Top 10: “One hit wonder” shows (TV cancelled after only a single, excellent season)
A while back, top 10 lists were requested, and in spite my love of making lists, I never got around to one until now. So what have I chosen? TV shows, of course. Seems to be all I write about anyway, so why not stick with it. Specifically, this time, TV shows that burned briefly but brightly, shows that didn’t get that many episodes but made the most out of what they had. Though, when you think of the many shows that started out brilliantly and then lost steam along the way, perhaps some of them have all the better epitaphs for it.
Like last time I made a list akin to this one, back in early 2011, I’m not including failed pilots, nor animated shows and intentional miniseries. I am, however, including in the running the kind of shows that clearly hoped for a second season and were branded as a miniseries when they didn’t get one (such as Jekyll, Political Animals and Hostages).
Note that I loved the top 10 in the previous list I made, and I now have 3 more years’ worth of TV under my belt to compete against it, so you can consider absolutely everything on this list warmly recommended. In fact, I would heartily recommend (and have personally gone out and bought the DVD sets for) a number of the one-season-shows that didn’t make this top 10. So, in short, the ten shows that follow? I implore you to check them out.
The fight for no. 10 on this list was the closest of all. To give you an idea of some other really good one-season shows it was up against for the spot, I considered Go On and Enlisted, decided that while hilarious they didn’t stick with me sufficiently for a top 10 list, then considered Caprica, decided the first half drags too much to give an unequivocal recommendation. The recent Political Animals is too open-ended, the excellent The Inside, too procedural, cult hit Freaks & Geeks isn’t quite my thing enough to reach my top 10 (and gets tons of press everywhere else anyway, it doesn’t need my weblog too), and Lights Out, for all its quality drama aspects, was still about (yawn) boxing. Then I realised, the show to pick was the one where I didn’t want more because it was fun, didn’t want more because it needed resolution, didn’t want more because I loved the world. The show to pick is the one where I missed the characters. And if there’s one thing a Amy Sherman-Palladino delivers, it’s — well, ok, it is snappy pop-cultural-laden dialogue, but if there’s a second thing, it’s characters that stick with me. Bunheads further has the distinction of being rather adorable and cosy.
An utterly charming PI show that probably died due to the odd name and marketing (which featured the almost utterly irrelevant dog so prominantly this was the one decent promotional shot I found that had him in the background) keeping it from finding its audience. So what is the show really? Well, think Veronica Mars, but about two washed-up middle-aged men instead of a super-smart up-and-coming high school girl. Like everything on this list, it is a crying shame it never got more episodes than it did.
Before there was Dexter, there was Jim Profit. While Dexter’s urges made him kill people, Profit’s relatively likable sociopathic tendencies were expressed in ruining the lives of his business associates and superiors, as he moved ever higher up the corporate ladder. A bit like a Francis Urquhart-esque story, really, like the British original House of Cards but about an American young businessman rather than a veteran British politician. The biggest shame of all — ok, the second biggest shame next to Profit‘s own cancellation — is that nothing ever came of the plans on Joss Whedon’s Angel to have Profit show up with the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart.
The never-failing Bryan Fuller’s much-missed Wonderfalls is the story of a cynical, under-achieving girl who suddenly starts talking with inanimate objects. Whenever she doesn’t do as they tell her, events magically conspire to turn her life into awfulness. Drama (some) and hilarity (plenty) ensues. This show didn’t make the biggest impression on my the first time I saw i — I liked it, but that was about it — however, for every rewatch, I find I love it more. Great cast, great dialogue and plenty of crazy.
6. Easy Money
Probably the most obscure of all the shows on this list, but to me, one of those incredibly few shows which I just loved from the get-go. This show is about a family of loan sharks, where the rule of a calculating matriarch is enforced by a conflicted but hyper-competent son (think something á la Sons of Anarchy, but without all the Shakespearean darkness and violence), and, well, that’s about it, really. Like the number 1 entry on this list, there are some beginnings of a longer arc of a plot, but the show was cancelled before it could do much with it. I warmly recommend it, though, as I found it thoroughly entertaining for every precious second it lasted. Though you might have a hard time locating it — it has not been released on DVD (the fate of several shows on this list, unfortunately) and as far as I know, it’s also not available on any legal streaming service.
British shows don’t really follow as easy a pattern for what’s a miniseries and what isn’t as American TV, so I’ve used my best judgment and included this. While it tied up the main plot, there was still plenty of open-ended stuff left to explore, and writer Steven Moffat has said he’s written a sequel that the BBC passed on, so I’m calling this one a cancelled show rather than a miniseries.
Anyway, it’s brilliant. Sure, it loses a bit of its steam towards the end as the conspiracy takes over the focus rather than the internal Jekyll/Hyde-conflict, but this modern TV sequel (not adaptation) to the famous Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde novella is an utter delight even so, and I dare anyone to say otherwise. Tired of waiting for more of the (admittedly even more brilliant) Sherlock? This might just be six episodes of more Moffat-written Victorian literature-inspired fun to tide you over.
If you like your conspiracy thrillers serious, chilling and intricate, without frivolous gunplay and action sequences, this is what you should be watching. Think of shows like State of Play or The Honourable Woman. Not to mention that it has exquisite dialogue at times — looking for a review of mine to link I realised I’d never written one (the shame!), but I had several posts with quotes from the show. And Rubicon actually wrapped up pretty beautifully, so there is no reason not to go see this … if you can find it.
We all want more Deadwood, and specifically, more Al Swearengen. If you don’t, you’ve either not seen the show or something is terribly, terribly wrong with you. Now, Kings is in no way Deadwood, neither superficially nor thematically, in neither form nor content, let’s get that clear. But the character of king Silas? While utterly different from Swearengen, his wonderful dialogue is clearly inspired by how old Al would turn a phrase. And, of course, is also played by Ian McShane. So it definitely helped soothe my abstinences, and who knows, maybe it will soothe yours as well. That out of the way, Kings have a lot of other qualities. The Biblical story of king Saul and David re-imagined as taking place in an alternate world with a technological level about the same as ours — it is an insanely ambitious thing to do, and Kings pulled it off with flying colours. The cast list is impressive. The dialogue, as mentioned, is great, even if Silas gets most of the good lines. The plot, well, it ends fairly openly after the cancellation, but they finished up the biggest plot threads of the season, and if you want to know what happens next, a copy of the Old Testament isn’t exactly hard to track down. Court-intrigue, possible divine interventions, loyalty and fear, politics and oratory, this show had everything, and I’m so impressed with NBC for airing it in the first place, I barely manage to hold any grudge for them cancelling it. Oh, ok, so I do hold some. The show was awesome.
Everyone knows what was going to be number 1 on this list, but I had a darned hard time picking what should be number 2. In the end, though, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip edges past Kings in spite of its floundering soapy mid-season and unwarranted change of focus to a tacked-on terror plot in the final episodes. It might not sound like I’m trying to sell you on this show, but believe me, that’s how good it was. It’s number two on this list of shows I adore in spite of these hugely obvious flaws. To me, there’s just something about the heart and weight of Aaron Sorkin’s characters (and, of course, dialogue) that just trumps everything else the other shows on the list have going for them. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve got names like Bradley Whitford, Steven Weber, Sarah Paulson, Amanda Peet and Matthew Perry among their regulars, either. In its best episodes, Studio 60 can go toe-to-toe with The West Wing, which is frankly just ridiculously impressive for a show in its first season. Especially when that show is about the behind the scenes of making a not-all-that-funny live weekly TV variety show.
We all knew this was coming. This show basically didn’t have a weak episode, which for a procedural space adventure series is just mind-boggling. And sure, the hints-of-an-arc remaind utterly unresolved (and partially so still even after the excellent — if tonally very different — sequel film), but so what. There is not a single character that isn’t compelling, barely a line that isn’t quotable, and not an emotion that doesn’t tug at one’s soul.
So these are my top 10. Do chime in with your thoughts — or even your own top 10 one-season shows — in the comments, I so enjoy feeling like I have a reader or two.
Other one-season-only shows I’ve seen, in alphabetical order, so that you know which shows I’ve compared these 10 favourably against:
1600 Penn, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Accidentally on Purpose, Animal Practice, Awake, Believe, Bent, Camelot, Caprica, The Cape, The Chicago Code, The Crazy Ones, Crossbones, Crusade, Cupid (original), Cupid (remake), Dracula, Drive, Enlisted, Freaks & Geeks, Go On, Hostages, The Inside, John Doe, Last Resort, Lights Out, Low Winter Sun, Luck, Monday Mornings, Moonlight, Now and Again, Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, Political Animals, The Return of Jezebel James, Ringer, Snoops, Mr. Sunshine, Terra Nova, Thief, The Tick, Trophy Wife, Undeclared, You Wish, Young Hercules