On Monday, NBC released its midseason schedule on which the charming, abysmally rated Community was nowhere to be found. The network says the show will return, but it’s unclear when or for how long (presumably none of this bodes well for a fourth season). While we wait for official word, this week’s YouTube Hall of Fame remembers the TV shows that were canceled before their time.
Andy Greenwald: My favorite writer is a guy named Ross Thomas. He died in 1995 but before that he wrote over two dozen books that are equal parts unclassifiable and irresistible, gentlemanly thrillers that chronicled the derring-do’s (and don’ts) of low-lifes in extremely high style. His protagonists had names like Lucifer and Quincy and they were all witty drinkers and incurable romantics and, more than anything, knew exactly what needed to be done in any situation — even if it involved German dwarves or dead pelicans. Terriers, the short-lived PI show that lived and died on the back of its misleading name last year on FX, was the closest I’ve come to experiencing that same zippy thrill off the page. Set in a very Thomas-like slice of seedy Southern California, Terriers was about two scruffy private investigators, Hank (altruistic former drunk) and Britt (raffish ex-thief), and their increasingly challenging attempts to keep their lives on the straight-ish and narrow-esque. The series was a perfect mix of character-driven procedural — finding a missing girl, not losing the ones they already have — and a slow-burning, surprisingly emotional drama about the plight of the little guy in our big-business-driven world. But more than anything else, it was about friendship — a pair of beautifully mismatched dudes who liked each other on-screen and off (stars Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James have continued their bromance on Twitter), riffing about nothing and still saying everything. Hank and Britt were screwed up and beaten down, but, like the best Ross Thomas heroes, when it mattered most they could be terrifically competent, able to bug a phone, break into a house, or just maybe save an entire town. The only things they couldn’t fix were themselves.
It’s only fitting that a show about underdogs would be one in the ratings — although I’m sure showrunners Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and Ted Griffin (Ocean’s Eleven) would like to avoid the word “dog” at all costs. But the best testament to the greatness of Terriers is how well it works as a single season, more like a fantastic novel than a failed series. Where longer-running shows often get bogged down in resolution and satisfying the audience’s insatiable demand for answers, the thirteenth and final episode of Terriers ends instead on the perfect question. I miss the show terribly. You shouldn’t miss it at all.
Amos Barshad: It’s scary to me how much of a no-brainer this is. My love for Undeclared — the Judd Apatow-created college comedy that ran on Fox for one season in 2001, back when Apatow was best known as a talented producer who just could not land a hit — hasn’t waned an inch all decade. Like Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared was admirably low-key: the characters weren’t all that magnetic, the situations they found themselves in weren’t all that interesting. Some of its best moments came when the show was at its weirdest. Jason Segel, as one character’s deranged clingy ex-boyfriend, has never been, nor will he ever be, better. Samm Levine, in a guest appearance as a domineering frat dude, was a brilliant against-type casting (crucial line, presented out of context: “What is your obsession with these pickles?”). And these scenes above, featuring Will Ferrell (I know, not really fair to trot out movie stars while making a case for forgotten TV) as a townie who writes term papers for hire, are almost too dark to be funny. (“Blintz? Blintz? Blintz blintz blintz? Don’t fear the blintz!”) Mostly, though, it was just a crew of non-cool freshmen, sitting around the dorms not doing much, having a rad time. And it pulled off what Apatow has been going for ever since: that combination of outlandishness and earnestness, where he makes you care even when the characters are stupid or crazy or mean. Also, Jay Baruchel was so good as lead dweeb Steven Karp, and Seth Rogen was co-writing this show when he was like 19, so those dudes can make all the Sorcerer’s Hornets they want and I’ll still be strictly ride-or-die.
Freaks and Geeks
Michael Weinreb: I think I heard Judd Apatow say that this was one of the most personal scenes he’d ever committed to film, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. At their best, the 18 episodes of Freaks and Geeks were the most poignant depiction of high-school life in television history, and everything about this scene, from the processed cheese to the Star Wars glass to the television tray to the use of the Who’s “I’m One,” is utterly beautiful and perfect. This is The Great Gatsby of adolescent nerd angst.
The Ben Stiller Show
Mike Philbrick: The greatest compliment you can give Ben Stiller’s eponymous show is that after almost 20 years the skits they put on are, in many cases, even funnier today than they were during their 12-episode run from September of 1992 to January of 1993. You can’t say that about their competition at the time — In Living Color and Saturday Night Live. The cast consisted mainly of Ben Stiller (of course) before he spent all those nights at the museum, Janeane Garofalo before she decided to take herself and her politics way too seriously, Bob Odenkirk before he was Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad, and Andy Dick before he went totally effing crazy. Most of the skits were either groundbreaking (Melrose Heights was a parody within a parody about homophobia), icon-humbling (U2: The Early Years), or just plain funny (Counting with Bruce Springsteen). What killed The Ben Stiller Show so quickly? They committed sketch-comedy suicide. No laugh track, no studio audience, and worst of all, they thought up new stuff every week and didn’t keep using the same characters again and again until Lorne Michaels eventually greenlights a movie about you and you’re elected Senator from Minnesota. The cast and writers, which also included a just-starting-out Judd Apatow, walked away unemployed after a few months, but not empty-handed. Like David Letterman’s ill-fated morning show, they won the Emmy for best writing … after they had been canceled.
Daniel Silver: This cheeky and hilarious Fox comedy wad dropped onto the public mostly unnoticed in the spring of 2006. The show’s conceit was a playground for co-creators Pam Brady (South Park, Team America: World Police) and Will Gluck (Easy A, Friends With Benefits) to frolic in: An eccentric CEO reads a fresh-out-of-college slacker’s half-baked thesis paper and inexplicably hires him as the youngest executive at his struggling airline. Dialogue was delivered at Sorkin speed by the show’s lead, Brett Harrison, the criminally under-employed Eric Christian Olsen, character-actor ninja assassins Mimi Rogers and Philip Baker Hall, and a great supporting cast (as seen in the clip above). Probably the most tragic part of Loop’s cancellation was that it kicked off Harrison’s unlucky streak (his next shows were Reaper and Breaking In). Since there were only 17 episodes, its axing didn’t hurt as much as those of Arrested Development, Party Down, Pushing Daisies, or (maybe) Community. But thanks to the wonder of DVD and streaming, I can always go back and see the seven episodes of the show’s first season. Which I’d argue are just as funny as the aforementioned shows. Rent it and tell me I’m wrong.
Katie Baker: This category is a tough one for me, because I’m always so far behind the TV show curve. Part of this is because I’m just, in general, so culturally behind the times — I’m only midway through Season 3 of The Wire (jealous?), I’ve not yet begun Breaking Bad (JEALOUS?), and until I dragged myself to the theater for a solo Saturday-night viewing of Drive I hadn’t seen a movie in a theater since Wall Street 2: The City That Never Sleeps. (Okay, you’re probably not jealous.) But it’s also partly because I’m always afraid to devote myself to a TV show early on for fear that it will (a) suck or (b) get canceled early and turn me into one of those raving loons that send their ears to NBC in mass but misguided attempts to get it to reinstate their favorite too-good-for-this-world show.
Unfortunately, FlashForward was a little bit from column A, a little bit from column B. The commercials for the show made it seem like the heir to Lost, for once I was there to eagerly tune in to the pilot, and I got instantly hooked on the premise: One day, everyone in the world blacks out for a few minutes — bike riders fall over, buses with sleeping drivers plunge into lakes, napping people (that would be me) keep on napping — and when they wake up, they realize they’ve all dreamed about the same moment from an unspecified point in the future. The dreams range from the jarring (a married woman sees herself with another dude, a single lesbian sees that she’s pregnant) to the mundane (one guy is in a stall on a toilet) to the terrifying (one guy sees nothing at all) and raise the intriguing question: What if you could see your future, even for an instant? What would it do to your life, and what would it meeeeannnnn?
Alas, the show neglected to explore the cool sci-fi possibilities of the setup, instead becoming constrained within them. And what’s worse, it got tangled in boring, love triangle-y tripe. (Plus it featured a lesser Fiennes sibling; put Ralph in there and everything would have been fine.) So it wasn’t really a surprise that it got canceled, though it still might have been “too soon.” The whole thing ended on a cliffhanger finale that, when the show wasn’t renewed for a second season, would never be resolved. I rue that FlashForward couldn’t get its shit together enough to be as good as I thought it might be. I may never again watch a TV show while it’s actually airing. It’s just so much easier to watch, say, DVR-ed episodes of Party Down when you know exactly when the party is ending. (RIP, and also, marry me, Martin Starr!)
My Brother and Me
Rembert Browne: This is from the pilot, “The Charity,” a.k.a. the Kendall Gill Episode. As you remember from the Gill-less parts 1 and 2, Dee Dee, Alfie, and Melanie were tasked by Mom and Dad with helping out at the bazaar. When Dad has to leave to cover a story, he tells Alfie and Dee-Dee to help Mom out and gives them a full dollar for their troubles. Alfie isn’t impressed. Dee Dee is thrilled. Then, like clockwork, Goo strolls over and tells the boys that Kendall Gill is signing autographs at the comic book store and that they should go ASAP. Once everything is sorted out, they bounce.
GILLTIME (Part 3, above)
0:00-0:19, 2:03-2:38, 4:18-4:19, 4:28-4:45, 4:48-4:50, 5:04-5:20, 5:33-5:35, 5:49-5:57, 6:25-6:45, 6:55-7:05
Here’s Part 4:
0:34-0:35, 1:07-1:09, 1:14-1:18, 1:24-1:31, 1:46-1:55, 2:00-2:05, 2:08-2:18
Last year, a friend asked me how long I thought My Brother and Me was on the air. Since I could, word for word, recall about 13 of the episodes, I guessed about 4 seasons.
It got canceled after 13 episodes.
HOW DO YOU CANCEL MY BROTHER AND ME AFTER ONLY 13 EPISODES?
HOW DO YOU CANCEL A SHOW WITH KENDALL GILL IN THE PILOT EPISODE?
HOW DO YOU CANCEL A SHOW WITH 174 SECONDS OF KENDALL GILL IN THE PILOT EPISODE?
Nickelodeon, I’ll never forgive you for this.
Lane Brown: My pick: CBS’s reality show Kid Nation, which ran for 13 episodes in 2007. The premise was simple (and awesome): Forty children between the ages of 8 and 15 were left to fend for themselves in a New Mexican ghost town. Without any adult supervision, they were asked to prepare their own food, clean up after themselves, and form a functional government, competing each week for “gold stars,” which came with prizes like toothbrushes and outhouses. Hilarious controversy ensued, though, when one kid burned her face on a stove and a few others drank bleach that had been left in an unmarked soda bottle. Even though nobody died, CBS pulled the plug. My feelings on Kid Nation are already a matter of public record, but I’ll share them again anyway: Kid Nation was the greatest reality show of all time. Watch the above clip, in which the kids slaughter chickens, nearly go to war over who should make breakfast, and troubleshoot a minor plumbing problem (“You don’t realize how important water is until you learn the hard way”). Please, CBS, bring this show back.
Previously: YouTube Hall of Fame: The Worst Music Videos of All Time
The Deleted Scenes Hall of Fame
YouTube Hall of Fame: When Sitcoms Got Dark
YouTube Hall of Fame: Tom Hanks on Late Night, Pandas on a Slide, and Helen Hunt on Crank