-year old Angela Chase in high school, dealing with first loves, sex, drugs, rumours, classes and all the usual troupes of a coming-of-age drama. It remains, in my humble opinion, the finest example of this in tv history, thanks in no small part to it’s breadth of focus extending to parents as well as teenagers. Stars Claire Danes and Jared Leto.[vsw id=”GyK8kVEhXZ0&hd=1″ source=”youtube” width=”500q” height=”425″ autoplay=”no”]
Freaks and Geeks
Before Judd Apatow and his crew launched into the public eye they debuted in this 1999 high school drama that acted almost as a modern counterpart to My So-Called Life, albeit set in the 80’s. Created by Paul Feig (director of Bridesmaids), written by Apatow himself (Knocked Up, Funny People, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and starring a virtual whos-who of modern comedy royalty; Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Busy Philipps, James Franco, John Francis Daley . . . Freaks and Geeks is simply must-see tv.[vsw id=”Nubk_L_QBsY&hd=1″ source=”youtube” width=”500″ height=”425″ autoplay=”no”]
Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip
Premiered the same week as the contextually similar 30 Rock and initially boasting higher numbers, over the course of a month or so Studio 60 sadly slipped down the scale and was quickly cancelled so as not to go toe-to-toe with Baldwin’s comedy show. Odd, since aside from their backstage at a tv company set-up – they really couldn’t be further apart from each other. Regardless, Studio 60, from the creators and writers of The West Wing (in my opinion, the most consistently brilliant tv show ever made) remains a masterpiece that was never given the chance to grow. With a knock-out opening episode, a slightly odd middle and a phenomenal closing arc, it carried the startling tradition of Aaron Sorkin’s (The West Wing, The Social Network) pen with perfectly nuanced, quippy dialogue, intelligent characters, and lashing of humour and politics. Starred Matthew Perry, Amanda peet, and Bradley Whitford.[vsw id=”g0O29rZiIRA&hd=1″ source=”youtube” width=”500″ height=”425″ autoplay=”no”]
The most unusual of shows on this list is undoubtedly Firefly. For a number of reasons – firstly, because it was a western set in a science fiction universe. Secondly, because it was created by none other than Joss Whedon (Buffy, Dollhouse, The Avengers) and yet despite his previous success it had incredibly low viewing figures. But thirdly (and most importantly) because somehow, two years after it had been cancelled, the fans and Whedon managed to somehow convince Universal to make a theatrically released sequel to a cancelled tv show. Correct me if I’m wrong, but even as a huge fan of this show – I can see that’s not a financially viable concept. Well, luckily they just made back their budget in multiplexes and even luckier for us; Serenity remains one of the finest sci-fi adventure movies ever made with far more akin to the original Star Wars trilogy than it’s prequels / sequels ever showcased. But none of it would have been possible without this wonderful, charming, unique little show. Take it from me as someone who generally does not care for science fiction or westerns – this is one of the most enjoyable, character driven tv series ever released. It also launched the career of the now legendary Nathan Fillion.[vsw id=”tkb8h5P3-zw&hd=1″ source=”youtube” width=”500″ height=”425″ autoplay=”no”]
Last year saw two insanely good shows emerge from nowhere only to swiftly become victims of the cancellation virus. The most satisfyingly well-rounded of these was Terriers – the oddly named show centering around two low-lives working as illegal private investigators in Ocean Beach, San Diego. With an engaging over-arcing plot that gradually drags the show from it’s pilots light-footed charm into violent, bitter darkness, Terriers is a rare show with exceptional writing and perfectly cast leads who are absolutely charming and honestly flawed. The best show of the past two years, created by the writer of Ocean’s 11.
The other exceptional and daring show to premiere in 2010 and to fall prey to the chop was Rubicon. The aim from creator Jason Horwitch was to create a tv show that encapsulated the atmosphere and political thriller traits of classic 70’s movies such as All the President’s Men. He succeeded, with a tangled but believable plot, mature writing, confident direction and a brilliant cast that starred James Badge Dale (The Pacific) as the lead Will Travers – an analyst at a New York intelligence agency who’s thrown headfirst into a conspiracy that engulfs his life. Sadly the show was expected to get a second season and so while the final episode answers many of our questions, it sort of just drops dead in it’s final moments leaving fans unsatisfied. Still, well worth watching as one of the most intelligent shows in years, fusing the core narrative of Alias with the realism of The West Wing.
In 2001, still three full years before Apatow went on to produce Anchorman, he created this hilarious series that acted as the less ambitious, more immediate cousin to his previous Freaks and Geeks. Bringing back Seth Rogen and Jason Segel he introduced the world to the low-key charms of Jay Baruchel and even brought Loudon Wainwright III in on the joke. Closer to his recent movies than Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared is just pure high school comedy gold.
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Created, written and starring Matthew Perry himself this is a wonderfully fluffy show that is set in a San Diego sports arena. Perry plays the self-involved and self-destructive manager with great aplomb, basically allowing more of himself into his previous Studio 60 character, and he is supported by stellar performances from Allison Janney (The West Wing), Nate Torrence, and Andrea Anders. This is one of my all-time favourite brain-dead tv shows just to kick back, relax and chuckle to in its wonderfully miserable cynicism. Why it was cancelled, I don’t know, as this is perfect mainstream fodder. My heart goes out to Perry for making two exceptional shows and having them both shot down.
In 2009 this ambitious and intriguing show came into orbit for its brief 13 episode run. From the writer / producer of Grey’s Anatomy, Sons of Anarchy, and Ugly Betty, Defying Gravity centres around four men and four women who undertake a mysterious six-year space mission covering thirteen billion kilometres while everything they do is monitored back on Earth. The writing isn’t perfect and the acting is slightly uneven, but the stylish filming, unique set-up and captivating storyline make it an overlooked must see. Bolstered by the always loveable Ron Livingston as the lead.
Following on from the critically acclaimed Battlestar Galactica (one of my favourite shows of all time) the creators decided to approach a prequel series set on Caprica itself. Leaning even closer to pure drama and less sci-fi than BSG, but less successful, Caprica is well worth watching if you’re a fan of the series but isn’t essential if not. Undeterred by it’s cancellation, they are now finishing off BSG : Blood and Chrome – a tv movie / pilot centring around Adama’s early years for release late 2011. Caprica stars Eric Stoltz.