Television. The vast wasteland. In the midst of a cultural invasion from Housewives, the guys who invented duck calls, and whatever the hell a Kardashian is, it’s easy to forget that television used to have a modicum of intelligence. “All in the Family,” “The Simpsons,” “The Sopranos,” “The West Wing,” “Breaking Bad”…these were shows that pushed the envelope and redefined the medium. But not every show gets to 25 seasons, like “The Simpsons”. Heck, most shows don’t even get a full season. Most cancellations are deserved (See: “Lucky 7”); some are not (See: “Arrested Development”).
Here are a few shows I wish we could’ve gotten a little more time with:
“Freaks And Geeks”
This is probably the first show on any postgrad’s list of best cancelled TV shows. Known to pretty much anyone with a Netflix subscription, “Freaks And Geeks” ran on NBC for one season from 1999-2000, and it was cancelled after only 12 of its 18 completed episodes aired. Based on the high school experiences of series creator Paul Feig and producer Judd Apatow, this series launched the careers of many of its actors, including Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Busy Phillips, and elevated the careers of Feig and Apatow themselves.
Maybe I’m biased because elements of it were based on my high school (thank you, Mr. Apatow), but any show that garners one Emmy award and two nominations and featured that much young talent is worth at least two or three more seasons.
Cancelled because of low ratings, you can catch the full series of this hit, including the six unaired episodes, on DVD or Netflix.
“Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip”
Here’s a novel idea from the people who brought you Jay Leno at 10:00 p.m.: let’s take two shows with A-List actors and writers about the exact same subject matter and put them in primetime…on the same network! Genius!
Not sure what I mean? The first show I’m talking about is “30 Rock”, created by Tina Fey. The second is “Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip”, created by Aaron Sorkin–who also created “The West Wing” and “Sports Night” and wrote “A Few Good Men”. At that point, he already had more awards and nominations than any person can count. Both shows featured sketch comedy shows in the vein of SNL, though very differently: “30 Rock” was full of more irreverent, slapstick humor, whereas “Studio 60” was your typical yet brilliant Sorkin dramedy. Both series were critical darlings, but neither was a ratings juggernaut.
In the end, with no clear reason why (probably some combination of the show not drawing stellar ratings and being very expensive to produce), “Studio 60” was cancelled. The series garnered five Emmy nominations; “30 Rock”, on the other hand, ran for seven seasons and was nominated for 145 awards (57 Emmy noms). It won 39 awards total. Sorkin would go on to win an Academy Award for best writing for an adapted screenplay for “The Social Network”.
It would have been great to see how “Studio 60” fared on a cable network like AMC or HBO. You can find “Studio 60” on DVD.
“Wait a minute, JayTas…”Heroes” ran for four seasons! How could that be considered ‘too soon?'”
Good question, anonymous Internet poster. The answer is because while it ran for four seasons, only half of the series was actually good.
The first season of “Heroes” was everywhere. It had a massive marketing campaign, it got monster ratings, and it was incredible. They brought in top talent to write the series (veterans like series creator Tim Kring, Damon Lindelof, Jeph Loeb, and Jesse Alexander) and featured a great mix of A-List and up-and-coming talent: Hayden Panettiere, Ali Larter, Masi Oka, and Zachary Quinto, among others. It seemed like this was going to be the show of the decade.
Then the writers strike happened. The second season was cut short. Storylines were disrupted. Writers were fired, the whole staff was shuffled, the series took a dip in both quality and viewership, and it was cancelled after its fourth season. A series with so much potential turned into a Hindenburg-esque disaster, probably the most notable casualty of the WGA strike of 2007-2008.
“Heroes” is on DVD and Netflix, but stop watching after season two. It’s for your own good.
A show about a housing project? Sounds dismal. A show featuring Eddie Murphy playing a short-temprered, loudmouth superintendent of a housing project, in CLAYMATION, STOP-MOTION ANIMATION? Now we’re talking.
Eddie Murphy played Thurgood Stubbs, aka “Super,” the superintendent of the Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs housing project (named, for some hilariously random reason, after the actor who played Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington on “Welcome Back, Kotter”), and the series focused on Thurgood’s interactions with the tenants of his building and the people in his neighborhood, including the cantankerous senior citizen Miss Avery (voiced by the venerable actress Ja’net Dubois, most famous for “Good Times”), the “Haiti Lady,” a self-described Voodoo Queen of the building, and Smokey, the crackhead who lives in the dumpster outside the housing project.
Created by Eddie Murphy, Larry Wilmore (currently a correspondent on “The Daily Show”) and veteran TV writer Steve Tompkins, the show won three Emmys in its three seasons. It moved from FOX to WB after its second season, and was cancelled thereafter. You can see “The PJs” on DVD.
“The Cleveland Show”
I think I’m going to lose people on this one, but just hear me out.
Yes, “The Cleveland Show” started out as a “Family Guy” clone and became the focal point of “Family Guy fatigue” to many critics. People were getting sick of Seth MacFarlane and his many animated series. Not me–to me, that’s blasphemy. But I digress.
Whereas many can agree that “Family Guy” has gotten somewhat stale and repetitive over the years, at times almost becoming a caricature of itself, “The Cleveland Show” was a breath of fresh air, capturing the spirit of what we all originally loved about “Family Guy”–it was irreverent, ridiculous, and extremely fresh. Between Cleveland Jr.’s rap battle with Kanye West (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWjqEgDymus), Cleveland discussing sex with his son (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBP9PhPAz_k) and the entire episode “taped live in front of a studio audience,” “The Cleveland Show” tried desperately to break away from the “Family Guy” spinoff stigma and find its own voice.
Sadly, it never got the chance. Cleveland and his whole family have moved back to Quahog for ongoing adventures in “Family Guy”, and “Bob’s Burgers” is doing a fantastic job capturing the irreverent spirit of “The Cleveland Show”. The entire series is on Netflix and DVD. Give it a shot, check it out. What’s the worst that can happen?
I’ve saved the best for last. In honor of “I’m Rick James, bitch,” turning 10 years old this week (feel old yet, you bastards?) let’s talk about arguably the greatest television show of the 2000s. It’s perhaps the greatest sketch comedy show of all time.
For the life of me, I can’t remember a single sketch or episode of “Chappelle’s Show” that didn’t make me completely double over with laughter. “WacArnolds,” “The Racial Draft,” “When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong,” “A Moment In The Life of Lil’ Jon,” “Wayne Brady’s Show”…all instant classics. I honestly can’t even think about “World Series of Dice” or “The Player Hater’s Ball” without cracking up. And one of the bests part of this show is that neither can you. You probably still quote this show to your friends pretty frequently. I know I sure do. I have entire conversations with my girlfriend purely quoting lines from various sketches. And the characters he created such as Leonard Washington and the Player Haters, Tyrone Biggums, Tron Carter, Ashy Larry are almost as brilliant as his celebrity impressions.
One of the other best things about “Chappelle’s Show” is for all the times it made you laugh, it also made you think. His comments on race, politics, drugs and other issues are still relevant today. One of the most upsetting things about “Chappelle’s Show” ending is that we’re not getting his brilliant take on current events. Also, I bet his impression of President Obama is the greatest impression ever, and we will probably never see it.
“Chappelle’s Show” should be hailed and studied as one of the greatest pieces of TV in the modern age. It’s on DVD, but no longer on Netflix. But you’ve probably seen every episode already.
Come back to TV, Dave Chappelle…we miss you.