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Firefly is among the 13 Shows That Should Never Have Been Cancelled

Tuesday 10 April 2007, by Webmaster

Dead Like Me

Even though it has a full two seasons to its name, it still feels like Dead Like Me never reached its full potential. Half the time (namely, when it focused on the subplots involving the dead protagonist’s living family) it was awful, but the other half was more or less awesome: the adventures of George the Grim Reaper usually consisted of hilariously violent deaths, semi-witty banter, and a weekly life (or death) lesson.

Though the first and second seasons were helmed by two different writers, many things remained the same: the show still retained a consistently tragicomic tone, George was still frumpily attractive, and Mandy Patinkin was still a badass. Even though it’s the most inconsistently entertaining show on this list, it still deserved more than two seasons: it got progressively better from season one to season two, and one can only hope that during season three, they’d altogether abandon the bullshit concerning George’s family.

Also, George (Ellen Muth) remains the most alternately ugly and adorable woman ever to grace the small screen.


If you ever meet someone who refers to themselves as a “Browncoat,” they’ll probably be one of two things: (A) creepy or (B) furious. They’re creepy because there’s something weirdly intimate about Firefly: the sci-fi/western hybrid is so clever, exciting, and generally unappreciated that the remaining fans can’t help but give themselves a nickname and treat each other as unofficial family. And if they’re furious, you can’t blame them: it almost seems like FOX did whatever they possibly could have done in order to make sure Firefly never caught on with the mainstream. First, they rejected Joss Whedon’s original two-hour pilot for a crappy 45-minute one. Then they pre-empted almost all of the episodes and changed the schedule around so many times that even the hardcore fans had a hard time keeping track of it. Finally, they showed the episodes out of order. After only 15 episodes, Firefly was cancelled.

Of course, it was followed up by Serenity, one of the best science fiction films ever made. As was typical with the Firefly franchise, however, the film was mis-marketed, the Browncoats became far too over-zealous and made the movie seem like some sort of cult initiation ritual, and the film underperformed at the box office. Whedon says there’s still a lot more story to be told, but it’s more than likely that we’ll never see any of it.

Doctor Who (1996)

While Doctor Who is now going strong with David Tennant as its star and Russell T. Davies as its lead writer, one can’t help but look at the 1996 TV movie “Doctor Who: The Enemy Within” and not wonder what could have been. The film, jointly produced between the BBC and the US-based Fox corporation, was originally intended to serve as the pilot for a new series of Doctor Who.

While the would-be pilot had some major flaws (chiefly amongst them, the casting of a sunglasses-wearing Eric Roberts as the main villain), Paul McGann’s performance as the Eighth Doctor was remarkably human and romantic, and the US setting provided an interesting change of scenery.

Despite great ratings in the UK, the pilot was poorly marketed and slotted in the US, and pulled in abysmal ratings for Fox. Fox pulled its funding, and, though BBC wanted to continue the series, they simply didn’t have the cash to do so. The Eighth Doctor faded off the screen and into years of fanfiction - having only appeared in one official episode, the Eighth Doctor’s stint represents the shortest span of time any actor has ever officially portrayed The Doctor.

Freaks and Geeks

If Freaks and Geeks had sold out, it would probably have lasted longer. It could have portrayed teenagers as silly, one-dimensional characters devoid of any substance. But the creator, Paul Feig, and producer Judd Apatow wouldn’t let that happen.

Freaks and Geeks was special because it actually cared about the characters, and it allowed the characters to develop and change throughout its short run. While the freaks were always freaks and the geeks were always geeks, the characters had complexities that lived outside of these labels. Lindsay Weir, played by the marvelous Linda Cardellini, was more than just a freak: she was a math genius who was shaken so badly by her grandmother’s death that she struggled with despair throughout the series. Bill Haverchuck, a geek played by Martin Starr, not only loved Star Wars and The Jerk, but he also wanted to be an athlete.

It is a testament to the show that nearly every member of the teenage cast has had steady work since the show aired. Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Linda Cardellini have all had film work; Samm Levine, John Francis Daley, and Jason Segel have been mainstays on network TV. While the show was cancelled, the rabid fans were lucky enough to get special-edition DVD box sets, scripts, and a big thank you from the cast and crew.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

Fact: anything with Bruce Campbell is totally awesome.

Fact: anything with Bruce Campbell will invariably be underappreciated, or, in the case of television, cancelled.

Brisco was a sci-fi/western/comedy (like Firefly) that followed the adventures of a kick-ass bounty hunter with an insanely big chin. Unlike many of the shows on this list, Brisco was popular, for a time: Campbell recounts the rise and fall of the show in his autobiography, If Chins Could Kill:

“Try as we did to let the entire world know about Brisco, the inevitable happened - the ratings started to slip. When a show is a hit, everyone is a genius. When a show drops in the ratings, the analysis begins...to explain why a TV show is canceled is almost impossible. Ironically Brisco, with its off-kilter humor, wouldn’t have been developed on any other network, yet the appeal of “Westerns” was still rural - not the side Fox’s urban bread was buttered on.”

At least you can purchase the entire series in one big-ass DVD set.

Push, Nevada

This David Lynchian neo-noir remains more or less forgotten in the pantheon of cancelled television, but it nonetheless deserves some respect. The series, produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, was created with the intent of running a single season, and a single season only. The protagonist, Jim Prufrock, comes to the town of Push looking for a missing million dollars. By the last episode of the season, the first audience member to call ABC having solved the mystery of Push would win the exact amount Jim was searching for.

The gimmicky contest setup should have garnered the show a lot more viewers, and it’s depressing that this wasn’t the case: though the cast of characters was almost entirely ripped off from Blue Velvet, the show had the balls to be surreal and disturbing in a time where all audiences wanted was safety and escape.

They wanted it so badly, in fact, that Push was cancelled after just seven episodes: almost all of the mysteries in the story went unsolved, but (as required by US law) the show gave out the remaining clues necessary to solving the puzzle, and the million dollar prize was won within two minutes of the last clue’s release. All in all, the cancellation was a shame, but still totally unavoidable: the first episode got great ratings and ABC was pushing it harder than any other show (to the point where they forced all their actors, from George Lopez to Jennifer Garner, to pretend it was a real place during the ABC promotional spring preview). In the end, the show was just too weird for mainstream audiences.


After the glorious Freaks and Geeks, Judd Apatow moved from high school to college in the show Undeclared. The show was, again, a character-driven comedy with dramatic elements. Its protagonist was, again, quite geeky and awkward. And it was, again, cancelled after one season.

Undeclared was different from Freaks and Geeks, though. Its characters were just as complex, but the show was more of a conventional, half-hour sitcom. Its cast was, for the most part, conventionally attractive and normal. These characteristics allowed it to be sitcom funny without being jokey and hackneyed. While the show and its situations were usually conventional, the banter and attention to detail made it something special. The young actors of the cast were quite talented, and they knew how to hit the right comedic notes and portray characters rather than caricatures.

Combine those elements with guest stars that ranged from Ben Stiller to Will Ferrell to Adam Sandler all playing over-the-top characters, and you have a great show that was cancelled before it was even given a chance to find an audience. Perhaps FOX just loves to cancel great comedies, maybe that’s it. Perhaps the FOX comedy division is run by a masochist who loves these types of shows, and he knows that because they challenge the audience that they’ll be on the trash heap after one season and he’ll get to feel the hot hot burning sorrow that comes with cancellation.

Andy Richter Controls the Universe

When Andy Richter broke up with Conan, it was sad, but, at the same time, kind of hopeful: Andy would move on to bigger and better things, and maybe we’d finally get to see how he functioned on his own. Our first opportunity to see him was almost immediately presented in Andy Richter Controls the Universe, his short-lived Malcolm In The Middle-esque comedy.

Andy played an office sheep who dreamed of bigger and better things, foremost amongst them getting a date with his building’s cute receptionist. Most of the humor came from either Andy’s vivid imagination (the pilot episode opened with Andy listing of all the possible ways he could accidentally die before even getting out of bed), or Andy’s interaction with his cooler-than-they-should-be co-workers. His boss is a cool, super-hot chick, his co-worker is attractive, kind, but dumb as a brick, and his best friend is a squirrelly Tobey Maguire lookalike who somehow manages to have even less self-esteem than Andy.

The show was cancelled after 19 episodes due to poor ratings, which - according to Wikipedia - somehow equates with two full seasons. Unfortunately, Andy Richter Controls the Universe is not yet available on DVD, which just proves that the Fox corporation does not want television fans to be happy.

Jack of All Trades

Even though I personally couldn’t stand Xena or Hercules, I have to give them credit for one thing: they paved the way for Jack of All Trades. Just like the other two shows, Jack was shot in New Zealand, produced by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, and was endlessly immature.

Jack’s humor was all over the map, but in kind of a charming way: the plots seemed like they were aimed at kids (Jack’s sidekick, Em, was constantly creating futuristic inventions that the two of them used to battle Blackbeard and Napoleon, played by Verne Troyer), but the jokes frequently revolved around sexual innuendos and outright penis jokes.

The only two groups of people in the world that could truly appreciate Jack were either mature preteens, or depressingly immature adults. While Bruce’s fanbase is made up almost solely of these types of people, they’re usually not numerous enough to warrant the continuation of a fairly expensive show. After getting frequently rescheduled, Jack was cancelled, and, like Brisco, the complete series is now available in one DVD package.

Arrested Development

“Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them together...” That cheesy voiceover is the introduction to Arrested Development, the funniest TV comedy in history. There’s no debate, no wiggle room, no weasel words. It is the best. There is no show that rewards its fans more than Arrested Development, no show that understands pop culture like Arrested Development, and no show that can make incest as funny as Arrested Development. The cast is superb, the writing outstanding, and the direction impeccable. Yet, the show was cancelled after just 53 episodes. Why would a show that was so good get cancelled?

It may be an oversimplification, but AD was cancelled because of the traits that made it the best. Because it rewarded its fans, it was alienating to people who didn’t watch it consistently. The sometimes-viewers had a hard time keeping up with the tempo of the show, the callbacks to previous episodes, and Ron Howard’s brilliant narration. For example, in one episode, GOB states that he sprained his ankle “playing hoops.” The scene then cuts to GOB doing a ridiculous chicken dance in front of Buster. The casual viewer will not know that this chicken dance is a continuing theme throughout the show, and because of that they will think it’s just easy, superfluous physical humor. The pop culture sensibilities of AD also doomed it. It referenced/skewered so many television shows, classic movies, political gaffes, and even commercials that it was like a master’s class in pop culture.

In a scene in the final season of AD, Buster is in the stair car dancing to Mr. Roboto when his hook gets stuck in the dashboard. This was a reference to a commercial the actor who plays Buster, Tony Hale, did for Volkswagon in 1999. If the viewer doesn’t have this knowledge, it seems like another superfluous bit of physical comedy. Finally, making incest funny killed the show. Of course, I don’t mean merely incest, but any situation that would make the average viewer uncomfortable. AD was so filled with innuendo, bleeped swearing, and uncomfortable situations that it alienated viewers who weren’t in on the joke. Instead of playing down George Michael getting to second base with his cousin Maeby, Ron Howard’s narration pushes it further, informing us that he went in “head first, like Pete Rose,” complete with a still of Pete Rose sliding into second base. Arrested Development is the best comedy in television history, and it died because everyone who wasn’t a diehard fan was too stupid to understand that.

The Tick

Anyone who watched the premiere of the The Tick, the live-action adaptation of Ben Edlund’s comic/cartoon character, immediately knew that it would be cancelled. It was simply too weird, and too awesome: the main character, played by Patrick “Kronk” Warburton, shouted at coffee machines (“Empty your bladder of that bitter black urine men call coffee!”). The villains almost never did anything. Most of the show involved ridiculous-looking superheroes sitting around and getting into Seinfeld-esque situations.

It was absolute genius, and the laws of television dictate that such genius must not be allowed to survive.

After only nine episodes, the show was canned, thus making it another entry in the museum of shows that Fox produces, turns out to be absolutely incredible, and is then either not picked up (Heat Vision and Jack) or is cancelled almost immediately. The Tick took the best parts of the comic and ignored all the unnecessary action of the Saturday morning cartoon show, and it paid the price dearly.

The Lone Gunmen

Quick: name the coolest thing about The X-Files. If you didn’t say Melvin Frohike, John Fitzgerald Byers, and Richard Langly, then you’re wrong. Even when the show was at its worst (like when Mulder and Scully got sucked into a video game), The Lone Gunmen remained somehow nerdy and cool at the same time.

Which made it all the more awesome that they received their own spinoff series: adding two new characters (James “Jimmy” Bond and Yves Adele Harlow - an anagram of Lee Harvey Oswald) and frequently overlapped with the events of The X-Files. In many ways, it was the ultimate spinoff: its plot worked concurrently with that of The X-Files, which meant that for all the wacky, awesome, unrelated side adventures the Gunmen engaged in, they could have frequently returned back to the “serious” plot lines of The X-Files whenever necessary.

However, given that The Lone Gunmen aired just as the popularity of The X-Files began to wane, the show only aired for twelve episodes before it was cancelled. Thankfully, though, the cliffhanger of the last episode was concluded in a later episode of The X-Files - such are the perks of being a spinoff of a still-running show. Of course, the joy one may have felt from the Gunmen’s continued presence in The X-Files ended up short-lived, considering they got the shit killed out of them a few episodes later.

Nothing ever went right for those three.

Sports Night

First, the bad: this show had a laugh track. As great a job Aaron “West Wing” Sorkin did on the script, and as greats as the performances were, there was still a goddamn laugh track for no discernible reason.

I can say, almost without a doubt, that the laugh track is the reason this show got cancelled. Despite the fact that the show had a lot of humor, it was, above all things, a drama: Sorkin’s whip-smart, lightning-fast, noun-adjectivedescribingspeed dialogue managed to be funny but not hilarious, clever but not pretentious, and dramatic but not sappy. But the laugh track betrayed it.

It tricked audiences into thinking that they were watching a comedy, which therefore made the show disappointing. The “clever” dialogue was not outright jokey enough to warrant a laugh track, and when audiences didn’t laugh while the laugh track did, things became awkward. There’s no feeling in the world quite like remaining silent while an entire audience of invisible people laugh their asses off.

If they’d just gotten rid of the goddamn laugh track and marketed the show more aggressively, then it would have gotten more than just two seasons.