When a television show goes off the air after only one season we are left with some pretty big and unanswerable questions: Where do TV shows come from? What is their purpose while they are here on Earth? Where do they go when they get canceled?
While it might be hard to accept the loss of potential entertainment that is inevitable with the passing of a great show so soon after its incarnation, we can take solace in celebrating the life and not the death of these bright stars of the cathode ray tubes, however briefly they burned.
Do you remember when all of those advertisements went up everywhere that only featured a strange orange flag with a butterfly on them? No one seemed sure if they were promoting a band or a movie or if the gay community had suddenly decided to give up the rainbow. To this day many people never fully connected the butterfly flag campaign to the show Kings that lived and died on NBC in 2009. I am just going to bet right now that the guy who was in charge of the flag campaign is not working there any more.
I can see how the producers of Kings thought they had a surefire hit. A show based on a Bible story done in the style of Battle Star Galactica with Ian McShane, the dynamo actor who made Deadwood more than just a show of cussing cowboys. How could it miss? Most Americans love the Bible, most nerds love BSG and anyone who can actually handle the swearing loves Deadwood. What NBC didn’t realize is that Bible-loving America hates nerds, nerds hate the Bible, and people who were actually into Deadwood are a bunch of pretentious assholes who can’t put their support behind anything that doesn’t have at least one rape per episode.
Kings followed the exploits of David, a young soldier in the city of Shiloh, a fictional city set in a parallel universe that combined the worlds of Princess Diana with (I meant to use a female example from the bible here, but it turns out there are like no chicks in that whole thing). This alternative future was in some weird political landscape where the entire world split into two different countries that bordered each other, spoke the same language, and shared all kinds of the same customes and traditions. Imagine if Canada all of the sudden took over a bigger chunk of the world and went to war with us. Now go rent the movie Canadian Bacon directed by Michael Moore. Go on, I’ll wait here.
While I would have loved to see this show continue, I wasn't surprised when it got a smooth stone to the forehead. Basing a show off the Bible is a maddeningly problematic proposition. There wasn't a whole lot of inspiring stories left for King David anyway. Although it would have been great to see who played Bathsheba in season 2. It would have almost been worth it for a good bathing on the roof scene.
Sometime in the early part of the millennium Joss Whedon sat down in a pitch meeting. Everyone was waiting expectantly for the creator of the runaway hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer to give them the next lump of gold in the form of tongue-in-cheek genre programming. Joss leaned back in his chair stared at the hungry faces and said just two words: "Space Western!" Then he did jazz hands.
I don’t have much more to add to the tirade of internet whining that has gone on about this show and its subsequent cancellation. I enjoyed it, but I'm loathe to defend Joss. The guy is either a science fiction pioneer or a schlocky hack depending on your relationship with Sarah Michelle Geller's breasts.
Firefly was a much better show than Buffy (I said it). Following the exploits of Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity, the show was original, funny, and had a surprisingly catchy theme song. The whole Firefly exercise was worth it if only for this one joke from the second season of Castle.
Firefly is pretty fun and it seems to be permanently on the Netflix Watch instantly list. I suggest waiting one day till you are home from work sick and then just watching it front to back, dipping in and out of consciousness as your body requires.
People REALLY didn’t like this show. It aired after the last season of The Sopranos which may have accounted for some of the bad feelings that the show never could quite shake (nothing like an abrupt cut to black to make you not very interested in investing your time in a new show). Despite being created by David Milch, the man who gave birth to such undeniable hits as Deadwood and NYPD Blue, America came together and collectively cast this show out much the same way we did with Yahoo Serious in the '90s.
The thing is, I think it is one of the better shows to ever be on television. Much like Deadwood, the ensemble cast was a complicated tapestry of connections and interactions and the metaphysical aspects of the show were strange and challenging without being meta or preachy.
Episode 6 of the show is where the whole thing really kicks into weird overdrive with a scene where all the characters are basically standing around looking at each other as John -- the alien Jesus sent to live amongst them -- repositions them and programs them with cryptic fortune cookie instructions. Who can't relate to that? (America raises its hand.)
I know this will be hard for anyone who has only seen his films from the last dozen years, but Steven Soderbergh used to be a great director. He used to do wonderful movies that were fun to watch and actually made sense. One of those movies was called Out of Sight. It was based on an Elmore Leonard novel and starred George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, as well as about a dozen up-and-coming actors. It was great.
So great that it got a spin-off TV show based off of J.Lo's character. In the series she was played by Carla Gugino, whose breasts have brought joy to millions of Americans. She played the titular (ha!) character Karen Sisco: a tough-ass lady who was looking for love in all the wrong places. Her wise-cracking father was re-imagined by Robert Forster, who at the time was just beginning to realize his big Jackie Brown comeback wasn't going so well. The show was canceled after 7 episodes but was able to later rerun all 10 on USA.
Fun side note: There are currently no plans to ever release this show on DVD. I don't really have the energy to start a grassroots effort or anything, but I did make this GIF below from the pilot episode, so that's something.
Doesn’t life just seem better when Eric Stoltz is around? It’s hard to say why exactly. It’s not like he's that warm of a character. In a warmness contest he’d have a hard time coming in before Jay Mohr (most unlikable famous person ever), but whenever the Stoltz man rears his coppered head I can’t help but feel like everything is going to be ok.
Caprica was the Syfy prequel to the (relatively speaking) giant hit Battlestar Galactica. It utilized cheesy Syfy-style special effects to tell the story of how the Cylons (androids who later decide to stick it to earthlings) were created. Despite looking like it was made as a senior animation project whenever the Cylon is on screen, the story was totally solid. There was also a virtual reality video game world that players started to treat like real life (which would seem more far fetched if I hadn’t just come out of a 3 week World of Warcraft binge to find all of my pets had entered into some kind of Battle Royale where amazingly only the canary survived).
Caprica was also Alessandra Torressani’s big coming out party. (Unless you count her being the first incarnation of Ann Veal on Arrested Development. Torressani only played Ann for one episode and then was replaced by Mae Whitman who is now on Parenthood and who, up until today, I actually thought WAS Alessandra Torresani minus a month or two of P90X.) But anyway this was Alessandra’s big moment to shine. And when I say shine I mean shine like the moon. She is the very definition of moonfaced. I swear I can see Neil Armstrong’s footprints on her forehead.
Bryan Fuller can’t quite make a show stick. His cheeky brand of magical realism seems to make for the perfect example of limited-run shows. Start with a complicated but interesting concept ,add in some kooky characters, run through some fun yet increasingly unbelievable storylines and then BOOM! We're out before things get too repetitive.
Although Fuller's two other shows (Dead Like Me and Pushing Dasies) are disqualified for their second weak seasons, WonderFalls gets in after being canceled after 14 episodes. The story followed the adventures of Jane Tayler, a post grad philosophy student who begins working in the gift shop at Niagara Falls as a way to avoid her looming future. But when inantimate objects from the gift shop start giving her instructions, things get a little wacky!
Besides being almost the same plot to The Son of Sam murders, this show was really delightful and benefited from the creative touch of Todd Holland (who immediately went on to create Malcolm in the Middle).
Oh Claire Danes. For those of us who were in high school at the time this little beauty of a show came out you played an important role. Girls wanted your eating disorder and boys just wanted to have awkward make out sessions with you. No one show so perfectly describes what it was like to be a teenager in the '90s. The sweaters were so big! The sleeves were always falling over your hands! What were we supposed to do?
My So-Called Life also gave us the pouty-faced gift of Jared Leto, who would later go on to to melt our hearts as Angel Face in Fight Club and then destroy all goodwill towards him by forming the band 30 Seconds to Mars. Leto's later rock stardom was alluded to in the episode where after their lead singer has a fit of stage fright, Jared steps up and sings the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" to a group of enraptured teens.
I am not sad the show didn't continue because it was pretty clear that Angela was going to kill herself in the next few seasons. Who wants to see that?
The show that launched a dozen careers! Judd Apatow produced this wonderful highschool drama set in 1980 (which we all know is still technically in the '70s as the 80s didn’t start 'til almost 1983). There is literally not one of the shows titular Freaks or Geeks who did not go on to have a succesful career in television or film. Even Sam Levine got to be a killer Jew in Inglourious Basterds.
This show is often cited as proof that the fat cats who operate television studios don't have the foresight to stand behind artistic success without the accompanying Neilsen ratings. And while that may be true, there is something perfect about the short run that this show was given. Its success in the face of cancellation seems to coincide well with the idea of being a loser in high school and then growing up to be James Franco. And really isn't that what we are all secretly hoping happens? Especially Seth Rogen.
Donal Logue has been looking for the right vehichle ever since The Tao of Steve (oh man talk about one hit wonders: what the hell happened to Jenniphr Goodmam, director of Tao? It’s her ONLY IMDb credit! Her career is as MIA as the letter "e" from her first name.) And Terriers looked like it was going to be his launchboard from character actor to leading man. Alas, it was not to be.
Terriers received mixed reviews upon its launch but there was a general amelioration of opinions as the show continued. The half-hearted procedural aspect of the show began to take a back seat to the more dramatic story lines all while following a season-long plot that was well developed and actually reached a resolution. It's clear from the ending (completely lifted from The 25th Hour) that the show's future was in jeopardy. I like to think that the reason the show was canceled was because the characters decided to flee to Mexico, thus making the show impossible to continue (shut up Weeds, no one is talking to you).
I think had the show come out a few years ago while FX was still trafficking in the likes of Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me, Terriers' gritty realism would have been a welcome deviation from the channel's increasingly fantastical programming, but when drawing against the slightly similar but infinitely better Justified, Terriers really didn't have much of a shot. But don't feel bad Donal, I don't see Lights Out doing much better.
Louis CK (whose last name is actually Szeckenenfdjs) is the undisputed king of stand-up at the moment. No other comedian is receiving the same level of both popular and critical acclaim that the portly Mexican immigrant (yup) receives for his stand up performances and his current show, Louie, on FX.
Louis CK's first show, Lucky Louie, was a different incarnation that appeared for a short run on HBO. This was an incredibly divisive show. If I could boil it down to a reductive Hollywood equation, it had the live performance aspect and intensely offensive humor of Mr. Show while tapping into the blue collar saga of Roseanne. The sets were built extremely shallow so that at any given moment the audience was only a few dozen feet away from the actors.
The other thing that this show had going for it was that we finally got to see Pamela Adlon (who up till then you had just heard as the voice of Bobby on King of the Hill). She has since gone on to be the best thing about the weird wet dream that is Californication.
In the end, the sitcom format mixed with outrageous humor -- the very thing that made this show unique --was probably the nail in its coffin. CK's new show is much more Seinfeldian in its use of stand-up to frame vignette story lines, although -- amazingly enough -- the general tone seems to have gotten markedly darker than the already depressing Lucky Louie. It all seems to be working since the new show was just picked up for a second season (thus disqualifying it from this list), but for my money, I'd sure like to see Mr. CK back on HBO.