Hey, what about the less fortunate series, the ones that no one swooped in to save? Here we pay our respects to the finest shows that left us too soon.
CARNIVALE (2003 – 2005) When we cast our eyes back to those early days, when HBO boxsets were still a new phenomenon and TV was something A-listers did before they were famous, we often dwell on the hits. But for every The Sopranos or Sex And The City, there’s a Carnivale, a show that never really got its moment in the sun. This depression-era gothic mystery stars Nick Stahl as Ben Hawkins, a drifter picked up by a travelling freak show. Ben has strange powers and visions of the apocalypse and an evil preacher. That same preacher (Clancy Brown) is incredibly real and has visions of the same apocalypse and of Ben, placing the two on a collision course. Alas, we never got that far as the show was cancelled just two seasons into its six-season arc. Creator Daniel Knauf had an incredibly ambitious narrative planned for the next four seasons, making it all the more disappointing that HBO got cold feet and pulled the plug.
TERRIERS (2010) Donal Logue is one of those terrific character actors that has never got the plaudits or the spotlight that he deserves. He’s been in quite a few successful shows (Sons Of Anarchy, Rescue Me, Vikings) but Terriers was his turn to play the starring role and he grabbed it with both hands. Unfortunately, one of Terriers’ greatest strengths turned out to be a major part of its downfall: it was impossible to define. Part buddy-cop comedy, part neo-noir detective series, part gritty drama about the friendship between an alcoholic ex-cop and an ex-con, Terriers might have been a success if it had landed five or six years later. Instead, it lasted just one season and vanished, ending up as the biggest failure FX has had to date. It deserved, much, much better.
DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006) I’ve already written extensively on my love for Deadwood (here), but what I omitted to mention is that it unwittingly played a part in Carnivale’s downfall. HBO axed the latter, claiming it was too similar in tone to Deadwood, which was the better-watched show at the time, only for Deadwood itself to feel the icy hand of death when the network balked at its sizeable production costs. The compromise was two made-for-TV movies to wrap up David Milch’s Shakespearean western, only for neither to materialise. Then word got around a couple of years ago that a single film was in the works, only for Timothy Olyphant to recently claim that he sees even that tiny glimmer of hope as unrealistic. As Al Swearengen might say, “F***ing f***.”
PARTY DOWN (2009 – 2010) Workplace comedies have been all the rage ever since Ricky Gervais hit paydirt with The Office way back when. Since then, we’ve had local government (Parks and Recreation), big government (The Thick Of It, Veep), police stations (Brooklyn 99), spy agencies (Archer) and the afterlife (The Good Place), to name but a few. A lesser known, but beloved addition to that list is Party Down, a small but perfectly formed comedy about a team of events caterers who all aspire to be something else (mainly actors). The cast alone is enough to make you wonder how this wasn’t a bigger deal: Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Jane Lynch, Ken Marino, Martin Starr, Kristen Bell, Megan Mullally… the list goes on and on. Each episode takes place at a different event, the constants being the relationship between Scott and Caplan and the ongoing feud between Starr and Ryan Hansen. Unfortunately, more successful shows intervened and Party Down lost Jane Lynch to Glee before the first season had even ended, and Adam Scott departed for Parks and Recreation just before the axe fell. The promise of a movie has gone unfulfilled.
FREAKS AND GEEKS (1999 – 2000) I almost hesitate to add this to the list. The single season of Judd Apatow and Paul Feig’s high school comedy is so utterly perfect that it’s hard to wish for more. Some things are just better left as they are. Freaks and Geeks achieved legendary cult status after launching the careers of not only its creators but most of its luminous cast (James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Siegel, Linda Cardellini, Martin Starr) too. Setting it in 1980 lends it a curiously timeless feel, as if it’s a lost artefact that was only discovered two decades later. Those who love it treat it like a precious commodity; those who don’t probably haven’t seen it yet.
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