The first TV series that I ever recall feeling disappointed about its being canceled after just a single season was the mid-sixties sitcom My Mother the Car. That’s right, My Mother the Car – now considered by many to be among the worst shows in the history of television. That NBC series, starring Jerry Van Dyke (brother of Dick, who was starring in the concurrently running, but classic sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show on CBS), was about a man whose mother was reincarnated as a 1928 Porter touring car (a fictional model designed for the show). Her voice, provided by longtime movie and TV star Ann Sothern, was heard through the car radio, though only her son could hear it. Hey, I know what you’re thinking, “how could you have been enamored with a show with a premise as gimmicky as that one?” What can I say? I was just a little kid. What did I know about quality television? For a kid, gimmicky is funny. So give me a break!
As frustrating as it is to see a new favorite go off the air well before it should (I’m still riled by NBC’s cancellation of Go On), there’s at least one advantage to a short-run series. If for whatever reason you don’t have time to commit to watching multiple seasons of a popular series, one-season shows are a great stop-gap measure to fit tight schedules. That’s especially so if the series’ producers had the wherewithal to produce a final episode that helped tie up loose storylines. The following is a list of ten of the best single-season shows (listed alphabetically) that are available on DVD at the Des Moines Public Library. Some have brilliant concepts with grand execution, others are incisive and authentic, while a few are clever yet goofy fun, but I believe that they’re all quality shows that deserve to be seen.
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (27, 45-min. eps.) – In between chapters of the Evil Dead trilogy, but long before becoming Sam Axe on Burn Notice, Bruce “The Chin” Campbell starred as the titular character, an Old West bounty hunter battling baddies who possess anachronistically futuristic weapons in this crazy mix of multiple genres. (Fox)
The Ben Stiller Show (13, 23-min. eps.) – Admittedly, like so many other sketch comedies, this is pretty hit or miss, but it was good enough to nab the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program after it was canceled. The regular cast members (Stiller, Andy Dick, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk) all went on to successful careers afterwards. (Fox)
Firefly (13, 42-min. eps. and the 86-min. pilot) – Created by writer-director-producer Joss Whedon, Fox seemed to do everything it could to ensure the failure of this often lighthearted science fiction/adventure series. Despite showing several episodes out of their intended order, preempting a few and never airing three others, a fervent cult grew up around the show, culminating in the 2005 theatrical film Serenity, which wrapped up most of the series’ dangling plot threads.
FlashForward (22, 42-min. eps.) – FlashForward was a high concept series about a mysterious worldwide event in which everyone loses consciousness for 137 seconds during which each person has a vision about her/his near future. An FBI team is then assigned to answer the many questions this generates. Although the final episode answers some questions, it asks more that could only be answered had it been picked up for a second season. (ABC)
Freaks and Geeks (18, 44-min. eps.) – One of the greatest high school-set series of all time, nevertheless it took cable airings and DVD sales for Freaks and Geeks to really find its audience. Current comedy kingpins Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) and Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) co-produced the show and served in several other creative capacities. Linda Cardellini, James Franco, Seth Rogan, Jason Segel, and Busy Philipps are among those who went on to stardom on TV and/or in movies. (NBC)
Grosse Pointe (17, 22-min. eps.) – Darren Starr used his experience producing Beverly Hills, 90210 to create this satire about the off-camera antics of five actors starring in a fictional high school-set nighttime soap opera also called “Grosse Pointe.” In spite of solid critical notices (unlike those of Starr’s other shows, including Melrose Place), this show never caught on with a sizeable audience. (WB)
My So-Called Life (19, 47-min. eps.) – Claire Danes’ heartfelt performance as teenager Angela Chase in this realistic teen drama made her an instant star, and a surprise Golden Globe winner for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Drama. Low ratings, however, combined with 15-year-old Danes’ own reluctance to come back for a second season, convinced ABC to kill it.
Police Squad! (6, 25-min. eps.) – To this day, I don’t know how this wacky send-up of cop dramas ever found its way onto ABC’s schedule, it was just too deliciously clever and stupid simultaneously. Created by the team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, who’d already had big screen success with Airplane!, this small screen entry lasted only six episodes. Nevertheless, it was later revived in three Naked Gun theatrical features, also starring Leslie Nielsen as Det. Lt. Frank Drebin.
Undeclared (17, 22-min. eps.) – A year after NBC canceled Freaks and Geeks, Judd Apatow created this college comedy for Fox. Like his previous show, this featured a teen ensemble cast, but this time centering on a group of freshmen at the fictional University of Northeastern California. Series regulars Jay Baruchel (This Is the End), Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy), and Seth Rogan (The Green Hornet) all “graduated” to bigger things.
Wonderfalls (13, 42-min. eps.) – Fantasy seldom works on television, movies yes, television no. This quirky, sharp-edged series about a Brown University graduate who’s floundering after college was an exception – not that it mattered. Fox only aired four of the thirteen produced episodes and they broadcast those wildly out of order. Fortunately, the DVD release restored the intended sequence. What’s more, the producers completed the story arc so that this short-lived series received closure.