They Shouldn’t Have Been One and Done
Ten of the Best One Season Series over the Past Decade, Part 1
Every so often, an on-line article will mention a series that was a prime example of a show that, for whatever reason, the executives (most of them broadcast heads) chose to cancel after just one season. The list, of course, features a lot of series where you really do wonder what the heads were thinking. There’s My So-Called Life, of course; Firefly which geeks have never gotten over being canceled after twenty years; Freaks & Geeks, a series that considering its cast and writers I hope the NBC executive is forced to see the cast’s box office every year as penance for letting them go, and for some reason, Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. (Having actually seen the latter in its entirety, I can only assume that’s because of the talent that was wasted rather than the actual series.)
As someone who has made it his job to watch TV over the last decade, I’ve had more than my share of series that had this potential and should’ve been granted another chance (Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Ringer comes to mind) and some that had a great cast and premise but couldn’t pull it together (Flashforward) But over the years I’ve seen a lot of series that based on what they accomplished in their brief run, they really should have been granted another season and it is still inexplicable to me why they were cancelled in the first place. (Sometimes you really wish that Amazon or Hulu had existed back then to bring them back from the dead)
So here are ten series from the past ten years that were truly different and exceedingly brilliant to watch. For whatever reason, network and cable chose to cut them short and in a way, it’s really hard to forgive them because some were extraordinarily entertaining and others were ahead of their time.
The Chicago Code (2011)
Shawn Ryan struck lightning when he created The Shield in 2002, the series that put FX on the map as a bastion of original programming and was one of the most extraordinary success stories in the first part of the Golden Age of Television. He never came close to having lightning strike again — commercially, that is. Many of his other series were just as creative. And few had the taste of what The Shield was capable of then his effort for Fox. A series which dealt with a cop only slightly more ethical than Vic Mackey (Jason Clarke in one of his best roles) going after an alderman/crime lord (Delroy Lindo, in what would become his first real exposure of his greatness on America TV). It was a perfect mixture of serialized and episodic storytelling that ended on a near perfect note. But its ratings were never high enough and Fox pulled the plug on it after its season was over. It has always appalled me that Dick Wolf’s Chicago universe would end up being a success, even though its P.D. show does everything wrong that the Code did right.
Luck (2011) HBO
It’s been more than a decade and I’m still getting this out of my craw. On paper, this series should have been one of the greatest in HBO’s history. It was written by David Milch, the legend behind Deadwood dealing with the racetrack world and the gamblers he’d always wanted to write about. Michael Mann was a cocreator in his return to television. And that cast — Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina, Nick Nolte, Jill Hennessy, Kevin Dunn, Richard Kind and later on Joan Allen and Michael Gambon showed up. How the hell could they screw it up?
The problem was the relationship between Milch and Mann. Mann didn’t allow the creative freedom that Milch had used to such greatness on Deadwood. As a result, it was never quite as brilliant as it should’ve been but by the end it was finding its footing. HBO renewed it for a second season…and then just as it started filming, canceled it. The reason was that when you film a series on a racetrack, there’s a good possibility that horse will get hurt. After three horses had to be put down, HBO cancelled the series rather than deal with protests with animal rights groups. Which frankly has always smelled of horse…well, you know. I’m pretty sure if Game of Thrones had similar issues, HBO would’ve fought for it. Luck wasn’t being watched enough people, there were struggles behind the scenes, and the networks decided to shoot it. It was yet another sign that HBO was leaving behind the era that made it the leader in Peak TV.
This one doesn’t sting as much but it does hurt. The Palladinos (those geniuses behind Gilmore Girls) created a series for ABC Family with another quippy brunette as the lead (the delightful Sutton Foster) Foster played a Vegas showgirl who impulsively marries a fan and then goes off to a sleepy coastal tone where she ends up meeting her new mother-in-law (Emily Bishop) a ballet coach. Then her new husband dies, and she and her mother-in-law find themselves working together to keep the studio afloat. So yes, it was derivative of Gilmore Girls (albeit with four Rorys instead of one) but it was also extremely charming, witty and full of the same kind of one-liners and cultural references the Palladinos are known for. It really made me laugh and there was actual music and dancing. I’m not sure why ABC Family chose to cancel it (they gave it far more latitude than a lot of other series on this list) but one can’t argue it didn’t work out. Amy Sherman-Palladino went on to create The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and finally get her share of Emmys and Sutton Foster went on to Younger which for her may have been the TV role of a lifetime. Still, it left me wanting more.
Awake (NBC, 2012)
Unlike the other series on this list, I know exactly why Awake got cancelled. NBC was in such a bad place as a network that I think the only reason a series this creative got put on the air was out of sheer desperation. Awake deals with an LA Detective (Jason Isaacs) who’s recovering from a car accident with his family…in a very weird way. When he goes to sleep, he wakes up in a world where his son died and his wife is alive; when he goes to sleep there, he wakes up in a world where this is the reverse. In one world, he’s still partner with his old partner (Steve Harris). In another, he’s working with a rookie (Wilmer Valderrama). He’s going through therapy in each world to deal with this; in one world, that therapist is BD Wong; in another its Cherry Jones. He’s not sure which world is real and he’s not sure what’s going on; the only thing that’s a constant everywhere is that everybody else thinks he’s crazy. Throw in mysteries that had different parts of the truth revealed depending on what world he was in, and a possibility that the accident was not an accident and you have a show that was completely unlike what you’d find on anywhere, much less network television. It was a superb series done by a network who was trying to find a hit so badly 30 Rock made a virtual plotline during in its run. I’m not shocked it got cancelled (its ratings, even for NBC at the time, were dreadful) I’m amazed it got greenlit. I really wish they’d stuck with this kind of series making instead of, you know, leaning so heavily on Dick Wolf.
Red Band Society (Fox) 2014–2015
Well, you certainly can’t say it wasn’t different. I have no doubt some executive at Fox pitched the idea for this show as ‘Glee meets The Fault in our Stars’. I’m just kind of stunned it worked as well as it did. A series dealing with a group of teenagers living together as oncology patients in a hospital’s pediatric ward, Red Band Society dealt with Octavia Spencer as a kindly nurse, Dave Annable as the pediatric equivalent of McDreamy and was narrated by a coma patient! (for most of the series, anyway). What this series did well (frankly better than a lot of movies that have tried the same subject) was demonstrate that teenagers are teenagers, even if they’re dying. They want to have sex, they want to have peers, they have trouble with their parents, and they have the same kind of fights about the same kind of teenager things that we all do. And for all that, it was really funny. That coma kid had a really big sense of humor. I will say, that unlike a lot of the series on this list, Red Band Society did manage to end in a way that brought closure to those who had started to love it. It was erratic, but it was fun while it lasted. And I really hope those kids got better.
Be back tomorrow with the rest of my list.