The List: Top Five Cancelled Television Series

Its May again, which means two things.  First, as previously mentioned, it is the official start of the summer movie season.  Second, May is when the up-fronts happen.  For those not familiar with this term, let me explain.  Up-fronts are when the television networks go through and clean house.  They dump the shows that aren’t working, renew those that are and pick up all of their new pilots for next year.  Of course, its kind of a bummer as well because, more often then not, some of our favorite shows end up on the chopping block.

Although NBC and FOX have already officially axed some shows and picked up others, official up-fronts happen next week and I’ll be back to cover the winners and the losers after the big four have announced their new fall schedules.  In the meantime, however, I thought it was time to celebrate some of our favorite series that didn’t survive the process.  So here, I present to you, my Top Five Favorite Cancelled Series!

 5.  Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and Geeks was a brilliant dramady (drama-comedy) from masterminds Paul Feig and Judd Apatow.  It followed on two siblings, Lindsay and Sam Weir, who attended McKinley High School in 1980.  Lindsay hung out with a group of troubled stoners which compose the titular “freaks.”.  Sam and his friends clearly constituted the “geeks.”  The show focused on the difficult transition Lindsay made from being a straight A student to trying to find her identity through her new friends while Sam and his buddies struggle to find their place in the new social structure that is high school.  The show managed to give a realistic take on the the weird nightmare that was the high school social landscape.

Perhaps the best part of the show was how it managed to show everyones side.  Characters who started as villains turned to unlikely allies when their side of the story was revealed.  The school coach (played by Back to the Future‘s Biff, Thomas F. Wilson) started as a geek tormenter.  But in a particularly poignant episode where Sam reveals his embarrassment over his sexual inexperience, Coach Fredricks opens up and proves that he really is a decent guy, he just doesn’t understand Sam and his friends and thus, doesn’t know how to communicate with them.  All of the characters on the series, not just the leads, change and grow as the series continues.  Everyone does bad things and good things and, like in real life, almost always have a justifiable reason for doing them.  Oh yeah, and did I mention it starred Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco, Samm Levine, Seth Rogen, Jason Segal and Busy Philipps?

Good storytelling, a strong cast and amazing music makes this show a television classic.  After all, there is a reason the show made it on Time Magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Shows of All Time and Entertainment Weekly’s 13th best series of the past 25 years.

 4.  Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a brilliant show from West Wing creator and Social Network scribe Aaron Sorkin about the behind the scenes goings on of an SNL type show.  But, in many ways, it was so much more then that.  Sorkin, who has an extreme love for television, used the show to traverse many controversial topics, but none more then his distaste for the direction television is heading now that control is in the hands of big business instead of the creative minds.

Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) return to the show that started their astronomical careers when their hero Wes Mandell has a meltdown on air.  Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), the new head of programming for the network, lures them back with the promise that they can run the show their way which doesn’t help endear her to her new boss, Jack Rudolph (Steven Webber) who had fired Matt and Danny a few years previously for their “unpatriotic” contributions to the show in the aftermath of 9/11.  To complicate matters, Matt had just broken up with his long-time girlfriend Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson) who, along with Simon Stiles (D.L. Hughley) and Tom Jeter (Nathan Corddry) stars on the show.

Studio 60 was a heartfelt tribute to television.  Smart, funny and topical, it was a show that truly was “too smart for the room.”  In the show, Matt and Danny, with the help of Jordan, lead a crusade against mediocrity in television.  They challenged the status quo every week by skewering absurdity through satirical comedy.

3.  Pushing Daisies

Pushing Daisies was an unbelievably inventive show that was ultimately destroyed by the writers strike.  The plot of the series is a little hard to explain, but Ill do my best.  Ned (Lee Pace) was a boy when he discovered he had been given the gift of life.  With one touch from Ned’s finger, he could bring dead things back to life for one minute.  If he didn’t touch it dead again within that one minute, someone or something else will die to take its place.  As an adult, Ned becomes a pie maker who, along with his partner private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), solves crimes using his unique gift to wake the dead to garner the details of their murder.  But life becomes complicated when Ned’s childhood sweetheart Charlotte Charles (Anna Friel) is murdered and Ned can’t bring himself to touch her dead again after waking her to aid in finding her murderer.

Pushing Daisies, which is often referred to as a forensic fairy tale, was a beautifully creative show set in a world of abstract fantasy.  It feels like a weird illustration come to life.  Everything was bright and colorful with a twinge of timeless oddity.  Every week Ned, Emerson, Charlotte and Ned’s pie making employee Olive Snook would solve creative and clever cases.  The humor was dark masquerading as bright and family friendly.  The dialogue crackled with bouncy wordplay and the music by Jim Dooley matched the whimsey of the shows look and feel.  Not to mention that occasionally, Olive (played by the broadway actress Krsitin Chenoweth) would break out into magical renditions of pop songs to express her emotions.

Week to week the show provided a loose and interesting take on the “procedural crime show.”  It was a unique voice on the television landscape that was ultimately destroyed by the writers strike in early 2008.  The first season premiered to and maintained solid numbers, but because its first season ended in December of 2007 and new episodes didn’t come back until October of 2008, most people had forgotten about it and moved on.  It lives on through DVD though and there is talk of continuing the adventures of the Pie Hole in comic book form.

 2.  Firefly

The year is 2517.  Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a war veteran who fought for the losing side, captains the Serenity, a Firefly Class starship in the outer rim of the galaxy.  Mal and his crew, fellow veteran Zoe Washburn (Gina Torres), pilot  Hoban “Wash” Wasburn (Alan Tudyk), mercenary-for-hire Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin), mechanic Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite), former medical student Simon Tam (Sean Maher), Simon’s crazy teenage sister River (Summer Glau), “companion” Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin), and priest Shepherd Book (Ron Glass), will take just about any job that keeps them in the air, illegal or not.  The crew travels across the galaxy, ducking the interplanetary government known as The Alliance, and doing whatever it takes to stay free.

Firefly didn’t stand a chance.  When creator Joss Whedon took the show to FOX, the network jumped at the idea of bringing his creative vision to the airwaves.  After Whedon’s success with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he was Hollywood’s new golden boy of TV.  Pretty quickly, however, FOX started second guessing their decision.  Whedon’s original pilot was a two hour long episode focusing on establishing the characters, their relationships and world in a way that would make them immediately resonate with the audience.  Instead, the network forced him to write a one hour action packed episode to serve as a new pilot over the course of a weekend.  Then FOX scheduled the show on Friday nights where it was often pre-empted by baseball.  The show would air an episode, take two weeks off, then return with a single new episode before taking another week off.  Within a few months, FOX decided production costs were too high and only ended up airing 11 of the 14 episodes that had been shot.

Firefly is considered by many to be the greatest show that didn’t survive its first season.  The clever combination of science fiction and old fashioned western allowed for stories that toed the line of both.  Whedon’s sharp dialogue shines and his signature exploration of the human condition is more apparent through the crew of the Serenity then anywhere else in his career.  Firefly is a gem that has found a new life on DVD.  It even spawned a cinematic sequel in 2005 called Serenity.  Its many fans (known now as “browncoats” after the independents Mal fought with in the war) are excessively loyal and continue to champion the show through viewing parties, fan fiction and conventions.

1.  Arrested Development

Arrested Development is the tale of a “wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.”  The absurdist sitcom created by Mitch Hurwitz and produced and narrated by Ron Howard was easily the best comedy series ever to grace television.

Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is a straight-faced widower who is forced to manage his insane family in order to save them from themselves.  His father, George Senior (Jeffrey Tambor) is in prison for making deals with Saddam Hussein through his real estate company as well as using the business as his own personal piggy bank.  Michael’s mother Lucille (Jessica Walter), is an alcoholic who is more interested in maintaining her lifestyle then freeing her husband.  His brother GOB (Will Arnett) is a freeloading magician with no common sense.  Self entitled sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) along with her closeted never-nude therapist-turned-failed-actor husband, Tobias (David Cross), uses philanthropy for social status.  Youngest brother Buster (Tony Hale) is an oedipal man-child, afraid to leave the safety of the nest and venture into the real world.  Michael’s son George Michael (Michael Cera) has a crush on his cousin Maeby (Alia Shawkat) who is secretly ditching high school to work as a movie studio executive.

Recently, I let fellow Fandom Menace member Brunden borrow the DVDs.  None of us could believe he had never seen the show before.  As soon as he started watching the show, we all started receiving text blasts from him quoting one of the shows many hilariously crafted lines and, in almost all cases, the rest of us managed to quote the line that directly followed it.  As soon as he finished the series, he started it over again and almost immediately began catching jokes he had missed the first time or references to things that wouldn’t happen for episodes or, in some cases, seasons.

Although it lasted three seasons (two seasons more then any other show on this list), Arrested Development wins the number one spot because it was a post-modern miracle that pushed the boundaries of everything it did for the sake of bringing the funny.  It challenged the censors (GOB’s boat is named “The Seaward, and if you don’t get it, say it out loud), the audience, and television in general. It jumped shark after shark, smiling and winking at the audience as it did so, because making fun of itself, its audience and television in general was exactly the point.

~ by Andrew Craig on May 12, 2011.

3 Responses to “The List: Top Five Cancelled Television Series”

  1. Never heard of a single one of these shows, and after reading the descriptions, I’m glad I didn’t. They all look like crap. I’m almost ashamed that Americans are so easily entertained these days that they would allow junk like this to exist on television past the pilot episode.

  2. I thought Firefly and Pushing Daisies were very well written shows, and had solid stories. I haven’t really watched any of the others though.

    • You absolutely should. They made the list for a reason, right?

      It should also be noted that since the time I wrote that article, it was announced that not only are they doing an Arrested Development movie, but Netflix is producing a fourth season to bridge the gap between the end of the series and the movie. Stuff like that doesn’t happen unless the show is especially deserving.

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