Saturday, February 27, 2010

Favorite Short-Lived Shows, Part 1

Everything I love gets canceled. It never fails. When I commit to a new show, it gets axed after half a season. Now that I have TiVo, it's not that big of a deal; I can watch whatever I want, whenever I want. So it's not that big of a commitment. But in the past, watching a show meant making sure that I was home and in front of my TV every week at the same time. That's a tall order for a high school student and an even taller order for a college student. So here are some of my favorite shows from the past that I committed myself to... only to be kicked in the balls by the networks who don't care that I gave up my life to watch their product just because I don't have a Nielsen box attached to my fucking television. In case it's not clear, I'm still bitter about these cancellations.

1. Firefly (Fox, 2002): Anything that Joss Whedon touches turns to gold. This show was no exception. It was a wonderful blend of classic Whedon wit, Western-film ideals (and locations), and futuristic sci-fi adventure. It told the tale of a group of outlaw misfits travelling intergalactically in a rundown spaceship named Serenity, trying to escape the universe-controlling (and ultimately corrupt) Alliance and the cannibalistic-rapists the Reavers. The characters included a space hooker, a doey-eyed female mechanic, a captain who wore the tightest pants television has ever seen, and a whacked-the-fuck-out teenager whom the Alliance performed freaky-ass experiments on because she basically has superpowers. WHAT?! Exactly. But it worked somehow. Outrageous shoot-outs, deep conflict, and brilliant philosophy filled every hour of this show. Luckily, Firefly found its fanbase when it was released on DVD a year later; it was even spun-off into a film with the entire original cast in 2006, called Serenity.

So why did this show fail so miserably while it was on the air? Fox dumped it on Friday nights and then started airing new episodes after its coverage of the World Series. New episodes weren't airing until well after midnight. Who is watching an involved hour-long comedy/drama series at two in the morning? Obviously, no one.

2. Haunted (UPN, 2002): It would seem nowadays that if you had an original horror-mystery series starring Matthew Fox, it would run for years. Because that's basically what's happening now at ABC with his mega-hit Lost. But before that, there was Haunted. It was a little show that debuted on a little network after what was one of its biggest disappointments. Haunted premiered in September of 2002 after the final season premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But it gathered less than two million viewers per night, a small number compared to its competition and to its lead-in. So it lasted a mere seven episodes; yet years later the WB aired a similarly-themed and plotted show called Supernatural... and that show is entering its sixth year.

Haunted told the story of a man who acquires the ability to solve crimes after a near-death experience leaves him in close communication with ghosts. Week after week he helps dead people and their loved ones, while still trying to find peace with his dead child and the malevolent spirit of a pedophile he killed. It was a very entertaining mix of The X-Files, The Sixth Sense and Kolchak. The SyFy Channel resurrected this series briefly in late 2007 when it re-aired all seven episodes. But other than that, this little show has never been heard from again... which is a real shame. It was a fun supernatural-mystery-thriller series, and Matthew Fox was (as always) a heartbreaking leading player.

UPDATE: The complete series (all eleven episodes, including the four unaired ones) was released to DVD by Phase 4 Films on April 13, 2010. Score!

3. John Doe (Fox, 2002-2003): 2002 was a terrible year to fall in love with Fox shows... unfortunately this was the second of three I did just that with. John Doe was not brilliant by any means, but it was entertaining and thought-provoking. It made the best water-cooler fodder in years. It starred Dominic Purcell, before he found fame on Fox's Prison Break, as a man who wakes up naked on an island without any memory of who he is or how he got there. The remainder of the series saw him aiding the police department in investigations because somehow he had garnered the ability to know absolutely everything about everything. Unlikely? Of course. But some of the situations John Doe got himself into were great, including one episode about an online sex-ring. He also, of course, used his knowledge to find out who he really is, and he randomly saw things important to his past in color while the rest of his vision was black-and-white. It was a very strange series, and I'll admit that it sounds terrible on paper. But somehow it was completely engrossing.

With John Doe Fox committed to a full twenty-two episode season (unlike its other casualties of this same season; see numbers 1 and 4). They ulitmately canceled it after the season finale.... but WHAT A FUCKING FINALE!!! They ended on what was honestly one of the most ridiculously crazy cliffhangers ever put on film, with absolutely no explanation thereafter. Not a movie-of-the-week special, not one more episode, not even a press release discussing what the future would have been had the show continued. This is one of the many reasons I will never commit to another Fox show. If you're curious about what the conclusion would have been (revealed many years later by the show's creator), google the series. The answer is mind-blowing within the context of the series.

4. Greg the Bunny (Fox, 2002): Really, Fox? Are you fucking kidding me at this point? Greg the Bunny should have been my warning not to get invested in Fox shows, because it was the first to go in a really strong season that saw all the strong shows getting axed. This is honest-to-God the funniest sitcom I have ever encountered; and this is coming from someone who still watches Will & Grace reruns and DVDs on a daily basis. Greg the Bunny was set in an alternate version of America where puppets (sorry, Fabricated Americans) exist on their own as real beings. They are incorporated into everyday life as baristas, television stars, pool boys, you name it; however, they face a certain amount of racism and are constantly labeled as inferior. I realize this doesn't sound funny, but it is. Why? How about this cast: Seth Green, Eugene Levy, Sarah Silverman, and an array of puppets such as an alcoholic ape, a vampire with a speech impediment, a giant monster with three tits, and a turtle whose famous lines include "These crayons taste like purple!" Throw in guest appearances from Michael McDonald and Marilu Henner, and it's a ridiculous shame that this show couldn't find an audience.

What was the problem? It was too smart. Of course it resorted to potty humor at times, but most of the gags on this show were just too witty and probably flew over the heads of most Fox viewers. I mean, it's only live-action sitcom is currently 'Til Death. I rest my case.

Do yourself a favor: rent or buy this show on DVD. You won't be disappointed.

5. Tru Calling (Fox, 2003-2005): Are we sensing a theme? Tru Calling, I'll be honest, was not a very good show. I can admit that. But it doesn't mean that I didnt look forward to watching it every week, because I did. And even though some of the early episodes are painful to watch, there are some wonderful moments in this series about a young would-be med student, Tru Davies (played by Eliza Dushku) who takes an internship at the local morgue to beef up her resume. While there she discovers her ability to "relive" days when asked for help by people who have died wrongfully. She literally has the ability to save lives, without there being any actual superpowers like flying or superstrength. Yes, it sounds hokey. And yes, it was. But it was so much fun, and there were also some pretty touching moments.

But the best thing about this show is that just as it was canceled, it was beginning to build its own complicated mythology. We find out that Tru is not the first to have this ability: her mother, who was murdered in front of Tru as a child, also had this ability. Then a stranger in the form of Jason Priestley shows up with the same ability, but he puts a different spin on it: he refuses to save the people who ask for help. The good vs. evil plot takes off, but is soon complicated by this stranger: he believes that saving people upsets the natural order of the world... so for every person Tru saves, he ensures someone else's death. It was a fascinating cat-and-mouse scenario, and Priestley is such a great villain. But unfortunately, this show was up against the final season of Friends and suffered from the fact that it took nearly an entire season (about 14 of its 26 episodes) to establish an over-arching plot that would establish the show as an intriguing serial drama rather than as a procedural. Miraculously, it was given a second season; but it was pushed back to midseason replacement, which meant it was off the air for eleven months before returning. Then its episode order was cut from 13 to 7. Then they halted filming on the seventh episode and chose to air the completed 6 and see how the ratings went. Well, only the real fans stuck around, and it was axed after 5 of its 6 episodes aired. Luckily Tru Calling lives on DVD and reruns on the SyFy network, who eventually broadcast its final episode in 2008.

P.S. - After the show's cancelation, producer Doris Egan revealed where it was headed... and it would have been amazing. Basically Tru and Jack (Jason Priestley) were the latest in a long line (since the beginning of humanity, actually) of people chosen to control the fate of the Universe. Each decision made by either of the two opposing powers changes the predestined future of the world. Epic? You bet.

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