Taken before their time…
We’ve all felt the hot sting of something ending too soon. A nice meal. A good book. A soul crushing cry in the shower. It is how we react to these setbacks that defines us. Are you a resilient person, or did you start smashing your house up when you heard that Firefly had been cancelled? Either way, we can all agree that sometimes, a TV show is taken before it’s time. Here are ten of the best of them…
10. Firefly (2002)
Number of episodes: 14
What they said: “If I got $300 million from the California Lottery, the first thing I would do is buy the rights to Firefly, make it on my own, and distribute it on the internet” – Star of Firefly and all round good guy Nathan Fillion.
Joss Whedon’s sci-fi epic is perhaps the ultimate example of a TV show that was cut down in its prime. The adventures of Mal Reynolds and his crew are so beloved in geek circles that a crowdfunding campaign to reinstate the show raised over $1 million, and the DVD sales of the first and only season of Firefly financed the excellent follow up film Serenity.
Despite none of the cast ever really going on to become superstars, Firefly did pave the way for Whedon to helm the first two Avengers movies. Sadly, that is now the only legacy this cherished show will ever have.
9. Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
Number of episodes: 18
What they said: “Even to this day, I think I didn’t want to admit that Freaks and Geeks was cancelled, everything I’ve done, in a way, is revenge for the people who cancelled Freaks and Geeks…” – Freaks and Geeks creator Judd Apatow
Imagine a Judd Apatow created TV comedy starring Seth Rogen, Jason Segal and James Franco being released in 2020. Netflix would be all over it. You’ve just imagined Freaks and Geeks. The only difference being that all of the above were relative unknowns when this high school comedy aired for one season at the tail end of the ’90s on NBC. And what a series it is. Funny, poignant and heartwarming, Freaks and Geeks has everything that would see Judd Apatow go on to become a household name.
8. Rome (2005-2007)
Number of episodes: 22
What they said: “I discovered halfway through writing the second season the show was going to end. Because we got the heads-up that the second season would be it, I telescoped the third and fourth season into the second one, which accounts for the blazing speed we go through history near the end.” – Rome creator Bruno Heller
Rome was Game of Thrones before Game of Thrones. It’s all there. Graphic violence. Gratuitous nudity. Ciaran Hinds. The problem was that Rome was too expensive, and not quite popular enough. Despite this, the first season is up there with any other TV show you could care to name, and while the second season suffers from rewrites and lightning fast pacing, it still has its moments. It’s like the last days of Rome…
7. Party Down (2009-2010)
Number of episodes: 20
What they said: “There was always this feeling of the chips being stacked against us.” – Paul Rudd
“It was something special that we all knew was too good to last.” – Adam Scott
Inspired by The Office and a natural precursor to Parks and Recreation, Party Down followed a captivating cast of struggling actors forced to take bar jobs to get by. Featuring Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan and Martin Starr, this workplace comedy has developed a cult following now, but was virtually ignored upon release before being unceremoniously cancelled at the end of its second season. An underrated gem.
6. Crashing (2016)
Number of episodes: 6
What they said: “Like Fleabag, Crashing is sharp and darkly funny. It’s bursting with sad and self-conscious people awkwardly grappling for a connection.” – The Guardian
Before Fleabag made Phoebe Waller-Bridge a global phenomenon, there was Crashing. A sex obsessed C4 comedy that sees a group of aimless twenty somethings living together as property guardians in a disused London hospital. While it is initially jarring that every character is… awful, it soon becomes clear that this is actually the point. We’re never sure who we’re supposed to be rooting for. It’s rough around the edges and a little unlovable at times, but it’s also essential viewing for anyone who fell for Fleabag.
5. Early Doors (2003-2004)
Number of episodes: 12
What they said: “It’s funny and it’s warm. It’s created with love” – Early Doors co-creator Craig Cash
I never really cared for The Royle Family, but it turns out that if you take that concept and move it in to a pub than I’m right on board. Early Doors ran for only two seasons before being dumped by the BBC, but it’s legacy lives on in a legion of fans and a touring live show.
For a whole article about why I love Early Doors, click here.
4. Roadies (2016)
Number of episodes: 10
What they said: “Though we could tell a thousand more stories, this run ends with a complete ten-hour tale of music and love. Like a song that slips under your skin, or a lyric that keeps speaking to you, we hope the spell of Roadies lingers.” – Roadies creator Cameron Crowe
This was always going to be a winner for me. Luke Wilson. Imogen Poots. Rafe Spall. Cameron Crowe. Rock ‘n’ roll. And sure enough, I loved it. I loved it’s depiction of life on the road – unglamorous yet exhilarating – and I loved the dynamics shared between a likeable and experienced cast who seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the characters. Unfortunately, nobody else liked it. Critics were scathing. Audiences were unconvinced. So maybe this one is just for me. But if you have always secretly harboured an ambition to run away from home to become a roadie, you’ll probably find something to enjoy here.
3. Togetherness (2015-2016)
Number of episodes: 16
What they said: “There’s a small part of us that thinks there’s something kind of nice about going out with Togetherness at the top of its game rather than starting to stink it up around season five or six…” – Togetherness co-creator Mark Duplass
This grown up take on sex and relationships sees Mark Duplass and Melanie Lynskey as a troubled but caring married couple with Amanda Peet and Steve Zissis thrown in for good measure as hot mess Tina and aspiring actor Alex respectively. The result is a funny/serious approach to what it means to love someone, and where that love can eventually lead.
Despite glowing reviews, HBO cancelled Togetherness at the end of its second season, but this did allow the Duplass Brothers to sign with Netflix, so it’s not all bad.
2. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (2004)
Number of episodes: 6
What they said: “Like one of its baffling storylines, the disappearance of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace has never been explained…” – The Guardian
Not content with launching the careers of both Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade, Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place is perhaps the ultimate British cult comedy. Presented as a long lost TV show complete with director’s commentary and talking heads, Darkplace does so much over its six episodes that it’s difficult to overstate its importance. The fact that creator Matthew Holness went into semi-retirement before returning with the deeply disturbing feature film Possum, only adds to the air of mystique that surrounds Darkplace.
1. Vinyl (2016)
Number of episodes: 10
What they said: “It was ultimately tragic for me because we tried for one year, I did the pilot. We tried for one year with HBO, but we couldn’t get the creative elements together.” – Vinyl co-creator Martin Scorsese
The great white whale of network television. Created by Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese. Written by Terence Winter of Broadwalk Empire fame. And a cast featuring Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano and Olivia Wilde. More than anything, Vinyl is (no longer) living proof that there is no such thing as a sure thing. Vinyl should have been the next great HBO behemoth, but instead, it is merely a footnote.
And this is a shame. Because behind the bluster, there was a great show in there somewhere. Sadly, the critics didn’t agree, and the spiralling budget caused HBO to pull the plug. Perhaps the most clear example of a show taken before its time. A sad loss.