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November 29, 2023

WRITTEN BY: NICK AND QUENTIN

Canceled. It's a word that has haunted television watchers for years. You get into a series, watch it for multiple seasons, and become invested in the characters just to have the rug pulled out from under you. But what about the good shows that never even get to that point? The series that are never given a chance to find their footing in spite of their cast and potential.


Yes, these cancellations can happen due to poor ratings and low quality, but they can also be caused by lack of finances, behind-the-scenes turmoil, or a number of other varying reasons. "Canceled" has become synonymous with being “bad,” and that's just not always the case.


Below, Nick and Quentin spotlight some of their favourite "One Season Wonders," those series that left a lasting impression despite the networks pulling the plug too soon.

LIFE ON MARS (2008-2009)


Synopsis: The story of New York City police detective Sam Tyler, who, after being struck by a car in 2008, regains consciousness in 1973.


Based on the BAFTA-winning British show of the same name, the American remake of Life on Mars was lauded for its premise, acting, and accurate depiction of the ‘70s. Featuring a superb cast of Jason O’Mara, Academy Award Nominee Harvey Keitel, multi-Emmy Award Nominee Michael Imperioli, and Gretchen Mol, this series is a complex mishmash of genres, including thriller, mystery, sci-fi, and gritty police procedural. Sadly, the ambitious show was interrupted by a lengthy midseason hiatus, which was followed by a timeslot change. This caused ratings to plummet by nearly half, so naturally ABC canceled it. On the plus side, there is a silver lining. It was canceled early enough that producers had time to rewrite the planned season finale as a mostly satisfying series finale, leaving us with a terrific, 17-episode miniseries that functions as a testament to what might have been.

THE PASSAGE (2019)


Synopsis: When a botched U.S. government experiment turns a group of death row inmates into highly infectious vampires, an orphan girl might be the only person able to stop the ensuing crisis.


As someone who grew up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I had an affinity for vampires before the Twilight craze hit. After Buffy, though, the focus leaned too heavily into the romance side of things (Moonlight, The Vampire Diaries, True Blood) and away from the more innovative ideas. Then FOX debuted the underseen series The Passage. Based on the Justin Cronin series of novels, The Passage provided a new twist on the genre, led by the perpetually underrated Mark-Paul Gosselaar and relative newcomer Saniyya Sidney (who went on to play Venus Williams in King Richard). The series, which focused on a government project gone wrong that opened the door for a potential apocalypse, was like a shot of adrenaline. The storytelling was deliberate and well paced, while the action-packed sequences FOX has always been known for were present as well. Although it was viewed positively by both fans and critics alike, the ratings weren’t there, leading to another much-too-soon cancellation for a Gosselaar series.



THE GOOD GUYS (2010)


Synopsis: Washed-up detective Dan Stark teams up with young, by-the-book detective Jack Bailey in the police department's property crimes division. Their superior officer strives to keep them investigating seemingly minor crimes in order to keep the department out of trouble. 


Something of a mix between The Other Guys and The Nice Guys, The Good Guys soared on the comedic, against-type performance of multi-Emmy winning actor Bradley Whitford as Dan Stark, a washed-up, loose cannon cop who was hot shit in the 80s. The type of cop who relies on hunches, listens to Foghat, hides beer in his shampoo bottles, and uses his gun as a bottle opener. Whitford tackles the role with mustachioed aplomb. No disrespect to Colin Hanks, who plays the straight man incredibly well here, but this was Whitford’s series. On top of that, the basic intent of The Good Guys was a sort of satirical anti-thesis to the glut of CSI-inspired shows that still plague the airwaves today (there are running jokes about Stark not understanding “computer machines” and “smarty phones''), which, at the time, made it a fresh take on the cop procedural. The problem was that people just didn’t watch it since FOX aired it during the summer months - first on Mondays, then on Fridays, then on Saturdays. If you want your show to fail, that’s how you do it.


STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP (2006)


Synopsis: A behind-the-scenes look at a fictional sketch-comedy television show.


While some of my entries for this article admittedly lean heavily on personal preference, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is the one I think most deserved continuation. Set behind the scenes of a Saturday Night Live-style program, the series had a stacked cast of TV mainstays (Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson), interesting characters, and smart writing by one of the best to ever do it in Aaron Sorkin. The reason for its cancellation came down to poor timing. It was released alongside 30 Rock (another behind-the-scenes-of-an-SNL-style program, albeit a strict comedy), and it was decided there wasn’t room for such a similar series. Unfortunately, with all the talent involved, Studio 60 was the much more expensive venture, which led to its cancellation in spite of being a stronger ratings success than 30 Rock. Personally, I think the series was also undone by airing on network TV instead of a channel like HBO, where it would have been a better fit and likely could have had the success of another Sorkin series, The Newsroom. There’s no way to know if that’s the case, but it's been nice to see the series gain a bit of a second life following the death of Matthew Perry, as many are revisiting it as one of his best pieces of work, which it is.



NO ORDINARY FAMILY (2010-2011)


Synopsis: The story of the Powells, a typical American family living in Pacific Bay, California, whose members gain special powers after their plane crashes in the Amazon.

 

Back when the MCU was just getting started, everyone was dipping their toes into the superhero pool, with many offerings being about generic heroes (i.e., not Marvel or DC). One such series was No Ordinary Family, which was essentially “live-action The Incredibles.” Family was generally well-received, with the San Francisco Chronicle saying, “there's lots of promise here, of drama, action, comedy, etc., all wrapped up in a family-friendly series.” The charming cast was led by Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz, but also featured a parade of people you’d recognize even if you don’t know their names. But for whatever reason, the audience didn’t latch on to it, with viewership dropping from 11 million to 3.5 million over the course of its 20 episodes. So, it’s not surprising that ABC canceled it within weeks of the season finale. The real shame is that it was maybe just ahead of its time because this series may have flourished if it premiered five years later.



POWERLESS (2016)


Synopsis: Follows the staff of an insurance company that specializes in products to protect defenseless bystanders from the collateral damage of superheroes and supervillains.


Instead of going the CW route like many DC characters before it had, Powerless aired on NBC as the first DC Comics sitcom. It featured a charming ensemble cast, including Vanessa Hudgens in my personal favourite performance of hers, Danny Pudi coming off Community, and Alan Tudyk in a scene-stealing role as Van Wayne, Bruce’s cousin. Sadly, the series was marred by behind-the-scenes issues. The original pilot (shown at Comic-Con) was very well received, but after the creator left the project, it was largely re-shot as a shadow of what it was. The series did find its footing as it went on, but the early word of mouth was too much to overcome. At the height of the superhero craze, Powerless attempted to do something different within that universe, but all that’s left is its unrealized potential.


MY OWN WORST ENEMY (2008)


Synopsis: This drama follows a man with two identities: Henry Spivey, a mild-mannered family man, and Edward Albright, a covert operative who is trained to kill. Each identity is unaware of the other until the carefully constructed psychological wall between the two is breached.


For a while, there was a running joke on the internet that you should never get too invested in a series starring Christian Slater. Between 2008-2015, Slater had three series canceled after one season (and a fourth that was canceled midway through Season Two). The first and best from this string of failures was My Own Worst Enemy. In what might be the most perfect example of a network not giving a series a fair shake, NBC canceled it after just four episodes despite critics calling it “smart and shrewdly funny” with a “charismatic” dual performance from Slater. The show also starred Bella Thorne, Taylor Lautner, Alfre Woodard, and James Cromwell, so a solid cast across the board, and its use of the “sleeper agent” idea to explore the duality of man and self-awareness was extremely clever. Sadly, the premise was just too complicated for your standard network television audience because the already-not-great ratings of the premiere dropped by almost half after four episodes. Then, once the cancellation was announced, viewers found little reason to continue devoting time to it despite featuring slick thrills, non-stop action, dark humor, and engaging twists.



SON OF ZORN (2016)


Synopsis: Animation and live-action collide when a cartoon Barbarian dad leaves his war-torn village to reconnect with his moody, non-animated teenage son in suburbia.


A hybrid live-action/animated homage to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Son of Zorn was a fun weekly comedy. As an outsider, Jason Sudeikis’ real-life cartoon character (literally) Zorn brought forth tons of solid fish-out-of-water jokes as he would struggle with fitting in while the contrast between him and the Pleasantville-stylings of Tim Meadows’ Craig consistently provided laugh-out-loud moments. It’s as if Thor was funnier and had more teeth. Unfortunately, of my selections here, this is the cancellation I understand the most due to the limitations its rating provided. Were this a Netflix series with the ability to go all out, Son of Zorn could have been another of the great adult animated series. Instead, it failed, likely held back by network tv trappings.



THE TICK (2001)


Synopsis: Following the adventures of a wide-eyed, 7-foot, 400-pound superhero with nigh-invulnerability, superhuman strength, super speed, and the battle cry of "Spoooooon!," The Tick is a surrealistic parody of superheroes.

 

Based on the comic book of the same name, The Tick is one of three attempts to adapt the cult classic hero for television. However, for my money, this short, single season is the best of the bunch, mostly thanks to Patrick Warburton’s iconic and pitch-perfect performance as the childlike and optimistic character. On top of that, you’ve got a pilot directed by the acclaimed Barry Sonnenfeld, production design from multi-Oscar and multi-Emmy Award nominee Bo Welch, and Nestor Carbonell as series’ original creation Batmanuel, a hilarious Latino parody of Batman. Despite receiving praise from fans and critics alike for its inventiveness and clever humor (Sonnenfeld has called it the best thing he has ever directed), FOX completely mismanaged the series, pitting it against massive ratings grabbers like Survivor and NBC’s “Must See TV” lineup of Friends and Will & Grace, as well as seemingly not knowing how to promote it in general (or simply not wanting to because they didn’t own it and it had high production costs). Sadly, it was canceled after eight of the nine episodes aired, but you can still buy this surprisingly enduring series on Prime for under $8.



TERRA NOVA (2011)


Synopsis: In the year 2149, a large group of settlers leave the apocalyptic world they live in to time travel 85 million years into the past in an attempt to start a new civilization.


Did the Jurassic World franchise leave a bad taste in your mouth? If so, go back and check out Terra Nova. One of the few dinosaur-centric projects to hit the small screen, it focused on a group of people who travel back to prehistoric times in an attempt to recolonize a human race facing extinction. Executive produced by none other than Steven Spielberg, Terra Nova featured the likes of Jason O’Mara (who has made this list twice!), Stephen Lang, Naomi Scott, and Shelley Conn in a thrilling dinosaur adventure with both the effects and unique plot needed to succeed. Unfortunately, the series was very uneven out of the gate, and though it hit its stride in the final episodes, it was too little, too late. It was promptly canceled due to low ratings and high costs. The path to Season Two renewed excitement in fans and critics alike, which even led to Netflix expressing interest in picking it up, but the high costs per episode were just too much to justify the renewal. Still, one worth searching out.


Honorable Mentions: The Adventures of Brisco Country Jr., The Michael J. Fox Show, The Unusuals, Reboot

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