With new shows testing the waters every year, many are bound to unfulfilling fates, but as Gandhi once said, NOT ALL CANCELLED SHOWS ARE CREATED EQUAL. For every show that makes you question the competency of network executives, there are others that simply came at the wrong time or possessed premises just a tad too strange. There are too many shows in the world for everyone to agree on which ones deserve lengthy stays and which deserve a quick axe, so try not to get too offended at these picks. These three offer very different forms of entertainment, but all were unpredictable, inventive, and thus not fit for the rigid network television structure. Don’t get me wrong, that structure produces plenty of wonderful programs, but it also allows some joys to slip through the cracks.
Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)
Even more so than the other two shows in this post, Pushing Daisies was straight up, inarguably weird. Consider its IMDb description: “A pie-maker, with the power to bring dead people back to life, solves murder mysteries with his alive-again childhood sweetheart, a cynical private investigator, and a lovesick waitress.” I’m sold, but perhaps you can see how the show did not quite fit into the flow of the mainstream. Add to this whimsical premise Bryan Fuller’s brilliant-but-crazy-artist’s eye for presentation (He of other wild, short-lived brilliance with Wonder Falls & Dead Like Me and the currently senses-stunning Hannibal) and one can see how such a show struggled grabbing larger appeal. It did garner some minor Emmy wins and major nominations, including one apiece for lead actor Lee Pace and scene-stealing Kristin Chenoweth, and some Golden Globe nominations, but the setup simply did not have staying power within the American television world. Lasting only two seasons, Daisies didn’t have the time to really carve out a niche despite fantastic performances by those mentioned above along with Anna Friel and the delightfully sassy Chi McBride as the “cynical PI”. Pace quietly charmed as “Ned,” the friendly pie-maker with the special supernatural power, and his stability allowed those around him to shine—even Jim Dale as narrator, he of Harry Potter-voicing fame. The storylines were always creative and exciting, but looking back I can understand how some found it difficult to get hooked, given the complexity of Ned’s powers and their repercussions. Daisies was not always easy to follow, especially if you had not been watching steadfastly. You can see Pace in The Hobbit franchise and the others elsewhere, but it’s a shame those of us who were willing to stick it out couldn’t at least get some extra episodes.
1600 Penn (2012-2013)
NBC’s quickly-axed White House comedy lasted only a season, and while I can’t claim I was the biggest fan, I certainly would have liked to see some more of the crazy Gilchrist family. I may be biased by my love of Josh Gad in The Rocker and The Book of Mormon, but I thought the family had serious potential. Jenna Elfman was the perfect amount of crazy without being as annoying as Dharma, and who doesn’t like the idea of Bill Pullman running our country? That being said, the First Children were probably the best part, with About a Boy’s Benjamin Stockham playing the prodigal Xander and The Descendants’ Amara Miller as the precocious Marigold. Perhaps most importantly, Martha MacIsaac is still Becca, though Michael Cera isn’t there singing beautifully. Alas, a fun cast didn’t make for a consistent show, and struggling NBC didn’t have time for a new show to find its footing. In a world with a multitude of DC-skewering shows, this one probably would not have stood up to the challenge. 13 episodes isn’t a very long run, but network television requires excellence from the start at this point. Maybe in another administration.
Eli Stone (2008-2009)
Like Pushing Daisies, this uplifting ABC show may have suffered from simply having a premise too “out there” to ever gain a large following. Jonny Lee Miller played the title character, a lawyer who has visions due to a brain aneurysm but that also allow him to take morally good cases and eventually to foresee dark events. The cast around Miller was always a plus; Loretta Devine was happy to move on to Grey’s Anatomy and an Emmy for her guest turn there, but she at times stole the show on Stone. Of these three shows, this one may have the most tragic fate. Eli starts to sense a deeper meaning to his condition, seeing everything from an upcoming earthquake to George Michael, but the show’s two seasons never really let us see the culmination of his visions and their implications, or how exactly the balance between Eli’s health and his abilities lied. The show was at times cheesy and formulaic in its moral redemptions, but its music and story offered a healthy change from the routines of primetime television.
I was sad to see all three of these shows leave us before their time, but there are far too many shows—new and old—to catch up on and revisit for us to worry about the what-ifs of the pop culture world. The actors and directors and writers have surely moved on, so I guess we all should too. But oh how nice would it be to see Ned or Eli or the Gilchrists instead of Juan Pablo or Sean Hayes each week.