Five Television Shows Murdered Before Their Time

It happens more often than we care to think about.  That new show, that new show that has wined and dined us with interesting, strange, exotic characters and wonderful quirky plot lines, that new show that has stolen our hearts after a few dizzying exhilarating dates and promised us a long glorious affair… that new show has been canceled.  After only one or two whirlwind seasons.  Leaving us alone with fading memories, unfulfilled fantasies, and broken hearts.

It’s happened to us all, and no matter what anyone else says, we never really get over it.

Here are five of the brief affairs that still haunt me:

#1: Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)

The basic premise of Freaks and Geeks was rather similar to any number of other teen dramedies.  It followed two high school students, sister and brother Lindsay and Sam Weir, as they attempt to survive high school in the early 1980s.  However, these are not your usually golden-girl/golden-boy, prom-queen/quarterback-hero students.  Lindsay belongs to the Freaks group, including: James Franco, Soth Rogen, Jason Segal, and Busy Philipps; and Sam’s group was the geeks, which included: Samm Levine and Martin Starr.

The focus of the show was on Lindsay, as she goes from straight-A, “proper” girl to Army-jacket-wearing rebel with slacker friends.  Linda Cardellini was charmingly unaffected as Lindsay.  And, in fact, that entire cast was absolutely excellent as is evident by the number of them who eventually went on to bigger television and movie roles.  Even though the show was set in the early 1980s, the plots were highly recognizable.  Everyone could see their high school in this show.  I definitely identified with the show, as “my” group in high school was effectively a combination of the freaks and geeks (with a few slightly more well-adjusted people thrown in for good measure).  Also, the soundtrack was amazing including such bands as The Who, Styx, Van Halen, Billy Joel, the Grateful Dead, and Rush.  And, in fact, the dvd release was actually held back for two years just so they could retain all the music rights for the release.

Unfortunately, the show was canceled by NBC after only 12 episodes.  3 more episodes were aired later due to a fan-led campaign.  But 3 episodes of the 18 filmed were only ever seen on the dvd release.  The show has an enormous cult following, and was named the 13th best show of the past 25 years by Entertainment Weekly in 2008.  Sadly, no amount of fan pressure could keep the show alive, and it was pronounced dead in July 2000.

(Purely by luck, one of today’s Freshly Pressed blogs is about Freaks and Geeks.)

#2: The Invisible Man (2000-2002)

Let me begin by saying, I LOVED THIS SHOW!  Inspired by the novella The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, but the concept of invisibility is the only thing that carries over.  The tv show opens with Darien Fawkes, a thief facing life imprisonment, who is offered freedom in exchange for being a test subject for his scientist brother, who works for a U.S. spy organization.  The brother has created the “Quicksilver” gland, which secretes a substance that coats the cells and bends light, making the person invisible.  After implanting the gland in Darien, the brother is murdered, leaving Darien in semi-forced employment as a spy for the organization.  He is saddled with a partner, Bobby Hobbes played by Paul Ben-Victor (yes, I talked about him on Wednesday too.  What’s your point?), whose job it is to keep the ex-thief control, especially when the gland begins to overload his brain and make him more than a little crazy for short periods of time.  The show kept the scifi side of things balanced with comedic buddy-cop elements Darien (played by Vincent Ventresca) and Bobby playing off each other to hilarious effect.  Add in a sub-plot about an evil secret agency called Chrysalis that tries to recruit and then kill Darien, and you’ve got a DIAMOND of a show.

Vincent Ventresca was (and still is) hilarious in a dead-pan way, but capable of carrying the more serious, weighted moments of the show, and was an absolute joy to watch.  And, as I’ve said before, Paul Ben-Victor is just plain awesome.  The supporting cast was strong.  And the plot lines, while sometimes wavering between interesting, strange, intense, and slightly-silly, were always entertaining and fun.

The show aired on The SciFi Channel, and lasted 2 seasons.  Then, in a fit of in-fighting between the SciFi Channel and its parent company, then USA Networks, the show was cancelled with warning or reason, despite a strong cult following and decent viewer ratings.  It was cold-blooded murder, and I have yet to recover from the loss.  To make matter worse, it was YEARS before the first season was released on Dvd, and the second season is STILL yet to be released.  That’s like shooting the victim in the head, kicked the corpse around for awhile, and then hiding the body in the walls of building so that no one will ever find it again.  I just don’t understand WHY!  One of these days, USA and SciFi Channel (now Syfy) are going to pay for this crime.  I swear.

#3: Dead Like Me (2003-2004)

Dead Like Me was strange and funny and sad and brilliant.  I think most people know what it’s about, but just to be sure: in 2003 Georgia “George” Lass, a somewhat aloof young woman who is distant with her family, dies (killed by a toilet seat, still one of the strangest scenes in any tv show ever).  However, instead of moving on to “the great beyond” she becomes a grim reaper one responsible, not for killing people, but for collecting souls and ushering them on to the afterlife.  What is most strange about this show is that the grim reapers are spirits, but un-dead.  They are still physical beings that people can see and interact with though people do not see what they originally looked like, but rather someone else entirely.  They still need to eat and sleep, and therefore, still need to hold down day jobs, while also fulfilling their duties as grim reapers.  This concept was so strange that it alone would have made the show charming.

However, the characters, and the cast that played them, really carried this show beyond an intriguing concept.  Ellen Muth (who plays the main character, George), Mandy Patinkin, Jasmine Guy, and Callum Blue play the main reapers, who meet every morning at Der Waffle Haus to receive their assignments, and were good enough to receive several award nominations.   Britt McKillip, who played George’s extremely eccentric/dysfunctional little sister Reggie whose strange way of dealing .with her sister’s death eventually leads her to being placed in therapy, was an absolutely brilliant addition to the cast and the story.

This show dealt with death and grief, suicide, choice, and fate, family and love and friendship.  And everything in between.  And in the middle of all that, managed to be completely hilarious.  And yet, after only two season and 29 episodes, it was cancelled.  Killed in the prime of its life.  The producers tried to pull a Frankenstein and bring it back to life with a direct-to-dvd Dead Like Me: Life After Death, with an option for a new season, but the movie was pretty bad (due in part to weak writing and the replacement of one of the major characters), so the experiment failed miserably.  And thus, another awesome show was laid to rest.

#4: The Dresden Files (2007)

Based on the hit urban fantasy series by Jim Butcher and aired by the SciFi Channel, The Dresden Files seemed like a sure thing to me.  The books were popular (and awesome), the pilot episode, while obviously not endowed with the best budget ever, was smart and entertaining.  And, though Paul Blackthorne didn’t really match the books’ descriptions of the main character Harry Dresden, he played smart-ass, slightly world-weary, and awkwardly-cool with such panache that I just didn’t care.

The Dresden Files (book series and tv show) followed professional wizard Harry Dresden, who helps the police on cases and works for hire on a variety of “cases” involving saving a boy from the monsters under his bed and helping a father catch his daughter’s killer and put her ghost to rest.  His backstory includes a witch mother who died when he was a baby, a father who was a stage magician (and not a particularly good one), and an wizard uncle who wanted to use Harry as a child and killed Harry’s father to do so.  Harry eventually “self-defensed” his uncle to death, and is now on the outs with the High Council, the governing body of the magic community.

Besides Harry, the other two semi-main characters are Bob: a very old spirit of a wizard whose soul was sealed into his skull as punishment for using black magic in 900 A.D. and who know works as Harry’s assistant; and Lt. Connie Murphy: the detective who often goes to Harry for help on strange police cases.

I’ll be honest, it was not the best show ever made.  But the episodes were fun, strange, and occasionally dark, and Paul Blackthorne as Harry and Terrence Mann as Bob were both absolutely fantastic.  I think the show could easily have stabilized its formula and become extremely good.  Unfortunately, the show only survived a single 12-episode season before being axed down and thrown in the dump heap behind SciFi Channel’s officers, right beside The Invisible Man.  And it’s a crying shame, I tell you.  It really is.

#5: Firefly (2002)

Firefly is possibly the KING of all shows cruelly murdered before its time.  It was sucker-punched, beaten, and finally lynched by FOX Network.  Firefly was awesome for more reasons than can possibly be discussed here, but let’s list a few.  It was the brain-child of Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that’s enough right there.  It was a space western.  A SPACE WESTERN.  A sci fi, set in a galaxy filled with high-tech planets controlled by the Alliance, with out-lying worlds that look like something out of Gunsmoke how is that NOT awesome?  Also, Nathan Fillion is the lead.  ‘Nuff said.

The show follows Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds and his crew on the Firefly-class spaceship called Serenity.  Mal and his second-in-command, Zoe, are survivors of a rebel group that fought in a war against the Alliance some years before, and lost, and now they work as petty criminals stealing cargo from ships, gun-running, smuggling, etc, in order to get by and keep out of the Alliance’s hands.  The motley crew (could I resist?  No, not really), includes a young intelligent flirtatious woman as the ship’s engineer, a somewhat-crazed gunman, a surprisingly mild-mannered pilot who is married to Zoe, a preacher with a past, and an Alliance doctor on the run with his sister, who was experimented on.  Every single cast member was perfect; the dialogue was fast-paced and manic, the sets and costumes and special effects were surprisingly detailed, and the music was good.  And Mal, the heart of the show, was so torn between cynical and self-serving/loyal and honor-bound that was downright comical watching him trying to reconcile the two.

It was an awesome show.  It should have gone on for YEARS.  And yet, the viewer ratings averaged only 4.7 million per episode, so after 11 episodes, it was cancelled.  Such viewer ratings might indicate to some that the show was at fault.  But remember, I told you it was sucker-punched and beaten.  FOX, after giving Whedon the green light, for some inexplicable reason, seemed hell-bent on killing the show: changing the air time and air day several times, showing the episodes OUT OF ORDER, and promoting it as a comedy rather than the character-study it was intended as, as if they were attempting to so completely flabbergast viewers that they wouldn’t dare show there faces again in Firefly’s presence.

Of course, this failed, as Firefly has an astoundingly enormous fan base (who call themselves Browncoats), which tried several times to save the show.  Unlike in the case of Dead Like Me, the Frankenstein experiment worked long enough to give us the absolutely amazing full-feature film Serenity, but hopes of a continuation of the series were quickly dashed.  The series now haunts the earth as a ghost in the form of graphic novels, while those of us who loved the show still mourn it’s cold-blooded, pre-meditate, first-degree murder by the FOX executives.

And there, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the list of 5 shows that I continue to mourn to this day and probably will for years to come.  But what poor innocent murder victims do you still mourn?  Which of your tv shows were cut down in their youth, before they had a chance to grow to maturity and show the serial-killer executives that they could be productive members of society?

(Also, this concludes my month-long tribute to television.  However, I really enjoyed writing about tv shows, and apparently some of you enjoyed reading them, so I will probably keep doing these kinds of posts from time-to-time.  Though not in one long month of themed blog posts.  ‘Cause that’s pretty exhausting.)

Five Awesome Things About In Plain Sight

(It’s late, I know, I’m sorry! I tried! I beg your forgiveness!)

For those of you who enjoy Doctor Who, I hope you liked my three Doctor Who-related posts.  For those who aren’t much interested in Doctor Who, I thank you for your patience.  I’m moving away from the science fiction today to talk about one my favorite shows.

In Plain Sight.

Yes, it’s another crime drama/police procedural (sort of) tv show.  (I told you practically all I watch is scifi and crime shows!)  And it’s awesome!  And, while it has a decent following and has managed to stay on air for four seasons now, I don’t think it gets as much attention as it deserves.

Tell me, how many of you have seen an episode?  How many of you watch it regularly?

In many ways, it is a lot like any other crime drama you’ve got your crime/dilemma of the week that must be resolved within the show’s hour-long time frame, and it focuses (like so many other police procedurals) on two partners.  But it is also very different.  The show combines the different with the familiar very well.  Also, it’s awesome.  Did I mention that?  Yeah?  Well, here are a few reasons why.

Awesomeness #1: In Plain Sight is about two U.S. Marshals who work for WitSec, the Federal Witness Protection Program, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Rather than always having a solve a crime every episode (though that still happens), the two partners in this show must instead work to keep their witnesses safe: often from the hitmen and corporate schemers trying to silence them, and usually from their own stupidity and mistakes.  The wide-range of characters keeps the show interesting as the Marshals (and the audience) get to know and loath/pity ex-cons, children in the wrong place at the wrong time, drug dealers, Russian Mafia girlfriends, Amish house-wives, South American revolutionaries, and former hitmen, just to name a few.  While every crime show displays a variety of characters as victims and/or criminals each episode, the circus of personalities and neuroses paraded across the screen during the hour of In Plain Sight is pretty damn impressive.

Awesomeness #2: The U.S. Marshals is the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the country.  They are part of the executive branch of the government, and are the enforcement arm of the United States federal courts.  And they’re just plain COOL.  Plus, while focusing a show on the Marshals would have been cool either way, the usual groups within the Marshals might have been too similar to any other cop show. Focusing on WitSec gives it an entirely different spin and keeps it fresh.  (Check out the Wikipedia page for my info about the U.S. Marshals.)

Awesomeness #3: The partners: Inspector Marshal Mary Shannon and Inspector Marshal Marshall Mann (yes, his name is Marshall and he is a Marshal, you can guess how often that joke comes up), are PERFECT.

The main character is Mary (played by Mary McCormack): tough-as-nails (it’s a cliché that I maintain was created FOR this character), sarcastic, cynical, more than a little bitchy, but HILARIOUS and hiding just enough compassion beneath the snarkiness to make her likable.  Her backstory makes her bitchiness believable and forgivable: abandoned at age 10 by her bank-robber/con father, and left to take care of her drunken mother and baby sister who even now drain her dry with their many many neuroses and problems, including her sister’s stint as an accessory to drug-dealing in the first season it’s no wonder Mary has trust issues, dependency issues, love/relationship issues… the list goes on.  Through it all, however, she is really good at her job, even if she bends the rules a little more often than her boss would like, and she at least tries to care about her witnesses, whether they were innocent bystanders or ex-mafia hitmen.

Marshall (played by Fred Weller) is many things Mary is not: incredibly smart (a trivia-spouting, bookworm, philosophical type Mary’s intelligent but not particularly academic), extremely well-adjusted, patient, forgiving, trusting, etc.  He’s also one hell of a shot, fiercely protective, and downright scary when pushed to his limit.  And, he’s about the only person who is a) able, b) masochistic, and c) smart enough to not only deal with Mary’s bitchiness but also to know what lies beneath it.  He can dish it out as well as receive it, and he’s just as hilarious as Mary, though usually with a somewhat more dry, subtle brand of sarcasm than Mary’s.

The two characters are absolutely perfect on screen together (also they’re simply a joy to look at).  The chemistry between the two is amazing and I don’t mean just the unresolved sexual tension, though there’s plenty of that (yay!) I mean the way the two play off each other, the rhythm of their dialogue, the visual cues and facial expressions that do as much and sometimes more than they dialogue by itself is capable of.  Speaking of…

Awesomeness #4:  Yes, the dialogue in this show is amazing.  The fact that the chemistry between the characters/actors makes up so much of the charm of the show does not for one second take away from how good the dialogue is.  I want to grab the writers of this show and kiss them!  The balance of intelligence, sarcasm, wit, humor, all the usual crime-drama factoid/theory-throwing, with a touch of philosophical rambling, is spot on.  The bounciness (is that a word) of the dialogue (especially when several conversations are going on at once) is fantastic. I wish I could write dialogue like this!  From Season 1, Episode 1 “Trojan Horst” (I tried to find a youtube video, but they’ve mostly been taken down):

Marshall: Hey. Okay, obviously you want me to go on a fishing expedition to figure out what the hell is bothering you. But I’m not going to play that. So, when you decide to tell me what’s wrong, you just tell me. Fair enough? Fair enough?

Mary: Don’t worry about it. In a couple of months, we won’t even be working together.

Guard: Opening two! Clear!

Marshall: You read my letter.

(DOOR BUZZING)

Horst: Easy there, meat and potatoes. (GRUNTS) I’m a valuable Federal resource. (GROANS)

Guard: Horst Vanderhof for transport.

Mary: Thanks.

Horst: Oh, great. Two more minimum-wage geniuses. Are the Feds trying to get me killed? Do you people have any idea who Lola is? Hey, watch it there, pervoid. I don’t swing that way.

Marshall: I can’t believe you read my mail.

Mary: Well, you don’t know I always read your mail. He’s diabetic?

Guard: Type 1. Last page of the medical.

Horst: Yeah, that’s my personal stuff.

Mary: Get a number.

Horst: I did. Twenty minutes ago.

Mary: Test again. I need to know you’re fit to travel.

Marshall: She needs to know everything about everybody.

Horst: I can tell. She’s been undressing me with her eyes ever since I walked out here.

Mary: Yeah, because pasty accountant types really get me crazy.

Horst: Oh, now, that’s just unkind.

Mary: So, were you ever going to tell me? Or was the plan just to let me figure it out when you stopped showing up for work?

Marshall: Actually, I was going to write a letter and then mail it to myself. That way, I’d be sure you got the news.

Mary: Hmm.

(BLOOD SUGAR MONITOR BEEPING)

Horst: Staying alive at 105.

Mary: You know, please don’t act like you’re the injured party here, okay? At least show me that much respect.

Marshall: Respect? When have you ever shown me respect? Or anyone else for that matter?

Horst: (SIGHS) This is fun.

Mary: Maybe you’d get respect if you ever actually did something to earn it.

Marshall: And you wonder why I didn’t share my future plans with you.

Mary: No. What I wonder is why I put up with your insipid running commentary for the past three years. Come on. Let’s go.

Horst: (STAMMERING) 3-to-1, I’m dead before we get to the car. Yeah, brains blown out all over the parking lot. And then the two most annoying people on the planet bickering over my lifeless corpse.

Mary: Relax, Horst. No one knows who you are, where you are, or where you’re going. Give me the keys. I’m driving.

Marshall: Try not to drive like you stole it.

Awesomeness #5: Paul Ben-Victor.  Okay, okay, so you’re all looking at me like I’m completely nuts now.  Don’t deny it, I can see you gaping at me with your mouths wide open.  But seriously, Paul Ben-Victor.  No, he’s not exactly a looker.  But you know what?  He doesn’t need to be, because he is just that awesome.  I first came to adore him in the short-lived SciFi Channel show The Invisible Man, where he played Robert “Bobby” Hobbes, a secret government agent partnered to Darien Fawkes “The Invisible Man.”  On In Plain Sight, Paul Ben-Victor plays Stan McQueen, the Chief Inspector of WitSec’s Southwest Division, Mary and Marshall’s boss.  Stan is an odd mix of awkward and dense, smart and tough, loyal and protective.  He is possibly the only boss smart enough and understanding enough to deal with Mary giving her leeway when she needs it and putting his foot down when she deserves it.  The character often runs the risk of becoming almost cartoonishly comical, especially in the first season.  However, the writers gave the character a little more depth in action and dialogue, and Paul Ben-Victor brought the character into real-life humanity with his wonderful sense of timing, and his fantastic facial expressions.  (Yes, I’m gushing.  Deal.)

I’m sure there’s plenty more I could say, but I’ll stop here.  You’ll notice I was very careful not to give away too much and after almost four full seasons, there’s PLENTY I could give away.  I do this because seasons 1-3 are available for streaming on Netflix and season 4 is still showing on USA (every Sunday at 10/9c)!  That means you can go and see for yourself!  Aren’t I sweet?

So, who’s seen In Plain Sight?  Do you concur with my assessment?  If not, I’d love to hear why (so I can devise ways of convincing you otherwise :D j/k).  If you haven’t seen it yet, what’s keeping you?  Go!