Exciting news this week for cult television fans! Not only has Community announced its season six premiere date, but Kyle MacLachlan’s return as Dale Cooper has been confirmed for David Lynch’s upcoming Twin Peaks project. That’s two unlikely shows that have beat the odds, returning to television despite either years away or an epically plagued production. Community, as you may know, has been through many trials – enduring the loss and return of its showrunner, shortened seasons, cast member departures, and cancellation – only to return time and time again with the support of their dedicated fan base and the determination of its cast and creator. Community may have been cancelled by NBC, but thanks to Yahoo! (who apparently makes TV shows now), we may just get our fabled six seasons and a movie. As for Twin Peaks, it may have had a short run twenty years ago, but the ending and its multitude of fans years later have been begging for another season. Some shows are just too special, or too determined, or too loved to ever really die. In honor of Community and Twin Peaks, here’s a look at a few shows that may have struggled, but beat the odds and won our hearts.
It’s hard to believe that after four spin-offs, ten movies, two reboots, and multiple comic books and novels that Star Trek started out as a hard luck, low budget, struggling television series that barely made it through three seasons. Many people who don’t know anything about the original series assume that it must have run for years, and are amazed to learn of its short run and production troubles. It is also amazing to note that we partly have Lucille Ball (of Desilu Productions) to thank for keeping the show running as long as it did. If you watch even casually, however, you will noticed a marked difference in quality between seasons two and three, because everyone thought the show was being cancelled and the budget had been cut. When you have to scrounge in the dumpsters for Mission: Impossible’s old set pieces to repurpose as your own, you know you’re on a tight budget. Despite that, however, the show obviously made a huge impression on viewers. Gene Roddenberry’s mission in creating Star Trek was to influence cultural understanding, peace and equality between peoples, and a higher purpose for humanity. Unfortunately, the reboots – entertaining as they are – sorely miss the point. And since Fast and Furious 6 director Justin Lin has recently been announced as director of Star Trek 3, I can only assume they’ve given up the pretense all together and just want a movie about explosions in space.
FOX is perhaps unfairly known for tragically cancelling their best and most original shows before their time. Fans can be terribly unforgiving in cases like these, especially in the case of Joss Whedon’s Firefly – and new generations of fans will continue to discover, fall in love with, and then be devastated by that loss for years to come, so FOX is pretty much married to that blunder. I digress. What I meant to say is that sometimes FOX unexpectedly lets a good thing ride. Despite moving Fringe to the Friday night death slot in its third season, the show unexpectedly ran for another two seasons. In some ways, the Friday night slot gave the showrunners more creative freedom, contributing to the incredibly unique and innovative storytelling and mythological elements of the show. Considering one of the main trends of the show was to uproot the timeline and reset the plot, Fringe perhaps did not appeal to audiences who appreciate predictable storytelling or consistency. This is one of the elements that made Fringe more of a niche show than the procedural it started out as, foregoing popularity to become what is already being labeled as one of the greatest science fiction shows of all time.
Talk about shows that never die, Doctor Who is the ultimate in television regeneration. It started as an unlikely idea brought to life by two unlikely BBC professionals in 1963. Producer Verity Lambert – a woman – and director Waris Hussein – a British-Indian – faced condescension, prejudice, and indifference from their BBC collaborators and co-workers when producing the first episodes of the show. Since those humble days, however, the quirky show about a time travelling alien and his companions in his space ship disguised as a British police box has become not only a nation-wide phenomenon, but an international cult favorite. The original series continued to run despite the departure of its first starring actor after three years (which first introduced the idea of regeneration to the show, now a famous part of its mythology), and was never even officially cancelled after its final episode in 1989. An attempt to revive the show faltered with the horrendous TV movie in 1996, while the adventures of the Doctor continue on in book, comic, and audio form. The series was successfully resurrected by Russell T. Davies in 2005, quickly growing from a specialized British cultural phenomenon to a world-wide cult favorite. The new series just finished its eighth, and highest rated, season and has just started filming on its ninth. Considering Doctor Who just celebrated its 50th anniversary and is more popular than ever, it doesn’t look like the show is going away any time soon.
The Killing was a big deal when it first came out, being casually compared to Twin Peaks and heavy selling their one season mystery angle. However, when the producers broke their promise, leaving the murder of Rosie Larson unsolved at the end of season one, viewers rebelled and the show never quite recovered. Miraculously, the show hobbled on for three more seasons after two cancellations by AMC, being renegotiated (third season) or picked up (fourth season) by Netflix. The show itself is reliably consistent in tone, beautifully detailed in its examination of human complexity, and never dull. Powerhouse Mireille Enos plays the wry, cynical, pragmatic, strong-yet-deeply-vulnerable, and beautiful Sarah Linden. She alone would make watching the series worth it, but she has some equally talented and dynamic co-stars that make the show a must.
Mystery Science Theater 3000
There really is nothing quite like MST3K – its charming, low-budget creativity, its alternating silly and intellectual humor, its genuine homegrown love of the concept – and perhaps there never will be again. The show, which features a man and his robot pals enduring terrible movies with humor as an evil scientist monitors their reactions, was originally a UHF series out of Minneapolis. Creator Joel Hodgson found that his humble production struck a chord with local viewers and soon garnered some attention. While the series was eventually picked up by the Comedy Channel (Comedy Central) and aired for six seasons, the show faced cancellation in 1997. Not to be defeated, the show was then picked up by the Sci-Fi channel and aired for another three seasons before its final cancellation in 1999. However, even cancellation couldn’t stop the crew of the Satellite of Love. To this day, Mike Nelson and his robot pals (now just the disembodied voices of Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett) continue to playfully skewer movies with their Rifftrax line of commentaries – even occasionally featuring special event broadcasts in theaters across the US.
I could probably find a reason to put Arrested Development on just about any Six Pack I compose, so I hope you will appreciate my relative restraint. This is, perhaps, the epitomizing example of a hard luck show that just refused to die. Given the show’s unusual, often alienating brand of humor and atypical sitcom structure for the time, it’s a miracle that it was able to survive its three seasons. Of course, we know now that Arrested Development was a moment in television history that spawned a new, smarter age of situational comedies, and as the sitcom evolved from that, more people began to appreciate Arrested Development for the genius it is. Even today, more than ten years after its premiere, the show seems edgy, unusual, and unique. It battled through to its third season before cancellation, but then came back ten years later for a fourth, darker season courtesy of Netflix. With any luck, we’ll see an Arrested Development movie in the near future.