It's arrested development. And Arrested Development.
December 28, 2009 3:29 AM   Subscribe

Premature Demise Filter: What TV shows, similar to Arrested Development, are excellent -- brilliant, even -- but were terminated seasons short of fruition? And, more importantly, why should I watch them?

For the simple fact I enjoy plowing through shows on DVD like Sherman through Virginia -- something that can't really be done with ongoing ones.
posted by the NATURAL to Media & Arts (62 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Solomon at 3:49 AM on December 28, 2009 [8 favorites]

No doubt, "Serenity". They were just on the verge of introducing a new "big bad" (or big "blue" bad) when it was yanked.

Indeed, I stopped watching any show that doesn't already have two seasons under its belt, because I'm so tired of seeing quality stuff suddenly riffed in favor of yet another "reality" show.
posted by RavinDave at 3:54 AM on December 28, 2009

Wonderfalls. As to why, the Editorial review on Amazon pegs it well. It also has the advantage of wrapping things up pretty well in the last episode, unlike a lot of cancelled shows.

Thirding Firefly the series, which is resolved with the movie Serenity.
posted by gudrun at 3:55 AM on December 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Serenity happened because the fans got too annoying when Firefly was canceled. Start with Firefly and you'll appreciate Serenity even more.

An older one is Space: Above and Beyond which had five or six interwoven plot arcs exploring some interesting ideas.

Also, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles isn't quite brilliant, but it is a short series with many good episodes.
posted by d. z. wang at 3:56 AM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, and since you're asking because you like good series you can watch from beginning to end on DVD, try Babylon 5 (also available on and, Justice League Unlimited, and The West Wing.
posted by d. z. wang at 3:59 AM on December 28, 2009

Freaks & Geeks was a wonderful snapshot of late-70's-early-80's adolescence, and while short-lived, propelled much of its cast into good careers. It almost never came out on DVD because the original music was so full of well-known songs, but after a ton of fan interest, they finally managed it. I can highly recommend it!
posted by ukdanae at 4:04 AM on December 28, 2009 [17 favorites]

Don't know why in heck it was pulled, but I enjoyed watching all the episodes of "Dead Like Me" on Hulu. And they were starting to pick up real steam, story-wise.
posted by RavinDave at 4:08 AM on December 28, 2009 [9 favorites]

Key West was an amazing series from the producers of Northern Exposure. Beautiful, quirky stories set in Key West. I don't know that it lasted more than a season. Worth checking out.

Millenium had the all time screwups in terms of cancelled, then not. Halfway through the second season, they were told that the series wouldn't be renewed for the next year. The show was planned to run for five years, ending on New Year's, 2000. In order to tell the story (which was supposed to be slowly set out over the next three years), they ended up cramming the whole story into the remaining six or seven episodes. Those episodes were so popular, Fox ordered more seasons. Having essentially told their whole story, they suddenly had to figure out where to go from there. The series hung on for another season or two, completely different from what it had been, ending sadly with a poorly executed New Year's 2000 X-Files with Lance Henriksen guest-starring as his character, Frank Black.

And of course, Brisco County Jr. starring Bruce Campbell. Damn, that was a good show. It was a western, with touches of retro sci-fi (think Back to the Future III, but without being stupid), showcasing the wild charisma of young Bruce Campbell.

Oh, and the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Amazing stories about Indy growing up, bookended with scenes of old Indy reminiscing sometime in the 60's. Old Indy was missing an eye, and I'd always hoped they'd do the story where he lost it. The story about Indy in the Mexican revolution changed the way I feel about government forever.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:08 AM on December 28, 2009

2 AV Club lists that could be helpful:

Show that only got one season

Shows canceled before their time
posted by GilloD at 4:21 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Twin Peaks. One of the most frustrating unresolved endings in fiction.
posted by jbickers at 4:27 AM on December 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Considered by many to be ahead of its time, the show is a precursor to more recent edgy television shows that include Nip/Tuck, Dexter , Mad Men , and House M.D. Dark themes stemming from the villainy of the central character made the show uncomfortable and unfamiliar viewing for mainstream audiences and Fox station affiliates, which ultimately led to the demise of the series.

I remember watching this show when it first came out and it just blew me away. Highly recommended.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:36 AM on December 28, 2009

Absolutely seconding Wonderfalls. FOX is a network of hateful monsters, I've found.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:54 AM on December 28, 2009

Better Off Ted, while not officially canceled yet, will be. The characters work at an evil corporation that makes consumer products and military hardware. The scientists run a secret medieval fight club in the basement. Portia de Rossi oozes charming evil and it's a comedy. It's worth it for the Veridian Dynamics commercials.
posted by drezdn at 4:55 AM on December 28, 2009 [6 favorites]

Action (imdb)

Firefly and Freaks & Geeks were axed in their prime (or just before). Twin Peaks should be seen, but it was kind of spinning its wheels as the second season wore on. And if you like F&G, there's also Undeclared.
posted by K.P. at 4:57 AM on December 28, 2009

Pushing Daisies
posted by Thorzdad at 4:59 AM on December 28, 2009 [8 favorites]

Seconding Freaks and Geeks (way ahead of its time!) and Wonderfalls. My So Called Life.

FWIW, I would argue that Arrested Development doesn't necessarily fall into this category. True, it lived most of its life under the threat of cancellation, and Fox did its typical episode-shuffle thing (why on earth do networks do this?) but it did last three seasons, which is a pretty decent run for a show as (wonderfully) strange and envelope-pushing as AD.
posted by lunasol at 5:06 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Veronica Mars. Damn smart, funny. Single episodes as well as the season arcs are anchored by mysteries that are elaborate enough to tie together plot points and characters but aren't so outer limits as to not seem realistic. In fact, IMHO the show is realisticish enough to make you feel like you're watching genuine explorations of real relationships and adventurous enough plot-wise to be great t.v. Also: terrific writing that is refreshingly light on sentimentality and wickedly entertaining. Best of all: a female hero (hallelujah) who contains both wit and strength AND vulnerability.

My So-Called Life. Pretty decent rendering of the angsty ennui of a white, suburban adolescence.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 5:11 AM on December 28, 2009 [7 favorites]

This thread might help, too.
posted by juliplease at 5:20 AM on December 28, 2009

The Middleman
posted by rmd1023 at 5:25 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

My favorite American sitcom of all time is Andy Richter Controls the Universe. It only survived for two half-seasons. The reason you should watch the show is that it's very funny. I recommend watching it with a friend or two, because then you and your friends will have a new set of quotes you can reference at opportune moments.
posted by Kattullus at 5:38 AM on December 28, 2009 [7 favorites]

jPod. Because it's hilarious and cool. And it has Alan Thicke in it. And there's only one season, so it'll be quick.
posted by dreadpiratesully at 5:51 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

While I like Veronica Mars, I don't know that would I would say it was "terminated seasons short of fruition". It had three seasons, and the third was markedly worse.
posted by smackfu at 5:53 AM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

"My World and welcome to it". It was a brilliant show based on the writings of James Thurber, starring William Windom. It was cancelled after one season because the network scheduled it in a death slot, against "Laugh In".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:56 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Boyfriend's opinion:

Eli Stone
The live action version of the Tick.
Nthing Pushing Daisies

My opinion:
Sports Night
posted by sciencegeek at 6:12 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Millenium. I always heard that it never really got off the ground because of the pilot episode being a bit too violent. (Then again, I was in middle school when it started but still love the series now. And cry at the very end.)
posted by sperose at 6:37 AM on December 28, 2009

Carnivale. The expense of the Dust Bowl/ Depression set was just too much. It was heading towards huge-mythic territory and a story arc that would have gone into WW2 and beyond when it was killed off. I won't say more to not give it away. The creator since wrote a bunch of canon stuff out in interviews etc.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 6:46 AM on December 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Brotherhood is a very high-quality show - it did manage to wrap the narrative up properly, but should have lasted more than 3 years
posted by ascullion at 6:59 AM on December 28, 2009

Get a Life
posted by carefulmonkey at 7:13 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Carnivale and Profit, adding Odyssey 5 as a bit of brilliant modern day sci-fi/time travel/potential apocalypse television, canceled on a cliffhanger ending after the first series.
posted by emperor.seamus at 7:13 AM on December 28, 2009

Deadwood. But its three seasons are still well worth watching because it's the best show ever written for television.

And I'll have to disagree with Serenity. That show was one season too long.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:26 AM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thirding Carnivale, a feast for the eyes, ears, soul, you name it.
posted by Paris Elk at 7:40 AM on December 28, 2009

Jericho was excellent.
posted by sickinthehead at 7:46 AM on December 28, 2009

I'll see your Sports Night and Pushing Daisies and raise you Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and this summer's Defying Gravity. DG was my perfect mix of science nerdiness and soap opera.
posted by mrsshotglass at 7:52 AM on December 28, 2009

We loved and miss:

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, The 4400, and as others have said, Firefly.

Out of all of those, I miss Firefly the most. That show was brilliantly funny, smart, and could have lead to amazing things.
posted by Kimberly at 8:10 AM on December 28, 2009

Life, sadly killed after 2 seasons. One of the best cop shows I'd seen in a long while.
posted by arcticseal at 8:18 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

My favorite American sitcom of all time is Andy Richter Controls the Universe.
I recommend watching it with a friend or two, because then you and your friends will have a new set of quotes you can reference at opportune moments.
Hah. I'm constantly referencing ARCTU with my co-founder, and since he STILL hasn't seen the show (even though I gave him my bootleg episodes years before the DVD set came out) they're constantly whooshing over his head. It's an incredibly quotable show.

Definitely a fantastic series, well worth watching.

All hail Andy, bringer of great pie!
posted by agentmunroe at 8:23 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I tend to collect shows like this. My recommendations:

Nthing Firefly, Veronica Mars, Space: Above and Beyond, Brimstone, Brisco County, The Tick (live action version), Action!, Wonderfalls, Freaks & Geeks, Sports Night, Pushing Daisies, and Profit. If you don't get ANYTHING ELSE recommended in this thread, get Profit.

Kitchen Confidential: Sitcom inspired by Anthony Bourdain's book, Fox aired four hilarious episodes in the time slot before Arrested Development. Critics loved the show but since it wasn't a huge hit from the first second of broadcast, Fox yanked it. I wish it had aired on the Food Network instead; I think foodies would have embraced it. Available on DVD.

Keen Eddie: Stars Mark Valley and Sienna Miller. Highly entertaining cop show in the same vein as Dempsey and Makepeace, but the DVD release suffers from "WKRP in Cincinnati" syndrome. The original broadcasts used fantastic music from Orbital and other great techno bands from the '90s, but alas the producers didn't have the foresight to secure the music rights for the DVD release. The result: they substituted generic techno-pop on the soundtrack. It's just not the same, but if you've never seen it before, you probably won't miss it.

Deadwood: The best Western to ever air on American TV, bar none. Ian McShane is unforgettable as Al Swearengen. Available on DVD.

Titus: I believe this show was ahead of its time--I think its dark humor would find a bigger audience today. Brilliant, but at times the comedy is bundled with some genuine pain. Available on DVD.

Chapelle's Show: In-your-face racial sketch comedy from the greatest comedian working in the US today. Gave us the now-classic catch phrase, "I'm Rick James, bitch!" Canceled when Chapelle--struggling to cope with his sudden stardom--abruptly left the show. Available on DVD.

Kings: I just got this series on DVD for Christmas, and it lives up to the hype. Easily the most ambitious TV series to air on a broadcast network in ages. Michael Green's vision of alternate-America-as-kingdom and the political intrigue of the court is compelling and awe-inspiring. And Ian McShane (he of Deadwood fame) should be King, as far as I'm concerned.

Pasadena: If you love a good night-time soap opera (and I sure do, baby) this was it. The teenage daughter of a wealthy family witnesses a suicide and begins to investigate, inadvertantly uncovering long-buried family secrets. It's dark atmosphere and cynical storylines meant it had no chance when it premiered within two weeks of the 9/11 attacks, and the show was yanked in a month. SoapNet eventually aired all the episodes. Not available on DVD to my knowledge.

Eyes starring Tim Daly. If someone steals $1000 from you, call the police. If they steal $100,000, call the FBI. If you're the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and your chief financial officer embezzles $100 million on your watch, you call Tim Daly's character Harlan Judd and his "risk management agency" (yes, they're legal...but only just so). A darkly witty drama that was pulled after five episodes. Given that ABC brought the show out the same year they debuted Desperate Housewives and Lost, I'm surprised there wasn't more support for it at the network. Not available on DVD to my knowledge.

Remember WENN: Yeah, it got four seasons, so maybe not appropriate for this list. That show had legs and could have easily gone two or three more seasons. As I understand it, it was doing well in the ratings and certainly the critics liked it; the only reason it was canceled is because new management took over at AMC. Not available on DVD as far as I can find, but fans have been doing video-tape swaps for a while.

G vs. E: If Quentin Tarantino decided to do a TV series about undead L.A. cops against the agents of Hell, this would be the result. Fantastic, stylistic, and funny, funny, funny. I have not been able to find this one on DVD.

Frank's Place
, Now and Again, Cupid (the 1998 original starring Jeremy Piven in the best role he ever had before Ari Gold) and Maximum Bob: I've been looking to get my hands on those series but they've been impossible to find. Maximum Bob in particular was mind-boggling in its brilliance, and it showcased Beau Bridges in the best role of his career.

Have fun!
posted by magstheaxe at 8:27 AM on December 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

The (now defunct) cable channel Trio had a show called 'Brilliant But Cancelled'. There's also a series of Universal DVDs with the same title (search the phrase on Amazon).
posted by mattholomew at 9:05 AM on December 28, 2009

If you are a football (american) fan at all, you can't do better than Playmakers. It was on espn for one season before being canceled because of pressure from the NFL. Great show.
posted by thepalephantom at 9:07 AM on December 28, 2009

Robbery Homicide Division. A Michael Mann show; essentially a TV version of the cops in Heat.

Smith. Ray Liotta, Jonny Lee Miller, Simon Baker, and Amy Smart play professional thieves. Smart, stylish show that could be a TV version of the robbers in Heat (Michel Mann wasn't involved).
posted by kirkaracha at 9:32 AM on December 28, 2009

Seconding Get a Life

From Wikipedia:
The show was unconventional for a prime time sitcom, and many times the storylines of the episodes were surreal. For example, Elliott's character actually dies in twelve episodes. The causes of death included being crushed by a giant boulder, old age, tonsillitis, stab wounds, gunshot wounds, falling from an airplane, strangulation, getting run over by cars, choking on cereal, and simply exploding. For this reason, it was a struggle for Elliott and Mirkin to get the show on the air. Many of the executives at the Fox Network hated the show and thought it was too disturbing and that Elliott's character was too insane.
Clip from an episode in which Chris takes control of a local theater troop, Zoo Animals on Wheels
posted by wcfields at 9:46 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am extraordinarily fond of Boomtown. This police/lawyer/paramedic show set in a moody, atmospheric Los Angeles transcends genre cliches, and I think the first season may be one of TV's best dramas ever. One of the very few shows where I had the feeling that the characters were real people, and cared what happened to them. The network mandated some dumbed-down changes for the abortive second season, such as inexplicably sending Theresa the paramedic (the soul and conscience of the ensemble cast) to police academy. But the excellent first season is available on DVD, and deserves a view by anyone who cares about good television. I once described it as Dragnet meets Rashomon. My wife and I often have discussions centering on a hypothetical chance to un-cancel any show and give it a second chance. For a long time I wavered between Boomtown and Firefly, but I think Boomtown has finally won out in my fantasy redemption scenario. And I loved loved loved Firefly.
posted by seasparrow at 10:24 AM on December 28, 2009

Police Squad! Canceled after four episodes.
posted by waxpancake at 12:56 PM on December 28, 2009

Popular. A cracked out teen dramedy from Ryan Murphy (the man behind Nip/Tuck and Glee), cancelled after two seasons. Worth it for the character of Mary Cherry alone.
posted by cosmic osmo at 1:05 PM on December 28, 2009

Definitely Freaks and Geeks. The only television show for which I think the word 'perfect' can be safely employed.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:19 PM on December 28, 2009

2nd jPod, enthusiastically. God I wish that didn't get the axe....
posted by pompomtom at 2:09 PM on December 28, 2009

The (now defunct) cable channel Trio had a show called 'Brilliant But Cancelled'.

After Trio folded, their creative team (Lauren Zalaznick, Andy Cohen, etc.) were then brought in to run/re-vamp Bravo around 2002/2003, and so Bravo resurrected the "Brilliant But Cancelled" brand as a spin-off standlone website in early 2006. Then Bravo Media bought the "Television Without Pity" site, and merged most of the "Brilliant But Cancelled" content onto their site. It's here now.

Bravo is owned by NBC/Universal, so they got the online syndication rights to some of the NBC shows (and a few others), and they were available on an online video player that was streamed first through NBC's custom Flash video player system, and later through Brightcove. This video system went away when they moved the site content to TWoP, but I think some of them are now available on Hulu.

Terrific Brilliant But Cancelled shows that are worth watching, if you can find them: "American Gothic" (ran one season on CBS in the mid-1990's -- starring a young Sarah Paulson!).

Goofy Brilliant But Cancelled shows that are worth watching, if you can find them: "Roar" (starring a young Heath Ledger!) and "Cop Rock" (OMG).
posted by Asparagirl at 3:29 PM on December 28, 2009

seconding playmakers and defying gravity

freaks and geeks, undeclared both are must watch

if you liked west wing, you must watch sports night (both by aaron sorkin) - same with studio 60. i really enjoyed it but many didnt

i also enjoyed "the black donnellys"...
posted by knockoutking at 3:40 PM on December 28, 2009

I can't see that it is officially out anywhere, but Strange Luck was a one-season show I was sad to see go away, not least because it featured D.B. Sweeney, who has a good time coming to him if he ever gets around my way.
posted by troybob at 3:59 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Clone High. It only aired for one season, but man, was that a great season. Hilarious, witty, intelligently written cartoon for adults.
posted by limeonaire at 4:09 PM on December 28, 2009

Drawn Together was another excellent cartoon for adults, especially during the first season.
posted by limeonaire at 4:10 PM on December 28, 2009

Two other faves already mentioned: Sports Night and Dead Like Me. The latter is one of my permanent pick-me-ups—if I'm in a less-than-stellar mood, I need only watch an episode or two to feel better.
posted by limeonaire at 4:14 PM on December 28, 2009

Yes, Wonderfalls!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:21 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing Veronica Mars, though you can definitely get away with only watching the first season, or only watching the first two seasons. For a variety of stupid network mandated reasons, the third season dropped the "season-long-mystery" formula and tried to cram a few smaller mysteries into one season, which killed a lot of the intricate storytelling brilliance that made the series what it was.
posted by Phire at 4:35 PM on December 28, 2009

I have no unique suggestions but really must nth many of these shows that I still grieve for:

-Boomtown. The series told one crime each episode from many different points of view and the style completely won me over when one short POV was some random guy they just called "Doofus."
-Keen Eddie (sometimes called Fast Eddie). God, I loved this show. The fast pacing, the wit, Mark Valley, the dog, Pip... it was genuine, unabashed fun. I'm harboring a small hope that Valley's new show may echo Keen Eddie in some way.
-My So Called Life. It's aged a little, but many of the episodes absolutely break my heart.
-Sports Night/Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Aaron Sorkin does great dialogue. Sports Night is better, but the Amanda Peet/Bradley Whitford arc in Studio 60 was charming. I missed the finale of Studio 60 and agonized over it for months.
-Pushing Daisies. It lost me after the first season, but the premise was great and the set design was beautiful. My family grieves dearly for this show.
posted by lilac girl at 5:40 PM on December 28, 2009

The Chronicle.

A ScyFy original, this show covers the exploits of reporters at a tabloid mag a la National Enquirer. The only thing is, the stories about Pig Boy (played brilliantly by Curtis "Booger" Armstrong), dragons in Chinatown, ETs, etc - ARE TRUE! Very well written, sympathetically acted, a very fun ride!

Many other great shows mentioned here. Such a shame that a show which is intelligently written and has a good core following is automatically slated by network muckies for cancellation. Are they afraid we'll continue to think? LOL....
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 8:38 PM on December 28, 2009

Mine are:

Anything But Love: Sharp writing and Ann Magnuson chewing scenery like mad. You can't miss.

SOAP: Addictive. Like crack.

MST3K: OK, I cheated. It ran for 11 (?) seasons, but it's sooooo good.

Quantum Leap: I had my entire college dorm addicted to this show. We cried when they pulled the plug, but it got kinda wacky at season 4.

Kids In The Hall: Two words: Buddy Cole.

Sledgehammer: I admit to having pedestrian tastes. I thought this show was hysterical.

Max Headroom: Dear God, please make them release Max Headroom on DVD. Thanks, V.

Moonlighting: The Taming of the Shrew episode still makes me pee my pants.

I just realized how much of my childhood I spent glued to a TV. No wonder I can't throw for shit.
posted by Vavuzi at 12:06 AM on December 29, 2009

Farscape. Cancelled just one season early. Followed up by a mini-series to wrap up the story.
posted by Lafe at 12:21 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Duckman: Incredibly good writing.
posted by Vavuzi at 1:38 AM on December 29, 2009

- The Lone Gunmen (X-Files spin-off)
- Strange Luck
- Space, Above and Beyond
- Firefly
- Harsh Realm
- Dark Angel
- Better off Ted (nooooo, please be wrong, I love this show...)
- Millenium
posted by jkaczor at 11:17 AM on December 29, 2009

American Body Shop. Similar to Reno 911. Just didn't make it.
posted by zerobyproxy at 5:36 PM on December 29, 2009

Seconding that you should definitely see "Life." The first season ends with perfect closure, because they thought it was going to be cancelled, and then the second season also wraps up cleanly (and awesomely) for the same reason. About every third or fourth episode will seem like a filler, but everything else is gold. The final episode of the series felt like an immensely satisfying gift to the fans from the writers.
posted by mecran01 at 8:54 AM on January 1, 2010

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