Whistling through the TV graveyard
TV isn't always a meritocracy. With that in mind, here are our picks of five shows that were canceled way before their time, and five more we wish would vanish into a black hole, never to be seen again.
Which ones made the list? Check out the gallery above to find out.
The good: Firefly
When it comes to shows taken from us too soon, there’s nothing that compares to Firefly. The brainchild of Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator and Avengers director Joss Whedon, this superb sci-fi/Western series only crawled to 14 episodes before Fox pulled the plug due to subpar ratings.
The show's cult fan base sounded off so loudly that the series was sequelized a few years later in 2005 movie Serenity, which picked up with the same cast after the events of Firefly's final episode. The movie was critically acclaimed, but flopped at the box office. This is why we can’t have nice things.
It sounds crazy to suggest that a franchise which is coming up to 50 years of age was canceled too soon, but the original Star Trek television show was kicked off the air after just three seasons!
Revived after posting strong syndication numbers, the sci-fi franchise spawned more than a dozen films and four spinoff TV series, but there was definitely a time when James Tiberius Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise genuinely seemed to have reached the final frontier. “You Star Trek fans have fought the good fight, but the show has been canceled and there’s nothing to be done now,” wrote a TV critic in 1969. Truly illogical, captain!
I narrowly avoided including Buffy spinoff Angel on this list for fear of including yet another Joss Whedon project. Then I remembered Dollhouse, his short-lived sci-fi show about a mysterious organization that implants false memories and skills in mind-wiped humans known as Dolls so they can take on various missions.
The premise sounded like it could simply be a show in which its star, Eliza Dushku, got dressed up in various outfits (that alone should have guaranteed a minimum of three seasons). But Dollhouse was packed full of Whedon-y goodness and grew to become one of the most intriguing sci-fi shows in recent history, even though it only lasted two seasons.
Set in the late 1800s and revolving around the residents of Deadwood, South Dakota, this foul-mouthed HBO Western was beloved by virtually everyone that saw it. Everyone, that is, except for HBO executives, who canceled it after Season 3.
While there were initial plans to give Deadwood a proper sendoff with two TV movies, those plans now seem to have fallen by the wayside. We hold out hope that someone comes to their senses.
A pie-maker imbued with the power to bring the dead back to life solves murders with his resurrected childhood sweetheart, a private investigator, and a love-struck waitress. What’s not to love? Seemingly nothing, which is why Pushing Daisies received 17 Emmy Award nominations, with seven wins. Then it was canceled, presumably by someone who won’t be brought back from the afterlife anytime soon.
The bad: Two and a Half Men
There are some events so shameful that you have to wonder if there’s something deeply wrong with the human psyche -- the kind of thing Arthur C. Clarke was alluding to in 2001: A Space Odyssey when he suggested that civilization was inextricably tied to murder and bloodshed.
The inexplicable popularity of Two and a Half Men is one such example. I've never actually met a fan of this show, but they must exist unless 4.8 million people leave their TV sets on every week as some kind of situationist meta-prank.
Here’s how awful the show is: CBC recently announced the series will end after its next season, and I’m still including it here. Why? Because they shouldn't even let it finish out with a flourish of human decency. Just cut to black in the middle of an episode and never mention it again.
The Big Bang Theory
I should love The Big Bang Theory. As a nerd who loves tech, comics and pretty much anything else that used to mark you as a potential lunch-money theft target in high school, a show that features geeks (as opposed to, say, five unfeasibly attractive friends living in apartments they could never possibly afford) should be right up my alley.
So why should The Big Bang Theory be canceled immediately? There are a bunch of small reasons: The jokes aren’t funny, the characters are unlikeable, and a laugh track in 2014 is all kinds of lame. The real reason, though, is that it’s in no way an accurate portrayal of geek culture, but rather the same kind of dumb pocket-protector brainiac jokes we’ve been suffering through since the 1950s. HBO's Silicon Valley is roughly a billion times better.
The Simpsons is, at this stage, essentially a zombie. It looks a little bit like the entity you once knew, but the spirit is gone, and now it just lurches around the wilderness looking for brains to feast upon. Even the most ardent Simpsons fan will readily admit that things haven’t been the same since the late '90s, when the show lost its zing and began its steep decline.
It’s not even like you can just blame the show’s age, though: While 25 seasons is a long time by anyone’s reckoning, South Park has been on the air for 17 years and can still raise a good laugh every episode. It’s sad to say, since I once loved The Simpsons, but creator Matt Groening has basically undone all his good work at this stage. Boo-urns!
Beauty and the Beast
“What, that great 1991 Academy Award-nominated Disney movie?” If that’s genuinely what you thought when you read this, then skip to the next slide and don’t sully your mind with knowledge about this abomination of a show, which has been soiling the airwaves since 2012. A loose remake of the 1987 CBS series of the same name, this sci-fi police procedural is woeful on just about every level. Oh, and the “Beast” character is basically an underwear model with a blemish on his cheek. The horror, the horror!
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It would have been very easy to pick, pretty much at random, a reality show from E and hold it up as the final example of a show that we’d like to have scrubbed from our brains using neuroscience’s answer to bleach. That would have been too easy, though. Instead, how about the crushing disappointment of a show that is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
They've done so much right with the Marvel Cinematic Universe that it seemed they should certainly be able to transfer some of the magic of Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie to the small screen. Sadly, they haven’t.
What we’re left with is a show straight out of the formulaic '90s that lacks any of the recognizable characters or compelling plotlines of big-screen Marvel tales. With Marvel already running the risk of burnout with the number of flicks it’s pumping out, it should forget about this misstep and focus on completing its Hollywood takeover.
Did we miss out your favorite hidden TV gem, that was taken from us before it had the chance to find its audience? Or did we want to send a show you love off to the Sarlacc pit that is TV hell? If you have strong thoughts on this topic let us know what they are in the comments below.