Space western Firefly is one of those TV shows that every geek is supposed to have seen—it’s Whedon, it’s shiny, it’s a part of the sci-fi canon. Yet, it was only on the air for one season. The upcoming cast reunion at next week’s San Diego Comic-Con is one of the event’s most anticipated panels, but would this be true if the show had gone on for three more years? Would later seasons be able to match the first? Of course, no one can know the answer to that but I think when you consider the show’s enduring appeal, as well as the appeal of one-season wonders in general, you could say that unceremonious, early cancelation is actually a good thing. When we’re presented with a show where the writing, acting, and production have achieved what feels like a perfect synergy, and then that’s yanked away, it’s infuriating. But maybe we should celebrate that ending.
There’s the potential for a brighter future for those involved with something widely recognized as good.
Judd Apatow and Paul Feig’s Freaks and Geeks (1999) is the best example of how one canceled but critically acclaimed series can be a launching pad for young talent. Set in 1980, the series followed one awkward year in the life of Midwestern high school misfits. Almost everyone in the cast has continued working post-cancelation, often together, and in a few cases (Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, John Francis Daley, James Franco), as writers. The goodwill garnered by the show, at least in the immediate aftermath of cancelation, had to have had something to do with this. I mean, if these actors had been in a shitty show that was canceled after one season, it’s hard to imagine that their careers would have played out the way that they have.
If the show really is that great, then that single season should be endlessly watchable.
The true mark of an amazing series, in my opinion, is that you can watch it over and over and continue to approach it with enthusiasm each time—the show comes to be a bit like an old friend and even after its stopped revealing new layers of meaning and jokes or witty lines that you may have missed the first time around, re-watching the episodes is just a comforting activity. Fox is responsible for canceling most of my favorite one-season wonders. Two of these shows: Wonderfalls (2004), a Bryan Fuller created series about an unmotivated Ivy League grad whose life takes a surreal turn when inanimate objects begin communicating with her; and The Tick (2001), a live-action series based on the, nigh-invulnerable, comic book character. The DVDs for both series are in constant rotation at my house.
Easy on your wallet.
Andy Richter Controls the Universe: one season. Complete series DVD price: $28.34
Friends: ten seasons. Complete series DVD price: $114.00
Future bonding through obscure, unappreciated pop culture.
Five years from now, the connection you feel with someone while discussing FX’s Terriers (2010) or AMC’s Rubicon (2010) is going to be so much deeper than what you feel discussing The Big Bang Theory.
Decrease in racehorse death.
See HBO’s Luck (2012).
Has the show reached a natural endpoint? If it has, why can’t we just be satisfied with that in the same way that we’re able to be satisfied when a movie ends?
Undeclared, Apatow’s follow-up to Freaks and Geeks, chronicled the highs and lows of a bunch of college freshmen, living in the dorms. It’s cast (Apatow regulars Seth Rogen and Jason Segel as well as Jay Baruchel and Charlie Hunnam), its guest stars (including Ben Stiller, Amy Poehler, and Will Ferrell), and its Apatowian humor (jokes that are goofy but personal and relatable) all contributed to making it one of the most highly regarded one-season wonders. Back in 2002, when Fox canceled the show, I was outraged. Today, I appreciate the brevity. Undeclared was the perfect encapsulation of that first year of college—adapting to the new found freedom, meeting new people, sleeping with Adam Sandler, etc. Subsequent seasons may have demonstrated how that changes over the course of the four years and those seasons may have been just as remarkable as the first, but as the show stands, the narrative is complete.
Where is the story headed? Is continuing the series not just feasible but logical?
Earlier this year, a Steven Spielberg produced supernatural/horror series called The River debuted on ABC. It used the found footage format of co-creator Oren Peli’s profitable Paranormal Activity movies to tell the story of a documentary crew searching the Amazon for a lost wildlife TV show host. When reviewing the premiere, what stood out to me more than the quality of the thing was that there was no way that this show could last for very long. How much footage could the crew realistically record (the found footage idea is better suited for the big screen and even there it’s usually a bit flimsy)? Well, we don’t have to worry about the answer to that question because the show was canceled. Not for logistical reasons, though, unless you call the American public’s lack of interest in The River a logistical reason.
I, however, did watch every episode of the show—and in many cases enjoyed what I was watching—but I’m glad that it was canceled. That’s because it was clear from the start that The River should have been a miniseries—a one shot story—and I think that if it had been marketed that way, ABC would have gotten more viewers. There would have been some incentive to tune in every week if we all knew that there would be some form of closure, that the story was building to something exciting, and not that we were just watching the beginning of a meandering series about people traipsing around the Amazon looking for magic.
The River wasn’t some transcendent piece of TV and probably won’t be remembered years from now. I only point it out to say that showrunners shouldn’t always—that certainly doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t ever—be looking to extend the story. Financially, maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but as far as the narrative goes, I’d tend to think that it would be freeing for the writer—the ability to tell one complete story, utilizing the unique serialized format of TV, but not having to think about how to parcel out that story over the next five years.