Saturday, May 2, 2015

Jenn's Pick: My Top 10 Tragically Cancelled TV Comedies

I watch a lot of television.

I do it because I run this blog but I also do it because I genuinely love television. When pilot season rolls around, I rush to the Internet as soon as I hear that a show has been previewed online. I anticipate falling in love with new shows and adding them to my must-list roster. Inevitably, though, what happens during a new season of television is this: I fall in love with a quirky comedy that doesn't have great ratings but has an endearing cast, quippy jokes, and meta humor. And, of course, that show ends up getting cancelled very shortly after it begins. I repeat the same cycle the following television season and the one after that and the one after that and --

Well, you get the idea.

There have been a lot of great television shows that have existed over the years. Friends was filled with ten years of laughter and growth and jokes that have permeated our culture so much that we still make them today. Parks and Recreation was a comedy full of optimism and love and friendship that, while sadly cancelled eventually, lasted a long time. The Office was a delight. Home Improvement was a staple of my childhood. How I Met Your Mother was great until the series' unfortunate final season. Television has had a lot of gems and a lot of successes. But it is also full of television comedies that have been cancelled way before their time. This post is devoted to them! Below, I've ranked ten of my favorite television series that were cancelled way too soon. In order to be considered "tragically cancelled," a television show needs to have ended either before there was proper closure or because there was an opportunity for more growth and development but the show never had the chance to explore those avenues.

Let's take a journey now through some of the most tragically cancelled TV comedies in recent years. Grab those tissues, you guys.

10. Back In The Game (ABC, 2013)

I'm not a huge fan of baseball, to be honest, but I absolutely loved Back in the Game. In 2013, it was the only television pilot that managed to score an "A" on my pilot grading post and with good reason -- it was charming, endearing, and provided just the right amount of heart as to not be saccharine. I absolutely loved James Caan in the role of the curmudgeonly, drunken father to Maggie Lawson's alter ego on the series. The pilot was not just funny, it was also exactly what a pilot needs to be: it provided a springboard for the rest of the season, introducing wonderful recurring characters and a band of misfits in the form of Danny's baseball team. Back in the Game had so much potential. It could have been a charming comedy about family, reconciliation, and believing in yourself. But instead, it ended just as quickly as it began. I'll remember it as an adorable little show that could have been much more.

9. Red Band Society (FOX, 2014-2015)

Okay, I'm technically cheating a bit on this one because Red Band Society was more of a drama than a comedy (it was a dark comedy when it was one), but I'm still upset over this cancellation because it's so fresh. This FOX series' pilot made me cry. Twice. It reminded me of everything that Glee was when it was great -- it contained snarky, biting humor. It focused on unique, layered characters with powerful backstories. And it ended far too quickly. With an outstanding cast of amazing teenage performers and wonderful, moving adults, Red Band Society was the kind of show that could have had many more amazing episodes ahead of it. I was anxious to know what would become of Emma and Kara (who, honestly, had one of the most amazing television transformations in recent years in terms of growth and development from the stereotype of a "mean cheerleader" to an actual realized, fleshed-out, layered, vulnerable character -- SERIOUSLY SO GREAT) and Dash and Leo and Jordi and everyone else.

This FOX comedy proved that even dark subject matter can be used to turn stories that would be hopeless and tragic into plots that are character-centered and hopeful and allow opportunities for those characters to grow and change. A lot happened in Red Band Society's first and only season. I just wish we had gotten the chance to stay at Ocean Park Hospital long enough to see these wonderful characters continue to grow.

8. About A Boy (NBC, 2014-2015)

This is another technicality on my list because the series is essentially cancelled: I'll eat my words if About A Boy gets picked up, but it's looking very likely that this series won't continue which makes me immensely sad. I could never watch the series live (my loyalties are forever with New Girl on the Tuesday 9 PM timeslot, sorry all other shows) but I binge-watched the entire first season of the cute NBC comedy on Netflix and made an effort to catch up On Demand on the rest of the series. What always struck me about this show was that it constantly focused on the relationship between Marcus and Will, rather than Will and Fiona. Where most shows would immediately set up a cliched "will-they-won't-they" dance with the two leads, About A Boy never focused on that. Instead, it took time to ask the question of what it means to be an unconventional family and what it means to allow other people into your life to change you. I often called this show "cute" and "heartwarming," because it was. It was a series that made me cry on occasion (this season's Christmas episode, "About A Christmas Carol"? SO PERFECT AND TOUCHING) and made me laugh consistently. David Walton and Minnie Driver were exceptional in it, and Benjamin Stockham was such a delight to watch. About A Boy also had a fantastic supporting cast that was brought to the forefront often, but never so much that it overwhelmed the series.

I loved About A Boy and, as I said, though the series is unofficially cancelled, perhaps I'll be surprised and see it stick around for another year. But if not, this NBC sitcom is the perfect example of a show that was cancelled before its time.

7. Happy Endings (ABC, 2011-2013)

Okay, Imma let you finish, but Happy Endings was one of the most unjustly cancelled television sitcoms of all time and if you disagree, you're just wrong. This is the kind of series that could have easily lasted four more years (and a movie... wait, wrong show...) and I would have been content to watch every episode and then watch four seasons more. What always impressed be about Happy Endings was just how consistently funny it was and how each of the characters on the show had their own brand of comedy and set of quirks. The series always allowed each actor to play to his or her strengths, knowing that Eliza Coupe was always best utilized when she delivered dry, matter-of-fact dialogue and that Casey Wilson and Elisha Cuthbert shone whenever they had the chance to be over-the-top and zany. It's a series that focused on every single kind of relationship, but always managed to remain true to the characters within those relationships. It was an ensemble-centric series, with each cast member pulling equal weight. Honestly, there's no weak cast member in Happy Endings -- the ladies, as I noted above, are fantastic but Damon Wayans Jr., Adam Pally, and Zachary Knighton were fantastic.

Happy Endings was the kind of series that you watched knowing that you were watching something zany, crazy, incredibly smart, and also poignant. It's an incredibly memorable and quotable show, but it's also a series that wasn't afraid to make its viewers feel emotional either. And really, what it did, time and time again was remind us that all six individuals were real, unique characters who had their own problems and their own achievements and their own minds. I love series like this -- series where you know, for a fact, that each character is their own person and that a joke delivered by Damon would not be funny if it came from Adam. Shows like this are shows where the writers know their characters intimately. Shows like this should thrive on television and should be appreciated for the gems that they are. Unfortunately, Happy Endings was cancelled before it had the chance to continue to be "amahzing," and for that, I am extremely sad. For that, the ABC show makes my list.

6.  Selfie (ABC, 2014)

ABC had a habit over the past few years of picking up really, really good shows with terrible names (black-ish, Selfie, Trophy Wife, Cougar Town, etc.) and Selfie is -- as you might be able to tell -- no exception. This series, starring John Cho and Karen Gillan, was a modern adaptation of Pygmalion and it was absolutely charming. It, like most new shows, took an episode or two to really find its footing, but when it did, the show proved to us that romantic comedies on television weren't dead. (Of course, then ABC had to go and cancel the show and render that last sentence moot.)

What made Selfie such a gem and such a tragically cancelled show was that it ended just as we were becoming fully emotionally invested in the relationship between Henry and Eliza. I mourned the end of this sitcom because I kept thinking: "But I want to see MORE. I want to know MORE." When a television show ends and you feel a sense of loss and lack of fulfillment or closure, that's the worst kind of ending. I loved how quirky and quippy was. I loved the use of social media and graphics. I thought Karen Gillan did an outstanding job of taking a character who -- on paper -- could be abrasive and one-dimensional and turning her into a sympathetic, layered character. I thought John Cho displayed fantastic range in this series as he seamlessly transitioned between the stoicism of Henry and the vulnerability and emotion of him and his actions. I thought the supporting cast was fantastic and one of the funniest on television. I thought the voiceovers were handled well and I think that the writing was great. The romance was developed at a decent pace for a show that expected to only last one season but always hoped for more.

Honestly, when Selfie ended, I was disappointed because I knew that the show should have and could have lasted a few more years. I knew that we deserved to see Henry and Eliza develop their relationship. Tragic, I tell you. Tragic.

5. Go On (NBC, 2012-2013)

When Go On debuted, critics immediately compared it to Community and with decent reason -- the show starring Matthew Perry was about a man whose wife died and was forced to participate in a support group (led by the fantastic Laura Benanti) of lovable misfits who were all dealing with the losses of those they loved. The show was an ensemble led by Perry whose dry wit and sarcasm carried a lot of the pilot but whose emotional depth and heart aided this show in the few episodes it had for the first season. What really struck me about Go On was the fact that it was a series seemingly focused on loss but actually took the audience through a journey of growth -- watching each character learn how to love and accept and communicate with one another about their grief was so touching and allowed for these journeys to become personal to each of us, even if we couldn't necessarily relate completely. The supporting cast was fantastic (John Cho! Allison Miller! Julie White!) and every character in the support group was unique. There were no real stereotypes in that group, no cliches or stock characters. Everyone was allowed ample time to grow and change over the course of one season.

What made this series such a tragic cancellation was the fact that we could have had dozens more stories about the support group and I would have been content. I wanted to watch Ryan and Carrie's relationship evolve. I wanted to see much more of Yolanda and Fausta (by the way, this show had a really wonderful diverse cast, too. It was lovely.) and Mr. K. I wanted to get more stories with Ryan and Anne. (Seriously, their stories were SO COMPELLING AND GOOD). I could have watched an entire episode with Lauren talking about her love of pizza, you guys. Go On was an unassuming show, much like Community, and I desperately wish it had been given the chance to grow. I really and truly do.

4. Ben and Kate (FOX, 2012-2013)

I'll never forgive FOX for cancelling Ben and Kate and thus forcing Dakota Johnson into accepting a role in 50 Shades of Grey. I just won't. When you talk about "unjust TV cancellations," this is the show that should almost immediately come to mind. A quirky, sweet, heartwarming series about a screwed-up brother and his responsible single mother sister (plus their wacky best friends)? What more do you need to know in order to love it? Honestly, if a television series' pilot is so good that it makes me cry AND laugh AND also makes me want to immediately re-watch it, I know I've found a gem. And that's what Ben and Kate was. Starring the aforementioned Dakota Johnson and the hilarious and wonderful Nat Faxon, this FOX comedy was all about what it means to be a grown-up but not really grown up. It was a series that focused a lot on the relationship between siblings Ben and Kate and the fact that even though Kate was constantly the responsible one growing up and the one who presumably needed to take care of everyone, Ben actually needed to take care of Kate, too.

Lucy Punch and Echo Kellum rounded out the cast as Kate and Ben's best friends, respectively, and were hilarious. Like... hilarious. And let's not forget the absolutely precious, sweet Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Maddie Fox. What made Ben and Kate's cancellation so unfair was that this was a series where we just started to get to know the characters and were then torn away from their world. I wanted to get the chance to watch Maddie Fox grow up. I wanted to see Ben and Kate's relationship continue to grow closer as brother and sister. I wanted to watch everyone on this show continue to be wacky, fun, and share heartwarming moments with each other. I wanted so much more of this show, which makes the cancellation of this series so entirely unfair.

3. The Crazy Ones (CBS, 2013-2014)

There are only two other people I am friends with on Twitter who watched The Crazy Ones each week with me, which probably indicates to you exactly why this series was cancelled by CBS. But it shouldn't have been cancelled, honestly, because it was the kind of zany, heartwarming, unconventional show that television desperately needed. An ensemble series staring the late Robin Williams (I'm still really and truly broken up about his passing) and Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Crazy Ones was a series that primarily focused on a polar opposite father and daughter duo who worked in the advertising agency. The show paralleled the world of advertising and was incredibly fast-paced, witty, and energetic. But the show really had the opportunity to shine when it slowed down long enough to marinate in the characters and their individual personalities. Being an ensemble series, The Crazy Ones also excelled when it allowed James Wolk, Hamish Linklater, and Amanda Setton to shine. I can't overstate the fact that this show was exceptional. It was crazy (duh) and wild and random but it was also a show that allowed real, genuine, emotional and EARNED (that part is key) moments to occur between its characters.

(Plus my love of the show caused Sarah Michelle Gellar to tweet James Wolk an article I wrote about it. SO.)

Robin Williams was absolutely stellar in this role, not just comedically, but emotionally. Some of the most powerful performances in television comedies, to be quite frank, are those that occur in shows frequented by zany, outlandish stories. These moments are powerful because they surprise us and startle us in the best way, yet make sense. The emotional moments in "Dead and Improved" and "Hugging the Now" are what elevated The Crazy Ones from a good show to a great show. The ensemble shone. The individual performances shone. The comedy was quick and hilarious and the season had a fairly clear arc that culminated in each of the characters growing. This series was exceptional and deserved to have more than one season (if only to know whether or not Sydney and Andrew would start a relationship). Seriously, this comedy was cancelled way too quickly and its existence on television proved that it was something special and could have been something even more so.

2. Pushing Daisies (ABC, 2007-2009)

If you look up the term "tragically cancelled" in the dictionary, you can be certain that there will be a photograph of Pushing Daisies beside it. What can I say about this series that hasn't already been said? It was an absolute gem -- a beautiful (seriously, this series was absolutely gorgeous in terms of color and scenery), touching, hilariously quippy, genuinely delightful, narrated comedy. The characters were amazing and so nuanced. Ned and Chuck's love story is one of the best, most profound on television. Olive Snook was an absolute gem and Emerson Codd had dry, nearly impossible to match bite and wit. It was a series that was often very "case-of-the-week" without FEELING serialized. Pushing Daisies is so beloved because it felt like a journey -- one you desperately wanted to travel with the characters. It was entirely original. It was profound. It was funny. It felt like a movie unfolding week after week. It was sweet and delightful.

And then it was cancelled without the chance to really and properly wrap up its stories. We could have spent years more with these characters, watching them solve cases, watching them learn more about each other, watching their friendships emerge and secrets unravel. I wanted that. And I know that a lot of others did as well. Pushing Daisies became such an important show for so many people because it was captivating in all of the ways that a comedy should be captivating. It was sweet without being overly indulgent. It was witty without being absurdly unbelievable. It was genuine, even though its premise was absurd. Striking the right balance between humor and heart is difficult, but striking the right balance between realism and the fantastical is even more difficult. Luckily this series had Bryan Fuller at its helm, which meant that it was spectacularly and intricately balanced.

Pushing Daisies is a comedy whose cancellation felt unjust. It felt undeserved. A series so exceptional deserved to go out with a long stretch of episodes behind it and a series of fireworks ahead of it. Sadly, this enjoyable ABC series just didn't have that opportunity.

1. Enlisted (FOX, 2014)

I wish that I could find a fault with Enlisted that would explain why it was tragically cancelled, but alas, I cannot, apart from the night and time in which FOX chose to air this short-lived series. When you have thirteen episodes in a season, you need to make them count. You need to ensure that every minute of your episode serves a purpose and furthers a character or an arc. You want to make certain that your jokes have meaning and that your stories have purpose. And in spite of the fact that FOX aired the majority of this series out of order, Enlisted was consistently exceptional in all of these areas. A military series that focused primarily on brothers played by Geoff Stults, Parker Young, and Chris Lowell, Enlisted wasn't just about the military. It was deeper than that. It was a show that was bursting with genuine heart and humor. It was a show rooted in love and acceptance and protection. It was a show that touched on sensitive issues with genuine compassion. It was a show that featured Keith David sporting a wooden leg. In the hands of other showrunners, Enlisted would have been a disaster -- a show that offended or mocked rather than celebrated.

But because the show had such talented, compassionate, showrunners who were always focused on story and plot and character arcs above everything else, this FOX sitcom was one that excelled in every area. The series finale still makes me bawl like an absolute baby. Enlisted tackled PTSD without being disingenuous or cliched or offensive. It tactfully discussed the disorder and it made sure that every chance it had, it was a show that constantly focused on our need, as humans, for other people to support us. Enlisted worked because it was a show about more than just friends and more than just family and more than just platoons -- it was a show about camaraderie and genuine support. It was a series that made us laugh with its antics and cry with its heart. It is the kind of show that you wanted to watch because these characters were good, relatively normal people with quirks and habits that occasionally came into conflict with others. It was a show where a woman (Angelique Cabral's Jill Perez) was allowed to not only be in charge, but also a) strong and b) feminine while c) maintaining a sense of leadership and respect from not only her platoon, but also Pete. Jill was an amazing female character, as were Park and Robinson.

I honestly just don't think I can stress enough how fabulous this show was, how amazing and quick-witted the humor was, and how utterly moving the series was when it focused on the emotional connections between the characters.

Enlisted's cancellation is the most tragic to me in recent memory because its first year was so stellar that I thought it deserved to live, more than a lot of series that got picked up for second seasons deserved it. In some ways, I'm glad the series was never picked up (now it can avoid the inevitable "the show wasn't as good as it was in __ season" discussions), but in many more ways, I'm disappointed that this show will only ever have thirteen episodes. Tragedy struck when the powers that be cancelled this FOX gem and I won't be over it any time soon.

So there you have it, folks: ten of my most-lamented television comedy cancellations. What series made your list? Hit up the comments below and let me know your thoughts. Until then! :)


  1. totally agree about Happy Endings.

    I also loved Crazy Ones and Go On

    1. Thanks for the comment, anon! Wasn't Happy Endings just amazing? And I'm so so so mad about The Crazy Ones, still. It was such an underrated show especially because it was a single cam comedy airing on the network that usually houses multi-cam ones.

  2. I loved Go On. I just recently re-watched it, and I wish NBC hadn't cancelled it. It was excellent. And, I think, a much better role for Matthew Perry than The Odd Couple.

    1. Hi Jessica! Thanks for your comment. I totally agree about Go On -- I think the humor and the role really allowed Matthew Perry to excel in the kind of comedy that suits him, you know? He's really good with dry wit and sarcasm and that series provided that for him. Plus it was an ensemble and I loved seeing the dynamics of everyone else. (The Odd Couple is often unbearable for me to watch because I just don't find it that funny. Such a bummer.)

  3. I'm conflicted about this post. On the one hand I'm very grateful. Because I've lived overseas for the last decade or so I miss a lot of pilots and never hear of them til long after they are cancelled. So this post provided me with a list of things I missed from a trusted source I know has good taste :) I saw and loved Selfie, Pushing Daisies and About a Boy but many of the others were new to me.

    On the other hand, can I bear to seek these shows out and watch them knowing they will be too shortlived and possibly break my heart? (Seriously, what is with FOX taking rare and beautiful shows and showing them out of order and basically killing them? Argh!) I probably will though because wonderful stories are too rare.

    Thanks a lot Jen ;)

    1. Hahahahaha, hi there Becca! Selfie, Pushing Daisies, and About A Boy were such gems. But I love that a lot of these are new to you, too.

      Okay, trust me though: you need to watch Enlisted. Because even though it's one season, it ends on a really good note (even though there could have been so much more the show did). Make sure you watch all the episodes in the order they were intended (they aired them TOTALLY out of order on FOX). It'll make you laugh and cry, I promise.

      Also, you should definitely check out Happy Endings. It's got a New Girl vibe to it in terms of ensemble/shenanigans that they get into and Damon Wayans Jr. is HILARIOUS as Brad.

  4. These are really interesting to look at. i want to see more. please keep posted, so that i may see another!! PTSD