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Gone, but not forgotten: TV shows cancelled too soon

Jason Bateman and Jessica Walter's comedic chops couldn't save "Arrested Development" from cancellation — or the revival from not measuring up to the original series. – Photo by Arrested Development / Twitter

Back in August, it was announced that HBO Max would be canceling and removing from streaming a long list of original and acquired titles. A spokesperson for the company cites the reason being a merger with Discovery+, but HBO Max is certainly not the first streaming platform nor the last to cancel shows before they reach their prime.

With both network TV and streaming services, the optics behind keeping a show on the air — and even behind just getting it a successful pilot — are complicated. For a show’s creator to even have a single season on TV is a commendable feat, but the difficulties don’t end there. Often if a show struggles with ratings even if it has critical praise and shows promise, it faces the threat of cancellation. 

Production teams work hard trying to make sure their shows are able to stand the test of time, but even some of our favorites don’t make it past a few seasons. The list of shows not given a fair chance at commercial success is long, but here are a few of the most devastating. 

Arrested Development

“Arrested Development” is one of the funniest shows I've ever seen in my life. The show follows a wealthy family that's lost most of their fortune following a major scandal. Their new living situation reveals how vain and out of touch they are, which leads to a lot of hilarious plotlines.

The writers are so clever, and what makes this show great is the attention to detail in every single joke. For example, there are blue handprints all over the house in the background when Tobias is trying to join the Blue Man Group and hilarious recurring jokes and characters like Gene Parmesan.

Unfortunately, the show was canceled after three seasons. This is a unique case compared to the other shows on this list, because "Arrested Development" was brought back for two seasons years later, but they didn't compare to the genius of the original run.

"Freaks and Geeks"

I just finished a rewatch of "Freaks and Geeks" recently, and I had forgotten how truly well done it is. All of the characters are so interesting and fleshed out, with great arcs and fantastic performances.

The show follows two outcast groups in a high school, the burnouts or the so-called "freaks" and the nerdy kids or the "geeks." The portrayal of high school is one of the most realistic and relatable in TV, which can make it hard to watch and yet completely addictive. At times hilarious and at others heartbreaking, “Freaks and Geeks” may just be a masterpiece.

This is why I think this is the most egregious example of shows canceled too soon on this list. There was a lot of potential for all of the characters on the show and a lot of questions left unanswered. The writers also had a lot of plans for the show, and I will always be left wondering what it would have been like to see them played out.

"I Am Not Okay With This"

I’ve had this show on my list for a while, but I watched it only recently for this article. The show follows Sydney, a teenage girl who feels like her life is ordinary and unremarkable, but we soon find this to be far from the truth as she deals with her father’s suicide, her sexuality and superpowers that confound and disturb her.

Honestly, the reason I’ve stayed away from it is the fact that I’ve heard it was cut too short and after watching it, I can attest to this fact. What makes this cancellation even more disappointing is the fact that Netflix has a pattern of canceling shows with sapphic leads, even if they have decent viewership and good critical reception.

One can only hope that because this show ended more recently than the others I have listed, there is still a chance for its revival, but the prospect seems as bleak as the show itself can be at times.

"Bunheads"

Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, the woman behind “Gilmore Girls,” “Bunheads” followed a ballet instructor played by Broadway legend, Sutton Foster who married a man she barely knew and was widowed quickly after. She has to then learn to cooperate with her new mother-in-law, played by Kelly Bishop — who was also on “Gilmore Girls.”

The show’s premise is just a small part of the genius of “Bunheads.” It had similar witty dialogue and plots to Sherman-Palladino’s past work and a lot of promise for future seasons which makes it one of the biggest disappointments on this list. I’ve been wanting to give it a rewatch, but honestly, it’s too much of a sad reminder that such a good show was stuck with just one season.

"The Last Man on Earth"

While this show did have a good run of four seasons, it also ended on a major cliffhanger. The show is about a man who thinks he’s the last man on earth, as the title suggests, but he slowly finds more and more companions throughout the show’s run.

While I don’t think it was as good as the other shows on this list and had a lot more time on air, it’s still unfair to the creators and watchers of the show like myself who will always wonder where that ending could have gone. Still, creator Will Forte has hopes that the show will one day be able to get that last season.

Countering the idea that the shows ended too soon for a moment, I’ve considered the fact that maybe what makes these shows so great is that they might have been canceled before a drop in quality common to many successful shows. "Scrubs," for example, is famous for starting out as a witty and snappy show that audiences loved but lost its luster when the studio kept demanding season after season. 

Looking at both shows cut too short and shows kept on air too long, it’s obvious the similar problem in both of these situations is the studio not having the show’s best interest at heart. It isn’t a secret that, of course, these companies are far more interested in making money than hosting quality TV shows, but it can be disappointing as a fan to live in a world where entertainment is structured in such a way.

Still, it’s worth revisiting some of our favorite and shortest shows with a snack and a drink and, when the credits of the last episode roll, wondering "what if?"


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