When it comes to television, the best of the best are shows that fulfill their promise to deliver as long as they’re on air, but some programs just weren’t meant to last more than one season. If they were pushed out today, they might exist in the pantheon of small screen entertainment without an asterisk: the networks’ flavor of the month, miniseries. For sure, not all of the below programs would have thrived in the medium, but we do know they’d be better off (and viewers would too) if they’d called it quits after their initial grand plans petered out. If they had, maybe they’d rank up there with the best of them. As “Californication” prepares to wrap up its seven-year run (!) this Sunday night on Showtime, we look back on other shows that should have ended early.
The first season of “The O.C.” is absolute perfection. The late summer release transitioned seamlessly into a fall and spring run creating an epic 27-episode Season 1 yet to be topped by any drama in quality and quantity (and with seasons shrinking from 24 to 13 to 10 to 8, it’s doubtful it ever will be). Ryan Atwood’s experimental journey to the gated communities of Orange County, California would have met a much more depressing end than how it wrapped up after four seasons, but the series premiere and Season 1 finale was book-ended by arrival and departure shots of Ryan gazing longingly at Marissa Cooper, a woman we’d grow to hate long before her (late) demise in Season 3. In Season 2, she was put through the wringer, even toying with her sexuality in a desperate ratings grab. In Season 3, we had the whole Jonny debacle, but by then it was too late anyway. In Season 1, she was the heart of the show as Ryan’s one true love. By series end, we wished she’d never been part of his life at all. (Ben Travers)
The antithesis of “The O.C.,’ “Californication” wrapped up its first season on a high note it has yet to reach again, despite labeling itself a comedy for seven uneven seasons. Hank finally matured enough to win back the woman of his dreams, and he broke up her wedding by not breaking it up. Driving off into the sunset with mother and daughter in tow, Season 1 wrapped a balanced season of mourning, longing, experimentation, and soul-searching for Hank. It was such a perfect ending, I remember wondering where it could go from there. Turns out, nowhere. In seasons since, “Californication” devolved into desperate, contradictory tactics to keep its two love birds apart. Hank loved Karen and only Karen, but not enough to make it work. Karen loves Hank, but doesn’t understand why he keeps sleeping around even though they’re not together. Neither of them can reach any sort of clarity, and we’re stuck in a “will they, won’t they” tug of war when all along we know they’ve been wasting their time. The series ended up suffering from the success of Season 1, a condition plaguing many a show driven to excess by sheer demand. (Ben Travers)
When David Lynch and Mark Frost’s “Twin Peaks” first aired on ABC in 1990, it was all the rage. The surreal drama, which looks at the mysterious murder of the beautiful Laura Palmer in the small, fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington, marked a miraculous year in television—garnering acclaim from both critics and fans. Unfortunately, the hype was short-lived. While the first season is as good as television will ever be, things took a turn for the worst in Season 2. ABC kept changing the time slots and viewership regrettably declined. Along with this came pressure from the network that forced the creators’ to reveal a major plot element, something that proved to be premature. Eventually, the show just spiraled out of control. While season two definitely had its moments (the finale), it’s best to remember “Twin Peaks” in terms of its revolutionary first season. (Eric Eidelstein)
When “Weeds” premiered on Showtime in 2005, we were immediately charmed by his comical, but quasi-realistic take on an engaging premise: Nancy Botwin, a suburban soccer mom played by the always likable Mary-Louise Parker turns to pot-dealing after her husband drops dead of a heart attack leaving her with two kids and no money. Created by Jenji Kohan (now of “Orange is The New Black” fame), “Weeds” introduced us to a sympathetic anti-heroine in the pre-Walter White era. The first season highlighted the hypocrisy of white suburbia and introduced us to a colorful cast of characters including Nancy’s wacky brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk), a pot-smoking accountant Doug Wilson (Kevin Nealon), her “frenemy” Celia Hodes (Elizabeth Perkins) and other original creations. We were — you might say — hooked. But by season two, the show turned darker and by the time Nancy marries a DEA agent (Martin Donovan) in order to avoid prosecution, you know “Weeds” should have pulled the plug after season one. That’s not to say we stopped watching, but the series never lived up to its first season’s promise. (Paula Bernstein)
Imagine the first season of “The Killing” without the frustration of its withholding finale. Granted, the showrunners never promised to tell us who Rosie Larson’s killer was at the end of the Season 1, but it was hard not to be disappointed with expectations so high heading into that last hour. Whether you needed to know who did it or not, the weak finale left much to be desired — and arguably, wouldn’t have happened without the show’s success. With this year’s success of “True Detective” — a miniseries serving as a drama series with new cases every year — it’s clear that “The Killing” could have lived a successful life given those parameters. Instead, it was pushed out too soon and stuck to age old parameters of milking the same mystery for longer than it can be milked. That was its undoing, at least in the ratings, and despite solid performances and cinematography, the only season close to perfection was its first. Throw in the real ending, and it could be among the best ever. (Ben Travers)