I admit, I watched a lot of television when I was younger. Heck, I probably watch more than it good for me now. I can’t help it. Television can tell some pretty amazing stories, especially in the world of science fiction, if given the chance. Of course, that chance doesn’t always last as long as it needs to for a good show to develop and our fandom is littered with shows killed before their time. Here are ten shows I think should have gotten a better shake from their producers, network, or us fans.
- “Dollhouse” — I was late to this Joss Whedon show, which cost me a chance to see some really solid television. Eliza Dushku played Echo, a “doll”, who is hired out by a shadowy organization to wealthy clients for…whatever. The show tackled some cool sci-fi themes like memory and identity and what giving yourself over to a powerful entity could really mean. Unfortunately, like most sci-fi shows on Fox, it died a confused death as it took a while for the writers to find the real story in the stories. In the meantime, the network really didn’t know how to market it as anything but “sexy thriller with that girl from Buffy in it. No, that other girl from Buffy.” If you want to see what “Dollhouse” could have been, check out “Orphan Black” on BBC America.
- “Caprica” — Once “Battlestar Galactica” finished, with its series finale that left the remnants of humanity on a primitive Earth, I really didn’t want anything more to do with that particular universe. Yes, folks, that’s how disappointed I was by the last season of that show. I had no inclination to watch a “prequel” show that promised a long wrestling match with thorny social issues and…zzzzzzzzzzzz. If you want to know why the show died, well, there you go. It was a great idea — a story about artificial intelligence pitched by Remi Aubuchon that SciFi saw as a golden opportunity to make a few extra bucks off Battlestar Galactica and the guys who drove Galactica into the ground saw as a way to make “an allegory for our times”. “Caprica” was pre-doomed. That’s a shame because the premise would have made for a terrific stand-alone show.
- “Almost Human” — Speaking of pre-doomed, how about this one? I admit I got excited about this show the moment I heard about it. I’m a huge fan of Karl Urban. The idea of a “buddy show” that teams a grumpy human with an artificial intelligence trying to figure out what being human is all about sounds really cool, doesn’t it? Yes, it does! What I failed to notice was the ridiculous amount of metaplot baggage the writers loaded onto Urban’s character before the first episode aired. He’s an honest cop! But he hates androids! An android betrayed him maybe! He’s anti-social! But he’s a good man! But his girlfriend left him! But he had a bionic limb! Which he hates but kind of likes! Now he has a new partner who is an android! A special android with a dry wit! Ugh…no show could survive that much crapulence all piled up at once.
- “Futurama” — I do believe this is the third Fox show in this list and I’m only on number four! On one hand, this probably means that Fox doesn’t know what to do with sci-fi shows. On the other hand, at least Fox gives them a shot, even if that shot isn’t quite enough of a shot (more on that later). Futurama is the longest-running show on this list, so you may be wondering why it’s here. First, it’s original incarnation lasted only four seasons (though its amazing strength in syndication and its subsequent revival fooled everyone into thinking it was a beast of a ratings-grabber). Second, it was buried in a series of abysmal time slots. Mostly, Fox stuck it in the spot informally known as “Sunday, whenever the football game is over”. Another show on this list landed in that slot as well, and it’s hot death for any show that doesn’t already have a rabid and sizable fanbase. Mostly, what killed “Futurama” is it wasn’t “The Simpsons”, which continues to lumber on even though it ran out of humor and optimism years ago.
- “Farscape” — When was the last time you saw a sci-fi television show with aliens that didn’t look like oddly-colored humans? Well this show had a couple of them and a couple of oddly-colored human type too. What it also had was an engaging cast with believable backgrounds that you learned over time instead of having it all jammed down your gullet at the beginning of the show. “Farscape” got just enough time to let us grow accustomed to its universe and the odd, cool things in it and then it was gone. This is a show that should have run far longer than its four seasons. We have no one to blame but ourselves, sci-fi fans. We asked for a smart show with adventure and good writing and good acting and aliens and we got one. It’s true it made its network execs uneasy, but a very strong fanbase would have kept it around. We have to be honest. The show didn’t get the ratings that would make it untouchable. “Farscape” is one of the reasons we sci-fi fans can’t have nice things and I share blame here too. I should have been a better fan, too.
- “Space: Above and Beyond” — Remember that Sunday Death Slot? Well, here’s the other show I loved that starved to death in it. I distinctly remember watching the end of some very bad football games just to catch this show. There was no chance you could reliably set your VCR to record it, because it never, ever, ever, ever, EVEREVEREVEREVEREVER started at 7 PM. Not one bloody time that I can remember. As a result, I missed a bunch of episodes (because of church in the evening, thank you). The setup for the show was beautiful. Earth is at war with an alien special called the “Chigs” and they are kicking our butts. The situation is so bad that Earth is sending out rookie, undermanned units to hold them off. The show focuses on one of those units. Specifically, it’s a story of the soldiers in that unit, most of whom dislike each other for a lot of reasons — some good, and some that are just plain old racist — and was heavily influenced by “Combat” and The Forever War. This is one of the shows I can’t talk about for long before I get a bit salty about short-sighted network executives.
- “Carnivàle” — If you didn’t have HBO back in the day, you might have missed this one, but you can watch it now on Amazon Prime Instant and you should. It’s creepy and weird, made by the guy who made the “Dracula” series last year and “The Blacklist” this year. Ronald Moore was also involved, but he managed not to muck things up with too much modern-day allegory. Here’s the deal: the ultimate battle between good and evil is happening in Dust Bowl America and one of the combatants travels with a carnival. The show won a bunch of Emmys, was nominated for twice as many as it won, and died after two seasons. Mostly, I chalk that up to its oddness. Much like “Twin Peaks”, which may have influenced it, and “Lost”, which basically swiped its mysteriousness, it was going to take time for the show to get off the ground. HBO wasn’t very patient with it. I suspect had it gone a third season, it would have gone the distance and gotten some pretty good ratings. It wouldn’t have been a blockbuster, but it wasn’t meant to be. Clearly.
- “Jake 2.0” — Am I the only one who remembers this show? Early 2000s on UPN? Computer geek who suddenly receives superhuman powers whose name is one syllable but who isn’t accompanied by scary muscle Adam Baldwin? Huh. This wasn’t a bad show. Actually, it was pretty cool. Jake got infected by nanowhatchamacallits which gave him a handful of upgrades like super strength and speed plus the ability to communicate with computers using only his mind. Ooooooh! Okay, maybe the show wasn’t all that good, but it had promise and, with some better writing, could have been “Chuck”.
- “The Dresden Files” — I will never, ever forgive SyFy, or whatever the channel calls itself nowadays, for letting this show slowly suffocate to death. Based on a runaway hit series of novels by Jim Butcher, it was a show about a wizard private detective. It was urban fantasy noir set very firmly in the modern day, with a cast of rock-solid actors and a couple changes from the books that actually made the show better (Bob? Anyone? HELLO??). Yes, I know they tinkered with a couple of the characters and Dresden needed to be taller and lankier, but Paul Blackthorne was bloody brilliant. SyFy didn’t even give the show a formal cancellation announcement after its first season. The network let the actors drift into other gigs and….man, I don’t even know. I’m still bitter about this one because I have a bad feeling that was my only chance to get a Dresden television show.
- “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.” — Dear God, how I loved this show. It had everything I wanted: Bruce Campbell as a witty good guy hero, wonderful and memorable side-characters like Lord Bowler, the production team from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a drop-dead gorgeous femme fatale (or was she?), cowboys, a mysterious device, John Astin in a recurring role. It was, so far as I’m concerned, the show I had waited to see ever since I was a kid. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the show everyone else wanted to see. I understand why; honest I do. The humor was too smirky sometimes. The show wasn’t entirely sanitized like most family fare was at that time. The meta-plot was a little weird. The show has a little trouble deciding whether it wanted to be a pulpy adventure or an ensemble comedy and the flip between the two could be jarring. Still, these were all issues they could have ironed out. None of them needed to be fatal. Please bring Brisco back? and Dixie? And Lord Bowler? And Comet? All of them you can get? Please?? I’m begging, Hollywood.
Well, I guess that about wraps it up. Can’t think of another show that got cancelled before its time. I mean, that last one was about the ultimate example of a fusion western/sci-fi show with a great lead, strong ensemble, witty writing, high adventure that got the axe from Fox long before it should have and for which its faithful fans pine to this very da–what?
There’s another, you say?
I’m sorry. I can’t quite hear you.
OH ALL RIGHT YOU GUYS HERE COME BONUS NUMBER 11 WITH HANDS OF BLUE AND AREN’T WE ALL JUST LEAVES ON THE WIND.
“Firefly” — We all want it to come back. We see the panels at ComiCon and we dream out dreams. Every once in a while a couple of the actors get together on another show and it seems like Serenity will take flight once more. It’s not going to happen, guys. Joss Whedon is very busy building the Marvel empire. Heck, he can’t even get a “Dr. Horrible” sequel off the ground, and that has very few moving parts compared to a “Firefly” reboot. I get it, though. I want more “Firefly”, too. I want to see how things could have gone after the strong worldbuilding of “Ariel” and “War Stories”. I hate that because of the incompetence of at least once Fox executive and probably several more, we never got the realization of such amazing promise. But there are other stories out there. I didn’t get what I wanted with Brisco, did I? Then Firefly came along and I didn’t quite get there either. So maybe there’s another show coming down the trail and I’ll get what I want there. Maybe you have the chops to write that show for me. What do you say? Give it a shot. See what you can do. Keep me posted.