Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite one-season television show?

We’ve all had television shows that we started watching from the beginning, only to discover that the ratings were terrible and the show was getting canceled after one season (or even a part of a season). It’s very tragic. But some of those shows are damned good, damn it! So this week’s Question is: What’s your favorite television show that only lasted one season?

I’m going to be boring, because my favorite is the favorite of a lot of people. It’s My So-Called Life, which ran for 19 episodes on ABC in 1994-95. My wife and I happened to start watching it (I was 23 when it began, she was 26) and we were hooked. A few years ago, we watched it with our daughter, and damn if it doesn’t hold up incredibly well. It’s not surprising it didn’t last; it was a difficult show, with a lot of storylines that didn’t resolve the way you’d expect, and complicated stuff that required an amount of attention that wasn’t really standard at the time. Had it come along 20 years later, perhaps it would have found a home on a streaming service, but it was toast on a broadcast network in the mid-’90s. It’s still brilliant, though, as it crystallizes so much of what is difficult about growing up without being a complete downer. Claire Danes is, of course, the person most people think of when they think of the show, as she was only 15 when the pilot aired and she handles the burden placed on her to carry the show with amazing ability (she’s not perfect, of course, but for what she’s asked to do and how old she was, she’s very good). Jared Leto is excellent as the dumb bohunk with hidden depth, A.J. Langer is excellent as Danes’s best friend, the party girl with hidden depth, Wilson Cruz is amazing as the “gay best friend” with … well, um, hidden depth (look, it’s a deep show, all right?), Devon Odessa is Danes’s former best friend, who finds herself left behind when Danes decides to go all weird, but she has a lot of … you guessed it, and Devon Gummersall is the boy across the street who obviously loves Danes but can’t express himself, and his journey in the show will rip your heart right out of your chest (I mean, so will Cruz’s, and possibly Langer’s, and maybe Leto’s and Odessa’s … look, the characters go through a lot, okay?). Unlike a lot of shows that focus on teenagers, the show doesn’t neglect the adults, especially Danes’s parents, played wonderfully by Bess Armstrong and Tom Irvin. Mary Kay Place as Odessa’s mom and Jeff Perry as an odd teacher are excellent, as well. It’s just so good, and the final scene will absolutely gut you.

The two other shows I always think of are Freaks and Geeks, which ran for 18 episodes over 1999-2000, and Terriers, which ran for 13 episodes in 2010. I’d put Terriers slightly ahead, mainly because I didn’t watch Freaks and Geeks when it first came out and only caught up with it a few years ago. It just wasn’t on our radar back in 1999, and I think NBC moved it around a bit, so it was hard to catch up. It’s still an excellent show, although not quite as good as My So-Called Life, which it resembles a bit, of course. Terriers is a private-eye show, with Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James as the stars, running an unlicensed detective service in San Diego and getting in some deep shit as the series goes on. Both Logue and Raymond-James are superb, and the show turns San Diego – not the grungiest town in the world – into a noir paradise, which might be its most impressive achievement. I’m not sure why it didn’t succeed – it was a bit depressing, but not too much, and it’s a bit complicated, but in a post-Sopranos world that shouldn’t have been a problem. But it’s a tight 13 episodes if you’re in the mood.

So those are my choices. What’s yours? (And no, I’ve never watched Firefly. Sue me.)

78 Comments

  1. Lee

    Over the years, I’ve found myself drawn to shows that were off-kilter enough to somehow get made, but were too unusual to have mass appeal. So there are lots and lots of possible choices here.

    You mentioned Freaks and Geeks, which I absolutely adore. I watched it when it first appeared, even as it bounced around between nights and times. It is not surprising to me that so many of the cast have gone on to greater success elsewhere — Linda Cardellini, James Franco, Jason Segel, Busy Philips, Seth Rogan, Martin Starr. it was an amazing collection of talent.

    I liked Firefly, but I didn’t catch it when it was still on. Eventually I got the show and the movie Serenity on DVD, and I enjoyed the show greatly, but there is something to be said for watching in real time.

    I imagine there are quite a few people who visit this site that, like me, were glued to our PBS stations as they aired reruns of the British show The Prisoner. That’s gotta be high up on the list.

    But there are also a lot of shows that are less well known. Maybe they got a DVD release at some point, maybe they didn’t. For whatever reason, they just didn’t take hold in the public consciousness like the shows listed above.

    * Earth 2 (NBC, 1994-95)
    A science fiction show that is all too relevant, even decades later. Earth is polluted, so an expedition is made to find another habitable planet, one populated by odd aliens and creepy villains.

    * Nowhere Man (UPN, 1995-96)
    In the vein of The Fugitive or the Incredible Hulk, this show featured a photographer, Thomas Veil, on the run from shadowy forces who are after the negatives of some pictures he took.

    * Ellery Queen (NBC, 1975-76)
    As a fan of the novels, I enjoyed this mystery series. I particularly like that the main character broke the fourth wall to challenge viewers to solve the crime of the week.

    * Wonderfalls (Fox, 2004)
    A fun, quirky show about a recent college graduate who gets a job selling trinkets in a Niagara Falls shop. But the little plastic figurines start talking to her, suggesting she help people in need.

    * Strange Luck (Fox, 1995-96)
    I thought this show was just so cleverly written, sort of a more noir-ish version of the Dirk Gently character. The lead character, played by D. B. Sweeney, would have odd coincidences happen to pull him in to mysteries or crazy adventures.

    * Probe (ABC, 1988)
    I’m an uber-fan of Isaac Asimov, who is credited as co-creator of this show. How could I not love it? It featured a Sherlock Holmes-like character played by Parker Stevenson. The Watson character, secretary Mickey Castle, was played by Ashley Crow, who later turned up in the TV show Heroes.

    * Get Real (Fox, 1999-2000)
    No one I know even remembers this show, one of the first roles for future superstar Anne Hathaway. It also featured future Lex Luthor Jesse Eisenberg in his first regular TV gig.

    * Everything Sucks (Netflix, 2018)
    This show owes a lot to Freaks and Geeks (and My So-Called Life) — it is a high school drama set in the past (1996, to be exact). It’s not as good as F&G, but I enjoyed the first season and I wish there were more.

  2. Le Messor

    Apart from things already mentioned (I assume a ‘other than Firefly‘ in the title):
    The Weird Al Show was pretty good.
    Faulty Towers should be mentioned somewhere here even if I don’t personally know it well enough to add it.

    I don’t know that I can think of a personal favourite, though.

  3. Two come to mind fairly quickly (besides some of the ones also mentioned by others):

    The Good Guys, with Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks as a wacky buddy cop team solving cases. Somewhere I have the whole thing, I hope, on VHS and will need to find a working VCR to watch them again someday, as it doesn’t seem to be available streaming!

    And of course, RINGGGGGGGGGEEERRRRRRRRRRR! SMG (Buffy herself) plays a troubled woman whose twin sister dies and whose life she then takes over, with Mr. Fantastic from the 2 early 2000s FF movies as hubby and Zoey “daughter of Lea Thompson” Deutch (sp?) as the snotty teen daughter. Hell, the dude who later played Luke Cage was in there too, as well as pretty boy Nestor what’s-his-name. Unfortunately I missed taping the pilot, but I think I got the rest of the series on tape. Again, good, because it doesn’t seem to be streaming.

  4. Lee already mentioned my top pick which is Wonderfalls. Funny story though, when I moved to Canada from Australia (and yes I went to Niagara Falls) in the early days of dating my (now wife) I made her watch Wonderfalls with me and we saw a particular name in the credits and I was like, “is he related to you?” and she was like “That’s my uncle!”

    So it took a random dude from Australia to point out to her that HER OWN UNCLE was providing voices to the various trinkets in one of my favourite shows. Mind. Blown!

    My other pick is No Tomorrow from the CW. A relatively recent show (2016) about a girl who meets a guy who lives like every day is his last because he believes an asteroid is heading to Earth and they’re all going to die anyway. Everyone thinks he’s nuts, even her, but she still gets swept up in his weird life, and in the end they really go for it because in the last episode, get this … he was right! Who knows WHAT the second season would have been?! The male lead, Joshua Sasse, went on to do Galavant after that which (thankfully) had 2 seasons!

  5. Edo Bosnar

    Yeah, “My So-called Life” was really a good show – I watched it about 10 years after its cancellation. It’s way, way, way better than many other “teenagers and their problems” shows whose names I won’t mention but had multi-season runs and numbers in their titles…
    As for Firefly, I also watched all of that later (have the series, and Serenity, on DVD); it’s a really good show, but not my favorite of all time or anything.

    Anyway, we sort of covered the same territory in two of Jim’s earlier posts, i.e., the one about shows that got chopped after a half-season or less and then the one about shows that lasted a little longer before getting the axe.
    A lot of the shows that come to mind were covered in those two posts. In fact, I think my answer is a toss-up between the aforementioned Police Squad and the wonderfully silly SF spoof Quark.

  6. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

    The correct answer is Freaks and Geeks (which I watched when I was 19 or 20).

    …but Terriers and The Good Guys are also fantastic answers.

    Firefly and The Grinder are pretty fantastic, too.

    Plus, Heroes definitely would have been on the list, if they hadn’t flubbed the finale! Such a shame that they never ever made any more episodes of Heroes after the first season.

  7. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

    ALSO!

    Kings was a weird and wonderful modern adaptation of the Book of Samuel, with a fantastic cast (Ian McShane! Sebastian Stan! Eamonn Walker! Susanna Thompson! Macaulay Culkin!)

    Enlisted was a hilarious and heartfelt show from the co-creator of Cougar Town (and a Scrubs vet), with an incredible cast. I’ll never forgive Fox for messing with the airing order.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Kings was a cool and weird show. There’s no way it was going to last, but dang, it was interesting while it did.

      Enlisted took a bit to get going, I think, but yeah, it really rounded into form as it went on.

  8. Wonderfalls for me. Super charming and a little smarmy. (Smarming? Charmy?) Only four episodes aired on TV (out of order), but luckily they’d already shot all 13 episodes, and it was the era of putting TV on DVD, so we got to enjoy it that way.

    Other one-season wonders I loved:

    Firefly didn’t work for me when it aired (also with episodes out of order), but I came to love it on DVD.

    Terriers was brilliant, yes. I was one of the twelve people watching it live every week! I think the outpouring of love for this show (and to a lesser extent, AMC’s Rubicon) is why most basic cable series, particularly FX or AMC, began renewing almost everything for a season 2 even if it had terrible viewership. Case in point: Lodge 49, which had two wonderful seasons.

    Coming in fourth place might be Last Resort. Andre Braugher and his submarine crew refuse to launch a nuke, and then take over a small island and sort of form their own tiny superpower. One of the best pilots I’ve ever seen. (Shawn Ryan was involved with that and Terriers. And also The Chicago Code, another pretty good oner with Jennifer Beals, Jason Clarke, and Delroy Lindo).

    More recently, I dug The Kids Are Alright, which was a network sitcom on ABC. Not quite as amazing as the shows listed above, but it was very funny and I was surprised it didn’t get renewed.

    Also, Jett, from Cinemax. Would’ve loved a season 2 of that. Very stylish, with a rare Carla Gugino starring role.

    Awake was a solid show– a man straddling two parallel worlds, one where his wife is alive, and one where his son is. Also he solves crimes.

    Shows from decades back that I know I watched and liked but can’t quite remember and so temper your expectations: Now and Again, and John Doe (which I think aired back-to-back with Firefly?). I also watched and loved The Lone Gunmen, even though at the time I’d never seen the X-Files! And I remember digging this show Lucky on FX, which had a good cast: John Corbett, Ever Carradine, Craig Robinson, and Billy Gardell.

    *Not* from decades back, but in a similar vein, was the Limitless TV show– a clever, well-done case-of-the-week series.

    I’d love to say The Prisoner or The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., but I never finished the DVD sets of either. One day.

    And don’t forget The Cape! (Okay, do forget it.)

    I’m sure there are a bunch of series I watched endlessly as a kid that, if I looked them up, will turn out to have only produced 13 episodes.

    If Hatcher was here, I’m sure he’d say The Man from Atlantis or The Magician.

  9. I tried one episode of Wonderfalls. I can’t say I share in the general enthusiasm for it.
    Definitely the Middleman. Backups would be:
    *Daybreak, with Taye Diggs as a cop trapped in a time loop. As someone who literally wrote the book on time-travel TV series/movies, I really enjoyed it.
    •Reunion, a short-lived show which starts with a murder at one high school class’s 20th reunion. Then it goes back to graduation and jumps forward one year per episode to eventually explain the murder. They did some nice things with the structure but it only made it to a half-season.

  10. Gavin

    Flash Forward – yup!

    New Amsterdam should have continued.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Amsterdam_(2008_TV_series)

    The show was essentially rebooted as Forever, and didn’t last much longer. I didn’t see that one.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forever_(2014_TV_series)

    And of course its title was reused for a completely unrelated show a decade later:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Amsterdam_(2018_TV_series)

    I have a soft spot for Almost Human:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almost_Human_(TV_series)

    Journeyman was fun and had me hooked:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journeyman_(TV_series)

    1. Greg Burgas

      I enjoyed New Amsterdam (and Forever, but not as much as New Amsterdam). I’m kind of a sucker for things where people live forever in one spot and we get to see (or read about) things changing around them. A narrow genre, I know, but I dig it.

  11. Der

    I rarely watch tv shows, or at least I rarely watch american tv shows(I do like them, but I rarely watch them) so here is a really short list of animes that are great and are single season:

    In case you don’t know, anime seasons are weird. Shows can be 6 episodes, 12 episodes, 13 episodes, 24-26 episodes or even 52 episodes, so its really really all over the place to call one “season” since they vary a lot.

    But anyway, in no particular order:

    -Cowboy Bebop(24 episodes I think, plus a movie): space bounty hunters in a scifi-western inspired setting

    -FLCL: sure, there is a new season, but I don’t care, six episodes of scifi madness that takes a long long time to understand but still, very good even if you(like me) don’t understand a thing after one view

    -Katanagatari:A dude is a swordsman that fights without swords, and is looking for 12 fancy swords apparently. Very good animation, good story and entertaining characters all around

    -The Promised Neverland: Sure, it has two seasons, but you can say that the first season is a complete story(and the second one is not great). First season is 12 episodes, is about some kids trying to escape an orphanage where things are not what they seem. A very tense thriller

    -Boogiepop Phantom: 12 episodes of something that looks like urban legends come to life. You can search for additional info to see what the deal is about, but believe me, the mysteries are better if you go blind

      1. Der

        I love Gurren Lagann, that is one of the greatests animes IMO. Shame on me for not listing it. Also Trigun is pretty good too, Loved it.

        Never saw Digimon Tamers, only the first two(i think?) seasons/series of Digimon, was it good?

        1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

          It’s by the writer of Serial Experiments Lain, haha!

          It’s very, very good, by Saturday Morning Shonen standards – it takes place in the “real world,” where Digimon is a video game/card game.

          Death is real, with the trauma towards the survivors taken seriously, and it’s a great boy-and-his dog story, too!

          Plus, Steve Blum.

    1. For anime, Future Diary is a remarkably effective story about people with cell phones that predict the future, trying to kill each other to become the God of Time. it threw in twists I did not see coming.
      Steyn’s Gate starts out as a comedy (when the protagonists invent a time-traveling email, they call it D-mail — for Delorean Mail!) then turns tragic to the point I started crying (“I don’t even care when I see her die — I tell myself next time jump I’ll finally save her so it’s all fine. I—I think I need help.”) but ends satisfactorily.

      1. Der

        I’m going to check Future diary(it’s on crunchyroll, the only streaming service I really use) so thanks!

        I always mix up steins gate and the million of Fate: somethingsomething series, so I’ve never checked it, but I’ll add it to the list

    2. Cowboy Bebop is definitely one of my favorite shows/cartoons/animes. I think it told the complete story it set out to tell. So I guess there’s no real opportunity for “season 2.” But it’s great.

      The original FLCL is also amazing. I did watch the follow-up “season 2,” and then never finished the third one.

  12. John King

    hard to single out any one choice
    My top 5 UK or American ones (in chronological sequence)

    1967 the Prisoner – classic series I saw repeats of – instead of a second season it was given a few extra episodes including a finale.

    1970 UFO – one of Gerry Anderson’s earlier live action series. there were ideas for a second season but it ended up as a different show (Space 1999)

    1974 – Kolchak, the Night Stalker – great performance from Darren McGavin (best not to mention the reboot)

    1993 – the Adventures of Brisco County Junior – high adventure, fantasy and humour in the old west with Bruce Campbell. ended after one season with an extra episode to resolve the cliff hanger

    2002 Firefly – continued in a movie

    runners-up include
    Now and again (1999), The Others (2000), Strange (2003), the Middleman (2008)

    1. Le Messor

      That finalé is why I can’t quite list The Prisoner; it’s so weird and out-of-nowhere. (But it does prove I was right! It’s all connected! The foot-bone’s connected to the shin-bone, the shin-bone’s connected…)

      I never knew Kolchack was only one season.

  13. conrad1970

    There was a show called ‘Manimal’ in the mid 80’s with Simon MacCorkidale, believe it or not he could change in to a Panther if memory serves. Quite bizarre and I’m pretty sure it only ran for 1 season.

    1. Le Messor

      I loved that when I was younger!
      He could change into any animal, which would presumably include a panther (I doubt I could do it – I’ve never learned out to panth). And, yes, it was only one season.

    2. Greg Burgas

      Do you think I don’t know about Manimal, sir?!?!?!? I’m actually terrified to watch it again, because 12-year-old Greg loved it and I’m sure it doesn’t hold up and I don’t want my memories tainted by my middle-aged cynicism!!!! 🙂

  14. Alaric

    I’ll go with Now and Again (CBS, 1999-2000), an absolutely amazing blend of superhero and drama. (Not to be confused with the similarly-titled Once and Again, which was on the air in that same time range but lasted longer, on ABC.)

  15. JHL

    I’ve been watching Asian dramas (generally Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese) since about 2007 a lot of those shows are designed from the beginning to be a single season from the beginning so I could make a ton. On any given day there are a bunch I would make as my favorite but for today I’ll go with the Korean show Goblin from 2016-2017. As is fairly common the show’s English title is umm . . . Mutable. I believe it is currently being called Guardian: The Lonely and Great God for the version currently available to stream subtitled in the US.

  16. Jeff Nettleton

    The Prisoner was only intended to be 7 episodes; but, Lew Grade wanted more. They stretched as far as the could, but called it quits with 17. It was always intended to be finite.

    I’d throw out Quark, the sci-fi comedy, with Tim Tomerson and Richard Benjamin, from Buck Henry. It was a little shaky at the start; but, got better with each episode.

    Space Rangers was another that was short-lived, but grew on me, over time.

    The original live-action Tick, with Patrick Warburton, was another. That was just as fun, but differently loopy, as the cartoon version, which was a step removed from the comic.

    Alien Nation was pretty decent and was one season, with the later tv movie specials to resolve the cliffhanger from the series.

    I may be alone in this; but, I quite like The Man From Atlantis, with Patrick Duffy, which started out as tv movies, then the series. I think it would have done better if they had a destination in mind, for the series. The tv movies established mysteries about Mark’s origin and never really went anywhere with it. That should have driven more of the plot; but, tv didn’t act in novel form, at that point (aside from mini-series).

  17. kdu2814

    I own The Flash and The Prisoner on DVD, so I guess those would be my answers (although I am just now watching Flash for the third time including broadcast, so not really a favorite).

    Kolchak is fun.

    I always thought Manimal could only transform into a panther, a hawk, or a snake(?). That or he only transformed into those animals (because that is all the show could afford, I thought). Could be I am misremembering.

    If producers back then knew about todays MCU we could have gotten a team up show featuring Airwolf, Street Hawk, Manimal, Mantis, Mathew Star and Starman 😉

    1. Let’s not forget Forever Knight/Knight Rider!
      Back in the days when I read fanfic there were crossovers every bit that sprawling. There’s also an episode of Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated that brings in most of the other similar mystery-solving teams from HB (Jabberjaw, Captain Caveman’s crew, Funky Phantom and his friends, etc.).

    2. Le Messor

      Manimal definitely transformed into a housecat at least once. I’ve always remembered it that he could transform into any animal – basically Beast Boy.

      edit: from Wikipedia:
      “While Jonathan had the ability to change himself into any animal, he would transform into a hawk and a black panther in nearly every episode.”

  18. Adrien

    Being a younger guy who likes anime, I probably have more options due to the nature of shows made for streaming and how most anime is done in a season, unless we’re talking shows that ended too soon that were aiming for more seasons and just didn’t get it. If such is the case, I think I’ll go for the MTV spiderman show that played in the early aughts that had Neil Patrick Harris as spiderman. Mostly because the intended series finale actually ended up giving a definitive, although depressing ending for Spidey.

    1. JHL

      I was wandering through a Target a few years ago and ran across a dvd box set of Briscoe County Jr for 4 dollars that I picked up. This reminds me that I should sit down and watch it. I haven’t seen the show since it was on air and I probably missed a few episodes back then.

      1. Oh, absolutely! I saw the (terrible) movie Green Beret when it first came out because of him, and my mother’s crush on David Janssen.
        Although it’s not a reason enough to watch Blue Bloods, even though Bridget Moynahan is also from Binghamton.

        1. Wha?!?!?! I never knew that about her. Although from looking at her IMDB it sounds like her family was passing through (probably was an IBMer family!).

          But I was asking more if you have a particular connection to Binghamton yourself.

          I’ve got to work on a column about famous people from my area. There are more than one might think!

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