Following in the vein of my last column that summer is the season for grieving over lost sci-fi characters, I now want to honor and recognize the sci-fi TV shows that were brutally cut-off at the knees last year. While the death of a favorite character is hard enough to bear, it is even more devastating when a whole show is killed off. In fact, my heart still grievously aches over this past season’s savage cancellation of so many brilliant sci-fi shows.
(1) First, we must acknowledge the illustrious “Stargate: Atlantis,” which was abruptly cancelled in its fifth season after a long, successful run of 99 episodes. This was a gut-punching loss due to the suddenness and unexpectedness of the announcement. For being the first spin-off series from the hugely successful “Stargate SG-1” series which ran an astounding 10 seasons, “Stargate: Atlantis” was expected to run at least 7-8 years, instead of the mere five bestowed upon it. It seemed foolhardy to cancel such a successful TV show in the height of its prime – particularly as the Sci-Fi Channel (shortly to be re-named Syfy) was about to launch its second spin-off series “Stargate: Universe.” It would appear that there is plenty of room on the television landscape to accommodate several incarnations of successful TV series as there are no less than three successful variations of “CSI” and “Law & Order” which currently are filmed and broadcast simultaneously. Thus, it should be reasonable that there could be two “Stargate” series on at the same time as well, particularly as “Stargate SG-1” and “Stargate: Atlantis” ran five years back-to-back on the same network. But perhaps in these lean economic times and because those other series are on major television networks, those studios can afford three incarnations of the same series and Syfy can only afford one “Stargate” series. Whatever the reason for the cancellation, it was heart-breaking and unfathomable to the viewers. We can only hope that “Stargate: Universe” can keep the wonderfully imagined world of “Stargate” alive for awhile longer. But it will not be the same. The familiar faces will be gone – with only a few cameos to help transition the fans. The universe may be still there, but it truly is never the same without the “heart” of the show – those rich and memorable characters who made the universe real and an inviting place to visit every Friday night. So we mourn the loss of Lt. Col. John Sheppard, Teyla Emmagan, Dr. Rodney McKay, Ronon Dex, Dr. Carson Beckett, Dr. Jennifer Keller, and Richard Woolsey, who will not be there in the next “Stargate: Universe.” We will miss you.
(2) Next, I mourn for the loss of the adorable family show imbedded with distinctly sci-fi elements: “Kyle XY.” It was a story of a teenage boy searching for both his identity and place in this world who had some extraordinary abilities – mostly from genetic manipulation – the likes of which I am sure most scientists today can only dream of. “Kyle XY” ran four seasons before being abruptly cancelled. With 43 episodes under its belt, it also seemed surreal to cancel such a beloved television show. But the truly cruel part was forcing it to end on a cliff-hanger. With so many networks and studios providing ample notice of cancellations in order to allow the writers to wrap-up shows and thus ensure more DVD sales, it really is ludicrous that ABC Family Channel used so little foresight and opened itself up to the wrath of angry and outraged fans. But it did. I still shake my head with wonder about that decision. So I, along with millions of other fans, still sit in shock and disbelief. We will miss that wonderful, heart-warming family of the Tragers in which we all would love to be adopted. We will miss Kyle, Jesse, Declan, Andy and Amanda for enriching our lives with such goodwill and enthusiasm. And we will even miss that the zany girl with a heart of gold, Hillary. They welcomed us, embraced us, and taught us so much about love and what it means to be a family.
(3) Then one of my personal favorite sci-fi shows was also struck by lightening. “Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles” survived only 31 episodes before it too was stopped dead in its tracks. It was not enough as I still find myself lying awake at night wondering if perhaps John, Sarah, Cameron, Derek, Agent Ellison and Catherine Weaver are still out there in the future trying to save us from those evil machines. I may be dreaming, but it still haunts me. That is how desperately I wanted those characters to be real. They may have been from a future that shocked and horrified us all (and a future that we would not wish for), but the characters were irresistible. Peeking into their lives, I wanted to join them in their fight. The richness and vividness of the characters drew me in and, despite the atrocities they endured, I wanted to be a part of their lives. I am now adrift on Friday nights at 8:00 p.m. as, for me, it was “appointment television” and now I do not have an excuse to rush home from work. My heart truly aches. It is not broken, but it certainly yearns for more. I keep on wishing that someone will tinker with our timeline and we can jump back to a time before this amazing show was cancelled. If only our lives had re-set buttons or time portals to jump through. I would certainly jump back to a point last year and move this extraordinary, thought-provoking show to a time-slot it would have flourished and been discovered for the treasured gem that it was.
(4) Next is perhaps one of the zaniest story concepts on television: “Reaper” was a show about a young man roped into being a bounty-hunter for the Devil. It sounds like a cartoon, but with some very clever writing, inspired casting and a willingness to take itself seriously in the face of comedic pressure, it was a deft blend of humor and drama. It was also a poignant story about a young man seeking a way out of the “hell” foist upon him. It was a delicious roller-coaster ride of 31 episodes. It was wild, joyous, and utterly fun. We will greatly miss the adventures of Sam, Andi, Sock and Ben, who entertained us for too short a time.
(5) Another show which I feel the loss keenly is “Eli Stone” which only lasted 25 episodes. It was only two half seasons long and barely had a chance to introduce us to Eli’s world of visions and prophecy. While it was never clear whether Eli was merely delusional due to his brain aneurysm or if he was an instrument of God, it was fun to see how he used the divine revelations to win his cases and provide a measure of justice to those in desperate need – all the while being intertwined with outrageous song-and-dance numbers. I still find it depressing to realize that I will never know if Eli ultimately reconnects with perhaps his true love, Grace, or if he and Maggie are destined to be together as one of his visions foretold. Of all the sci-fi shows, this was perhaps the riskiest in concept. After all, how do you sell a TV show about a hot-shot lawyer who has a medical condition that allows him to see visions in which he and his office workers break into song and dance? It just did not seem within the realm of reality for lawyers to be the backdrop for musical television. It was not until I actually sat through the first episode that the light-bulb went off and my heart leapt with happiness. Here was a show that embraced a reality in which we could only wish for, showing us the touching underbelly of humanity. It was the promise of “possibility” that intrigued me and held me captivated. The poignant and insightful characters were infectious. As someone who works in the legal realm, I can only wish that my job were half as electrifying as Eli’s.
(6) Perhaps due to the crushing blow over the death of Nick Cutter, the main character of “Primeval,” I cannot mourn this show as much as the other shows listed here. I mourn the possibility of what may have been had the writers successfully resurrected Nick Cutter, but the show I cannot mourn as it was fool-hardy to think it could exist without its central characters. Let that be a lesson to all sci-fi shows: it is only as good as its core characters – and killing and/or eliminating core characters can be fatal. In British seasons, “Primeval” ran a successful three seasons. But in U.S. terms, the mere 23 episodes is only the equivalent of one season. From the very first episode, I remember the rush of adrenaline upon seeing those incredible dinosaurs and being included in the astonishing adventures of Nick, Stephen, Abby, Connor and Claudia Brown (Jennie) as they tried to fathom how such a thing were possible in modern-day England. They literally risked life and limb to save mankind from the glittering anomalies fragmenting our historical and future timelines. I am sure the writers thought by killing off Nick and Stephen that it would up the ante of realism on the show. But all it did was remove the reason more than half their audience tuned-in to watch it. A TV show is a living, breathing organism and by removing its “heart,” the show failed to survive. So I mourn the death of this television show, not because it failed to draw an audience, but because it simply failed to live up to the viewers’ expectations.
(7) Another personally devastating loss was the cancellation of “Pushing Daisies.” For a show that dazzled and delighted so many for 22 episodes, and scored no less than 12 Emmy nominations in its debuting year, it was heart-breaking to see that the television audience just did not tune-in. The story was perhaps just too complex for many: it was about a boy in love with a girl who he could never touch. In our increasingly sexualized society, the idea of love without physical touch was inconceivable. But, for everyone who loves romance, this was the cutest show ever brought to television. It served double-doses of love combined with wacky adventures each week and reminded us how beautiful life can be when you sacrifice everything for the person you love. In Ned’s case, he sacrificed physical love to be with his one true love: Charlotte (or Chuck as she was known). Their dance of longing and desire was exquisite as they found inventive ways to connect, whether it was with cellophane kisses, bee-hive suits, or plexiglas with a rubber glove in a car. It was nauseatingly adorable and every romantic in the world would sigh with envy at their delicious and creative displays of affection. In addition, it was pure icing on the cake that to supplement their poignant love story with the comedic genius of Chi McBride, Kristin Chenoweth, Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz. Bryan Fuller truly got his dream team, which brought the “Pushing Daisies” world to life. As each day goes by, I find myself longing for a Ned who can bring this incredible show back to life. But even Ned knew the rules: if he touched but once, it brought life; the second touch brought death — and “Pushing Daisies” had already been resurrected once. Life does not spring eternal for all TV shows. We were just blessed that it rose but once.
(8) As one of the few debuting sci-fi shows this past season, “My Own Worst Enemy” had the deck stacked against it. It was just too convoluted for viewers to understand: it was about a man who one day wakes up to find out that his whole life is fiction and that he was actually a deep under-cover agent working for the government – and, as if that was not bad enough, the chip in his head separating his identities was broken! It lasted only 9 episodes before NBC yanked it off the broadcast schedule. Fortunately, unlike most shows that are in the midst of ramping-up, this one had the blessing of ending on a good note. The final episode had a natural breaking-point and allowed the fans to see the outcome of the decision Edward/Henry made as to which of them was to survive. It was not a perfect ending, but at least it was not a cliff-hanger. It was a complex, crazy concept, but for anyone who loves the perfect blend of espionage-thrillers and sci-fi, it had everything one could hope for. For who among us does not secretly wish to one day wake up and find out they are a super-spy? It was Christian Slater’s perfectly nuanced performance creating two distinct personalities that made the show so appealing. Without the tug-of-war on the viewer’s emotions as to which character to root for, the dilemma would have seemed simple. Yet it never was and that made it great television. Had it been given just a little while longer, it may have turned out to be a phenomenal sci-fi show.
(9) “Life on Mars” was sci-fi done smart. It was so sneaky that you did not even realize you were watching science fiction. I vividly recall sitting through all 17 episodes just riveted. The entire concept blew my mind: a cop gets hit by a car in 2008 and wakes up in 1973. The “what the hell is going on?” factor was addictive. Just as Sam Tyler struggled to solve the mystery of what happened to him, we also struggled to figure out what was going on. It is a huge credit to everyone who worked on the show that the secret was not revealed too soon. There were clues carefully placed in each episode and each one just pulled us in deeper. Credit should also be given to ABC for letting the writers know sufficiently in advance that the show was going to be discontinued after the first season, which allowed ample opportunity to wrap-up the storyline. This was too good a show to not give it a proper swan-song. And the twist in the end was worth it. I nearly hugged my TV set with joy upon the huge reveal of what was really going on with Sam Tyler. When sci-fi is done right, you practically weep with joy. This little gem of a show will be missed, but I am happy that we had the pleasure of its company even for a little while.
(10) Coming down to the wire, in what should have been one of the biggest debuts of last season, “Kings” was somehow buried alive on Sunday nights during the mid-season. With the Emmy-award winning pedigree of Ian McShane helming the show as King, it should have been ratings gold – and, if you saw the 2 hour premier, it was. But perhaps due to the awkwardness of a March launch date when viewers are weary and a bit leery of trying new things, the show never got the standing ovation it deserved. After just a few episodes, it was shelved as a summer burn-off series and currently occupies a Saturday death-slot. It is not yet known if the 13th episode will leave the viewers hanging or gnashing their teeth with frustration. But, as we countdown to its final breath on television, let us savor its final moments. Unlike many other sci-fi/fantasy shows, “Kings” took a leap of faith and sought to tell the classic story of David and Goliath in a modern, futuristic society. I found the visual imagery breath-taking and was astounded at the delicate weaving of theology, politics and family. If you too had the chance to see this masterful and surprising show, you know what I am talking about when I say it was a shame so few people tuned-in. It deserved a chance to be heard, seen, and savored.
(Honorable mention goes to “Battlestar Galactica” which ended its four year run this past season as well. But in that case, it was a planned ending. I mourn the loss of perhaps the best sci-fi show ever to grace the television screen, but know that we were privileged to enjoy it until it reached its natural conclusion. It had a planned ending and we rejoiced in every moment we were given.)