10 Reasons To Love… One-Season Wonders

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Mr. Sunshine

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.

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Defying Gravity

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.

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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.

Al White

  1. Chris says

    NOW AND AGAIN! Amazing show that was sadly sent to the gallows. To this day, I still find myself occasionally wondering what happened next after that cliffhanger of a “season” finale.

  2. Marty says

    Firefly remains my favorite show of all time. It’s television’s proudest moment, in my humble opinion. Also a huge fan of Freaks and Geeks and to a (very slightly) lesser extent, Undeclared. I agree with the previous comment regarding Pushing Daisies. Anyway, what about shows like Dead Like Me and Reaper? Not sure if they lasted one or two seasons, but I know they were cut painfully short despite the fact that these shows are arguably miles better than anything I’ve seen as of recent (with some notable exceptions: How I Met Your Mother, Weeds, Family Guy, Mad Men, etc).

  3. James says

    Studio 60 and Mr. Sunshine are, or were, without a doubt the two of the most promising shows of the past decade. Neither were given long enough to find themselves. A great show doesn’t start great, it starts good and finds its greatness over the first couple of seasons. ABC and NBC should be slapped for letting them go.

  4. Rose says

    I loved Studio 60 and Mr. Sunshine too.
    However, I disagree that Mr. Sunshine was perfect mainstream fodder. I could tell from the first couple episodes that it wouldn’t make it to a second season; it was a little too off-the-wall. I thought it was hilarious, and I love off-the-wall, but I think Mr. Sunshine appeals to the more obscure sense of humour.
    Which is a real shame.
    But if Matthew Perry wants a real hit, he’s going to have to go much more mainstream. Which is great in the sense that we might see a bit more of him, but sad in the sense that it won’t really be his comedy.
    As to the rest, there are a few great-looking shows here that are going on my to-watch list. Cheers for an excellent article.

  5. artissco says

    Where’s Kings?

  6. Will says

    Agree 110% on Studio 60, probably my favorite TV show ever, really. I can rewatch episodes of it over and over and they never get old. I also really enjoyed Mr. Sunshine. Here’s hoping Perry gets a hit soon!

  7. Heather says

    I agree with you on Studio 60 & Mr Sunshine. Great shows (I’m not bias at all being a huge West Wing fan). One that got cut too early, though it was 2 seasons, was Dead Like Me. The movie didn’t do the series justice. Sad I didn’t get the chance to watch Terriers. It looked very interesting.

  8. larry says

    Some of my favorites or recent times….IN NO ORDER>>>
    THE GOOD GUYS…Original ‘crimes’, great dialogue and terrific leads. When I see all of the ‘reality shows’ and ‘singing’ or ‘dancing’ or ‘blah talent blah’ shows that make it for years, not to mention some of the ridiculous cable shows, i.e., Swamp People, that logging show, that ice trucking show, etc., it makes me ill.
    PUSHING DAISIES-Officially two seasons, but not many episodes. One of the few shows my wife and I met on the sofa for during its short run. The writing and colorful, almost ‘Suesslike’ filmography is what stood out for me on that show.
    RUNNING WILDE-Rumours swirling about a possible second season which I hope is true, but I somehow doubt.(I JUST READ THAT IT IS CANCELLED AND FOX BURNED OFF THE REMAINING 5 EPISODES AT MIDINITE, I FORGET WHAT DAY(S)). A perfect sitcom all the way around, in my opinion. Fa’ad, Keri Russell and that little girl are all brilliant, plus the occasional appearance by David Cross’ hilarious character make the show. I hope it goes on and on and on. Speaking of David Cross…
    THE INCREASINGLY POOR DECISIONS OF TODD MARGARET.- This show kills. The Will Arnett cameos don’t hurt a bit. I hold on to hope for this one being picked up, but think that the title alone hurt the show. I still have to look it up after watching all of the shows and telling everyone I know about it. Brilliant, nonetheless.
    THE SONS OF TUCSON-Fanstasically silly escapism. To think that the similarly titles ‘Sons of Anarchy’, but totally different show is still running and this one in limbo, makes me ill.
    THE UNUSUALS – With the Oscar Nominated, Jeremy Renner and beautiful, Amber Tamblyn. I cannot believe this very original and cleverly written show isn’t still going and in the top ten, come on.
    Anyhow, I don’t post much to any boards and rarely read them, either, but I am truly sickened by the killing off of quality programming while CRAP goes on and on.

  9. Kate Kulzick says

    Another great show came to mind for this list- The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. It has great writing, strong performances, gorgeous cinematography (it was shot on location in Botswana), and is a wonderful, though not strict, adaptation of the books.

  10. […] Follow this link: 10 Reasons To Love . . . 1 Season Cancelled TV Shows | Sound On Sight […]

  11. david says

    I’d add Detroit 1-8-7. It was the most original cop show in decades. I did for this generation what NYPD Blue did almost twenty years ago.

  12. Kate Kulzick says

    Great topic, Al! There are so many great one-season wonders out there. I’m a big fan of several of these shows, but I’d add in Cupid (the first time), MiddleMan, and perhaps Profit. While I agree that Kitchen Confidential, though fun, doesn’t belong on this list, I disagree about Wonderfalls- what a great, bizarre show! The concept is interesting, entertaining, and well thought out, and the very strong cast only improves over the course of the season. It also ends well, wrapping up the character development and relationships we’ve followed over the course of the show.

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