Gone are the days of a television program having the opportunity to prove itself with time. In the golden age of TV a new show used to get more than a few scant episodes before success or failure was a serious consideration. Nowadays, if a program can’t prove its breakthrough ability by the time the first few episodes have aired, it’s generally relegated to a sad pile of write-offs, removed from prime time spots and tucked away somewhere TV execs can phase it out with minimal embarrassment.
Many shows that have managed to survive over the years have been a testament to the upper echelons of talented writers while others have seemingly been a result of scouring the bottom of an otherwise empty barrel, lowering the bar of the television experience with silly antics that snagged the attention of viewers without laying claim to any deeper artistic mission. Of course, there have also been a number of shows that were critically acclaimed in their short lifespan and managed to secure a cult fan base that still mourns their passing, even if they were unable to ride out the long-term wave to TV gold.
While a show like My So-Called Life plumbed the teenage experience, launching the careers of Hollywood mainstays Claire Danes and Jared Leto in the process, the cult popularity of Veronica Mars and its blonde haired heroine led to a movie release in 2014 for a show that had been all but forgotten. Though the kind of cult fandom that has followed My So-Called Life and Veronica Mars since they disappeared from the air doesn’t happen with every television show, there are a few out there that have managed to drum up a similar fervour, leaving the question behind of what might have been if the story hadn’t been left unfinished.
5. My So-Called Life
The American drama My So-Called Life has was one of the most influential 90’s television shows, focusing as it did on the trials of teens. Aired from August 25, 1994 to January 26, 1995 on ABC and created by Winnie Holzman, the show was set at Liberty High School in Pittsburgh and followed the emotional fallouts and triumphs of 15 year old Angela Chase, played by Claire Danes, and her best friends, Rickie and Rayanne. Illuminating teenage existence in a way that was uncommon at the time, My So-Called Life delved into the confusing world of growing up with an uncharacteristic lack of polish that won the show scores of devotees. While fans never got their answer to the cliffhanger ending of the first season because the show was cancelled before a second season hit, it has maintained its legacy as a critically acclaimed series and was voted among TIME magazine’s ALL-TIME 100 TV Shows in 2007.
4. Veronica Mars
Set in the fictional California town of Neptune, Veronica Mars became a cult teen classic after its release on September 22, 2004 on UPN. Produced by Joel Silver and Rob Thomas, the short lived show followed the life of high school student Veronica Mars, played by Kristen Bell, and her dad Keith Mars, a former sheriff turned private investigator who attempts to iron out some of the kinks in the most corrupt of small towns.
While Rob Thomas initially wrote the main character as a male, it’s hard to imagine the series would have packed the witty punch it did without the feisty, tough skinned heroine Veronica strong-arming her way through high school, catching petty criminals and trying to solve the murder of her best friend Lilly Kane. Though the show was cancelled before a 4th season could answer the questions the last episode had left, a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a Veronica Mars movie was started in 2013, and on March 14th, 2014 fans and critics alike got some answers to the questions about their gone but not forgotten protagonist.
3. Arrested Development
One of the most madcap and quirky-clever comedy shows of all time, Arrested Development hit the small screen on November 2, 2003 on the Fox network. Created by Mitchell Hurwitz and narrated by director Ron Howard, the show followed the absurd adventures of the Bluth family after patriarch George Bluth Sr., founder of the mini-mansion building Bluth Company, is accused of lavish misspending of company capital and defrauding investors.
With well-adjusted Michael Bluth, played by Jason Bateman, taking charge of things, the camera followed one of the most bizarre families in history as they tail spin through their newly defamed life. While the quirky humour of Arrested Development was not enough to keep it on the air after its third season ended, its super-swift wit and eccentric cast of characters made a fourth season possible on Netflix in 2013 and assured its place as IGN’s number one pick on their Top 25 Funniest TV Shows of All Time list.
Created and produced by Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, Firefly premiered on September 20, 2002 on Fox but didn’t make it through the first season with only eleven of its fourteen episodes aired before it was cancelled. Classified as a ‘space western’ and taking place in the year 2517, Firefly followed the lives of nine main characters as they travelled aboard the Serenity spaceship, trying to establish life on different planets and moons after the Earth had been left behind due to overpopulation.
The show was offbeat and engaging enough to fans that it developed an ardent following before cancellation and that same popularity gave way to the movie Serenity (2005). It was produced by Whedon and Universal Pictures and took off where Firefly had left off, giving fans a much-needed dose of the series they missed. Due to an indelible impact on its fans despite a brief run, the show was ranked at number five on TV Guide’s 2013 list of “The 60 Best Shows Cancelled Too Soon.”
1. Freaks and Geeks
As another American teen drama that ran for just one season, Freaks and Geeks is iconic for its humorous and dramatic exploration of the hallways that make up high school life. With Paul Feig and Judd Apatow at the helm, the show aired on NBC from 1999-2000 to acclaim but was cancelled before all 18 of its completed episodes could be shown on television.
Following the life of Lindsay Weir and her younger brother Sam as they attended Chippewa High School in the early 80’s, Freaks and Geeks comically nailed down the cliques that abound in the teenage years by honing in on Lindsay – the academic-turned-freak who deals with the fallout of her changing reputation – and Sam, as his sister’s polar opposite and the consummate geek. While the three remaining episodes of the show were aired after the insistence of fans, the series is now available in its complete form on DVD for the true fanatics. Despite its short run, Freaks and Geeks was voted 3rd on TIME magazine’s “Top 10 TV Shows of the 2000’s” and is also responsible for spawning the careers of many familiar names in Hollywood including Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen and James Franco.