Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Greatest Short-Lived Shows (Redux)

There was a time when TV networks gave new shows 23 episodes to rake in viewers before deciding whether or not the show should be renewed for another season. Nowadays, networks can decide to cancel a show after only 3 episodes if they want, bringing perfectly good TV shows to an end before they even had a chance to begin. Here is an updated list of some promising shows that suffered untimely deaths.

The Middleman
Creator: Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Stars: Matt Keeslar, Natalie Morales, Brit Morgan, Mary Pat Gleason, and Jake Smollett

“Goofy”, “quirky”, and “bizarre” are just a few words I’d use to describe this canceled show, but that’s to be expected when a TV show is based on a humorous comic book. The Middleman was never the kind of show that could earn tons of viewers; it was too far outside the lines of conventional television. But isn’t it a shame that being unique is all it takes for a show to be canceled? The oddball, sci-fi comedy lasted 12 episodes on ABC Family in 2008 before getting axed, but (good news for fans) The Middleman comics by Javier Grillo-Marxuach have been around for years and can be easily bought through online stores.

Creator: Bragi F. Schut
Stars: Carla Gugino, Brian Van Holt, Brent Spiner, Rob Benedict, Peter Dinklage, and Charles S. Dutton

The internet can be a bitch, especially when alien mind-control signals go viral (literally) and start rewriting the DNA of anyone unfortunate enough to see and hear it. That’s where Threshold comes in – the U.S. Government’s plan to track down everyone infected with the alien virus and save all of humanity. Sounds like a huge project, yet it’s placed in the hands of one top secret government task force called the Red Team. For the short while it lasted, Threshold was an intriguing and enigmatic sci-fi show with a naturally eerie depth that is difficult for most shows to achieve. Only 9 of its total 13 episodes were aired before CBS pulled it from their lineup in 2005. The remaining 4 episodes were aired in the UK and included on the DVDs.

The Unusuals
Creator: Noah Hawley
Stars: Amber Tamblyn, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau, Adam Goldberg, Joshua Close, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Kai Lennox, and Terry Kinney

The Unusuals was an atypical crime drama/comedy about the cops of NYPD’s second precinct who deal with unusual cases. They handled everything from illegal porn shoots to murder stores, and the cops were just as quirky as their cases. Every character had something that made them unique, whether it was a secret, an interesting back-story, or an odd superstition. One thing’s for sure, the show was never dull; yet ABC decided to cancel it after only 5 episodes had aired because of low ratings. (Of course the ratings were low; it was only 5 episodes in! People barely had time to learn that the show even existed!) ABC graciously allowed the remaining 5 episodes of the season to air before completely removing it from the station and their website. The Unusuals ended its short run in 2008 with 10 episodes in total and a cliffhanger involving this fan's favorite character...and yes, it still bothers me.

Creator: Joss Whedon
Stars: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Morena Baccarin, Ron Glass, Sean Maher, and Summer Glau

This space western had so much promise, and it probably would’ve lasted 7 seasons had it been on any network other than Fox. With an interesting storyline, talented acting, darn good special effects (it even won an Emmy for them), and a good amount of humor thrown into the mix, Firefly had all the makings of a sci-fi classic; it even had its own lingo. But the show’s brilliance was no match for the network’s incompetence. Fox aired the episodes out of order, making it difficult for viewers to keep track of the storyline. (The pilot episode was shown 11th!) The network also placed many demands on the way the show was produced and gave them a small budget to work on. In the end, Fox canceled Firefly after only 11 of its 14 episodes aired. Despite the fact that the show only ran for 3 months in 2002, it gained a cult following that sent DVD sales through the roof. In response to the fans, the movie Serenity was made to tie up most of Firefly’s loose ends. (Although Book's past is still a mystery.) But there's one nagging question that still remains: Why did Fox torpedo this show?

Stargate: Universe
Creators: Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright
Stars: David Blue, Robert Carlyle, Louis Ferreira, Alaina Huffman, Elyse Levesque, Ming-Na, Brian J. Smith and Jamil Walker Smith

First off, let me say that I am a big fan of the Stargate franchise going all the way back to the original movie from 1994. That being said, I can understand why this show did not get the ratings that it truly deserved, and there are two main reasons: (1) It is part of the Stargate franchise. Right off the bat, it limits its audience to already-established Stargate fans, because (let's face it) not many people are willing to tune in to a spin-off of a show that they've never watched. (2) It is very different from the other Stargate series. It lacks the light-hearted tone of Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis, making it far more serious than viewers expected it to be. In addition, it is more of a drama than the other shows, being focused on the way the characters interact with each other rather than on the situations they're in. It is also the kind of show that doesn't allow for casual viewership; you have to watch every episode in chronological order to follow the plot, which wasn't the case with the other Stargates. So, to sum things up, Stargate: Universe's viewers were almost all fans of the previous two shows, but Stargate: Universe was not geared to fans of the previous two shows; this resulted in a rapid loss of viewers, of whom there were too few to begin with. By the time SGU began to gravitate towards the much-loved style of its predecessors to appease the fans (e.g. Brody and Volker develop a sense of humor in the second season), the network had already decided to cancel it. This is a shame, because there was nothing wrong with the show itself; it was the labeling that threw people off. SGU ran from 2009-2011 on the Sci-Fi Channel Syfy (another unfortunate labeling), ending with two seasons and a total of 40 episodes - making it the longest running show on this list.

Twin Peaks
Creators: David Lynch and Mark Frost
Stars: Way too freakin' many to list here

Much like Firefly, Twin Peaks is proof that networks should never meddle in the creative process of TV show production. Twin Peaks was as brilliant as it was bizarre (or should I say "wonderful and strange?") until a drop in ratings caused ABC to demand that the killer be revealed in the second season, despite the fact that the show was a murder mystery and revealing said killer makes it, you know, no longer a mystery. It was like a crack dealer giving his best customers a lifetime supply all at once. Suddenly, viewers who had been hooked on the show no longer felt the need to tune in each week; ABC had given them the fix to end all fixes. With the main storyline gone, the show was left with a void to fill. A new storyline was brought in, but it felt rushed and premature - like it should have been brewing in the background for a while longer before taking center stage. Nevertheless, Twin Peaks has a certain hypnotic quality to it that continues to make it so endearing. It challenged viewers to make sense from the nonsensical and mind-bogglingly surreal. Like a Zen Buddhist koan, it asks you to think beyond the realm of logic and reason. (Am I getting too spacey here?) The point is it was a trippy, quirky, amazing show and that is why it has endured as a cult classic over two decades after being yanked off the air. The show was canceled in 1991 with a total of 30 episodes, ending in a massive - and I mean massive - cliffhanger. The movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was made a year later to become the first in a planned series of movies that would eventually complete the entire story, but it earned little money and the other films were never made. While the movie does answer a few questions, it also poses several more, leaving us fans to come up with varied and overly-analytical theories as to what it all means (the ring and its relation to garmonbozia? the seemingly possessed clothes?). And this process continues to this very day with both old fans and new sharing their thoughts and opinions. Other shows may fade away after being canceled, but Twin Peaks is one that stays with you. There's just something about it...

No comments:

Post a Comment