Friday, 27 March 2009

The Good Die Young

10 TV Show’s Cancelled Before Their Time
The modern TV show lives in constant fear of cancellation. Like a sex offender lurking in the bushes, the maniacal networks may strike at any minute and sodomise them into oblivion. All too often networks have swung their axe and beheaded many an undeserving show, while unadulterated penile discharge like ‘Casualty’ and ‘Neighbours’ have been allowed to desecrate TV screens across the land for years.

Sadly the phenomenon of cancellation isn’t as prominent in the UK, hence the 3.5 million God-awful series’ of ‘My Family’ we’ve had to endure, but in the States it’s a concept all too familiar to many TV viewers.

Occasionally shows are given a heads up on their impending doom and are allowed to give fans a proper pay-off for investing their time and emotions in them, but, more often that not, shows are cancelled quicker than a Peaches Geldof marriage and fans are left wondering what could have been.

In memoriam of some of the show’s taken from us too soon, I decided to compile a list of the Top 10 TV show’s cancelled before their time and try and highlight the criminal neglect you’d only expect from a social worker that some received from their incompetent networks.

They say the good die young and in the case of the shows listed here, as Metallica once said, it’s sad but true…

10. ‘Andy Richter Controls the Universe’ – a recurring theme that you’ll find with many of these shows is the network they belong to; Bush-loving FOX is responsible for some of the most inane cancellations in TV history, it’s almost like they get off on it. ‘Andy Richter Controls the Universe’, as you will soon see, is in good company being a victim of FOX’s itchy trigger finger.

This surprisingly good show aired between 2002 and 2003, actually managing to survive two seasons. It was the title star’s first starring role since graduating from ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’ and had a decent bunch of co-stars including former ‘Friends’ star Paget Brewster and the ridiculously cute Irene Molloy.

Richter played an aspiring writer, who’d been forced to take a gig writing technical manuals for a large corporation. The show was a pioneer of the day dream sequences that ‘Scrubs’ and later ‘30 Rock’ both use to great effect, it also featured the same narration technique used so effectively on ‘Scrubs’ for eight seasons.

‘Andy Richter…’ only managed a meagre nineteen episodes and Richter himself has suffered more failed sitcoms since, he has managed to carve out the impressive niche of taking on brilliant film supporting roles though – check him out as Sascha Baron Cohen’s lover in ‘Talladega Nights’ and gate-crashing the ‘Anchorman’ DVD commentary for some of his finest moments.

9. ‘God, The Devil & Bob’ – My usual measuring stick for controversial comedy is if the Catholics are offended then you’re doing something right, as I’m sure ‘South Park’ masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone will testify. ‘God, The Devil & Bob’ managed to court so much outrage in the space of a month that it lasted a mere four episodes on NBC during it’s 2000 run.

The animated show, which really wasn’t that controversial at all, starred ‘3rd Rock From The Sun’ oddball French Stewart as the titular Bob, Alan Cumming as The Devil and James Garner as Bob. The premise of the show saw God and The Devil making a bet over the fate of the World, with The Devil getting to select one man with whom the fate of mankind will lie. As you can probably guess, the man The Devil selects is lazy slob Bob.

Despite NBC bottling it and canning the show after four weeks, ‘God, The Devil & Bob’ actually got a full run elsewhere and did especially well over here in the less-overtly religious UK.

8. ‘Rockstar:’ - Being cancelled can never be pleasant, but when you’re cancelled and then replaced by a show called ‘Pirate Master’ that’s just rubbing salt in the wounds.

‘Rockstar:’ was an ‘American Idol’-esque talent show that ran for two seasons on CBS. In the first season the task was to find a new singer for INXS, who eventually selected J.D. Fortune as their man and went on to make a pretty damn good album with him. Season 2 saw Tommy Lee led supergroup Supernova looking for a lead singer.

‘Rockstar:’ is sorely missed by yours truly. As a fan of talent shows anyway, to find one that actually had contestants performing songs I enjoy and performing them well was a pretty unique experience. The show also turned me on to some awesome music, old and new and of course had one of the hottest women on the planet Brooke Burke on presenting duties.

Rumour has it that the show may yet be resurrected for a
third season, with the currently frontmanless Velvet Revolver touted as the possible band. Whether it does eventually make what could be the greatest comeback since Lazarus, reality show or not, ‘Rockstar:’ most definitely deserves it’s place on this list alongside more critically acclaimed shows, if not purely for the simple fact that it gave me the excuse to include this picture:

7. ‘Shasta McNasty’ – You may question my sanity for including on a list of show’s that were cancelled too early a show that was mauled by critics and haemorrhaged viewers faster than a well placed gastric band can shed fat from an overweight ‘This Morning’ presenter but I loved this disjointed poorly written show!

Saddled with one of the stupidest (or is that, greatest) names in the history of TV, ‘Shasta McNasty’ was never going to be a critics darling. Receiving a one season run on UPN in 1999-2000 ‘Shasta’ as it would later be renamed starred former Mickey Mouse Clubber Dale Godboldo, future ‘CSI:NY’ star Carmine Giovinazzo and son of Gary, Jake Busey as members of the titular rap-rock group.
The show basically revolved around their exploits as they lived it up in their Venice Beach apartment and a bar owned by Mini-Me himself Verne Troyer called Captain Verne’s.

The target demographic was obviously that holy grail Male 18-30 category but there was just something likable about this show, so it’s good to at least see Giovinazzo doing well for himself nowadays and I’m still holding out hope for a DVD release one day, get on it UPN!

6. ‘The Job’ – I’m conflicted on this one, because if ‘The Job’ hadn’t been cancelled we’d never have had the awesome ‘Rescue Me’ which has been one of the most consistently dynamic shows on TV in recent years making for compulsive viewing. That said, it doesn’t change the fact that ‘The Job’ was a very funny, brilliantly written show that didn’t deserve to be cancelled.

Arguably a better written show than ‘Rescue Me’, ‘The Job’ followed the complex life of NYPD cop Mike McNeil played with aplomb by Denis Leary, an alcoholic, pill-popping, rule breaker who is cheating on his wife with Hillary from ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’.

For whatever reason, ‘The Job’ didn’t connect with viewers as ‘Rescue Me’ seems to have done, which is odd because although both have very black humour in them, ‘Rescue Me’ is certainly darker. Leary has been good to the cast of ‘The Job’ with most of the principal cast turning up in ‘Rescue Me’ in some capacity over the years.

Lenny Clarke deserves special praise for his role in ‘The Job’, Clarke who is an uproariously funny man in real life – check out ‘Comedy Central’s Roast of Denis Leary’ if you’re a non-believer - is note-perfect as the oafish Frank.

As ‘The Job’ led to the birth of ‘Rescue Me’, this is probably the cancellation I’m least bitter about, but it doesn’t change the fact that this offbeat gem’s cancellation was nothing short of criminal (excuse the pun).

5. ‘Good Vs. Evil’ – It may have had a convoluted plot, but man could this show have gone places. In the hands of the right people, I honestly believe this show could have been as big as ‘Buffy’.

The basic premise of the show was that certain people who died and hadn’t done enough during life to get into heaven got a second chance after death and were returned to earth as agents with the C.O.R.P.S. - an undead FBI if you will, whose job it was to track down demons called Morlocks and stop naïve humans from signing Faustian contracts giving up their soul and thus becoming Morlocks when they die. Simple really.

It might sound like it has quite a mythological tone to it but the black humour and seventies look of the show, even though it was set in the present, gave it a real unique edge, not that it needed one with a plot like it had.

In what is a serious miscarriage of justice, none of the stars of the show ever went on to bigger and better things and the current lack of DVD (get on it USA!) means that my memories of this amazing show are limited to my homemade VHS, unless I over-zealously taped some porn over it that is…

4. ‘The Thick of It’ – Okay, so not strictly ‘cancelled’ but gone long before it should have been, this is the best comedy to come out of Britain for as long as I can remember. Armando Iannucci is a genius, we all know that, but this show really has been his finest hour.

Chris Langham’s troubles meant that beyond the sublime first series, ‘The Thick Of It’ only got two feature length specials. I doubt Iannucci would’ve gone much beyond two seasons anyway, but I can’t help but feel we were robbed of another season of greatness.

Langham wasn’t really missed from the specials, as foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker played by Peter Capaldi is the real star of the show, and thankfully we will get another chance to enjoy Tucker’s expletive laden rants with the release of ‘In The Loop’ next month, which, for all intents and purposes is ‘The Thick Of it’ film, which features the awesomeness that is Malcolm Tucker squaring off against none other than Tony Soprano.

For anyone who thinks politics is boring, I implore you to watch this show. More quotable than ‘Peep Show’ (it share’s writers) and doing the faux-documentary thing better than ‘The Office’ ever did, ‘The Thick of It’ isn’t just the greatest British comedy of recent years it’s the greatest British comedy period. And crucially it is available on Region 2 DVD right now – what are you fucking waiting for!?

3. ‘Tru Calling’ – It was never the best written show in the world, with at times: clunky dialogue, one dimensional characters and contrived plots but ‘Tru Calling’, upon it’s cancellation, seemed to be moving in a direction that was truly (sorry, couldn’t resist) exciting.

Ever since Jason Priestly joined the cast mid-way through the first season, the lines between good & evil, right & wrong and fate & destiny were being blurred and making for extremely compelling viewing.

The show was starting to tread down a very dark path and had it been on any other network, I may have speculated that they’d cancelled the show as they were afraid of the darker tone the show was adopting but this is FOX we’re talking about and they were probably just bored because they hadn’t cancelled anything that day.

‘Tru Calling’ revolved around Med student Tru Davies, captured perfectly by the delectable Eliza Dushku. Forced to accept a job at the morgue, Tru soon discovers that dead bodies have a nasty habit of asking for her help, at which point she is transported back through time to relive the day and save that person from death.
Praise must be heaped on Zach Galifianakis for his role as Davis, Tru’s socially retarded boss at the morgue. A comedian by nature, Galifianakis used his impeccable comic timing to great effect adding some much needed comedic relief to a show that was regularly quite dark.

Shawn Reeves was also perfectly cast as Tru’s ne’er-do-well brother Harrison. The real star of the show though was Dushku, showing a softer side than we’ve come to expect from her, but still kicking ass when she needed to.

Beyond the excellent cast, ‘Tru Calling’ deserved better from FOX for taking a risk and shaking things up, from Priestly’s introduction onwards, the show took it’s own concept and flipped it on it’s head; and while most of the first season wasn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, given how the second season was progressing up until it’s cancellation, I firmly believe that the direction the show was heading in would not only have been great to watch but totally fascinating.

2. ‘Firefly’ – Joss Whedon’s infamous space-western and part two of what I like to call ‘the FOX three’. FOX obviously wanted Whedon to give them something that emulated the commercial success of ‘Buffy’ with his follow up; he gave them so much more though, one of the most original and brilliant pieces of television of the 21st century.

‘Firefly’ was awash with deep characterisation and rich dialogue but was never given a chance by FOX who shitcanned the show after just thirteen episodes. What could have become one of the greatest serial dramas out there, shrouded in meaty, deep mythology within a bright, expansive universe was reduced to a cult show that few people beyond those ‘in the know’ are even aware of.

‘Firefly’ as it turns out could’ve been the show that made Nathan Fillion the mega-star he deserves to be, he’s a fine actor but his luck with TV has been worse than Alicia Douvall’s with plastic surgery. Most of the cast have gone on to forge good careers for themselves in other TV shows, Adam Baldwin in ‘Chuck’ and Summer Glau in ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ most prominently.

And of course fans did eventually get the finale they wanted in the form of ‘Serenity’, a film that managed to not only please the loyal ‘Firefly’ fans but also managed to convert a whole new army of fans through Whedon’s enviable knack of combining relatable characterisation and beautifully crafted storytelling with kick ass action.

Given it’s class and the measly episode count it amassed, I think ‘Firefly’ is the cancellation that hurts the most, yes all these shows could have gone so much further but this show got so little time yet did so much, the thought of what could have been had it been given just a couple of seasons is nothing short of heartbreaking.

1. ‘Arrested Development’ – the show that took the sitcom stereotype of the dysfunctional family and made it fresh, original, unique and most importantly hilariously funny. ‘Arrested Development’ is one of the, if not THE best sitcom since ‘Seinfeld’, the fact that FOX had the unmitigated cahones to cancel it is beyond the realms of human thought.

In the past I’ve singled out messrs Bateman, Cera, Cross & Arnett for praise but that’s really doing the rest of the cast an awful disservice. Everything about this show was perfect, the cast, the pace, the black humour and the reams of pop culture references and intertexuality.

In what was seemingly a golden period for U.S. sitcoms, ‘Arrested Development’ and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ came along and completely redefined the whole genre. Gone were laugh tracks and live audiences and in was humour of the blackest nature and treating viewers with respect and intelligence.

It can be argued that ‘Arrested Development’ was ahead of it’s time, given that the altogether more ‘safe’ ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ was such a monster hit for so long doing the dysfunctional thing a lot worse than the Bluth’s ever did it, but whatever the reason why ‘Arrested Development’ never attracted more than a rabid cult following, the show still made stars of Michael Cera and Will Arnett, two men with an impeccable comedy CV between them and resurrected the career of Jason Bateman.

Rumours the show would be picked up by another network after FOX swung it’s cancellation scythe proved to be distressingly untrue and the rumblings that a ‘Serenity’-esque film was in the offing proved to be nothing more than idle hearsay… until now.

Like manna from Heaven, executive producer and show narrator Ron Howard and creator Mitchell Hurwitz have now all but confirmed that the ‘Arrested Development’ movie is on the way, with the entire regular cast rumoured to be returning for the Bluth’s big screen jaunt.

If ‘Arrested Development: The Movie’ can achieve even half the success that ‘Serenity’ did then I’ll be a happy man, because everyone deserves to see at least one episode of this unparalleled show during their lifetime and if that just happens to be on the big screen then that’s just fine.

So here’s hoping the big screen version of ‘Arrested Development’ exposes the masses to this fabulous comedy creation and by virtue of that let’s the Bluths take their rightful place in comedy infamy.

These shows may be dead but their memory will live on. Nowadays, the likes of youtube, DVD and fan fiction mean that cancellation is never the end for a show, so although the aforementioned shows are gone from our screens they will not be forgotten.

Other TeleVisual Musings This Week:

- I wondered aloud a few weeks back if/when we’d be getting Joss Whedon’s ‘Dollhouse’ on these shores, well I can wonder no more as it’s been announced that Sci-Fi has picked it up, along with the ‘Knight Rider’ remake (which I’m less excited about).

I’m pretty happy that ‘Dollhouse’ is going to go out on Sci-Fi, thinking back to how they handled season 1 of ‘Heroes’ when they had that and the respect they gave it, this is probably the best home for a new developing series. There should be no ridiculous time slots or hiatuses, now let’s just hope FOX leaves it on the air long enough for us to actually get a full season.

- ‘Chris Moyles’ Quiz Night’ began on Sunday night and while I’m not afraid to admit that I listen to and more often than not enjoy 'The Chris Moyles Show’ on Radio 1, this man is just not cut out for TV, at all.

You’d think after his failed attempts at TV in the past that he’d be damn sure that his next venture would be solid, 24-carat gold but ‘Chris Moyles’ Quiz Night’ is nothing more than a shoddy radio feature with a few C-List Celebs peppered in. If it returns beyond this series I’ll be amazed, as it is truly awful TV that has no place on my screen let alone on prime time Sunday night.

- Over on ‘Lost’ Sawyer did what I’ve wanted to do for five seasons and put Jack firmly in his place. I love what they’re doing with Sawyer this season and I hope the strong writing for the show’s best character by a mile long continues, but do we really need to revisit the whole Sawyer-Kate thing? They’re not Ross and Rachel, I’d far rather see him stay with Juliet, who now she’s past her creepy ‘Other’ role has turned into quite a lovely character.

But where the hell’s Desmond? I know he was told the Island wasn’t finished with him yet so I’m assuming we’ll be seeing him again, but he appears to be getting the Tony-‘24’ treatment at the moment.

- Speaking of Tony and ‘24’, his return this week couldn’t have been any less bland if they’d tried and went a little something like this:

Jack: Tony, I need your help.
Tony: Okay Jack, just let me finish my candlelit dinner for one and I’ll be right with you.

- ‘The Apprentice’ returned this week and I instantly took a shine to Geordie estate agent Phil. The instant dislike category was very ably filled by Heather Mills look-alike Kate who felt the need to trot out the most clichéd line ever: “I’m not a dumb blonde” – anyone who uses that phrase invariably IS a dumb blonde.

- ‘NewsWipe With Charlie Brooker’ began this week. I’ve often wondered what it would be like if Jon Stewart brought ‘The Daily Show’ across the Atlantic and what they’d make of our news media. Yes the American 24-hour networks are all certifiably insane but the faux moral outrage and blatant scaremongering displayed by our media on a regular basis has been ripe for a lampooning for a long time.

The media in this country have been given a free pass for far too long and it’s about time someone beyond me, who is wittier, funnier and cleverer, spoke out and showed the media up for the charlatans they really are. This is the closest we may ever get to a British ‘Daily Show’ so God Bless you Charlie Brooker.

- And finally, briefly turning my attention to sonic delights again: I can‘t believe how much more dark, atmospheric and downright chilling the Skream remix of La Roux’s ‘In For The Kill’ is.

The vocals and lyrics on the original just don’t seem to mesh with the, admittedly decent, beat, yet I’ve heard countless people banging on about how great this song is. Search
out this remix people; you won’t believe how much better it is.

And having heard the God awful cover of Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ all over the radio recently I was wondering if anyone else gets the urge to sing Tony Danza instead of tiny dancer during the chorus? Anyone…? Ok, just me then…


1 comment:

  1. Nice little write-up. It's a shame I have to spoil it with news that The Thick of It has a second fully fleshed series on the way. 8 episodes apparently - broadcast in the autumn. So says Chris Addison: http://entertainment.stv.tv/home/75882-armando-iannucci-film-opens-glasgow-film-festival-gala/

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