Watching a television show is a personal experience. You spend hours and hours of your life investing in stories and characters that you inevitably grow a personal attachment to them. This is what makes TV unique—it’s a relationship between you and the show. Sometimes that relationship sours, sometimes you feel betrayed. They come off initially as exciting and fun but once you really get to know them they’re miserable (looking at you Heroes). And like with all relationships they end in one of two ways—breaking up or death. And since everyone who’s reading this is presumably alive, we’ve all felt the grief of a show’s passing. So please allow me to share my pain with you. Here are the five deaths that hurt me the most in recent years.
The United States of Tara would have been on this list simply for the fact of it being a Showtime show that was cancelled too early. Yes Showtime, the network known for driving shows into the ground and dragging their rotting corpse around for four more seasons, cancelled US of T too soon. The show was not just an Emmy showcase for its lead, (though Toni Collette did deserve every award she was nominated for) it was also an interesting case study on how families deal with mental illness. Some shows treat them as special episodes and only bring them up when “drama” is needed. But mental illness, especially one as severe as Tara’s, doesn’t go away and family members need to adjust accordingly. And US of T filled their family with a plethora of acclaimed indie actors, Rosemarie DeWitt, Patton Oswalt, Brie Larson, and Viola Davis are just some of the fine actors that populate this world of a woman dealing with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder).
But The United States of Tara always brought it back to family, no matter how the disease kept coming back and rearing its ugly head, disrupting everything and driving the story forward in some ways. After two seasons it felt like this was US of T’s holding pattern and it didn’t show opportunity for growth.
Then the third season came and things became a little more intriguing. The genesis for Tara’s disease was always hinted at some sort of trauma in her early college years. But then slowly it became apparent that something occurred much earlier to make her this way. As we began to slowly unravel the origin of Tara’s disease the show became more focused on Tara as a whole character, not just the sum of different personalities. That’s why it was such a shame that show never got a fourth season where Tara would have begun some real treatment for her condition and further explore her deepest inner demons. There was an interesting avenue that was suggested at the end of season 3, but alas the universe conspires and now we may never know what became of Tara.
Suburgatory is probably the first surprise on this list. This one is personal (they’re all person by virtue of being on this list but regardless). Suburgatory was a little known comedy about a teenage girl moving from Manhattan to a fictional suburban upstate New York Stepford-Wives neighborhood. Her adjustment to suburban politics and mean girls makes for the perfect comedy set-up. And Suburgatory delivered just enough in its beginning to pique my interest. Jane Levy is great in the lead role. Witty and sardonic, she cuts the goofiness pristine nature of other character like Cheryl Hines’ Dallas or Ana Gasteyer’s Sheila Shay. I’ll always appreciate it for introducing us to Carly Chaikan’s Dalia and Allie Grant’s Lisa Shay: two characters who could’ve been archetypes but instead developed into some of the most unique comedic voices I’ve seen on television.
So it was such a shame that after two stellar seasons, Suburgatory began to lose it’s footing in its third. Some characters (Alan Tudyk’s) departed and other felt a little lost in the narrative—George and Dallas seemed too stuck in neutral after their breakup. This is all to say the show lost a few steps in its third season. And this unfortunately collided with low ratings in a thrilling combination that almost always ends in cancellation.
The previous shows I listed were shot down as they flew across the sky into the stars. They were getting better and we will never know if we saw their best. But we know we left them at their best. I’m not sure if we left Suburgatory at its best. But it was in an interesting transition phase when TV shows have some mileage behind them. The first season of successful TV is usually where shows figure out what they are. The second is when they figure out what they do best. And the third is usually them doing their damned best. That’s what makes Suburgatory ending so bitter—it didn’t follow that pattern. It wasn’t perfect—but it had promise and was ended while going through some interesting growing pains.
Dollhouse, my sweet summer child. Joss Whedon shows never start out well—Firefly excluded of course. The first season of Buffy is borderline unwatchable and Angel’s first season was only tolerable out of pure curiosity (and Cordelia’s charm). Dollhouse is no different. The first season slogs, trading character work for plot intrigue in a way that makes the show more confusing and alienating. Eliza Dushku’s work is weak—and she’s not working with much in a poorly defined Echo/Caroline. The week to week format seemed like a good idea that didn’t really get far—the first season became largely a failure.
Once “Epitaph One”, an originally un-aired episode, was released on DVD, everything changed. This episode flashes forward a few years into a world ravaged by the “imprint” technology that the show revolved around. This was a major paradigm shift for Dollhouse. In the ensuing second season, the show largely abandoned the mission-of-the-week format to focus on closing the gap between the present and the “Epitaph One” future. What followed were some of the most engaging and thrilling hours of television a Joss Whedon show has ever produced. The uptick in quality from the first season to the second is profound. The plot is more focused, the pacing is tighter and the twists are classic Whedon. The characters move away from being lifeless “dolls” into having personality, wants, obstacles—you know, things that create character.
Unfortunately the ratings never followed. Dollhouse was cancelled after its second season in a move that surprised no one. The first season was alienating, and the anemic ratings it received were evidence. Causal fans (the bread and butter of network television) left and never came back and Dollhouse couldn’t recover. Dollhouse is a bitter sweet reminder that Joss Whedon & Co. can create gold out pretty much whatever they touch—if given the time.
There is no comedy that will make me laugh harder than Happy Endings. That is a fact that cannot change. Television is about growth as much as it’s about stasis, this is why I love it so much. Things have to change just as much as they have to stay the same. Happy Endings didn’t come out the gate swinging. It limped out, stumbled and crawled until it found its footing. And it happened so slowly and inconspicuously that it wasn’t until you were on the floor laughing that you realized it hit you: Happy Endings is fucking funny. Bring six, mostly ridiculous, mostly hilarious people together and let hijinks and chaos ensue. It’s the simplest idea executed to perfection. Alex Kerkovich’s voracious appetite and aggressive empty-headedness, and Brad and Jane’s unabashed role-reversing marriage were just some of the ways Happy Endings learned to lean into its quirks to create some of the most memorable episodes of television in years.
But when something is too good to be true, it usually is. Happy Endings was teetering in the rating for a while, and ABC couldn’t settle on a good timeslot for it. In the age of streaming services, timeslots may seem like an afterthought but networks still mostly live and die by Nielsen. After 3 seasons ABC couldn’t justify this show’s continued blessed existence. Despite a brief of hope of being picked up by another network, (imagine if USA had Mr. Robot and Happy Endings?!) the show was ceremoniously cancelled. On the bright side it seems like it will spend its afterlife as a cult-classic, while the actors seemed destined to have it as the best thing on their IMDB.
Alas, long live Happy Endings, cut down in its prime.
What can I say about a show that has given me so much? I started out a little hesitant. I’ve had partners like it before (Justice League) and I was worried it would pale in comparison. I was so glad to be proven wrong. Young Justice wore me down with its relentless pace, quick wit (especially in Robin), and powerful relationships between characters. It had a reverence toward DC’s vast history without being beholden to it. With such an expansive cast it was truly quite amazing that almost every character seemed three-dimensional; even the most ancillary heroes got moments of depth. And this is all in the first season. The second season expanded the cast further, while delivering action sequences that will stick with me for a long time. The show was near-perfect and seemed like it had just begun to kick into gear in season 2.
Which is why its end seemed so hurtful. At time where there was a dearth of quality in animated programs, Young Justice proved children’s programming could be smart and unique. The show had everything, critically successful and a ratings hit. Regrettably, the powers that be decided the show was not translating well to merchandise and decided to replace it with more “kid friendly” fare. This is why YJ is at number 1. It’s a sobering reminder of the true nature of the programs we love. They are cash cows, greasing the machine that prints money for big media. Hopefully one day Young Justice will return.