2022 has come and gone and with it, Netflix has canceled yet more shows before they truly had a chance to shine. Fans of shows like mystery sci-fi 1899, and Warrior Nun, a fantasy show about a demon-hunting nun, ended the year with the knowledge that the shows wouldn’t be able to conclude their story. Some never even get a chance to get off the ground before they get the axe.
While the abrupt cancellation of shows seems to have become in vogue in the streaming era it’s not a new thing. A great many shows have been canceled before their time. Some had such fervent fanbases that they were revived and some were simply put out to pasture to be left to history. Here are ten shows that were canceled too soon in no particular order. On TV no more but forever in our hearts.
1. My Name is Earl (2005 – 2009)
Running for four seasons My Name Is Earl followed simple-minded small-time crook Earl Hickey as he tried to make up for every bad thing he had ever done after becoming a believer in karma. He’s helped by his dimwit brother Randy, their friends Catalina and Darnell, and his ex-wife Joy.
Led by Jason Lee the cast, including Ethan Suplee, Jaime Pressly, and a list of memorable guest stars like Norm MacDonald as people Earl had wronged, My Name Is Earl featured an eclectic group of lovable losers. The fictional rural town of Camden had a population full of wacky idiots that never made Earl’s quest easy – but sure made it great to watch.
What elevated it above just idiot redneck material was its heart. Earl was self-aware enough about his idiocy to make him likable and sincere in his desire to do better. While much of the humor came from the ridiculousness of the people he met and the things he had to do, it was never cynical. Alas, it was canceled after the fourth season and to make it worse ended on a cliffhanger that will now never be resolved. Though there is some solace in the fact that showrunner Greg Garcia has since revealed how the show would have ended.
2. Arrested Development (2003 – 2006)
Following Michael Bluth’s attempt to keep his family business afloat and his family in line Arrested Development is essentially Succession if everyone in Succession was a bumbling idiot. While it was revived seven years later by Netflix, the revival never lived up to the original run, making it all the more disappointing that it only lasted three seasons.
Simultaneously one of the smartest and dumbest comedies of all time, Arrested Development’s greatest strength was just how many jokes were packed into every scene. This is a show that had set-ups for jokes which got paid off episodes later. Every actor is in top form and makes every second of their screen time worth it. Every character is ridiculous in the most outrageous and yet strangely plausible way.
It’s all anchored around what may be the greatest comedy straight-man performance since Bob Newhart in his self-titled sitcoms. So many moments and so many jokes are elevated by Jason Bateman’s reactions. Michael looking disapproving and annoyed but not surprised by the shenanigans happening around him made it all that much funnier. Ranging from flabbergasted to disgusted, the way he puts up with the circus that is his family is a sight to behold.
3. Firefly (2002 – 2003)
Now regarded as one of the best sci-fi shows of all time, Firefly was a space western that followed a group of smugglers led by Nathan Fillion’s charming Captain Reynolds. It was canceled after just one season but luckily developed such a fan following that its story was able to be concluded with the 2006 film Serenity.
While it was extremely short-lived, the show featured a likable cast of characters featuring actors who have since gone on to bigger things like Morena Baccarin and the always fantastic Alan Tudyk. What made the show so beloved was not just the adventures but the relationships of the main characters. Bolstered by the sharp dialogue and humor that made creator Joss Whedon’s previous series Buffy the Vampire Slayer such a big hit it’s no wonder Firefly developed such a large fanbase. If only people discovered it sooner.
4. Santa Clarita Diet (2017 – 2019)
Santa Clarita Diet was an oddball show and I mean that in the best way. Starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as married real estate agents whose lives are turned upside down when she becomes a zombie thanks to a Serbian curse. While she never becomes an actual undead, she develops an insatiable appetite for human flesh. It’s up to them to keep her fed, keep her secret, find a cure, and keep their family together.
The humor was as zany and over the top as the premise and it’s bolstered by two terrifically funny lead performances. Particularly Olyphant who shines as a man getting increasingly stressed out by his situation.
With a comedic amount of blood and gore, a decapitated Nathan Fillion, and legitimately interesting lore behind the zombie infection Santa Clarita Diet was an absolute treat for fans of horror comedy. Sadly after three seasons, Netflix canceled it before it could achieve a satisfying conclusion.
5. Freaks and Geeks (1999 – 2000)
With a cast of future superstars including Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and Linda Cardellini, Freaks and Geeks followed the lives of outcast teenagers in the 1980s. Offering both humor, drama, and heart, the show was a sincere look at the growing pains of adolescence.
Sadly canceled during its first season, the show has since developed a large fan following. With relatable characters and situations, it’s easy to see why the show eventually caught on. While always maintaining its good-natured humor, the show never shied away from the more dramatic aspects of high school life like Lindsay realizing she’s outgrown her friends or Ken learning to accept his girlfriend’s ambiguous gender.
Bolstered by performances that make it easy to see why its main cast became stars, it’s hard not to see yourself in them regardless of what decade you grew up in or what social circle you were part of.
6. The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (1993 – 1994)
Following, well, the adventures of Brisco County Jr. a lawyer turned bounty hunter as he attempts to catch the outlaw who killed his father. Taking place in 1893, the show was a sci-fi western comedy starring B-movie legend Bruce Campbell as the titular cowboy.
With fun action, good humor, and its sci-fi slant differentiating it from the plethora of western shows from throughout history, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. had all the makings of a success. It’s truly a shame that it never achieved that success.
Bruce Campbell led the show with aplomb, bringing loads of charisma and the sense of humor that helped make Ash Williams an icon. Brisco County Jr. was a quintessential adventure hero, dashing, skilled, charismatic and he knew it. Campbell embodied Brisco with a quick wit and a wry smile that was impossible not to love. It was his best role until Burn Notice in 2007.
In another universe, Brisco County found ratings success and had a long healthy run. It was a fun adventure show that dared to do something different with the western genre. Alas, it will have to settle for being a cult classic.
7. GLOW (2017 – 2019)
GLOW was about the lives of fictional female professional wrestlers in the 80s working for the real all-female promotion Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Glow was both a great character piece and a wonderful depiction of pro wrestling.
The show could have easily devolved into a parody of pro wrestling and the people involved, but the writing and talented cast led by Alison Brie made this a show about real people with real problems. Although there is humor to go along with the character drama, after all, it is pro wrestling. GLOW offers an earnest look at the lives of pro wrestlers in a way most mainstream movies and shows do not.
Pro wrestling is an easy target to portray as over the top and ridiculous – because it is – but GLOW looked past that. While the actual characters were fictional, the show gave viewers a sincere look at an important part of wrestling history.
Sadly the show was canceled during the pandemic, ending the show at three seasons and leaving the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling without a proper conclusion to their story.
8. Party Down (2009 – 2010)
Following the lives of a group of caterers hoping to make it in Hollywood, Party Down sees a group of likable losers trying to achieve their dreams while dealing with the absurdness of the events they cater.
Party Down not only offered a humorous look at a world not explored on television in the world of catering but it gave us a group of characters that were easy to root for. After all, for any of their follies, they were people just trying to succeed and we can all relate to that.
Led by the always affable Adam Scott and featuring comedic talents like Jane Lynch, Party Down featured a mix of smart dry-wit and absurd situations. As with many shows on this list, it was a hit with critics but didn’t find an audience until after it was canceled. Although losing Jane Lynch to Glee and Adam Scott to Parks and Recreation certainly didn’t help the show’s chances. Luckily for fans who want to know whether these people can achieve their dreams, the show has been revived for a third season premiering in February.
9. Deadwood (2004 – 2006)
Made during HBO’s golden age, Deadwood is the forgotten classic of that era. A western starring Ian McShane and a young Timothy Olyphant, the show is about the real residents of Deadwood, South Dakota in the 1870s.
Providing a rich look at the American Frontier that was more interested in the actual people involved rather than staples of the genre like flashy shootouts. The show was critically acclaimed for its writing and performances.
Deadwood was about much more than outlaws and sheriffs. It was a show about change and community. While it certainly had its share of showdowns and killings, they were always in service of the complex character relationships and the good of the town over anything else.
It eschewed many of the tropes and cliches of the western and earned its status as one of the all-time greats. While it was canceled after three seasons and failed to reach a satisfying conclusion it luckily was able to end its story with a television movie for HBO in 2019.
10. Stumptown (2019 – 2020)
Casting Cobie Smoulders as a sharp-witted P.I. and Jake Johnson as her best friend should be a recipe for success and it was. Stumptown was a fun case-of-the-week style show that was bolstered by its likable leads and character moments.
It was a simple show but sometimes simple works. The cases themselves weren’t breaking any new ground but it’s all in the execution. Stumptown is filled with well-worn tropes like the P.I. with a troubled past and cases you’ve seen in countless crime shows but it executed them in a fun way that was immensely helped by Cobie and Johnson.
Carrying a decent wit and thoughtful looks at mental health and queer relationships, Stumptown’s familiar elements are elevated by an engaging and complex main character. Detective shows like this live or die on the strength of their detective, and Dex Parios was a P.I. worth watching.
This one actually had decent ratings and was renewed for a second season. But unfortunately, the pandemic halted production and it was ultimately canceled.
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