Chalk It Up to Bad 'Luck'

The Demise of Seven One-Season TV Wonders

by J.M. Suarez

25 February 2014

Unfortunately, some shows seem destined for cancellation right away, regardless of critical acclaim or the support of small, fanatical groups of fans.

The premature cancellation of great TV shows is, sadly, nothing new, as shows like My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, and Firefly can attest. Yet it continues to happen, season after season. Low ratings, high concepts, and plain old bad timing are just a few reasons why some shows never get a chance to grow past one season.

Unfortunately, some shows seem destined for cancellation right away, regardless of critical acclaim or the support of small, fanatical groups of fans. Below are seven shows that not only were cancelled too soon, but may have also been overlooked as excellent one-season wonders.


1. Best Friends Forever

Comprised of only six short episodes, Best Friends Forever was just beginning to find its stride when it was cancelled. Based on the real-life friendship between its two leads, Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, the series was filled with inside jokes and references that are familiar to all close friendships, but were made all the more relatable, and hilarious, by the obvious affection between the two.

The series’ dynamic was complicated by the fact that Jessica’s move across country to be with her best friend took place just after Lennon and her boyfriend, Joe, had moved in together. As Jessica is in a fragile state following a divorce, she is especially needy and the relationship between the three is a highlight.

Although Best Friends Forever wasn’t a groundbreaking show, it had the potential to become a really good comedy. It’s a shame it never got the opportunity.


2. Bunheads

Calling to mind Amy Sherman-Palladino’s previous series, Gilmore Girls, Bunheads shared her propensity for quirky small town life with a cast of supporting characters made up of actors from her previous show. Focused on Michelle, a Las Vegas showgirl who impulsively marries and moves to the small town of Paradise, California Bunheads is about the relationship between Michelle and her new mother-in-law, Fanny, who owns a dance studio, as well as Michelle’s role as an unconventional mentor to her new dance students.

There’s plenty of the fast-paced and pop culture-laden dialogue Sherman-Palladino is known for, but it’s tempered by the wonderful acting of its two leads, Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop. The show ably straddles the ridiculous and the poignant, all while showcasing some of the best dancing and singing on television.


3. Luck

David Milch’s brilliant Luck is a particularly unique case in that it was cancelled not because of low ratings or poor reviews, but rather because of the unfortunate death of two horses that took place during the making of the series. It’s unusual end seems to have also overshadowed the show completely now, but it should be noted that Milch’s typically wonderful writing was on display with a cast of exceptional actors including Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, Joan Allen, among others.

Centered on the goings on at a racetrack, Luck offered an unflinching portrait of the highs and lows associated with that world, all the while exploring a rich cast of characters, often with nothing in common other than some relationship to the racetrack. Bringing so many stories together to influence and overlap one another is one of Milch’s greatest strengths, and Luck was a particularly and beautifully complex story.


4. The Middleman

Headed for cult status as soon as the first episode aired, The Middleman was a wholly original take on the superhero story, particularly because it focused just as much on those around the traditional superhero. Quirky, hilarious, and visually appealing, The Middleman seemed doomed to one seasondom from its first episode (especially given its airing on ABC Family), but it’s a series that managed to successfully bring together and balance so many seemingly disparate elements in a way that never felt like it was overreaching.

It’s too bad we never got to see more of The Middleman and Wendy Watson fighting the nefarious doings of the covert Jolly Fats Weehawken Employment Agency, but for those looking to try a show that’s just a little off-center, they could do worse than The Middleman.


5. The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Based on the Alexander McCall Smith series of books, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency was also writer/director Anthony Minghella’s final project. The series revolves around Precious Ramotswe (Jill Scott) and the small detective agency that she opens in Botswana. As the first female-owned detective agency in the area, things aren’t always easy for Mma Ramotswe, yet her perseverance and her friendships with certain local business owners help to get her business off the ground.

The cases are distinct to the area and Botswana provides a gorgeous backdrop in which to solve them. Much of what makes the series so engaging are the excellent performances by Scott – whose warmth and charm are a highlight – and Anika Noni Rose, who played her assistant, Grace Makutsi – whose controlled emotion is a perfect counterpoint to Scott’s more open, gregarious personality. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency offered a new take on the detective story, with wonderful performances and beautiful scenery, to boot. 


6. Terriers

Shawn Ryan’s post-The Shield career hasn’t exactly been as successful as his brilliant cop drama, but it’s not for lack of well written and well acted shows. Both Terriers  and The Chicago Code (the latter an honorable mention in this list of one season wonders) focus on the moral ambiguity of the good guys vs. the bad guys. Former cop and unlicensed private detective, Hank Dolworth, and his partner, former thief, Britt Pollack, work small jobs here and there, often with the help of Hank-s old partner.

They have an easy chemistry that translates to their teasing, buddy cop-ish shenanigans, yet the series also delves into their messy personal lives and a larger, more serious case that could have major ramifications for their small California beachfront town. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James are a pleasure to watch and it’s a shame the series never got a chance to explore their dynamic even further.


7. Wonderfalls

While Wonderfalls only aired two episodes on FOX before it was cancelled, the series has gone on to build a fanbase from its DVD release. A series premised on a young woman, Jaye, who suddenly finds herself able to hear voices from inanimate objects (all animal-shaped) seemed destined to immediate failure, yet it’s so funny and bitingly sarcastic, that its post-cancellation success is also no surprise.

Jaye’s underachieving apathy is in direct contrast to her seemingly perfect family, but as the objects continue to talk to her, she is forced to interact with them in unexpected ways. It’s a singular premise that could easily be written off as too weird, but it’s carried off so well by the rich cast of characters that it’s easy to become sucked into Jaye’s strange world. It’s certainly not for everyone, but anyone with an offbeat or quirky sensibility will surely appreciate the charms of Wonderfalls.

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