TV series cut short too soon

-- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 5:18 AM ET

Imagine ripping a bonbon from Britney Spears' chunky, grasping talons.

That's a little what it's like separating a TV critic from his favourite show.

For the courtship between critic and series is a complex one, first marked by the flush of pleasant surprise ("Hey, this ain't bad") and then cemented by fidelity ("I will watch you above all others'), foolish pride ("I must tell others about how glorious you are") and desperate prayer ("Don't let it be punted for a spinoff of Yes, Dear ... Don't let it be punted for a spinoff of Yes, Dear ...").

It is not something to be dismissed lightly. And it is a love affair we rarely forget, long after our beloved has been cheerlessly replaced by The Surreal Life.

Just last month Love Monkey -- a promising dramedy starring former Ed star and current CIBC pitchman Tom Cavanaugh -- was axed by the braintrust at CBS (a.k.a. Those Responsible For Ghost Whisperer) after a smattering of episodes.

The cancellation wasn't a shock, considering the network was probably at a loss with what to do with a series that had neither a laugh track nor a body count. Truthfully, I hadn't seen enough of it to declare it great -- or merely a project with potential. But then, we'll never know now, will we?

Love Monkey's demise did, however, get us thinking about all those other shows, some more recent than others, that have come and gone so fleetingly -- resigned to wander the intergalactic static in the hope that some alien civilization might some century tune in.

We know there are dozens -- possibly hundreds -- that have blinked into existence to be imprinted upon too-few minds.

But in the name of the common good, we arrived at this Sun-certified ranking of the 25 finest shows ever to be cancelled too quickly, cut short too soon.

1: TWIN PEAKS: Like many series consigned to an early grave, the influence of this David Lynch-crafted melodrama about murder in a small Pacific Northwest town was felt for years after its end. Would we have met Mulder and Scully or opened their X-Files had there not first been Peaks and Kyle MacLachlan's FBI agent Dale Cooper, with his deadpan demeanor and obsession with the occult? Peaks -- with its Lynchian atmosphere -- cobbled together painterly images with swelling melodies and abstract, disquieting non sequiturs. Never again would I look at cherry stems or apple pies the same way. Lynch wouldn't return to television until nearly a decade later when he produced a pilot entitled Mulholland Falls. ABC ended up scrapping the project, which led Lynch to retool it as a film.

2: ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: A recent wound inflicted upon the collective unconscious was the criminally-inane nixing of this Emmy-winning family comedy. Starring Jason Bateman and filmed in a quasi-documentary style with a narrator and no insipid laugh track, Development never resorted to easy gags, deriving its laughs, ever so archly, from its characters, while refusing to underestimate the intelligence of its viewers. Both of them.

3: FIREFLY: This series from Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) billed itself as the anti-Star Trek, a futuristic western about outlaws living on the fringe of a galactic empire. The show, fronted by Edmonton-born Nathan Fillion, wasn't remarkable for special effects or mind-bending 2001 concepts, but for its sharp performances and whip-fast wit. Firefly got the short shrift from Fox, which aired episodes out of order and pulled the plug before all its instalments had aired. Whedon exacted a revenge, of sorts, when he wrote and directed last year's feature film Serenity, based on the series.

4: EZ STREETS: Before he enraged gay cowboys everywhere by winning an Oscar for Crash, Canadian writer/director Paul Haggis created and produced this introspective crime epic about three violent men -- a cop, a criminal, a convict -- and the uneasy world they inhabit. With Streets, Haggis, who at the time was coming off the success of the lightweight Due South, demonstrated his skill at interweaving challenging narratives with intricately-shaded characterizations.

5: FREAKS AND GEEKS/UNDECLARED: These two short-lived comedies -- about the travails of the young and alienated -- were created by Judd Apatow, an Emmy winner whose credits include The Larry Sanders Show and last summer's The 40-Year-Old Virgin. In both, Apatow juggled laughter and pathos without sacrificing reality or low-balling viewers -- in other words, no pies, flutes or Krazy-glued body parts. Just nerds and their friends, confronting freedom, responsibility, the opposite sex and more than a few hapless parents.

6: ACTION!: These days, Jay Mohr is best known for doing a wicked Christopher Walken impersonation -- oh, and there was that stint hosting the reality-TV contest Last Comic Standing, how could we forget? -- but if Hollywood were a fairer place, he'd be remembered for starring in this Tinseltown satire as a Hollywood player who's every bit the velociraptor Jeremy Piven's agent in HBO's Entourage is. Speaking of Entourage, should Piven ever bolt, we could think of no more fitting a replacement than the ever-employable Mohr.

7: ANDY RICHTER CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE: Sidekicks are historically an underrated lot. Robin The Boy Wonder in the green short-shorts, Ed McMahon degenerating into a home-lotto pitchman. So perhaps Andy Richter, who rose to stardom as Conan O'Brien's right-hand man and staring-contest sparring partner, should have been braced for the lukewarm reception his ingenious, whimsical comedy Andy Richter Controls The Universe was greeted with. The gimmick of the show, co-produced by Richter, was letting viewers be privy to his inner-most fantasies (don't worry, it was all PG-rated), allowing Controls The Universe to offset its Dilbert-esque office setting with flights of imagination -- all to sublime comic effect.

8: THE TICK: The Seinfeld curse hasn't simply hexed the primary cast members -- at times it has also plagued supporting players such as Patrick Warburton, who portrayed Elaine's on-and-off boyfriend, Puddy. In 2001, Warburton landed the titular role in this live-action comic strip created by Ben Edlund and produced by Men in Black's Barry Sonnenfeld, only to find audiences indifferent to its wry and endearing tale of an endlessly cheerful, blue-suited crusader.

9: CRIME STORY: In 1986, while the world was watching Miami Vice, its producer Michael Mann created this sprawling crime saga set in the 1960s and starring Dennis Farina as a dogged, flawed detective who wouldn't be caught dead in a pink T-shirt. While Crime Story didn't have the immediate impact on the culture Vice did, its season-long arcs, graphic violence and hard-boiled cops make Mann seem prescient 20 years later.

10: BOOMTOWN: This L.A.-based procedural was at times too slick, but with its Rashomon-style storytelling -- each episode being told from differing points of view -- and jigsaw structure, it was a propulsive piece of pop entertainment. Even with former New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg in the cast.

11: FAMILY GUY: How does a show that's still on the air make it on this list? Because it WAS cancelled by Fox and resurrected only because DVD sales convinced executives there was still cash to be milked from Peter Griffith's udders.

12: SPORTS NIGHT: Before he created The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin dazzled with this dramedy set at a sports cable network. The ensemble included Felicity Huffman, but the true star was Sorkin's mastery of the language.

13: ANGEL: When this Buffy spinoff was slain, executive producer Joss Whedon ended things by sending his heroes to certain death because even though they'd lose, the fight itself was just. The same could be said for Angel.

14: ROBBERY HOMICIDE DIVISION: Michael Mann returned to the streets briefly with this CBS crime drama. The problem? It didn't look like every other CBS crime drama. Which is why, coincidentally, it's listed here.

15: GREG THE BUNNY: Seth Green peaked when he starred in this sitcom about a world in which muppets are real.

16: THE JOB: Before Rescue Me, Denis Leary created and starred in this equally energetic and truthful dramedy.

17: THE CRITIC: Jon Lovitz voiced the titular toon of this Simpsons spinoff.

18: CUPID: Jeremy Piven before he was relegated to playing only 1) a jerk or 2) the star's best friend.

19: REUNION: Memo to self: Before you start watching another serialized drama, make sure it has a full-season order so the writers can tie up all the loose ends.

20: THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR.: Two universal truths about anything with Bruce Campbell: it will be cool and never find a large audience.

21: HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET: This police drama lasted longer than most shows on this list, but like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, we still wanted more life.

22: ONCE AND AGAIN: A rare drama that dealt with divorce realistically.

23: WONDERFALLS: Joan of Arcadia with brains.

24: STAR TREK: The question is, would Star Trek have lasted for 40 years if it hadn't been cancelled after three seasons, since its early death only served to nourish its cult following?

25: NOW AND AGAIN: Not to be confused with Once and Again. Like he does with his other projects, creator Glenn Gordon Caron (Medium) subverted genre cliches with this tale of a modern-day Six Million Dollar Man.

THEY LIVED TOO LONG

Some TV shows die too soon, but others go on waaaay past their expiry dates:

- THE X-FILES: The first five seasons of this supernatural series were excellent. Then we had the move from Vancouver to Los Angeles, the muddled movie and the search for Mulder and ... need I go on?

- ALIAS: This spy serial fell apart after two seasons. It's currently limping toward its final episode -- three years too late.

- FRIENDS: What's so funny about watching a group of bored multimillionaires who just showed up so they can collect their $25-million-per-season paycheques? Nothing at all.


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