As a pop culture geek, there are few experiences more aggravating than discovering a new television series, getting invested in its world week after week, recommending it to all your friends, and then seeing it be cancelled after one season. It is a sensation only matched by going through that spiel through streaming a show or buying the boxset and then discovering there are no new episodes left after that initial splurge. It’s just unfair. Why does your new love only get 12 episodes yet The Big Bang Theory lives on for 12 seasons?
The current age of television, where Peak T.V. reigns supreme and every platform with video streaming capabilities seems to have its own exclusive series, has placed the medium in an unusual conundrum: No show needs tens of millions of viewers every week to survive now and there’s a greater array of choice than ever, but it’s so much harder to ensnare a captive audience long enough to keep your show on the air. Amazon are more cancel-happy than Netflix, who seem willing to renew absolutely everything simply because they can, a few exceptions aside. Everyone else is simply trying to play catch-up, and if that means canning a show a few episodes in to cut your losses then so be it. Damn the handful of people who actually cared about it. The entertainment industry is a business, after all. So often these days, it feels like the only people watching some series are T.V. critics, and even then, there are only so many of us to go round to cover the literally hundreds of new shows premiering every year (and that number is increasing with each season). Every now and then, I hear of a show that sounds right up my alley, only to discover it was cancelled, and more often than not that’s the first and last thing I ever hear about it.
There are plenty of shows that have become known as one season wonders, gaining cult status long after they left the air. Some were just too ahead of their time, others didn’t find their audiences until DVDs or streaming, and plenty were simply treated like dirt by their executives who had absolutely no idea what to do with them. There are shows that went off the air decades ago, long before they deserved to, that fans are still running revival campaigns for. In this day and age of endlessly commodified nostalgia and reboots, the chances are that thing you loved that nobody saw may not only find its audience but earn a second chance. A Full House revival got multiple seasons. We live in strange times. Anything is possible.
Alas, some lights just burn out too quickly, and so we are here to honour those one season wonders that delighted us and very few others. I’ve tried to avoid the obvious choices here - See Firefly, My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, and so on - and focus on the ones that scratched that particular itch for me and basically nobody else. Make sure to share your own choices in the comments.
Did you know Idris Elba was in a vampire noir? And that it only lasted 6 episodes? Truly, the world is a cruel place. In many ways, Ultraviolet was super ahead of its time: A genre mish-mash of cop drama, noir, horror, sci-fi and political allegory where vampires live in secret amongst humanity and are never explicitly called vampires. Jack Davenport, looking very young, plays a police officer who finds himself embroiled in a secret paramilitary organization, supported by both the government and the Vatican, that hunts vampires. Where the show excels beyond its already intriguing premise is in how it takes the vampire concept totally seriously. Nobody sniggers about vampires or makes corny jokes. These creatures are real threats, and they’re planning chaos on a massive scale. Ultraviolet also takes on some lofty topics, from child abuse to PTSD to the intersections between race and illness. One episode centres on a vampire leader of sorts whose captivity deliberately echoes the imagery of IRA supporters imprisoned by British forces. It’s not an especially fun show, although it’s never aiming for fun, so that may be why it didn’t find an audience in its time. It remains a must for vampire geeks like me.
Oh, Bryan Fuller. How I love your wonderful work and remain sad that it always gets cancelled too soon. Or you leave the show. Or you get sacked. It’s a tough ride every single bloody time. While I didn’t go through the agony of getting attached to Wonderfalls while it was airing on Fox, only for it to be cancelled after three whole episodes, I did experience the pain on DVD, watching it after getting obsessed with Pushing Daisies. Oh hey look, that guy who made that show I loved that got cancelled too soon made another show and oh yeah, cancelled too. At least we got three seasons of Hannibal before that was snatched from our bloody claws. Still, as much as I love Wonderfalls, I’m also kind of stunned it even made it to air in the first place. How do you combine the story of a slacker graduate with the magical realism of talking souvenirs from a Niagara Falls gift shop? Wonderfalls is probably the most knowingly cutesy of Fuller’s output and doesn’t get as stylistically weird as his other shows - no totem poles of people here - but it does nail that specific post-university frustration that so many 20-somethings feel. As with many a one season wonder, the pain is more in the lost potential.
If Ryan Murphy were to remake American Gothic beat for beat today, over 22 years since its cancellation, the chances are it would be a smash hit. Hell, it even has ghostly Sarah Paulson in it. This supernatural drama, executive produced by Sam Raimi, is a classic battle of good versus evil in a small South Carolina town. The local sheriff is a corrupt rapist murderer with otherworldly powers in his corner while his son tries to fight him while retaining his inherent goodness. I’m a sucker for that narrative - if you’ve ever seen my favourite TV show ever, Carnivale, then this won’t be news to you - and American Gothic goes to some seriously messed up places with its story. For a CBS show, it’s all kind of beautiful fucked up. There were plenty of wannabe Twin Peaks shows in the early ’90s and few of them lasted longer than that show ever did, which was the fate that befell American Gothic. It’s not the strongest of the one season wonders as it becomes very clear in certain episodes where the showrunners were told to do some ratings grabbing twists, but it remains a testament to a time when networks were willing to go this weird.
Header Image Source: Fox