This feature contains spoilers.
The graveyard of TV greats is riddled with shows cancelled in their infancy, and some terminations are so tragic that the few who tuned in can find it hard to let go. The Nine Lives of Chloe King, which premiered on ABC Family in summer 2011, and was cancelled after just 10-episodes, is one such tragedy, and remains one of the bigger mistakes of an unsupportive network since Firefly.
Based loosely on a series of books by Liz Braswell, the series took the ideas and ran away with them. Maybe the Buffy comparisons didn’t help, or people were reluctant to tune into such a teen-centric network, but Chloe King was a little gem that deserved at least of couple of seasons, but was instead cut down in its formative stages.
If you think the name sounds silly, then that’s a good indicator of how you’d feel looking over the premise. Chloe (Skyler Samuels) is a crucial member of the ancient cat race, Mai. When she turns 16, she starts developing powers of strength, agility and empathy, and is soon targeted by age-old rivals out to eliminate her. Of course, as the star of the show, Chloe is the most special of all the Mai, the Uniter, and must be protected by Alek (Benjamin Stone) and Jasmine (Alyssa Diaz), two older members of the race raised with full knowledge of their identity. She has two faithful sidekicks, Amy (Grace Phipps) and Paul (Ki Hong Lee), and an in-the-dark human mother, Meredith (Amy Pietz).
Starting with Chloe, Skyler Samuels was Chloe King’s secret weapon. Equal parts beautiful and dorky (but not in that annoying ‘adorkable’ way); vulnerable and strong, her portrayal of Chloe anchored the series in a reality that’s rarely found with ABC Family’s conveyor belt of perfection, and helped the series develop past its ‘high school girl gets powers’ premise. Scenes with her mother, with her friends, with her mentors, or with dashing love interest Brian (Grey Damon) were all made stronger and emotionally resonate more because of the choices Samuels made with her performance, and just imagining the show with a different star, it’s unlikely it’d still be talked about.
But it did borrow liberally from past shows, even if you see this as necessary and helpful for the genre’s development. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the most obvious example, of course, with a little blonde teen discovering genetic powers that put her in danger and curse her with mythical responsibility, all during that tricky puberty age. Paul and Amy also occupy the Xander and Willow space in the formula, with the former coming across as particularly similar (Amy is more comparable to Cordelia), and Chloe’s single mother, like Joyce Summers, is clueless about what her pride and joy gets up to at night. It’s also pretty similar to I Am Number 4, released in the same year.
But it’s the series’ ability to have fun with its premise that ties it most with Buffy, and the fight scenes (complete with witty puns) have a nostalgic familiarity about them. That might even have been the shows Achilles heel, as it was so old-fashioned that the target audience of its host network might not have taken to it quite as readily as they did Pretty Little Liars or The Lying Game (which was renewed over Chloe King in the end). It’s useful to think of where Teen Wolf went right as, premiering at the same time on a similarly youth-orientated channel, it’s still going strong today. Instead of trading in current trends, notably Twilight, Chloe King went back to the 90s for inspiration, and failed to court a big enough audience to warrant renewal.
But once potential fans had gotten past the daft name and prospect of cat-people running around San Francisco, there was a lot to love. The obligatory love triangle, for example, has depth and emotional power driving it forwards, with a real, dire reason that the central couple can’t be together. In the pilot, Chloe meets Brian, a handsome college student immediately infatuated with her. Soon afterwards, she’s told that a Mai kiss is fatal to humans, proven by the dead body of her first drunken nightclub snog, and thus she can never truly be with him. With another reference to established genre characters, this ties Chloe with X-Men’s Rogue.
But, because he’s so dreamy, she strings him along with the ‘friend’ tag, and starts to develop feelings for Alek, the bad boy corner of the triangle. Both are viable candidates for her affection, and both are likeable, meaning that the audience is just as torn as Chloe. This is achieved within ten forty-minute episodes, a ridiculous feat when we consider how long it took Elena to choose between Damon and Stefan. The cast are universally excellent, and every single member has chemistry with each other. Chloe, Paul and Amy seem like they’ve been friends for years, Chloe and Meredith carry a Gilmore Girls-style of affectionate banter, and Chloe, Brian and Alek make a supremely attractive triangle, if we really must have one.
And all of this brought us to the season, and series, finale. It’s a master class in leaving the audience wanting more, and a brave decision in the face of imminent cancellation, but the writers on Chloe King decided to place almost all of the major players in mortal danger before fading out forever. Just in case you haven’t yet seen the episode, and you should, I won’t spoil anything directly, but it would be an excessive bloodbath had it been on any network, and is more than admirable for an apparently family friendly channel. With a year having gone by since the series aired, most fans have come to terms with never finding out what happens to Brian, Meredith, Jasmine etc, but it still stings a little bit even now.
The Nine Lives of Chloe King never aired in the UK and it’s currently, appallingly, unavailable on DVD, so fans have been given little hope for more to come. A film version has been talked about as recently as January 2012, but it’s doubtful anything will come to fruition on that front either.
The show remains a shining gem in recent teen-centric fantasy, with a new idea outside of predictable werewolf and vampire sub-genres failing to catch on in the way it deserved in a post-Buffy, post-Twilight world. Sadly, like a lot of shows cancelled within their first season, Chloe King made a permanent impression on those who ‘got’ it and its potential, and that’s something few long-running fantasy series can even claim.
See also: Cancelled too soon: Miracles.