8 Genre Shows That Were Canceled Too Soon (That Aren't Firefly)
Gone But Not Forgotten
Whenever one mentions genre television shows that were canceled too soon, Joss Whedon’s 2002 one-season sci-fi wonder, Firefly, is bound to come up in the discussion. A show that’s become synonymous with small screen precociousness and corporate meddling, Firefly is a canceled-too-soon show that has been talked to death. There’s nothing wrong with loving Firefly, even if Joss Whedon’s own star has fallen a little in recent times, but today we’re going to look at eight shows other than our favorite space western that perhaps deserved a second shot on the small screen. These eight shows ranged from highly-publicized failures to little-known genre gems that never gained traction, but they all have one thing in common: I was sad to see them go. So here’s a list of eight genre shows that were canceled too soon (that aren’t Firefly). In addition, if any of the shows are available to stream, I will note the platform on which they’re available.
Awake (2012, NBC)
Apparently too high-concept for NBC’s viewership back in 2012, Awake was a quickly-canceled mystery show that was right up my alley. A hybrid police procedural/fantasy drama, Awake follows Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), an LAPD detective involved in a horrific car accident with his family. Afterwards, he finds that he alternately wakes up in different realities each day, one in which his son died in the accident, the other in which his wife died. Not knowing which reality is real, Britten starts utilizing his knowledge of both worlds to solve crimes. What could’ve been hokey and melodramatic was instead a smartly scripted genre television, accompanied by a gorgeous pilot directed by David Slade. Methodical and surreal, Awake was ahead of its time, running for only a single season before getting the axe.
Reaper (The CW, 2007-2009)
A pioneer for The CW network before it became The CW as we know now, Reaper, along with the two genre mainstays of Smallville and Supernatural, helped define the channel’s new lighter and teen-focused brand. But just because the show’s tone skewed younger, didn’t mean it wasn’t smart or fun. Reaper centers around slacker Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison), a college drop-out that discovers his parents sold his soul to The Devil (a smugly entertaining Ray Wise) before he was even born. When Satan comes to collect on his 21st birthday, Sam becomes his bounty hunter, hunting rogue demons and souls that have escaped from hell. Reaper’s unique stamp of screwball horror-comedy made it one of the most endearing shows of the late-aughts, even if it wasn’t super popular. Reaper is currently streaming on ABC Go for free.
Hannibal (NBC, 2013-2015)
Arguably the highest profile show on the list, and also quite possibly the best, Hannibal gives Firefly a run for its money in terms of cult status. Bryan Fuller’s twisted vision of FBI profiler Will Graham’s (Hugh Dancy) relationship with serial cannibal Hannibal Lecter (a revelatory Mads Mikkelsen) is a deeply disturbing yet gorgeous production. A show that easily could’ve diluted Thomas Harris’s characters in a derivative adaptation, Hannibal instead embraced the mythology with a supremely affecting aesthetic and morbidity. Always on the cancellation bubble, the series crafted a unique continuity out of Red Dragon and the Hannibal novel. Creator Bryan Fuller was in the midst of securing the rights for Silence of the Lambs before the show’s unfortunate cancellation. All three seasons of Hannibal are streaming on Amazon Prime.
Caprica (Syfy, 2010-2011)
A spin-off prequel to the immensely popular reimagining of Battlestar Galactica, Caprica was an odd beast that failed to resonate with its audience. A lot was stacked against the show, with strange scheduling and a slow-burn pacing; TV critic Alan Sepinwall perhaps said it best when it came to the fledgling prequel’s inability to catch on: “Sci-fi fans don’t necessarily want to watch soap opera. Soap opera fans don’t necessarily want to watch sci-fi.” Caprica had many faults in its short lifespan, but it was bold, ambitious, and occasionally transcendent science fiction. Unfortunately, by the time its superior second season rolled around, it was too late. I’ve always had a soft spot for Caprica, and its one show I’ll always pop back in every once in a while. You can stream Caprica for free with ads on IMDb’s new platform, Freedive.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox, 2008-2009)
I wrote extensively about this show in an earlier article last year, extolling the virtues of the short-lived series. Capturing the magic of the James Cameron films more than their later sequels ever did, The Sarah Connor Chronicles is grim and gritty sci-fi done right, with twists as dark as they were natural and surprising. Personally, my internal Terminator canon catalogs only the Cameron films and The Sarah Connor Chronicles, while disregarding all of the other lazy sequels. The show stars Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) as Sarah Connor, Thomas Dekker as John Connor, and Summer Glau of Firefly fame as their new mechanical protector. You can stream The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Sony Crackle for free.
Journeyman (NBC, 2007)
A run-of-the-mill time travel show from the mid-2000s that stood out by the graces of its charming cast, Journeyman was breezy fun. A cross between Quantum Leap and The Time Traveler’s Wife, the show was anchored by Kevin McKidd’s (Rome, Grey’s Anatomy) everyman charisma. Journeyman centers around journalist Dan Vasser, whose life is upended when he inexplicably starts jumping back in time. His unpredictable “ability” throws his normal life into chaos, and he soon discovers that each jump follows the life of a person whose destiny he must change. Look past its hokey Touched by an Angel vibes, and Journeyman becomes an eminently watchable show with an engrossing sci-fi story. Unfortunately, the show only lasted one season, a casualty of low ratings and the writer’s strike of 2007.
Profit (Fox, 1996)
Walter White, Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Vic Mackey…Jim Profit? Way back in the 1990s, before the era when “difficult men” dominated peak television, another anti-hero attempted to bring his brand of conniving charm to the small screen. In 1996’s critically acclaimed but criminally underseen Profit, protagonist Jim Profit was way ahead of his time when it came to nasty and scheming main characters you love to hate; so ahead of his time that the show was canceled after only three episodes - the show’s controversial content was apparently too edgy for the American public. The first show of its kind where its principal wasn’t above bribery, blackmail, extortion, or worse to gain an upper hand, Profit is nowadays seen as the spiritual predecessor to the great prestige dramas of the 2000s.
Wonderfalls (Fox, 2004)
Offbeat and quirky, Wonderfalls is the second show by Bryan Fuller on this list. A far cry from the macabre beauty of Hannibal, Wonderfalls follows lovable grump Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas), a recent Brown graduate stuck in a dead-end job at a Niagara Falls gift shop. Things take a weird turn when inanimate animals start talking to her, instructing her to do things that only she can hear. Starting from its pilot episode “Wax Lion,” Wonderfalls is an instantly lived-in world with a whole cast of memorable characters, an ensemble that drives forward a humorously engaging story with plenty of emotional character beats to go around. Unfortunately, even after some time slot shuffling, the show failed to gain any traction and was canceled after only four episodes.