5. “Bunheads” (2012)
You wouldn’t expect the creator of “Gilmore Girls” to have been in the unfortunate position of getting a new series cancelled after just one season, but Amy Sherman-Palladino couldn’t make lighting strike twice with “Bunheads.” The ABC Family comedy-drama starred Sutton Foster as a Las Vegas showgirl who gets married on a whim and moves to her husband’s sleepy coastal town. After he unexpectedly dies, Foster’s Michelle decides to stay in town and teach ballet alongside her mother-in-law, played by “Gilmore Girls” alum Kelly Bishop. “Bunheads” had all the breakneck speed dialogue and lovable characters that made “Gilmore Girls” such a smash hit, but perhaps its ballet world was just too specific to really catch on. The series was cancelled because of low ratings but its one season will forever live on as a cult favorite.
4. ”Firefly” (2002-2003)
The only reason this entry doesn’t place higher is that it got a second chance to really finish the story, thanks to the 2005 feature film “Serenity.” But there’s always an aching lack of completion surrounding the cult franchise, which brought viewers Joss Whedon at the very height of his powers, blending the sci-fi and Western genres for a truly unique tale rich with unforgettable characters and fun world-building. Ten-plus years later, elements of “Firefly” haven’t aged as well as they might have (such as the fact that a show about an American-Chinese society didn’t have any Chinese people in it). But it remains an iconic example of tragic cancellation, one it would have been fascinating to follow into later seasons.
3. “Freaks and Geeks” (1990-2000)
If NBC had known that “Freaks and Geeks” was destined to launch the careers of some of the biggest names in 21st century comedy, it would have probably kept it around for a little bit longer than just one season. The show has become legendary for its collection of talent, from creator Paul Feig to executive producer Judd Apatow to a cast featuring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Linda Cardellini, Busy Phillips, and Jason Segel. But what makes “Freaks and Geeks” such a timeless gem is its deception of high school life in all its warm, funny, confused, and socially awkward glory. Every character was so sharply drawn and honestly realized that you had to have come across a Lindsay, a Sam Weir, or a Kim Kelly at least once in your life. It felt like the grungier side of John Hughes, and that’s what made it all the more relatable to a new generation of kids trying their best to grow up and figure it all out. NBC canceled “Freaks and Geeks” after only 12 of its 18 episodes aired, but it continues to thrive as a popular Netflix binge.
2. “Action” (1999)
Sometimes a show only gets one season, and it feels like a tragedy. Sometimes, the fact that the show aired for even one season feels like a miracle. Way ahead of its time for 1999, one of the most brutal and raw broadcast comedies ever painted a picture of Hollywood as a place drenched in sex, drugs, corruption, and moral despair… and given that it was executive produced by Joel Silver, it might have more truth to it than we genuinely want to believe. Jay Mohr anchored the series as uber-producer Peter Dragon, who somehow found the shreds of humanity left within the character, while Illeana Douglas proved to be his equal as former-child-star-turned-prostitute-turned-Hollywood-executive Wendy. Elsewhere, the series didn’t skimp on an impressive roster of guest stars, including Keanu Reeves and Salma Hayek as themselves. “Action” is a hard-to-find favorite, but worth tracking down, if only to gape at what creator Chris Thompson was able to get away with.
1. “My So-Called Life” (1994-1995)
“My So-Called Life” is the crowning achievement of teen television, which makes it all the more devastating that we only got one season of it. Claire Danes earned an Emmy nomination for her star turn as Angela Chase, a 15-year-old sophomore coming of age in a fictional Pittsburgh suburb. The series only aired 19 episodes, but it managed to cover everything from child abuse and homophobia to adultery, addiction, and school violence. The writing excelled at serializing these themes and making them inherent to building the characters and their relationships. The result was deeply felt human drama that never once felt like a series of public service announcements. Each conflict was told with such honesty and compassion that you could feel what the characters were going through, even if you didn’t necessarily identify with a 15-year-old girl crushing on the school’s heartthrob or a young gay man being abused by his guardian. All these years later, “My So-Called Life” still sets the bar for teen dramas on TV.