Some shows take their curtain calls and ascend to legendary status mere moments after arriving on the stage; series like Fawlty Towers, The Leftovers, The Office, all of which enjoyed lean and compact stints, and were capped by their makers before the atrophy that often accompanies small screen longevity could set in. Some shows roam and lumber, shedding viewers like rotting limbs and brittle digits, until a mixture of entropy and apathy leads them shambling to the grave. Others – lame-legged lambs, and abominations of nature alike – are taken out and shot, quickly and mercifully. Yes, The Mist, we’re talking about you. And some are taken far, far too soon; mowed down in their prime, without a chance for a proper ending. These are the shows whose cancellations are met with howls of anguish and disbelief, and quite possibly the frantic sacrifice of small forest animals in a bid to appease the mighty gods of television.
Let’s take a look at some of the fallen soldiers of 2018/19. We’ve excluded Netflix’s Marvel shows from my list, as they’ve been mourned and examined a million times over already, and naturally have excluded Lucifer, The Expanse, and Brooklyn Nine Nine, as thankfully their cancellation horror stories had happy endings. Read ’em and weep.
Hap & Leonard
Sundance’s Hap & Leonard seemed like a shoo-in to go the distance and tie things up on its own terms. Not only is it funny, gritty, punchy, and compelling, but it also boasts at its helm the barn-storming tag-team of James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams. Hap Collins (Purefoy) is an earnest yet easy-going sort of a guy; a drifing laborer who once did time for following his conscience and refusing to fight in Nam. Leonard Pine (Williams) is an embattled hot-head and ex-soldier; a Vietnam vet who now finds himself fighting a different kind of fight as a gay black man in 1980s Texas. The two men couldn’t be more different, but neither could they be better matched.
Hap and Leonard’s electric banter forms the crackling, cohesive engine at the show’s core. Their one-liners, Leonard’s especially, are a joy to behold. It’s not all laughs, though. Those two southern SOBs can make you cry just as easily. You can feel at every turn their regard for each other; their deep trust, friendship and love. They’re like bickering brothers, or lovers unencumbered by the messy necessity of sex. Together they roam and dodge through the divided Deep South of the 1980s, ruffling feathers here, unpicking mysteries there, and becoming embroiled in heists, shoot-outs, cover-ups and conspiracies along the way. In 2018, not long after the show wrapped up its third season, Sundance announced it had pulled the plug. Fans of Hap and Leonard’s bad-assery can now only get their fix of the pugnacious pair through Joe R. Lansdale’s successful book series, the characters’ original and ongoing form. That’s far from a punishment. They’re great books. It’s just an almost incomprehensible shame that there ain’t room in this crazy old, good-for-nothin’ world for both. Hap & Leonard is dead. Long live Hap and Leonard.
The Walking Dead has always tried to inject as much verisimilitude as possible into the bleak and ridiculous reality of its zombie apocalypse. Fans and haters alike routinely poke and pick apart every pocket of its in-world logic, in a bid to expose and unravel the unforgiveable contradictions and physical implausiblities embedded in the concept and its execution. Z Nation has always been bullet-proof in this regard, because if there’s one thing it’s always steadfastly refused to do it’s follow the rules. Well, right up until the end, anyway. Starting to follow the rules was the show’s undoing. Its fifth season was so painfully, morbidly conventional that it was almost unwatchable. SyFy agreed. They cancelled it. Still, what a glorious run. Z Nation could never hope to match its big cousin in terms of budget, audience share or acclaim, so instead it decided to make being as bat-shit crazy as possible its USP. Indestructible blue man who can control zombies with his mind? Check! Drug-crazed hippie man smoking a joint made of plant-zombies? Check! Zombies being mown down by a giant, errant round of cheese? Check! Z Nation floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, its characters constantly moving and in flux, its settings changing week to week, mashing genres together in a gleeful, fast-paced frenzy of giggles and gore. In its fifth season, Z Nation experimented with long-form story-telling, a move that was to its detriment. The grimy, grim and rooted spirit of The Walking Dead‘s later seasons doesn’t fit well with Z Nation‘s zany and peripatetic founding mission statement. Add a sprinkling of iZombie‘s fourth season, and a little bit of commentary on contemporary American politics, and you’ve got a show that’s lost all sense of itself, which is a strange indictment indeed to level at a show that began its life as a shameless copy of another more famous show. While we can’t blame SyFy for aiming a headshot in Z Nation‘s direction, the show deserved at least a truncated season to course correct and wrap things up in its own (ironically) inimitable style.
American Vandal is a strange and wonderful beast: a semi-spoof of – and homage to – true crime investigation documentaries like Making a Murderer and Serial, but also a meta-commentary on the process of documentary making in the age of social media. It’s also bloody funny. The star of the show is high-school documentary maker Peter Maldanado, who flits between the roles of investigator, interrogator, trouble-maker and theoriser, always willing to thrust himself and his motivations into the limelight when the search for truth demands it. While the crimes profiled and investigated across American Vandal’s criminally short two seasons are puerile, comically absurd and ridiculous – a car-park full of teachers’ cars graffitied with penises; an on-campus terrorist who uses poo and the threat of poop as an instrument of revenge – it’s played absolutely straight. I know that’s half the point – the humor coming from the juxtaposition between the frivolousness of the subject and the seriousness of its handling – but it’s more than that. The show succeeds not only in massaging your funny bone, but in drawing you into the low-key conspiracies and compelling mysteries at the hearts of these two schools, making you care about the outcome of the cases and the many characters trapped in their orbits. It puts a spotlight on the school experience and human nature in fresh and interesting ways, with exceptionally strong and natural performances throughout. Chris Lilley might’ve made a few funny, faux documentaries about shit and dicks in his time. But they never made you think. And feel. American Vandal checks all the right boxes. I just wish Peter Maldanado had the chance to crack a few more cases.
Future Man and The Tick debuted nine months apart. Both shows are high-concept comedy sci-fi extravaganzas with superheroes and saviors at the center of their action. Both had strong starts, but only one of them raised their game and turned in a more solid, settled, bigger and funnier second season. That show was The Tick. And that show … got cancelled. The Tick has form when it comes to failing to capture the attention and acceptance of a mainstream audience. Ben Edlund, the man who created the Tick, has now spearheaded three separate on-screen incarnations of his famous blue hero (one animated, two live-action), all of which were struck down in their prime – the most recent one struck down BY Prime.
For whatever reason, Tick adaptations never seem to find their niche or stride. I think, perhaps, that despite being a superhero show, the Tick defies easy categorization, and is at once too weird, too otherworldly and too clever for its own good. Much like the character of the Tick himself. Peter Serafinowicz and Griffin Newman are immensely funny and likeable as the Tick and Arthur, the eternally sweet crime-fighting duo at the show’s core, and Valerie Curry and Scott Speiser hit just the right note of awkward laughs and sexual tension as the newly formed superhero team of Dot and Overkill. As the show’s world of heroes and villains expanded, so too did the fun. New powers and abilities were discovered and unlocked. We met a cavalcade of new heroes ranging from the mysterious (“Where are you from?” “Everywhere … nowhere. And Baltimore.”) to the magical ( a character who teleports with the help of his third nipple), and encountered fresh threats like giant lobster beasts and double-dealing scientists, not to mention a brooding, narcissistic, all-powerful superhero who was clearly destined to be the third season’s villain. It was all going so well. A fun and funny live-action series with the manic breeziness of a cartoon. You were taken from us too soon, Tick. Again.
Santa Clarita Diet
One of the many brilliant things about Santa Clarita Diet is how the big questions about, and dangers to, Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila’s (Drew Barrymore) marriage are dealt with as if they were the sort of minor irritations more typically encountered on afternoon soap operas, when in reality what we’re watching is a comedy about a man adapting to a marriage in which he has to help his freshly dead wife kill and eat people in order to survive. In Santa Clarita, as in real life, we absorb the horrors of our lives and shrink and tame them until they seem as ordinary to us as Uncle Frank farting at the Christmas dinner table. The very funny juxtaposition between the absolute, blood-splattering insanity of the undead lifestyle, and Joel and Sheila’s sanitized, almost cliched existence in middle-class suburbia is made funnier still by the couple’s tendency to react to the misfortunes and people around them with the forced jollility and fixed smiles of a cutesy couple in a 1950s sitcom. Christ, it’s good. It’s somewhat ironic that the show was killed off at the close of a season that had been arguing the virtues of eternal life. It’s rather galling that this would happen when the show was very much in its prime (the now non-alive status of both leads not-withstanding). Or at all, actually. Santa Clarita Diet is one of those shows that seemed as safe and as well-revered as The Good Place. Hopefully good sense will prevail and it will be resurrected on another network for season four.
The Nazis dragged the world into a five-year-long nightmare of death, destruction, torture, and genocide. That’s an unequivocally horrid legacy to leave the world, and we’ve certainly nothing to thank them for, but it’s fair to say that without them our bookshelves, TV shows, and movies would’ve looked drastically different. I know this is a very problematic line of reasoning. It sort of sounds like I might be saying, “Hundreds of millions dead, but at least we got the Daleks, eh?” Which, it goes without saying (I hope!), I’m not. I’ve just been wondering a lot lately how much longer Western art will be influenced by the Second World War. After all, we’re a species in flux, for good and for bad, and some other war, ideological conflict or great galvanising fear always comes along to supplant its forerunner as the fuel to feed and shape the darkest corners of our fictional worlds. In that respect, Colony may be one of a dying breed, for reasons that reach beyond its recent cancellation.
Colony is the story of humanity being enslaved by a totalitarian alien race who are aided in their zeal to design a master race by a team of willing human collaborators. Naturally, there are resistance fighters to counteract the collaborators, and a whole host of huddled, frightened civilians in between, whose souls – and lives – are often fought over and forefeit in the name of the cause.
This is a Nazi-inspired dichotomy that’s been explored innumerable times before in, among many others, multiple episodes of Star Trek and Doctor Who, the final season of Fringe, The Man in the High Castle (obviously) and in countless books and movies. It’s a trope that comes with oodles of conflict already built in, and is thus ripe for a rollercoaster of twists and turns. If Colony had done nothing new or inventive with the trope, I would’ve been content to let it rot in cancellation hell, but despite starting life as a somewhat bland and unremarkable bit of genre fare, Colony grew into something dark, shocking and compelling that wasn’t afraid to take risks, hurt its heroes, or destroy the status quo. And the show also tried to re-frame its robot alien Nazis as … well, if not the good guys, then at least not the worst bad guys, revealing the existence of another even more evil species in season three.
read more: Everything You Need to Know About The Man in the High Castle Season 4 Colony would perhaps never be regarded as one of television’s greats, but the show was just starting to heat up. It’s a shame it never got the chance to conclude its story.
The Last Man On Earth
The Last Man on Earth performs a miraculous sleight of hand with tone. Its lightness and goofiness dances on the surface to distract you from the very palpable horror screaming out from every deserted rooftop and highway of the empty, post-apocalyptic husk that its version of earth has become. Its pilot episode suggested that here was a tragi-comedy in which the main character might very well attempt suicide at the end of every episode, but as the series progressed it became a wacky tale of survivors trying to fit in and make friends (and babies) against the backdrop of almost unimaginable pain and death. The show’s rag-tag squad of heroes is ‘led’ by the power-couple pairing of the crazy (and occasionally very grating) Phil “Tandy” Miller and Carol Pilbasian (the excellent Will Forte and Kristen Schaal). Together they live in a world where disease hangs in the air, corpses still litter the ground, America’s nuclear power stations could detonate at any moment, specialized medical training no longer exists, and there are lost souls running around in the wilderness who cover the spectrum from deeply damaged to batshit crazy, but, hey, what’s the sense in worrying about it, right? There’s always time for boozy parties, firework displays, shitting in swimming pools, bathing in paddling pools of vodka, wife-swapping, road-trips, and smashing up priceless artefacts with golf clubs, otherwise what’s the point of it all? The Last Man on Earth is oddly comforting, familiar and reassuring for a show with such a nihilistic premise. It was a shock to see it go. Especially since it ended on its best cliffhanger yet, one that almost guaranteed a renewal. Almost.
Ash vs Evil Dead
Many of the shows on this list feature varying combinations of blood, guts, gore, and mass death. This isn’t a scientific study, but I guess we have grounds to posit that there isn’t much mainstream appetite for gory horror or nihilistic hellscapes when they’re mixed with comedy. Misery is fine, it seems, just so long as it’s strait-laced, else shows like The Leftovers and The Walking Dead wouldn’t be so popular and critically acclaimed. Maybe we’re too frightened to laugh at death, for fear death takes it personally and tries to punish us. Maybe we’re just a bit squeamish when it comes to people’s intestines being whirled around like a toy snake. I can find no other logical reason to explain the cancellation of Ash vs Evil Dead, one of those once-in-an-age shows that puts a wide, goofy smile on the face of everyone of a certain age [points at own face] that won’t shift no matter how much blood, guts, fingers, brains and demon-sick is thrown at it. It’s a powerhouse of jokes, gore, and guffaws that turns the ground-breaking, grimy shlock of its cinematic beginnings into something approaching a fine art. Where else would you find a man with a chainsaw for a hand fighting a demon baby who’s hiding inside a massive, bloated corpse? Or see a fight unfold in a sperm clinic featuring a sentient porno mag and vials of semen being used as a deadly weapon? Inspired, hilarious and disgusting stuff. I rarely knew whether to laugh or vomit. The addition of Pablo and Kelly to Ash’s crew helped add a bit of depth and humanity to Ash’s character and his now life-long mission to rid the world of evil. The show expanded the mythology of the movies in fun and interesting ways. I understand that there are only so many ways you can riff on the all-encompassing terror of body-snatching demons, but Ash and friends deserved a proper send-off. While Bruce Campbell has hinted that the story might continue in video-game form, it’s a shame we never got to see Ash let loose in the Mad Max-ian dystopia briefly glimpsed in the third season’s finale.