By C.J. Bunce
Yesterday, Elizabeth C. Bunce began Part 1 of our list of the best TV series that started off great but were ended too soon by the networks. So far that list includes Life, The Riches, Tru Calling, Eleventh Hour, and The Dresden Files. What is the right number of episodes for a series, the right number of seasons? One of the best series of all time, the BBC’s Life on Mars, lasted only two seasons, but as with a lot of British series, and unlike a lot of U.S. series, we got a complete story, wrapped up with a solid conclusion. Veronica Mars lasted three seasons, but as much as we’d like to see more of Veronica, her dad, and her friend Mac, the series didn’t seem to have anywhere left to go, so it probably had the right amount of seasons for its story. I felt like the Dead Zone could have had more seasons but it actually had a full six seasons, but a lack of a clear ending means we never know what happens to the evil senator-turned president and Johnny’s fate–the goal the story was driving toward in the last seasons. And then there are series that started out as TV phenoms, but lost momentum from production theatrics, unresolved major plotlines, or writing that just couldn’t keep up with the initial successes. In this category we put Heroes, Everwood, and Twin Peaks, shows we adored, but ultimately they had their chance and just blew it. The following series, however, kept up their momentum to the bitter, but premature, end.
Wonderfalls (2004/Fox/14 episodes)
I missed Wonderfalls in its initial run and only learned of it when borg.com contributor Jason McClain loaned me the series several years ago. I don’t know how I missed it the first time around as it had a lot you want for a good series–good characters, unique story, fun circumstances and a great cast. Canadian actress Caroline Dhavernas plays Jaye Tyler, an unmotivated college graduate stuck in a dead end job working as a sales clerk under some dim-witted, high school manager-types in the gift shop at Niagara Falls. She is like a grown-up cynical, smart, feisty, but frustrated version of Daria from the Daria MTV series. Jaye is an underachiever, smothered by her well-meaning but overbearing brother, sister and parents. We get to see Jaye meet up with a love interest (who comes to Niagara Falls with his fiance) and hang out with her best friend in a local bar. And then souvenir animals in the gift shop start talking to her. Great fantasy, the animals, including a deformed make-it-yourself orange lion and a talking wall trout, among others, serve as muses to Jaye, giving her cryptic directives that she initially will not listen to. But they are persistent and the result is light-hearted, endearing, and funny.
Cupid (1998-1999/ABC/15 episodes)
Before Cupid we only really knew Jeremy Piven from a small role as an annoying friend of Emilio Estevez who gets shot by a young Denis Leary in Judgment Night, and as Spence Kovak, a character that migrated between TV shows like The Drew Carey Show and Grace Under Fire. His deadpan delivery that helped form his success today in Entourage was only brewing when he starred as Trevor Hale, a psychiatric patient who believes he is the one and only Cupid, sent down by Zeus from Mount Olympus to help 100 couples get together, but without his trademark bow, taken by the Gods as punishment for his wrongdoing. I remember watching the show eager to see how he would make his love connections over the course of the series. A premature thought since he only made it through a little over a dozen connections. Here we also got to know Paula Marshall (Spin City, Veronica Mars, House, M.D.) as his friendly but concerned psychologist. Was Trevor actually Cupid or just a guy in need of some medical help? We’ll never know, but we think he really was Cupid. A remake was tried, but it couldn’t come close to this series.
Journeyman (2007/Fox/13 episodes)
Not many science fiction series take place in the real world and Journeyman‘s genre bending and lack of a niche probably led to its short life. Journeyman appeared as a standard drama but with a great twist. Kevin McKidd plays journalist Dan Vasser in an updated Quantum Leap-type role. Vasser has a wife and a kid, and a nagging brother played by Reed Diamond. One day he steps into a taxi and finds he is transported to the past–like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim he is unstuck in time. We soon learn he can travel back and forth, and he is guided in his travels by the past version of his thought-to-be dead ex-girlfriend. An early version of the Burn Notice formula as well, Vasser tried to fix the past, learn from it and use it to make the world better, all the while struggling with the trials of everyday life. Journeyman was a fun ride each week, and then it just vanished. The bitter wife and brother seemed to detract from the story, and made us hope Vasser could stay in the past. With only Vasser as a likable guy, it was probably hard to keep viewers coming back despite the idea’s great potential.
The Flash (1990-1991/CBS/22 episodes)
It can’t be emphasized enough, the importance of good writing can make or break a show. But even with a comic book favorite writer like Howard Chaykin, The Flash couldn’t make it work. John Wesley Shipp, an ex-Guiding Light soap actor with the build for a superhero, to this day is the only actor in a series to successfully pull off the look of a comic book superhero (Lou Ferrigno’s The Incredible Hulk excepted). The production used lighting, unusual camera angles and quick motion photography to document the comic book look to the story of Barry Allen, a scientist trying to discover the truth behind his amazing power of speed. Every kid loved the show, it filled a niche that no other show filled at the time, and is still a fan favorite. We even got to see Mark Hamill as the Trickster, a post-Star Wars role, but early stage of Hamill in his later long career of voice-over work.
The Lost Room (2006/SciFi/3 episodes)
The Lost Room is a bit difficult to categorize, because it was intended as a mini-series, but the third episode left open the possibility of a full series, and what a great series this could have been. The Lost Room of the title is in a motel along Route 66, a room that has no place in the normal timeline. A mysterious “event” takes place in 1961 that causes all the Objects in the room at the time to take on powers of their own. Peter Krause plays detective Joe Miller, who loses his daughter in the room. Joe tries to find Objects to help him learn about the mystery of the room, and he encounters Kevin Pollak, a keeper of certain Objects. The SciFi channel crafted the show well, with the hapless star guiding the viewer through the various puzzling Object encounters. Peter Jacobson (House, M.D., Law and Order) is especially funny as the keeper of a ticket–tap someone with the ticket and they then appear falling from the sky to a highway in the middle of nowhere. There was so much that could be done with this series, you wonder why no one gave it more of a try.
Do you have any TV series you would include on this list? Share your favorite lost series–we love to check out new series we may have missed!