One-Hit Wonders: Shows That Only Had One Season

The four fates of the television world are fickle beasts. TV shows, like everything else in this world, have unpredictable life spans. The lamest of series can last years on certain networks, leaving viewers bewildered as to why the thing is still alive. (I have similar questions about the banana trees in my backyard.) On the other hand, really great shows can be taken from us for seemingly no reason. Some of the best shows — and the most enduring — only received but a single, fabulous season, much to the dismay of TV nerds everywhere.
Of course, there are reasons. Some shows get cancelled due to budget issues. Some splinter under creative differences. Others suffer because the competition is too strong, or because a pesky thing called a "writers strike" got in the way.
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Like musical one-hit wonders, though, a show with only one season doesn't have to be irrelevant. In fact, a singular season can cement indelibility in a way that 13 seasons cannot. (I would argue that long-running shows, like three hours of croquet, grow boring and therefore irrelevant.) A good one-season show is like a hot summer fling; you love it while it lasts, and you miss it while it's over, but you're okay with how it all turned out.
And, hey, a one-hit wonder makes for great weekend binge-watching. Ahead, the shows whose relevance outlasts their length — the one-seasoners we'll always remember.
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Bunheads (2012)

The Amy Sherman-Palladino-led television show enjoyed a warm reception from critics. Labelled an easy, low-stakes respite from melodramatic television, Bunheads suffered without a big fanbase. The A.V. Club declared it, simply, "a lovely place to be for 45 minutes" and Variety called it "immediately captivating." So, what gives? The show didn't receive a second season.

The New York Times attributed the declining ratings to a bizarre schedule — 10 of the 18 episodes from the first season broadcast over the summer of 2012, with the remaining 8 appearing in the winter season. The splintered first season was beloved, but not very well-watched: the final episodes earned but 1.1 million viewers each.
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Enlisted (2014)

FOX's sitcom about three brothers on the army's version of junior varsity debuted the same year as Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Catch my drift? With the star power of Andy Samberg and an admittedly delightful banter, the cop comedy seemed to have trampled Enlisted. People — including yours truly — loved the show because, quite simply, it was funny. Like The Office or Parks and Recreation, Enlisted placed its characters in a mundane situation and raised the emotional stakes. The three brothers, played by Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell, and Parker Young, are in the shadow of their war hero father. So, desperate to prove themselves worthy, they make the best of a bad situation.

The Hollywood Reporter called it " a real gem."

The A.V. Club declared that it was "subverting stock comedy."

Despite a stellar ensemble cast (Ron Funches! Michelle Buteau! Keith David!), the show lost its footing with a Friday timeslot and stiff competition from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It was cancelled after 13 episodes, never to be remembered.
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Firefly (2002)

Firefly is perhaps the champion of Shows That Should Not Have Been Cancelled. Joss Whedon's space Western lived a short life on FOX — just 12 episodes — before meeting its maker, much to the disappointment of fans. By now, the myth of Firefly has grown such that we know why it was cancelled. We have details, and we understand the network turmoil that led to its demise. Whedon said in Serenity: The Official Visual Companion that FOX didn't like the fact that Wash (Alan Tudyk) and Zoe (Gina Torres) were married in the show. That was the foundation of a rough network-showrunner relationship that eventually ran the show to the ground.

Fans rallied and earned the film a feature-length counterpart titled Serenity, during which one of the principle characters died, leaving the future of the show certain — without Wash, there is no show (personally speaking).

Firefly had the makings of a modern Star Trek: The missions were epic, but the characters were familiar. The show lives on in the cult of Firefly — fans call themselves 'browncoats,' a reference to Captain Mal's rebel army — and an enduring respect for Joss Whedon's artistic integrity.
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Freaks and Geeks (1999)

The show that put Judd Apatow and his clan of manboys on the map never made it past the first season. Freaks and Geeks was about the losers in high school. For the time, this wasn't network material. (Remember: Prestige television was but a fetus in 1999.) According to Garth Ancier, the NBC executive responsible for killing the show, Apatow wouldn't agree to give the kids on the show "a win."

"My only note to Judd Apatow over the entire series was that either the Freaks and/or the Geeks should win the occasional victory over the cooler kids," Ancier wrote in a Facebook post in 2014. Rogen had confronted him at a Hollywood party and posted about the interaction on Twitter. (Rogen, who appeared on the show, pulled no punches when discussing his feelings towards Ancier. "I was like, 'The whole show was about how in high school you always lose all the time.' [Ancier] went to a private school and was very rich as a child," Rogen recounted later in a Huffpost Live interview.) Ancier, for his part, apologized for cancelling the show.
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The Grinder (2016)

The Grinder was the Great Fred Savage (The Princess Bride, remember?) Return To Television. Coupled with Rob Lowe, veritable television royalty, Savage's presence seemed to cement the show's success. And the reviews were good! The show's attempt at meta-comedy — Rob Lowe played an actor who once played a lawyer on television trying to be a real lawyer in life — was celebrated as a successful satire on the Hollywood mentality. Entertainment Weekly called it "one of television's funniest comedies," although they added the caveat that it took an entire season to get there. The New York Times declared the pilot "relentlessly funny" and their reviewer seemed assured that the show would continue. It was funny; it had heart; most importantly, it had funny Rob Lowe.

It's unclear what mix of poisons murdered The Grinder. Deadline reported that, after viewing the pilot for season 2, FOX decided to grind the show to a halt. (Sorry.)
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Kings (2009)

NBC's drama was ambitious: The premise took gave the modern world a serious take on monarchies. Ian McShane played the king of a fictional country called Gilboa struggling to maintain order in, well, a monarchy. (That's the trouble with patrilineal dictatorships — they're not that stable.) Sebastian Stan (Captain America: Winter Soldier) played the dashing prince in need of a rescue.

Low ratings killed Kings, in this case. The regicide occurred because the show aired on Sunday nights and simply never attracted an audience. Fans petitioned to save the show, but to no avail. Perhaps there's a reason that monarchy — for the most part — is dead.
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Last Resort (2012)

The submarine drama had a 24-like appeal. It was about as high-stakes as television can get: A crew of the submarine warship Colorado is ordered to blast an entire nation. The captain of the vessel makes an executive decision not to do so. That's tense stuff, there.

Last Resort suffered because it was probably meant to be a movie. Early reviews of the pilot, such as this gentle one from The Hollywood Reporter, wondered if the show could sustain the stakes through an entire season — not to mention an entire host of seasons. Despite an opener which TIME compared to submarine in its dramatic efficiency, the show was cancelled before it had even finished airing its episodes. Co-creator Shawn Ryan said he was "shocked" and attributed the cancelled to low ratings and the fact that the show's Thursday time slot matched up with the unkillable Big Bang Theory.
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My So-Called Life (1994)

Do you watch Homeland? Do you love Claire Danes as much as the rest of the world does? Well, then you have My So-Called Life to thank. For the media-savvy person, this is an oblivious assertion — everyone knows that My So-Called Life is an iconoclast. Publications from Buzzfeed to The New York Times have published modern odes to the show. The fact is, it was a harsh look at teen obsession and the mundane trauma of high school. The show lives on in internet fandom, despite its early cancellation. (Gina Bellafonte, reviewer for The Times, attributed the show's low ratings to the success of Mad About You.)
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Selfie (2014)

I blame the name. There's an determined disgust at the word "selfie" and all its implications. Selfie the show wasn't about taking photos of one's face, per se. It took My Fair Lady and gave it a modern spin, something that's certainly been done before, but never this good. (Hey, remember when Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen tried to do that?) John Cho from Star Trek played the modern Henry Higgins with Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxu) as the brassy, incurable heroine. After its cancellation, publications stepped forward to shame those who didn't care or didn't watch. Selfie was first and foremost a good show, but it was also a show that featured an Asian male lead in a romantic role. This is rare, and this is important.

The show was cancelled mid-season, with creator Emily Kapnek announcing that the remaining episodes would be available on Hulu.
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Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006)

Aaron Sorkin achieved massive success with The West Wing. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, his next television effort, faltered. The show took an in-depth look at a live variety program called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip — sound familiar? That's because it's the same premise as the television darling 30 Rock, an effort that won for six solid seasons. Both shows premiered in 2006 on the same network to loving reviews. Matthew Perry, who played the co-head writer of the show, looked like he had another hit on his hands. (The West Wing's Bradley Whitford also starred.) The critic Alessandra Stanley wrote a dual review of the two, giving them both what amounts to a gold star sticker. Studio 60 was about the drama of creating a live show. 30 Rock was about the absurdity of it all.

Studio 60 suffered because it was too grand, too expensive, and at the wrong era. NBC cancelled it after ratings began to decline. The fact was, 30 Rock was less expensive, and faring better.
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The Good Guys (2010)

You would think that Colin Hanks, Bradley Whitford, and a silly buddy-cop premise would be a television win. And it was! True to their name, The Good Guys got good reviews. The premise wasn't new — buddy cops are as familiar as fairytales — but the dialogue was funny, and the actors perfectly primed for television. By the time the season finale aired, though, it seemed clear that Fox wouldn't renew the procedural. (The A.V. Club stated as much in its review of the finale.) Ratings were low, and the name/concept too banal to stand out in a world of increasingly diverse television.
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Trophy Wife (2013)

Bradley Whitford simply can't catch a break. In Trophy Wife, he played an older divorcée attached to Malin Akerman, the titular trophy wife. The show slyly deconstructed the sexist core of women-as-trophies — Akerman as Kate, the young woman suddenly responsible for two kids and a middle-aged style of wifedom, was goofy, absurd, and utterly at home. The show had two other seeming winners in Marcia Gay Harden and Michaela Watkins, as the two ex-wives. Vulture said of the show, simply, "There's life in it." ABC didn't agree.

If I may editorialize, the title doesn't help. The idea of a "trophy wife" — like the idea of a "selfie" — feels judgemental and perhaps a tad stale, even if the show is a send-up of the concept.
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