Tom Jolliffe on that hollow feeling fans experience when a TV show you’re emotionally invested in is canned by the network…
A good TV series. You park your derriere down for that first episode. Does it hook you in immediately? Then every subsequent episode you see, particularly on a continued drama with a long overriding arc you become invested. Episodic sitcoms can be different, with every episode often a new mini-adventure. Sometimes a continued strand might run through, but often a sitcoms demise doesn’t carry the same curse as a good continuing drama that is taken before its time. This of course is the key. Before it’s time. I invested in Breaking Bad. I was enthralled. I ate up days blitzing through it quicker than I should have, and it ended. I was left wondering just what the hell to watch next. Every other show in the wake of it just didn’t feel as interesting. I couldn’t get into the spin off either, Better Call Saul. It was good but it wasn’t great, and it was within that Universe. Still, when Breaking Bad ended, it knew it was ending and did so of its own accord.
So you watch your dramatic series. Lets say Channel 4’s Utopia. It’s involving, engrossing, really well written. There are great performances throughout (particularly Neil Maskell as a sociopathic assassin). I got through two seasons of this quirky and brilliant show. The story line sees a group of individuals meet online to discuss an infamous (within certain circles) graphic novel that may be more than it seems. The group then find themselves being hunted, as hunters and hunted seek to find the eponymous Jessica Hyde. The story did have a satisfying conclusion whilst opening up the possibility of continuation. So good was it of course, that the prospect of continuation excited me a great deal. If I have little pre-knowledge going into something, to catch it with every twist as a surprise, I tend to look online about the show after I’ve finished it, to find out more. So imagine my discord, having caught Utopia a few years after its run, to find that it had been axed after its two season run. I was a bit despondent. It could have been worse of course, it could have ended on a cliffhanger that had no resolutions.
Utopia isn’t the first show to gain a cult audience a little too late after the fact. In TV, the life or death of a show is based largely on the here and now. It’s about immediate impact, and instant numbers. Resurrection though, has become a recurring TV theme though. Utopia had long had rumours of an American reboot, and this has come to pass, with Amazon shortly releasing their version of the same story. Of course in the streaming world, the life and death of a show still has a link to viewing numbers, but it’s less concerned with the immediacy of live broadcast. There’s a little more breathing space for a show to grow, to gain audience members. I’ve almost never liked the American remake of a British show, as they never quite capture exactly what it was that made the original great (and there’s usually more flash and bravura, but less subtlety). Sitcom cross Atlantic translations have been the worst culprits, but there’s still a part of me that hopes Utopia US not only matches the original for magnetism, but also does well enough to continue the story where the British version left off.
Top Boy was a similar feeling of dejection for me initially. I watched it upon release in an initial Channel 4 run that some fans of the Netflix resurrection still remain unaware existed. Top Boy was a fantastic show. In fact in my own first short film (called Out, available to watch on Vimeo if so inclined, Out (2015) – Short film.), we cast Shone Romulus (who played Dris) because myself and the director loved the show. Sadly, despite solid viewing numbers and a strong fanbase, Top Boy ended on a season 2 cliffhanger, and was axed. For years, attempts at continuing the story were rumoured, until Netflix came to the salvation of it (alongside producer Drake). Season 3 in fact not only did justice to the original show (which was also moved to Netflix, re-titled as essentially a prequel) but developed an even more confident style and the introduction of a more filmic score, over more predominantly soundtrack work in the originals. It absolutely exploded on Netflix, such was that long awaited expectation from the original fans, and the new wave of fans who discovered the reboot (it is more a reboot than a direct third season) that it did more than well enough to mean a fourth season is inevitable. Had it remained on terrestrial TV, would it have picked up that same in the moment boom? Would audiences have given enough numbers at 10pm on x-day to guarantee a fourth season? Possibly not, and given there’s a definite sense of unfinished business by the end of Netflix’s season, we might have been left feeling short changed again. A niche show, which will gain ardent fans, able to watch at their own convenience, is well suited to streaming service. Channel 4’s streaming apps too, consistently seem to bug and crash, so even watching something current on catch up becomes a pain. The likes of Netflix and Amazon tend to be far more reliable as platforms, and of course draw far larger numbers. Netflix also opened Top Boy out to a world wide audience like never before, which only added to its fan base.
Some shows didn’t quite hook me in with the same pull as Top Boy and Utopia but still left me wanting more. Last year, during a particular binge on Detective shows because the good wife enjoyed them (and I do as I’m told), we watched Whitechapel. It was a solid enough show that never quite reached greatness, but built slowly until a final season, final episode finale that suddenly hit a peak of intrigue, opening up the possibility of a fourth season that would have been very interesting…and it never came. At the point it was most magnetic, the show had been canned. Oh dear. More recently, I finally got round to watching Humans. I’d a notion of what the show was of course, and it was the kind of sci-fi concept I usually enjoy. Okay, it’s perhaps been surpassed by single episodes of Black Mirror (another which got resurrected on streaming, with mixed results) but I found it engaging enough. I had no idea until finishing it sadly, that it officially ended after series 3. The three season story had a sense of closure, but again, with the prospect of a new story that could have been very interesting indeed being teased. A story I’d love to see continued. So whether the cult fan base for Humans is strong enough to find itself rebooted by a streaming network, remains to be seen, and whether they choose to carry on where its Channel 4 guise left off, is another question. I hope so, as I’d love to see it.
I suppose at least in the case of those shows above, they had multiple season runs. Some shows picked up a cult audience but only got a single season. Firefly is a classic example, though managed resurrection in the form of a film re-invention (the great Serenity) and comic continuations. Even some 20 years later fans would love to see a continuation of the series. The Crow: Stairway to Heaven starring Mark Dacascos was another I enjoyed, that despite picking up fans, never got renewed for a second season. That was a shame given that the series was miles better than any of the dreadful sequels to the first brilliant Alex Proyas film (based on James O’Barr’s iconic graphic novels). Perhaps less surprising was 2018’s BBC drama Hard Sun which failed to strike a chord with audiences or critics. Unfortunately it did strike a chord with me, and I sat through week by week, intrigued by a gradually more compelling plot and enigmatic final cliffhanger only to read shortly after that it had been decided quite quickly that the show wouldn’t continue. Sadly too, it doesn’t strike me as a show that has enough interest for streaming salvation either.
What cancelled shows would you love to see resurrected? How did you feel when a show you loved got axed? Let us know your thoughts on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), War of The Worlds: The Attack and the star studded action films, Renegades (Lee Majors, Billy Murray) and Crackdown. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/