Pushing Daisies: TV Shows cancelled before their time
On Wednesday Netflix announced it’d given a ten episode order to Cursed – a show reimagining the King Arthur legend told from the perspective of teenage heroine Nimue (who grows up to become the powerful yet tragic Lady of the Lake). Based on the upcoming young-adult illustrated book of the same name from comic book legend Frank Miller (Sin City) & writer Tom Wheeler (Puss in Boots), the series will not be the first attempt on TV to reimagine the legend of King Arthur.
You may well remember with a heavy heart the superb medieval fantasy drama Merlin, which also explored the iconic story in the late 00s. With an all star cast of British luminaries including Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), John Hurt (The Elephant Man), and Richard Wilson (One Foot in the Grave), the cult BBC series explored the fraught relationship between powerful warlock Merlin (Colin Morgan) and future king Arthur (Bradley James) as they worked together to return magic to Camelot and save Albion from certain doom.
The series aired for five years which (on paper at least) sounds like it had a good run. However, as any fan of the show will passionately tell you, Merlin was cancelled just when it was getting good. It’s a fine example of a broken series, one cancelled long before its time and which had oodles of story still left to tell. Netflix’s Cursed offers a tantalizing reimaging of the fable but the announcement of the show only sent Film Daily spiralling into the sore memories of Merlin and other TV shows cancelled before their time. Here are the ones that still wound us.
My So-Called Life (1994-95)
There are few words that can ever sufficiently describe the exasperating tragedy of My So-Called Life only enjoying one season’s worth of genius while a soiled yawnfest like The Walking Dead has shuffled on for eight seasons (and more to come). The teen drama starring Claire Danes (Romeo + Juliet), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), and Wilson Cruz (13 Reasons Why) offered a painfully accurate glimpse at high school life and made women the world over obsess for a loser called Jordan Catalano.
Joss Whedon’s space-cowboy series in which Nathan Fillion (Santa Clarita Diet) wore tight pants and made some memorable quips was troubled from the start as Fox reportedly had a problem with Zoe (Gina Torres) and Wash (Alan Tudyk) being a happily married couple in the show. Episodes were aired out of sequence, it lost viewers (probably because storylines suddenly made no sense), and it was cancelled after just one season. Fans were apoplectic and in 2005 Whedon brought the oddball space crew back for one last adventure (and mercilessly slaughtered one of them in a scene we still gasp over) in feature film Serenity.
Veronica Mars (2004-07)
In fairness, Veronica Mars enjoyed three wonderful seasons. That’s more than what many shows on this list got to enjoy. However, a proposed fourth season (in which Kristen Bell’s Veronica joins the FBI) sounded absolute dynamite – a fact proven when some impressive footage from the unaired pilot was released. However, as a terrific consolation prize fans funded the 2014 movie Veronica Mars on Kickstarter, bringing back stars Percy Daggs III, Enrico Colantoni (Galaxy Quest), and (swoon!) Jason Dohring (The Originals).
Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
Creator Paul Feig (The Heat) once declared the beloved 80s high school sitcom was on thin ice from the get-go and was “always in danger of being cancelled.” It’s almost a small miracle that any episodes of his and Judd Apatow’s cult comedy made it onto our screens at all, so maybe we should just be thankful we managed to get the one season. As well as launching the careers of James Franco (The Disaster Artist), Jason Segel (The Muppets), and Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express), the series is also well-remembered for its distinctive, irreverent, and occasionally heartfelt tone.
This college comedy in which a freshman discovers his recently-divorced father is attending the same school at the same time is also from Apatow and remains beloved by fans. Starring (no surprise here) Rogen & Jay Baruchel (This Is the End) alongside Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) as a dashing British college student getting all the ladies, Undeclared had a surprising amount of promise for such a mediocre premise. In a post-9/11 climate however, the show failed to find its footing and was dropped after one season, causing Apatow to once recall how the show struggled within a “weird moment for comedy.”
Every few years there’s talk of a Deadwood movie being made and our little hearts explode like a stick of dynamite down a gold mine (although star Timothy Olyphant recently broke our hearts by proclaiming “no way” a Deadwood movie will happen). Featuring a phenomenal and eclectic cast including Ian McShane (American Gods) & Brad Dourif (Child’s Play), the show was one of HBO’s finest gems. One that was inexplicably cancelled after season three at what was arguably the show’s most tantalizing peak narrative moment. Reportedly the cancellation was due to a financial decision which is likely something a money-grabbing brothel owner like Al Swearengen could get behind. But for us? It was and still is a pure stinging heartbreak.
Happy Endings (2011-13)
With a ferociously funny cast featuring Eliza Coupe (Future Man), Elisha Cuthbert (House of Wax), Damon Wayans Jr. (Let’s Be Cops), Casey Wilson (Gone Girl), Zachary Knighton (The Hitcher), and Adam Pally (Dirty Grandpa), Happy Endings was one of the most chemistry-laden sitcoms in comedy history. It was original, sweet, and incredibly quick-witted, making it seem like the sort of show that could run forever. However, calling this all-round treat of a show “too narrow”, ABC cancelled Happy Endings after three wonderful seasons and we’re still sore about it.
Party Down (2009-10)
Following a group of actors in Los Angeles facing their failed dreams while working as caterers, Party Down was such an obscure gem it made fans feel as though they were part of a secret club every time they watched it. As star Lizzy Caplan (Cloverfield) told Uproxx however, “secret clubs don’t usually lead to TV show pickups.” Despite being one of the best comedy shows ever made, Starz cancelled it after its second season, forcing fans to bid a bitter farewell to Adam Scott (Step Brothers), Ken Marino (Wanderlust), Ryan Hansen (Friday the 13th), and Martin Starr (Silicon Valley) in some of their finest roles to date.
Difficult People (2015-17)
Julie Klausner’s caustic proudly queer comedy about the friendship between an awful woman (Klausner) and her equally terrible gay best friend Billy (Billy Eichner) as they rage against life and the world was irreverent and unique. However, Hulu chose not to renew the comedy after the show’s third and finest season.
Don’t Trust The B—- in Apartment 23 (2012-13)
Nahnatchka Khan’s campy acerbic sitcom felt like an enthusiastic subversion of every New York City-based sitcom trope in existence. Starring Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones) as an unapologetic party girl, Dreama Walker (Gran Torino) as a wholesome goody-goody, Eric André (Rough Night) as a timid barista, and James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek) as an exaggerated caricature of himself, the show was bustling with dark humor and witty takes on pop culture. So of course ABC cancelled it midway through the second season, denying fans the opportunity to at least enjoy the final eight episodes of the show.
The CW show about a dude who discovers his parents sold his soul to the devil starred Ray “Leland Palmer” Wise as Satan. What sort of a world do we live in where a network sees two season’s worth of that and decides, “nah, not for us”? Apparently this one. Suffice to say there are still numerous fans who would sell their soul to get the show back on TV.
Ryan Murphy’s teen show hinted at a recurring theme he’d go on to explore with Glee & Scream Queens: the subversion of teen show tropes. With Popular, the show walked a fine line between drama & parody, following two girls on opposite sides of the “popularity fence” (Leslie Bibb & Carly Pope) who are forced together when their parents start dating and get married. Murphy had nothing but terrible things to say about The WB after it cancelled Popular after just two seasons.
“They never got me and they kept trying to turn me into something else. And they were very homophobic even though they would have gay characters on the air. They would give me notes, like, ‘The Mary Cherry character, like, could she be less gay?’ Like it was very relentlessly homophobic. It was rough and I didn’t have a good experience with the studio and everybody.”
Another of Whedon’s shows cut short in its prime, Dollhouse reunited Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Eliza Dushku with the creator for a strange dystopian sci-fi tale. Following a laboratory imprinting temporary identities onto lost young people so they can fulfil “assignments” for clients, the show proved to be a little too much for Fox and it was cancelled after two seasons. According to Whedon, “the show didn’t really get off the ground because the network pretty much wanted to back away from the concept five minutes after they bought it. And then ultimately, the show itself is also kind of odd and difficult to market.”
Pushing Daisies (2007-09)
The first of several shows from Bryan Fuller on this list involved a pie-maker who could resurrect the dead (Lee Pace) while solving murder mysteries with his recently-resurrected childhood sweetheart (Anna Friel) and a dispirited private investigator (Chi McBride). It was a quirky rare bird of a show ABC decided to shoot down from the sky after two miraculous seasons. Executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld (Wild Wild West) posited the scripts may have been “too cute” and lacking in plot for the show to survive.
“I remember saying to Bryan Fuller, who was the showrunner and the creator and a good friend of mine who I adore, ‘Hey, Bryan, shouldn’t we have better plots so we can lean forward in trying to figure out who did the murder, for instance?’ He was afraid if we had a little bit more of a procedural that we would lose the quirkiness.”
Dead Like Me (2003-04)
One of Fuller’s earliest experiences with networks just not getting his idiosyncratic offbeat vibe was with Dead Like Me – a dark comedy about a young woman who becomes the grim reaper after an undignified death (hit in the head by a toilet seat – what a way to go.) It was cancelled after two seasons but it could be argued its influence on the TV landscape has lent itself to a show like The Good Place being made, which is something.
Witches of East End (2013-14)
The magic ran out for Maggie Friedman’s drama fantasy after just two seasons, but many mourned the loss of the Beauchamp witches portrayed by Julia Ormond (Sabrina), Mädchen Amick (Riverdale), Jenna Dewan Tatum (Step Up), and Rachel Boston (500 Days of Summer). If you’re a fan of romance, time travel, magic, and mystery (who isn’t?), the Witches of East End is a truly bingeworthy series and a perfect example of a show that was taken off TV too soon.
In another of Fuller’s greatly-loved but ratings-challenged shows, Caroline Dhavernas (who still absolutely loves the show) starred as Jaye Tyler – a lovably grumpy Ivy League graduate who worked at a Niagara Falls gift shop and who thought she was losing her mind when some of the store’s trinkets — starting with that pesky lion — began talking to her. Despite its devoted fanbase, the show was axed after just one season, with Dhavernas stating, “I’ll never quite understand what happened. I think it was politics. I think it was just being in the wrong place at the wrong moment.”
Halt and Catch Fire (2014-17)
Pitched as the show meant to fill the hole left by Mad Men, this tech-based drama is set in the 80s during the boom of personal computers between the first iteration of Microsoft Word in 1983 and Windows 95. The enthralling central relationship focuses on Donna Clark (Kerry Bishé) & Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis), two women who attempt to found a tech company and spend the next few years discovering what they’re willing to sacrifice in the effort.
The character development in the show is stunning, depicting two different but equally brilliant women trying to make it on their own in a male-dominated tech industry. It was a livelier, fresher, and altogether more interesting way for a show like this to go. Despite its savvy, for some reason it didn’t hold audiences in the same way Mad Men did and it was axed after just four seasons (despite having far more story to tell.)
2014-15 seemed to be the year for failed sitcoms but none of them hurt so much as the cancellation of the unfortunately-titled Selfie from Emily Kapnek (Suburgatory). The story centers on Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) who after being the subject of an embarrassing viral video, enlists the help of a marketing expert to revamp her image in the real world. Despite the palpable chemistry between its two leads – Gillan & John Cho – and some well-crafted storylines, ABC cut the show short at six episodes, giving it no real time to even pick up creative momentum.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-07)
Following the widely-successful The West Wing was always going to be a tricky feat, and unfortunately for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip it never got a fighting chance to establish itself on its own terms. For those who didn’t catch it, Studio 60 was a show within a show, taking place behind the scenes of a live sketch comedy on the fictional television network NBS.
The cast was filled with actors who excelled in comedy and drama, the Monday night time spot was perfect, and the creator Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game) was involved. It should’ve been a hit but instead it flopped and was axed after just one season. Actor Steven Weber – who had a key role in the show – mused on why it failed: “People for some reason, and this happens, had been sharpening their knives for Aaron Sorkin and I don’t know why . . . they immediately leapt on this new creation and immediately compared it to (The) West Wing and any other movie he’d done and attacked the admittedly dramatic dialogue.” So basically it was actually Sorkin’s success that let the show down – the poor guy couldn’t win.
The kooky and loveable show from Lamar Damon (Be Somebody) & Amy Sherman-Palladino (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) told the story of Michelle (Sutton Foster), a dancer with a knack for screwball dialogue who gets a shot at the grown-up life she never thought she could by giving ballet lessons to a group of screwballettes. The show was axed after one season due to low ratings, which is basically just another way of saying it was cancelled for being too unique to attract a $-making-sized audience.
Better Off Ted (2009-10)
Created by Victor Fresco (Mad About You), the premise of Better Off Ted doesn’t sound all that different from cubicle life shows like The Office – a workplace comedy that follows a senior Vice President of Research and Development at Veridian Dynamics (Jay Harrington) as he navigates the challenges of balancing home and office life, juggles the consistent demands of his employees, and tries to figure out the moral dilemmas those struggles often create for him.
However, it’s the eccentric details that make it stand out as a cult classic on the level of other shows like Pushing Daisies or The Middleman. During its two-season run, the show followed through with its absurd (and sometimes impactful) storylines, one of the most lauded examples being in its first episode in which Veridian Dynamics implemented motion sensors that ended up not being able to see black people. The company decided the only solution was to give black employees their own “free white guy” to follow them around and trigger the sensors.
From the creators of The Matrix & Babylon 5 came this tense series in which eight people can telepathically experience each other’s lives. The show was celebrated for its message of global interconnectedness, something which was helped along by Netflix’s monumental budget. When Netflix announced the show was not renewed for a third season, it led to an “outpouring of love and grief . . . so intense that I often found myself unable to open my own email,” declared co-creator Lana Wachowski. The outcry from fans was so loud, Sense8 will in fact be returning for a special two-hour finale (bittersweet news for viewers jonesing for a full season.)
When Smash began on NBC, everyone was suitably hyped for the story that looked behind the scenes of a team preparing an ambitious Broadway musical on the life of Marilyn Monroe. However, by the time it waved goodbye with the season finale, it had become the subject of utter ridicule due to its bizarre tonal shifts, obvious villains, and unnecessary musical sequences. However, despite being cut after season two, the appetite for the idea behind Smash never died. So much so that it’s even getting new life as the show within the show – Bombshell – looks Broadway-bound for real.
Despite only making it past the first season mark, Ted Griffin’s light drama was years ahead of its time which is perhaps why Netflix considered picking it back up again. Centered on ex-cop and recovering alcoholic Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) who partners with his best friend – former criminal Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James) – in an unlicensed private investigation business, Terriers was praised by the critics but did not fare so well with ratings. However, it remains a fantastically confusing neo-noir that created an entrance into the genre for future lovers of True Detective & Fargo.
While Southland had a pretty good run of five seasons, it nearly didn’t enjoy the lengthy airtime when it was initially axed after the first season. Fans enjoyed the critically-acclaimed cop show offering a “raw and authentic” look at the Los Angeles Police Department, although it was deemed too dark and gritty for broadcast TV. Luckily it found a new home in TNT, which relaunched the show for another four seasons (although some still reckon it should’ve been given a few more rounds.)
Enlightened was a truly inspiring show with co-creator Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) starring as a woman on the verge of a mental breakthrough. Following a terrifying (but also very believable) meltdown at work, Dern’s character Amy experiences a spiritual awakening, making her determined to live an enlightened life despite the many pitfalls that come with it. Her character and Luke Wilson (The Royal Tenenbaums) as Levi Callow were flawless because of their flawlessness, the storylines were both fun and moving, and the show built up a truly dedicated audience. So of course HBO axed it after just two critically-acclaimed seasons.
In an interview with Vanity Fair shortly after the news it had been cut, Dern announced, “I think we are trying to figure it out. I think we are all a little stunned to say goodbye.”
The Get Down (2016-17)
In this ambitious music drama from writer-director Baz Luhrmann, The Get Down was described as “a mythic saga of how New York at the brink of bankruptcy gave birth to hip-hop, punk, and disco” and was set in the Bronx in the late 70s. While the premise was ace, unfortunately it ran into a series of financial and production issues costing Netflix approximately $120 million and thus making it the most expensive show ever made. Not wanting to dig into its pockets any further, the streaming giant axed the show after just one (very expensive) season.
Agent Carter (2015-16)
After two seasons of Peggy Carter’s (Hayley Atwell) spy adventures in the 40s, the show was cancelled due to low viewership and ratings. Despite the cancellation, passionate fans lobbied for its return and started a petition to move Agent Carter to Netflix. Atwell herself even had some ideas on what a potential third season could feel like: “She’s a great cause and she takes action, so there’s so many things going on socially from the 50s to when she passes that I think she’d have loved to be a part of. There are so many things she could have been a part of, and probably did do. It could probably fill another season, I’m sure. I hope.” Let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed.