Have you ever wondered why that show you loved, was unique, and had great characters or concepts got cancelled after one or two seasons? Especially while some high school drama that ran out of plot in its fourth year gets renewed for its twenty-second season with the original cast, now mid-fifties? Yeah, me neither.
I’ve watched shows that I really came to love, only to find out that they got cancelled after one or two seasons. Granted, sometimes, despite my enjoyment of the show, I can see why that decision was made. But usually those reasons, whatever they may be, don’t fully explain why some particular show got cut and another, with comparable weaknesses, still gets renewed year after year.
I originally had a list of shows that went for one or two seasons, but it got too long (go figure) so I’ll do the two-season-run shows in another post. I present: 6 TV shows I liked that were cancelled after one season.
(Note: I am not including spin-off shows in this list, though there are definitely a few of those floating around that only made it a season or two as well.)
Which of these series have you seen? I would love to hear your thoughts and whether you agree with my list.
6. Dickensian (2015)
You know who does Dickens better than Dickens? Not this show. Okay, that sounds a bit harsh off the top, as I actually like a lot about it. It sucked me in with its murder plot of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s partner, and the scam surrounding a young, pre-jilt Miss Havisham, along with a few other good side-plots like the background of Lady Dedlock. The casting is really solid with great performances from all your standard BBC period-actors as well as some less familiar faces that contribute massively to the atmosphere.
I still merit Tom Weston-Jones’ performance as Compeyson as one unparalleled in TV villainy. I would have liked nothing more than to see him dead in a ditch, he elicited such unadulterated hatred in me. It was brilliantly done.
I think part of what made it a bit hard to get behind for viewers is the weird way it is constructed. Because it’s serialized, much like a Dickens novel itself, it would have worked really well as a limited run/mini-series of maybe 8 hour-long episodes. Instead, they chopped it awkwardly into 20 half-hour episodes, as if it was a full length season of a sitcom or something. So we get no resolution until the very end, yet there are so many subplots going on with so many side characters that precious minutes out of each episode’s 30 are used up, not only with side characters, but side characters of side characters.
It was like the writers set themselves a challenge of how many Dickens characters from his fifteen novels they could shoehorn into the plot by any tenuous means possible. It was too much, too bloated, and too choppy. Longer episodes to deal with larger subplots would have helped maintain momentum while keeping the main murder mystery story arc at the forefront.
Despite this criticism and some of the minor storyline weaknesses, it was over all very well-made, I loved a lot of the characters, and I think it easily could have continued in a new season with a new central arc if they hadn’t insisted on trying to setup a new main plotline out of scraps of subplot they didn’t resolve from various episodes of the first season. It was a great concept, well-executed, until it wasn’t.
Verdict: Fabulous atmospheric Dickens with compelling characterization. Would recommend watching.
5. Tidelands (2018)
A sort of urban fantasy, this series starts with main character Cal returning to to her hometown after almost a decade serving in prison for an offense she committed as a minor. But many of the inhabitants of the small Australian fishing town can’t overlook her questionable past–including her own mother. Meanwhile, her brother, Augie, has gotten himself involved with the alluring leader of a small community of free-living, free-loving “tidelanders” who have settled in the area. As the plots thicken and the past boils to the surface, Cal must come to grips with who she really is and the dangerous power she holds.
This is one my sister turned me onto when we were looking for a new show to watch together. She’d already watched it, but it stood up to a second watch for her, and probably would for me, too. Intermixing fantasy and crime throughout, this show really holds up despite some stereotypical character types and drama. Leaving aside some dubious explanation for the tidelanders’ identities and their quest to reunite with their siren ancestors, this show has some solid performances and well-paced intrigue that keeps you hooked. I don’t even have a definite idea to propose for why this show wouldn’t have been continued, beyond Netflix overextending itself with a whole slew of “originals” in the last few years and having to double down on the most successful ones.
Verdict: Well-imagined dark, small-town crime-fantasy. Would watch again.
4. The Tomorrow People (2013)
A US reboot of a British sci-fi show, this one stays a bit more in the superpowered humans line of things than the beings from outer space tack its inspiration took. When a high school student discovers he has teleportation powers, he attracts the attention of an underground faction of similarly powered individuals. Despite a rocky start, they try to teach him about how to control and exercise his powers while warning him against the sinister corporation that seeks to capture and control their kind for profit.
I happened upon one of the last episodes of this show (unbeknownst to me) while on a trip in Ireland. Despite it being near the end of the season and me not understanding anything that was going on in the plot, I liked what little I saw. Which, admittedly, was a shirtless Luke Mitchell as John Young, but that was part of an actiony, X-Men-like fight scene that was well-choregraphed with convincing teleportation elements to add interest to it. When I finally got to watch the whole show, because some kind soul had uploaded all the episodes to YouTube, I really enjoyed it and am still suitably bummed that it was cancelled, particularly with the ending they gave it.
However, I’m not blind to its faults, including some tonal misfires, messy concepts because they had to reimagine worldbuilding differently than the show they based it on, and a distinct tendency to be CW in nature (read: melodramatic and soapy). Even borrowing fan favourite Mark Pellegrino from Supernatural couldn’t save it. I’m also not sure where the audience that they were going for is, which seemed to be superhero and comics fans, but I guess it just didn’t hit the right demographic to take off. Which is unfortunate because I really enjoyed a lot of it.
Verdict: Good action TV with pretty people and enough drama and flair to maintain investment. I would watch it again if I could ever track down copies of the series, or stream it anywhere.
3. Panic (2021)
In a small town in Texas, the opportunities for young people are minimal, so every year the high school graduating class has the option to participate in an underground challenge-based game throughout the summer, organized by the previous year’s participants. The prize: enough money to fund starting over out of the suffocating town. The risk: your life.
On the conceptual level it bears striking similarities to Nerve (2016), but in its execution and atmosphere it could not be more different. A friend and I gave it two episodes to win us over, and despite some initial plot contrivances and predictably pseudo-deep teenage philosophical ramblings interspersed here and there, it got us deeply invested right out of the gate.
The characters are varied and unique, there is intrigue in some newcomers to town with mysterious motivation and real risk from the town’s law enforcement as they get closer to tracking down and stopping the games. There are complex story beats carried forward from previous years’ Panic games and the fatalities that occurred, so that you have to really pay attention when people are casually discussing events they remember or who was where, when. It weaves a deeper mystery into what is on the surface just another year of risky challenges and lends real-world stakes.
It was a good show, but their attempts to set up a second season after the game was over, with some thin unresolved element like the unknown gamemakers taking the game on the road to torment those who thought they survived the game and got out of town, were kind of a shot in the dark. The fact is, not everyone can make a killer sequel to a deadly game plot by just having the characters be forced to play the game again like Suzanne Collins did with Catching Fire.
This is a show I would have liked to see continue jut because I enjoyed the characters and watching their relationships develop. The young actors did a great job, and I can’t not mention the charismatic performance of Ray Nicholson, who completely won me over to his character (also named Ray) by the second episode.
But it was a coherent, completed story by the end, and any continuation would potentially just devolve into a bunch of dissatisfying reversals of things we thought were resolved. I think it does exceptionally well with the concepts it was working with, and its optimal existence is as a limited series.
Verdict: Thrilling and well executed death-game-in-a-small-town concept with solid writing and acting. Would highly recommend and would watch again.
2. Firefly (2002-2003)
Firefly‘s cult status kept it alive past its one-season run, spawning all sorts of alternate media continuations of its story. But just because it gets talked up a lot elsewhere doesn’t mean I can really get away with not talking about it on my list.
This is cowboys and aliens before cowboys and aliens. Except… there aren’t really any aliens. They go on about these carnivorous aliens that swarm places and eat people, a la the Magog from Andromeda, but we never actually see them. Which is fine, because this show is more about the shenanigans the Serenity and her crew get into on an episodic basis.
Leaving aside the whole Whedon-verse thing (which is fun to read about), this is a solid, ensemble cast adventure show that happens to be in space. However, it is uniquely grounded in what feels like a real world, whether it be Mal’s drawl or the terrestrial war in his and his first mate’s near past. The great thing about an ensemble cast is you don’t have to like them all, but the drawback is that you might have to endure “spotlight” episodes of a lot them that you don’t care about.
Unfortunately, the one character I didn’t really like was the one they built so much of the overarching season plot about: River. (Now, in the Whedon-verse theory, she becomes a lot more interesting, but we left that aside, remember?) I honestly think this is part of what failed the show ultimately, because there was so much build up and time spent on River as though it would be important eventually, but then they just did the same things over and over with her until the end, when suddenly she has all these latent abilities and motivations that we had no inkling of until now. If that turn had come midway through the season and they had time to develop it, I think that would have been a different story.
But it isn’t a different story, and what it is is a fun episodic sci-fi series with varied characters and sharp dialogue. And the appearances by Mark Sheppard (another Mark who’s a Supernatural fan favourite, look at that) as a slimy businessman of one kind or another never hurt a sci-fi series, either. Unfortunately, there was glut in the sci-fi TV market when this came out and I think it got a bit lost in the melange.
Verdict: Good actiony sci-fi with real heart and well-worth a watch.
1. Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979)
Before Firefly, there was Battlestar Galactica the original series. And before Battlestar Galactica the original series, there was Battlestar Galactica the original movie.
Unfortunately, before Battlestar Galactica the original movie, there was Star Wars the original movie. And so it goes.
This is an ambitious series with its own culture and lore about a more highly developed group of humanity fighting for survival in its search for the lost colony of Earth. But that ambition also became its downfall. While Star Wars was dressing its actors in bathrobes and furry rugs, Battlestar Galactica was putting battery-operated lights in toasters. Guess which was cheaper.
Okay, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but it isn’t exactly un-based, either. (They did train a real monkey and put it in a suit and to play a robot dog, so…) The fact is that the reason for the original BSG‘s demise is openly admitted to be budget. It was just too frakking expensive to make with all the computer graphics for space battles and intricate sets on the ships and different planets. And it wasn’t getting enough support in return, because Star Wars had pre-emptively captured the audience for space-opera and, despite being an entirely different type of story, I guess viewers thought BSG was just more of the same.
Which is unfortunate, because the BSG series had a lot of fun plots and a great cast, including some really badass women with great characterization. In case anyone is under the misapprehension that it was an innovation of the 2004 BSG remake to have women in significant roles. (I will not stand for Sheba erasure!)
I loved this series and it has gained cult status over the years, with enough initial good will toward the original show that it even got an attempt at a continuation/spin-off as early as 1980. But it wasn’t the same because a lot of the principle actors had gone on to other projects. Lorne Green alone cannot make a show; imagine Bonanza without Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe.
But the concept is strong and it continues to inspire people to expand the lore, whether I personally really care for the way that is done or not. <cough, the 2004 series, cough>
Verdict: Nostalgic late 1970s sci-fi that holds up in all its campy glory. Would strongly recommend.
Honorary anime mention: Deadman Wonderland (2011)
I randomly found this anime online and it hooked me. For some reason I’ve always had a fear of/fascination with being falsely accused of some crime and imprisoned for it. And that’s exactly what happens to our main character, Ganta.
The sole survivor of the massacre of his entire class at school by a superpowered figure called the “Red Man,” Ganta is accused of the crime and convicted on fabricated video evidence. Ganta is incarcerated in Japan’s first amusement park correctional facility–Deadman Wonderland, built on a meteor crash site, where the inmates are forced into deadly games for the entertainment of the public by the promise of lessened sentences. While horrific enough on the surface, more disturbing yet is the secret cell block that even prison guards don’t acknowledge exists.
There, the most violent and disturbed criminals are pitted against each other in illegal deathmatches that are watched and betted on anonymously by the wealthy and powerful. These inmates are all infected with the “branch of sin” that was brought by the meteor, giving them superhuman abilities much like those demonstrated by the “Red Man.” Soon enough, Ganta finds himself in this under-world of the prison, hoping to find the monster who is truly responsible for killing his classmates and clear his own name. But facing the criminals incarcerated there isn’t the worst of it: facing himself and the very real possibility that he belongs there with them is.
This is based on a manga series, so it is not as though the story just ends and doesn’t exist beyond that. The manga is complete (though it might not be complete in English, I’m not clear on that), but the adaptation to anime only made it 12 episodes, or what might naturally be considered a first season. The conclusion to the anime is partially satisfying on a few fronts with some of the story threads and characters, but definitely leaves on more questions than answers and is set up as though it would continue. I’m not sure why it didn’t, whether the art was too time-consuming (it is really good) or there just wasn’t enough interest, but it’s kind of disappointing because I really enjoyed it.
Verdict: It’s a weird series with cool concepts, bizarre characters, and great art, but probably not for everyone. Would watch again myself, but not recommend it to just anybody.
What are some shows you are upset got cancelled after only one season? Comment below!