Ever fall in love with a show only to have it abruptly cancelled a few episodes into a promising first season, leaving you bereft and aghast and forever writing fanfiction about those beloved characters who never got to have their stories fleshed out or their relationships explored? Maybe you don’t do the last part (or perhaps you do), but you undoubtedly know what its like to have a favorite show cut down seemingly before it even begins. Many of you may already be thinking about that Joss Whedon cult favorite space western that is number one on this list, but here are a few more to look into, fall in love with, and forever be deprived of just when you think its getting good.
6. Dead Like Me (2003)
This is a show about a disillusioned young woman who dies and becomes a grim reaper. You may get this show confused with another with a similar premise, name, and cult status called Pushing Daisies. You’d be forgiven for your mistake since both shows were created by none other than Bryan Fuller, who is currently working on a new cult favorite, Hannibal. If you’ve ever seen Hannibal, you know that its dark and twisted and often times very, very funny. This dark humor and themes of death are found often in Fuller’s work and Dead Like Me is no exception. While Georgia “George” Lass (Ellen Muth) must struggle with life after death and her new job taking the lives of others, there is a lot of pathos in the mentor relationship between her and her boss Rube (the incredible Mandy Patinkin), and a lot of humor in character interactions and situational irony. It really is a show that died before its time.
5. Twin Peaks (1990)
David Lynch’s surreal and soapy murder mystery series lasted barely two seasons before it was cancelled on a cliffhanger. This, of course, is another one of those darkly humorous, twisted, and controversial series that meets with a lot of resistance from networks and often from viewers. While it was a cult favorite even before its cancellation, Lynch wanted out of the series by the end of the first season, fearing that he was using up all his good ideas on the show and that there would be nothing left for future work. While the series had always been a bit abstract and campy, Lynch increased those levels the longer the show went on. It ended in an endless trans-dimensional search for the demonic Bob and the ghost of Laura Palmer through a series of identical red curtained corridors and rooms, culminating in the classic dancing dwarf scene. The soapy nature of the show leaves a great many unanswered questions regarding unresolved story lines and character relationships, never to be concluded.
4. The Lone Gunmen (2001)
This Chris Carter’s attempt at what should have been an easily catchy spin-off of the X-files. The show centers around the recurring characters from the X-files – John Byers, Melvin Frohike, and Richard Langly – who together comprise the members of the conspiracy theory group The Lone Gunmen. While their appearances on The X-files were always entertaining, they more often than not were merely secondary characters, often used for comedic relief or as plot devices. Their spin-off series introduced new characters to their group and gave them a recurring nemesis and sometimes ally with whom they often collaborated/sparred. Devoting a show to the exploits of these characters gave them a chance to be fleshed out more fully, especially in the case of Byers (Bruce Harwood) who turned out to be an excellent dramatic actor and with a surprisingly compelling storyline. Peppered among the thirteen episode run are frequent appearances from old or current X-files characters, like Michael McKean as Morris Fletcher, Mitch Pileggi as Walter Skinner, and even David Duchovny as Fox Mulder. Despite its firm connections to The X-files and an exciting and strong overarching plot, the show ended after its initial thirteen episode run.
3. Rubicon (2010)
Rubicon was supposed to be AMC’s newest hit show after its success with Mad Men and Breaking Bad. This slow moving and tense spy thriller had a strong cast who played interesting and complex characters, an intriguing and incomprehensible conspiracy plot, and a bleak and icy color palette to match its extremely understated tone. I loved it. My boyfriend hated it. Apparently I was in the minority, because it was cancelled after its first season. And I think what I loved about it was exactly what the mass audience hated about it – that it moved too slowly and provided little to no illumination or resolution by the end of the season. The seemingly impenetrable conspiracy and the actors’ restrained, complex performances fascinated me, kept me riveted to the screen to glean any detail from any nuance of expression or gesture, any meaningful word emphasis or vocal inflection, any ambiguous interpretation of a line, any subtle twist of plot. I’m not a person who craves closure – I tend to prefer ambiguity to the condescending finality of most movies and TV shows – so Rubicon was right up my alley. It was a show that left so much buried so deep, left almost everything up for interpretation, and encouraged thoughtful viewership and engaged analysis. By the end of the season, I was as much in the dark as I was the first episode, but I felt enriched and all the better for it.
2. Raines (2007)
I will watch anything featuring Jeff Goldblum. He is perhaps one of the most unique actors working today – with his twitchy yet laid back energy and the jazzy musicality and rhythm with which he speaks – and it is a complete shame that this charming jewel of a show was not better advertized by NBC as it was airing. Raines is about a Los Angeles homicide detective, Michael Raines (Goldblum), whose overactive imagination conjures the victim as a temporary partner to help him solve their murder. He sees and hears these people, has conversations with them, gets distracted by them, and he must hide this fact from his superiors or risk being taken off the job and sent for mental evaluations, which is not an option. Each episode features a new case and a new partner who offers hints and suggestions, changes with the evidence found or with Raines’ theories during the course of the investigation. Goldblum is compelling and charmingly neurotic, the perfect vehicle with which to showcase Raines’ nervous energy and unique thought process. I remember distinctly a beautiful moment at the end of one episode when Raines takes a moment to listen to a mix CD belonging to the victim with whom he’s just spent the entire episode. He says to himself cynically that its probably some horrible heavy metal thing, but when he hears the classic melody of the Gershwins’ “Someone to Watch Over Me”, he is left breathless and moved. He takes two short, ineffectual breaths – nearly gasps – and tears up as he listens, finally knowing the young woman whose murderer he brought to justice.
1. Firefly (2002)
And last but not least, the ultimate in heartbreaking unresolved and under appreciated cult TV shows, Joss Whedon’s beloved Firefly. A mere fourteen episodes long, anyone who ever starts watching it is doomed to fall in love only to be crushed by its brevity, forever haunted by unquenchable desire, and occasionally inconsolable after cruel April Fool’s Day pranks regarding reunion or reboot rumors. It is perhaps the best show ever to be cancelled. I will stand by that statement. And there are a lot of things about Firefly that made it such a phenomenal show, not least of all its incredible cast who portrayed an incredible ensemble of characters – each one of them unique, dynamic, compelling, believable, relatable, and consistently written. Connected to that is the complex and unique relationships all these characters have with each other, the way they have of speaking to each other, or the feelings they have for each other, both expressed and unexpressed. After all that is the completeness and believability of the science fiction world in which the action is set. Its not simply a cool setting, its a world with a history and a culture and a system of social classes. And then, of course, there are the stories and the over-arching plot. There really is nothing quite like Firefly, and there very likely won’t be anything like it ever again.