19 brilliant TV shows that were cancelled before their time

Posted by for Life

From Heroes to High Fidelity, these TV shows all deserved at least one more season. At least.

It’s happened to all of us, at one point or another: you’ve stumbled across a TV show and fallen hopelessly head-over-heels in love with it. You’ve greedily gobbled up every episode as quickly as you can, become incredibly invested in the characters, and begun conjuring up your own wild theories about what’s going to happen next.

Then, without any warning whatsoever, your new favourite TV series is cancelled – and it’s usually (horribly) after the mother of all cliffhangers, too. Ugh.

Why do bad things happen to good TV shows? Well, maybe it’s because the viewing figures were lower than hoped for, or because the star of the show landed a big movie deal, or because the network turned its attention to other projects.

Sometimes, though, it’s just because the TV gods are cruel.

With that in mind, then, we’ve rounded up some seriously brilliant TV shows that were cancelled before their time. 

So show some respect, don a black veil, and join us for our In Memoriam address, please.

Firefly

Could this list even exist without Firefly on it? You’re damn right it couldn’t.

Created by Joss Whedon, oh he of Buffy The Vampire Slayer fame, the show – set 500 years in the future after a universal civil war – is easily the most often cited series when “cancelled too soon” conversations come up.

For those who have yet to watch it, the series follows the crew of a small transport spaceship named Serenity. This gang of misfits, more family than colleagues, are willing to take on any job the big bad frontier throws their way, so long as it a) puts food on the table, b) keeps them out of the Alliance’s hair, and c) avoids any contact with the horrifying flesh-eating monsters who live on the fringes of the universe.

Much like Buffy, Firefly was sci-fi at its most human, dazzling viewers with its emotionally-charged storylines and furiously funny dialogue. However, with episodes aired out of order, ratings were (naturally) dismal and the series was cancelled before it had a chance to soar.

Thankfully, Whedon got the Firefly gang together for a follow-up movie, Serenity, so we weren’t left wondering what happened next. Still, though, fans call for the series to be given another go, even all these years later. 

Maybe one day, eh?

High Fidelity

Hulu’s High Fidelity revisited the beloved story of Nick Hornby’s original novel and the film adaptation of the same name “from a female perspective” , and it did so with serious aplomb.

Starring Zoe Kravitz as the “ultimate music fan and record store owner who’s obsessed with pop culture and Top Five lists,” it was well received by critics and fans alike. Sadly, though, it wasn’t enough to keep the show from being canned after just one season.

Kravitz responded to the news in an Instagram post, which read: “I wanna give a shout out to my #highfidelity family. Thank you for all the love and heart you put into this show. 

In the comments section, she added: “It’s cool. At least Hulu has a ton of other shows starring women of colour we can watch. Oh wait.”

Hmm. We wonder if Hulu might be convinced to change their minds on this occasion…?

The OA

The OA was good, wasn’t it? The OA was really bloody good.

Created by and starring Brit Marling, the series kicked off as Prairie, a young woman who has been missing for seven years, returns home. Her sudden return is not the only miraculous occurrence, though, as everyone is shocked to learn that Prairie is no longer blind.

So, what happened during the time that she was missing? Well, no spoilers here, but we will say it’s not what you’d expect. Too bad the season two finale left viewers with more questions than answers, eh?

Brit Marling in The OA.
Brit Marling in The OA.

That’s right: when it was unceremoniously axed by Netflix after two seasons, it incited intense fan outcry, a flashmob, and even a hunger strike.

Responding to #SavetheOA movement in a long Instagram post, Marling wrote: “Your words and images move us deeply. Not because the show must continue, but because for some people its unexpected cancellation begs larger questions about the role of storytelling and its fate inside late capitalism’s push toward consolidation and economies of scale.”

Tru Calling

Starring Eliza Dushku and a pre-Hangover Zach Galifinakis, Tru Calling is a rogue addition to this list, but we stand by it. Why? Because it may just be the best bad TV show ever made, ever.

The series focuses on Tru (Dushku), a medical student who winds up taking a job at the local morgue after her internship at a hospital falls through. On her very first day, though, she learns that she can go back in time for one day to help change the fates of those whose cold and lifeless bodies end up on the slab. Which means that, yeah, the series sees her running around preventing murders and other disasters as best she can.

Halfway through the first season, Tru’s life gets somehow even more complicated when she meets a man who shares her abilities, but who works to preserve what he sees as “the hand of Fate” by ensuring that the people Tru tries to help stay dead. Gripping stuff, right?

Yeah. Too bad the series was cancelled come the end of season two, because we’d have loved to have seen how that played out.

Pitch

You may not have seen Pitch, but it’s well worth seeking out if that’s the case.

The ill-fated show tells the story of Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury), whose dreams come true when she is accepted into a Major League team as a pitcher. 

As she begins her career in professional baseball, though, her gender soon becomes a bigger challenge than she expected.

Considering it’s racked up a whopping 94% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, you might think that Fox would’ve forked out for more than 10 episodes of this baseball drama. Unfortunately, though, its time slot meant it was going up against football games, so it never drew a large enough viewership for the network’s liking.

Rumours of a revival abound, mind you, so watch this space.

Sense8

In Sense8, eight strangers around the globe find themselves connected – first by a violent vision, then by their shared ability to connect with one another’s thoughts and actions, and finally by the urgent need to find out what happened and why. Their need to know goes beyond simple curiosity, though: as they pursue answers, a mysterious organization hunts them down, intent on destroying them.

Yeah, Sense8 was a seriously intense thriller, and fans were obsessed with it. So you better believe that fans of the Netflix show were left heartbroken when the streaming service pulled the plug on it after just two seasons.

“At some point if you don’t have the viewership showing up to justify the expense of the series, you’re going to want to end it,” Netflix VP Cindy Holland explained to the Radio Times.

Sense8 fans were, however, thrown a bone in the form of a two-and-a-half-hour series finale, which wrapped things up for them. 

Heroes

It may only have a 53% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but Heroes has a seriously dedicated fan base.

For those who have yet to fall victim to its charms, it tells the story of some ordinary people who inexplicably develop superhuman abilities. Yeah, they use their powers to prevent catastrophes and save humanity from destruction. And, yeah, people loved it for its pulpy comic book vibes.

Heroes ran for just four seasons, which consisted of 77 episodes and over 30 online “minisodes.” The original run was followed up with 13-episode reboot Heroes Reborn in 2015. And, for those still grieving the loss of the creative and satisfying superhero series, you’re in luck: you can now stream the entire thing on BBC iPlayer.

Agent Carter

Marvel’s Agent Carter only aired for two seasons before it was banished to the TV graveyard back in 2016. A decision which, quite frankly, still irks us even now.

Starring Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, the series sees her shattered after her boyfriend Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) goes missing, presumed dead. 

Ever the fighter, though, Peggy throws herself into making the world a better place, combining her administrative work with her new job as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent under Howard Stark.

“It’s a shame the network cancelled it and wanted to put me in something more mainstream,” Atwell told The AV Club.

“You know, Marvel didn’t want it to end,” Atwell added. 

“There’s lots of online campaigns to bring her back. Fans loved her. I think it was just a network economical thing: ‘Let’s put Hayley Atwell in something more mainstream that’s less genre-specific and see if we can get higher ratings’.

“And unfortunately, that isn’t, as an actor, anything I’ve got control over. But maybe, in small ways, characters like Peggy Carter very slowly pave the way for it to be possible for other female-led narratives to exist. We’re all part of the same conversation.”

Sanditon

ITV’s star-studded adaptation of Sanditon Jane Austen’s unfinished seaside romance, which she famously abandoned four months before her death in 1817 – was always supposed to get a second season.

Aired in eight parts, it starred Rose Williams as a joyous and unconventional woman called Charlotte Heywood, who moves away from her countryside hometown to Sanditon, a fishing village trying to reinvent itself as a seaside resort. There, she’s exposed to the towns “intrigues and dalliances” (and “quite a bit of nude bathing”) in a plot that took us from sleepy coastal villages to the West Indies to London.

Naturally, there were bonnets aplenty. And, just as naturally, Charlotte fell head-over-heels for the funny and disarming Sidney Parker (Theo James) – because it wouldn’t be an Austen novel without a healthy dash of romance now, would it?

Fans, though, were bereft when the season ended on a cliffhanger rather than a happy ending, with Charlotte and Sidney tearfully bidding each other farewell.

“I don’t know if you could tell from watching it, but we were rather counting on getting a second series!” explained writer Andrew Davies later.

“We thought if we wrap up Charlotte and Sidney at the end of the first series, we’d have to have a new heroine take over or something like that in series two.”

Sanditon’s Rose Williams attends a ball as Charlotte Heywood.
Sanditon’s Rose Williams attends a ball as Charlotte Heywood.

Davies added: “I do sympathise with everyone who felt upset about Charlotte and Sidney not getting their happy ending. 

“Although, happy endings don’t always happen.”

Santa Clarita Diet

This writer fell head-over-heels for Santa Clarita Diet, which expertly blended horror and comedy into one big fun zombie milkshake.

Starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as married realtors, Sheila and Joel, the very first episode of the series saw their world unexpectedly turned upside down when Sheila… well, when she basically became a flesh-eating undead zombie. 

Despite the obvious setbacks of this transformation, Sheila wound up looking and feeling better than ever, although there’s no denying her marriage was shaken.

After just three seasons, though, the Netflix series was axed, which means we’ll never find out what was going to happen after Sheila sunk her teeth into Joel’s neck.

In a statement, show creator Victor Fresco and Tracy Katsky shared their disappointment: “Like our audience, we were all-in on Sheila and Joel. Their relationship, in the face of incredible adversity, was inspiring to write and to watch. Mostly, they were funny, which in a comedy is important.”

They added: “Netflix took at chance on this odd show and for that we will always be grateful. They were supportive, ever positive, and appreciative of our work. Until about noon today.

“Still, they were just one phone call away from being a perfect studio. Not bad. Everything ends. This was a thing. And so it ended.”

Star

Starring Jude Demorest, Ryan Destiny, Brittany O’Grady, Queen Latifah, Quincy Brown and Amiyah Scott, Star followed three talented singers – running from their pasts and desperate for a new start – with ambitions of stardom, as they navigate the cutthroat music business.

It was compelling. It was addictive. It was packed full of beautiful musical moments. And it seemed set to be the musical TV drama to end all musical TV dramas, until it was cancelled after just three seasons.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel for Star fans, though, as producer and director Lee Daniels has shared that it will be coming back as a “movie of the week to wrap up things up for y’all.” 

“Get ready for a two-hour gag!!!!!” Daniels wrote on Instagram.

Anne With An E

Just like the classic 1908 book by Lucy Maud Montgomery, this Netflix series was set in 1890 and focus on Anne Shirley, a 13-year-old orphan who has spent her entire childhood in abusive institutions and the homes of strangers.

However, thanks to a fortuitous mistake, she is sent to live with an elderly spinster and her ageing brother. Over time, the redheaded daydreamer comes to change the lives of all those around her for the better – and finds herself thriving in her new life on Prince Edward Island. 

The show went down a treat with fans of the book, many of whom flocked to Twitter to share their disappointment when the show was cancelled after three seasons.

In a statement posted to her Instagram, creator and executive-producer Moira Walley-Beckett wrote: “I’m sorry for the sad Netflix/CBC news today. I wish it could be different but it cannot. We have reached the end of the red Green Gables road after three wonderful seasons. My heart is heavy but I am so proud of this show — proud of my talented cast, crew, writers, and directors for working together so passionately to bring my vision of Anne With An E to life. 

“I know you have loved this series as much as I have and I thank you for that forever and a day.”

Luke Cage

Luke Cage, which was helmed by Mike Colter, launched to a lot of excitement in 2016. The gritty, action-packed drama follows the evolution of a man with super strength and unbreakable skin caused by a sabotaged experiment, as he works to heal a broken heart and try to rebuild a quiet life in Harlem, New York.

The show was a favourite with fans for two seasons. But “unfortunately, Marvel’s Luke Cage will not return for a third season,” Marvel and Netflix said in a joint statement.

“Everyone at Marvel Television and Netflix is grateful to the dedicated showrunner, writers, cast and crew who brought Harlem’s Hero to life for the past two seasons, and to all the fans who have supported the series.”

Jessica Jones

After a whopping 40+ hours of character growth, Jessica Jones was cancelled by Netflix, leaving this writer, like many fans of the superhero series, brokenhearted.

The private detective, who finished with three 13-episode seasons and a role in The Defenders under her belt, has seen more screentime than any single MCU movie character, even Iron Man, Captain America or Thor across all the films they’ve been in.

More important than this, though, is the fact that Jessica is so much more than a Marvel superhero – she’s a Marvel superhero created for and about women. 

Netflix Jessica Jones
Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones.

Living in the grubbiest depths of New York City, we were first introduced to Jess as a bourbon-swilling PD who works night shifts. She was, by absolutely no means, perfect. Instead, she’s hot tempered, scrappy, sarcastic (bordering on rude), almost dangerously dependent on alcohol, had problems with intimacy, and struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder.

What triggered this? Well, in flashbacks, we watched as David Tennant’s Kilgrave forced Jessica into a non-consensual relationship, destroying her friendships and familial relationships, and, essentially, cut her off from the rest of the world. And, in a firm reference to street harassment, we regularly watched him order her to “smile” whenever he desires it.

It is for this reason that Jess decided to push away her friends and turned her back on her former life as a superhero. 

Yes, Jessica Jones broached some seriously tough subjects, such as abortion, rape, domestic abuse, obsession, and addiction. But it did so deftly, offering a new perspective to trauma… and, through rendering a superhero powerless, starkly reminded us that abuse can happen to anyone.

Freaks & Geeks

Freaks & Geeks sadly never got within hailing distance of a second season, but you better believe there’s still a lot of love for Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s series.

Set in 1980, the beloved teen comedy-drama followed a group of misfit high-school students as they dealt with the struggles of growing up and fitting in. The main focus? Gifted student Lindsay, who discarded her straight-A image to hang with the burnout crowd; and her brother Sam, who’s tormented by bullies but gets moral support from his nerdy pals. 

Starring Linda Cardellini, Jason Segel and James Franco, the show boasted both an excellent cast and brilliantly funny writing. Sadly, though, Freaks & Geeks’ main time slot competitor was the absurdly popular gameshow Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which drew an average of 18 million viewers. The show was cancelled due to low ratings, and we were forever left wondering what happened to Lindsay and co.

Thankfully, the entire thing is available to stream on 4oD right now. Just in case you’re interested…

The Get Down

Set in the late 1970s, when New York is at the brink of bankruptcy and disco is dying out, The Get Down delves deep into the lives, art, music and dance of a group of young people in the South Bronx. 

The show, easily one of the most expensive ever produced for Netflix, has been praised for its warm celebration of the birth of hip-hop, not to mention its dazzling kaleidoscope of genre styles.

Despite this, though, it was cancelled after just one season.

“The simple truth is, I make movies,” said showrunner Baz Luhrmann, responding to the news on Facebook. “And the thing with movies is, that when you direct them, there can be nothing else in your life,.

“As for the real future of the show, the spirit of The Get Down, and the story it has begun to tell… it has its own life. One that lives on today and will continue to be told somewhere, somehow, because of you, the fans and the supporters.”

My So-Called Life

Appearing for one season on ABC in the US and on Channel 4 in the UK from 1994 to 1995, My So-Called Life was a bastion of teen angst. 

Revolving around a 15-year-old girl searching for her identity, the much-loved series starred Claire Danes as Angela, a high-schooler in constant turmoil over her exposure to boys, friends, drugs, sex, and plenty more 90s teen trappings. 

While the series has since become something of a cult hit, it was initially cancelled due to its very low ratings, as well as Danes’ reluctance to reprise her role as Angela Chase for another year. (It’s worth noting that, in 1996, she co-starred with Leonard DiCaprio in Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet). Which meant that the show ended on one whopper of a cliffhanger.

Thankfully, creator Winnie Holzman has since answered the question foremost on every fan’s mind: Is Angela dating Jordan or Brian? The answer: Jordan. 

“I pictured a situation where Angela and Jordan are an item, Delia and Brian are an item, and Angela and Brian are constantly looking to each other for advice and help with their respective dysfunctional relationships,” she said, as per EW

Our Girl

Our Girl has long been popular with fans, following the extraordinary adventures of female medics in the British Army. However, it was recently confirmed that the BBC One drama will not be returning for a fifth series.

That’s right: Michelle Keegan – who played Sgt. Georgie Lane – departed the military drama following its fourth series, which aired in spring 2020.

Creator and writer Tony Grounds has since informed the Radio Times that the BBC and the show’s creative team have opted not to continue with a new lead.

“With the finale of series four showing Georgie ready to move on with her life, it feels like the right time for us to do the same,” she said.

Offering a glimmer of hope for fans, Grounds added: “Michelle and I are keen to continue our working relationship and, who knows, maybe we’ll catch up with Georgie in the future. 

“I wanted to say a big thank you to the fans of the show, it’s been a joy to write.”

Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) was a rape survivor, yet she did not let her experience define her. Instead, she refused to ever lose sight of the fact that she was not to blame for her rape, and spent the entirety of the series fighting to uncover her rapist’s identity and bring him to justice—something she finally succeeds in doing in the very last episode.

It’s unsurprising that the show has been praised for offering up the most “real” account of the long-term effects of rape. Nor is it surprising that fans were devastated when the series was cancelled after just three seasons. Thankfully, though, everyone’s favourite Californian teen sleuth and student returned years later, after Bell and original creator Rob Thomas launched a campaign to raise funds to make a feature film

Thanks to Kickstarter, they surpassed their goal of $2 million (£1.5 million), raking in $5.7 million (£4.4 million), and the movie hit the big screen in 2014. And a fourth season, too, hit our small screens in 2020.

Community

As anyone who’s binged the show on Netflix will already know, this series sees lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) return to community college after his bachelor’s degree is revoked, where he forms a study group with a few oddballs. 

Community aired for six seasons, despite perpetually low ratings and the constant threat that it wouldn’t be renewed. So, by all accounts, it shouldn’t be accused of being “cancelled too soon”.

However, we were promised “six seasons and a movie.” And, yeah, we’re still owed that movie.

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Images: Netflix

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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