Television is a crazy medium, even moreso than film. It’s a medium where all the big TV studios can tout a new show as groundbreaking, edgy and any other buzzwords that they have in their wheelhouse at that time. Then, with a swift blade, they cut it down. And after that death, it languishes in a field of dead cult television. Why kill a great show? The short answer is … money. The longer answer is more complex and requires a series of Venn diagrams, and frankly I don’t have the budget for that. See, the funny thing is, ratings will kill a blossoming show. Period. It doesn’t matter if the biggest world renowned critic or your mother love it, if people aren’t watching then no one should. The sad thing is, so many good shows burn out and fade away because the show is too high-concept or edgy. So, yes it’s the concept of ourobouros. The studios want to show you that they’re young and hip … until it isn’t bringing in the money. Now, I will say in defense of the studios that they will give some languishing shows a chance. Look at Fringe or Chuck, even Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a show rescued from perilous death only to be resuscitated on another network). They aren’t all bad, but really, they are.
So, let’s take a look a handful of shows that died young but left a very lasting mark on myself, and I’ll even let you know where you can find these gems.
Terriers premiered on FX in 2010 and instantly became I show I could watch. It was a scruffy underdog story about two private eyes working in California and the strange cases that they found themselves involved. It starred Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, both weathered TV veterans. They gelled together so well as friends on the show, it felt like they were friends, no, brothers. You could get a beer with after watching the show, you know? The series was created by Ted Griffin and along the way assisted by Shawn Ryan, who created The Shield (the gold standard for cop drama, by the way). The problems were instantaneous from the get-go. The show is a densely serialized story even from the first episode. It drags you in the undertow with it, but if you missed an episode, you were out of luck. Plus, the title was not a great indicator for people coming in without pre-existing knowledge. Is it a show about dog catchers? Talking dogs? Those who watched the show actually knew that it was about our boys, scrappy dudes looking to make a buck. Man, the pilot episode is packed with characterization so dense; it’ll blow out of the screen. Sadly, it only ran for thirteen episodes and ends on a cliffhanger, albeit a perfect one. And God help you, that theme song is catchy. And Terriers is one of the most watched shows on Netflix. It may have an Arrested Development style resurrection if we’re lucky. I hope so.
Availability: Netflix Instant. No DVD to speak of, but Shawn Ryan is always eager to speak on it at his Twitter page.
Bryan Fuller to me, at least, has become a sort of underappreciated Joss Whedon type. He creates shows and they shine bright and then blot out quickly. He created “Dead Like Me” and “Wonderfalls,” and they were knocked out pretty quickly. His quirk is perhaps too quirky. I painted myself into a corner on that one. But Pushing Daisies won me over from day one. Oh, that soaring music and pastel colors and Barry Sonnenfeld direction. I say it’s more Burton-esque than Burton. Dear God, the first episode is called ‘Pie-lette.’ Oh, the whimsy hurts my heart. In short, it’s the story of Ned, a man who runs his own pie shop called, “The Pie Hole.” Ned can touch dead people and bring them to life. Another touch and they get dead. Permanently. He uses this trait to bring back murder victims and presto. It’s a life. I really don’t want to spoil anymore because frankly, I’ll let you fall in love with it the way I did. Unfortunately, while it did get a season two, it suffered from a crippled season one due to the writer’s strike and constant shuffling around on ABC’s schedule. It was canceled but it did have a somewhat satisfactory ending. Elsewhere, Fuller at Comic-Con 2012 hinted that they would resurrect (pun intended) Pushing Daisies for Broadway. Once you see the show, you’ll see why that is perfect.
Availability: DVD and Blu-Ray.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Man, I love Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It is an immortal classic and a clear indicator that Cameron was going to be a mega presence in the future. And this series followed up the chronology of the film, and handled it rather well. It was on FOX, who have been trying to redeem themselves after the straight up catastrophe of Firefly. I mean, wow, they mishandled that show. T:SCC could’ve been a really big misstep. It could’ve faltered, and yet it didn’t. I enjoyed every single second of that show. It was a great mix of science fiction and programming grounded in reality. I liked Lena Headey replacing Sarah Connor. Was she as tough as Linda Hamilton? No. But she pulled it off, I thought. And yes, John Connor is portrayed as the regular whiny brat archetype that bogs down most television shows, but they made an effort to course correct and fixed him nicely. It ran for a truncated first season and a full twenty-two episode second season. It ends abruptly, but fits right in line with the events of Terminator: Salvation. So, there’s that.
Availability: Blu-Ray and DVD.
Now, I didn’t pick shows that were outrageous cult gems. I just chose these few because frankly, they’re perfect. Hope you enjoy.