Jun 30, 2010

Great, But Canceled TV

One of the first things I read when I opened my Twitter account was outrage. Apparently, according to one of my favorite underrated actors Martin Starr, the Starz comedy show Party Down had been canceled.

Now, at first I wasn't wild about the show, but it grew on me and soon, I lived for every week to see Starr and the gang do catering at the most odd places imaginable. The show's depth managed to not only bring their normalcy to characters off their rocker, but did it with so much precision that made the show one of the best ensembles on TV in awhile.
After the show ended abruptly after only 20 episodes, it got me wondering... what other shows have been canceled before their time?
True, there have been plenty of great canceled shows, but it's impossible for me to have seen them all. I am just now witnessing Veronica Mars, Dollhouse, and Heroes to see what made people like it in the first place. There are also many canceled shows that just felt it was their time, like Mork and Mindy and King of the Hill (even as a big Mike Judge fan, the show felt stale towards the end) and others just worn out, like The Sarah Silverman Program.
And then there's the recently returned shows like Futurama, which would've made this list if it didn't return. Hopefully it won't go the route of Family Guy and overstay it's welcome.
I thought I would compile a list of shows that I consider to be very innovative and not necessarily short lived, but canceled ahead of their time. You know, there was still a story to tell and more desire to spend some time with these characters.
So which ones do I like? Read on. Also, feel free to share some of your personal favorites.

Freaks and Geeks
I can't think of a more brilliant canceled show than this one season tale of high school students in the late 70's. Somehow, they were misfits, but they still manages to be lovable. Amongst them, notable Hollywood future stars included Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Jason Segel. The show's ability to capture all of the angst and deal with the reality of growing up without being the least bit preachy or overbearing makes it one of the rare dramadies that makes it a timeless look at the life of misfit teenagers in a way that no show since, including Glee, has.

Side Note: I am aware of the shows Daria and My So-Called Life. However, at the time of publishing this, I haven't seen either.

My Name Is Earl
The tale of Earl Hickey is a favorite of mine. It's simple message of karma has managed to create countless gags and numerous inspired characters and cameos from everyone like Burt Reynolds, Norm MacDonald, and Paris Hilton. With a strong, yet uneducated, narrative, Earl's desire to make a difference and learn to be a better person reflected on our society in ways that were kind of ridiculous, but true. Unlike South Park, My Name Is Earl managed to do so without putting anyone down and it's legacy will live on in reruns and possibly the best DVD packaging I've seen in awhile.

Sex and the City
While there have been two TERRIBLE representations of the show in 2.5 hour movie formats, there was a reason to do so. This HBO show that pushed female empowerment and exploited taboos through good nature lead to more sexualized shows, but none could compete with this comedy that managed to take four relationships of successful women and create complex entertainment while making it look easy. Of course, excess of fashion, tongue-in-cheek jokes, and relationship advice really did benefit this show's step into the stratosphere of everyday lexicons.

Da Ali G Show
It's hard to believe, but there was a time the names Borat, Bruno, and Ali G were not known to the general public. Somehow, in this show, Sacha Baron Cohen's alter egos managed to infiltrate America unknowingly and capture what made everyone from local baseball fans to actual politicians tick. While it produced three movies (two of which were phenomenal), the show's swift 30 minute run on HBO created the perfect mix of guerrilla comedy that hasn't been this perfect since Andy Kaufman.

Sure, the show lasted four great seasons, but we never did get to hear what the ending was. Writer Susan Harris had a plan for a five year arch and when it was canceled one year short, it left many questions unanswered and many frustrated fans. However, for the rest of the show, Soap is one of the most ground breaking and well written comedies in TV history with a stellar cast that gave rise to Billy Crystal as the homosexual Jodie Dallas. There was plenty of controversy, but overall, it never lost fact of it's adventure and fun in creating the perfect spoof of soap operas.

Arrested Development
Like Freaks and Geeks before it, this show managed to launch Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, and continued to make David Cross one of the most underlooked comedians of the last 20 years. The dysfunctional family route had been done before, but in Ron Howard's version, there was a lot of cookiness and dry humor to make this an instant favorite with critics. There's plenty of wonder what all of the characters will do next in one of the most twisted families in recent years, but no matter what, I'm sure we all will still love them.

The Ben Stiller Show
I believe this show was the brilliant parody of both life in the 90's and the MTV format. An unknown Ben Stiller lead a group of Jeanine Garofallo, Andy Dick, and Bob Odenkirk through a collection of sketches parodying pop culture at it's most inspired lunacy. Anyone who loves The Monkees as much as I do will love the Grungies sketch. Stiller's impersonations were a little raw, but that's what made this show brilliant. It wasn't out to hurt anyone, but just have fun in observing how absurd out culture really is. Also features writers David Cross (Arrested Development, Mr. Show) and Judd Apatow (Undeclared, Freaks and Geeks).

This show was probably canceled due to too much absurd humor, but during it's run, managed to parody almost everything imaginable (even Ed Wood). It was the birth of several nerds who would go on to read the comics and watch the shows mentioned here, but no other animated show has managed to provide so much lunacy to a superhero without making him seem so endearing. Along with Ed Asner, every week was a trip into some of the most creative plot lines of the time. It only breaks my heart that some people took it too seriously and got it canceled.

Clerks: The Animated Series
I've probably watched this show too many times in it's entirety, but as a big Kevin Smith fan, I can't ever have enough. The tales pretty much are inspired from the Clerks movie and even though they are very different in crassness, the pop cultures and non-sequiturs hung around long enough to give this short lived, 7 episode series a home and has left many with yet another place to see Dante and Randall duke it out over pointless pop cultural significance.

Flight of the Conchords
It's less tragic than the other shows as it ranks alongside The Honeymooners as one of the few shows that were canceled by the creators due to lack of creativity. It's too early to determine if they'll return in any digital format, but during the show's two season run, it's take on the music scene in New Zealand was the closest we had in awhile to a very dry version of The Monkees (I mostly say that because the musical numbers are inspired and more shows need this type of segment). It's sad to think that they couldn't come up with more loony ideas, but I would like to applaud them for not running it into the ground with half-ass concepts.

This sketch show for children managed to take the characters Yakko, Wakko, and Dot Warner through the Warner Bros. studio lot and into a whole lot mischievous fun. There isn't much to say other than this was created by Stephen Spielberg (who also did Freakazoid!), which should be enough to prove that cartoons when I was a kid were better than your cartoons because you don't have Joss Whedon or J.J. Abrams doing anything for you (ok, Whedon did do Toy Story).

The Office (UK)
The show that started it all. Ricky Gervais' take on the life of employment within confined cubicles was an inspiring premise that created a new type of sitcom, roughly based around a documentary-type approach, almost like a Christopher Guest. It can be seen in the less equal American version of The Office (despite a longer run) and Parks and Recreation. But for it's brief two series run, the approach managed to create an environment where laughter was brought out of cabin fever more than random, pointless gags.

The quintessential proof that Edgar Wright is a force to be reckoned with. The triple team up of Wright and actors Nick Frost and Simon Pegg have been an unstoppable force since the brief two series run of this show that crammed enough pop culture references into a mere matter of minutes to put any nerd to shame. It's take on life didn't feel forced or distant and instead embraced the culture in ways that few shows had up to that point. Also, with Jessica Stevinson helming as the nerdy girlfriend to Pegg, it is practically the perfect TV couple (sorry anyone on Friends).

Mr. Show
Bob Odenkirk and David Cross went from The Ben Stiller Show to doing four seasons of a live sketch show of the most crass, vile, and hilarious sketch comedy in HBO TV history. The transitions were flawless and it's ability to make each move unique just made the show more fun. Not since Monty Python's Flying Circus has a show had such breathtaking fluidity. While it's not perfect, nor 100% funny, it's still one of the most entertaining sketch shows to have appeared on TV in a long time.

Based on the comic strip, this show managed to capture the office space type humor and apply it to pathetic know-it-alls as they deal with bizarre occurrences at work such as Y2K and de-evolution. There was plenty of smarts in a show that took fun in beating each other's intelligence to a pulp without entirely making anyone feel useless. Oh yeah, and it managed to have plenty of great office space quips.

There has been very few shows since that have managed to capture dorm life without levels of crass or unnecessary gags. Instead, a pack of new meat, lead by Jay Baruchel, learn the joys of forging essays and skipping class. The realism helped make this sitcom one of the most inspired looks that had an audience undeclared with their actual turn out. Along with Freaks and Geeks, this remains one of the few shows to show life as it was, but still managed to get canceled.

Invader Zim
Come, step into the twisted lair of one of Nickelodeon's last brilliant shows (ok, The Last Air-Bender is also brilliant) about Zim and Gir's journey to Earth to destroy it. The cartoon managed to take inspired lunacy into scientific humor and turn the bizarro tastes of a Tim Burton movie into a world that was so fun and unpredictable that I doubt you really cared what happened next.

The Mole
My ultimate guilty pleasure. As someone who never was into the reality show phenomenon, it was hard for me not to love this show for some odd reason. The first season was enough to sell me. Who is the Mole? Who is messing up our plans? By god, I looked for clues, and I still didn't get answers until it was blatantly told to me. It was a fun twist on my mind and even though I lost interest second season, it was one of the rare reality shows that had somewhat of an actual plot worth talking about.

One of Edgar Wright's first shows. The twist on loony bin horror was absolutely inspired, even if only for six episodes. The bizarre list of comedians who attached themselves to this project brought it to life and even if there wasn't really a plot, it was a good excuse to laugh. Also, the inclusion of songs at the end of the episodes makes this one of my favorites simply for being as inspired as the songs usually ended up being.

Monster Garage
Sure, Jesse James has the issues now, but this was the one show that my father actually got to be on. I visited the set on my birthday and it was definitely a fun trip into a commercialized auto shop. While I never watched an episode other than my father's, I enjoyed the experience enough to realize that the creative takes on house hold appliances was an inspired gag and it's kind of sad to see less people being less creative with their stuff.

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