The 10 Best Short-Lived Series From The Past Decade
#10. "Life on Mars" (2008-2009)--A great cast featuring Harvey Keitel, Jason O'Mara, and Michael Imperioli along with some very clever writing helped make this police drama set in 1973 New York City sparkle, its gimmick being a modern-day cop suddenly wakes up 36 years before his time and applies his modern sensibilities working a beat within the framework of the rules (or lack thereof) of the mid-1970s, unable to understand why he's lost in this time warp. It was comparable to "Quantum Leap" in a number of ways even though the character stayed in the same role week to week. The series only lasted 17 episodes but was a lot of fun while it was on. For better or worse, it lasted long enough to have closure and explain the context of the lead character's time warp, insane and unsatisfying (to most) as the resolution ultimately was.
#9. "The Good Guys" (2010)--Matt Nix, the showrunner of USA's long-running action-adventure show "Burn Notice" came to network TV in the summer of 2010 on Fox with a silly but fun cop show about a hapless middle-aged detective whose remained on the police department payroll for decades exclusively because he happened to save the mayor's daughter's life in the 1970s. Bradley Whitford played the annoying and incompetent Dan Stark, partnered with youthful straight-man Colin Hanks. There were moments the show got too silly for me, but it brought back memories of the classic over-the-top police comedy "Sledge Hammer!" from the 1980s, only with the budget of a modern action show. It lasted 20 episodes which was probably a sufficient run for the one-joke series but was a lot of fun while it lasted.
#8. "Vegas" (2012-2013)--CBS pulled out all the stops in 2012 with a period piece set in 1960s Las Vegas featuring a collision of worlds between the cowboy law enforcement culture represented by Dennis Quaid and the emerging mob culture represented by thuggish casino boss represented by Michael Chiklis. Carrie-Anne Moss and Jason O'Mara supplemented a strong cast and the three-dimensional chess game playing out between Quaid and Chiklis was the backbone of the show. And it started out with considerable success, getting boffo ratings Tuesday nights. But at some point in the midseason ratings started to dip and CBS wanted to test out a new show in that time slot, relegating "Vegas" to Friday nights where ratings collapsed and where the creative energy began to wane, reverting to standard CBS procedural fare. It was a bad combination and led to a cancellation that seemed unthinkable only a couple of months earlier. "Vegas" actually finished as the #20-rated show of the 2012-2013 season yet still got cancelled because of the late-season collapse. Frankly though, if the showrunners were running out of inspiration to the degree those last several outings indicated, the network probably did them a favor by not bringing it back.
#7. "Game of Silence" (2016)--This is kind of the show that inspired my list since it is ongoing (four remaining episodes) yet was just formally cancelled by NBC last week. The premise is an original, with a group of adult males pushing 40 who were involved in a fatal car accident when they were young boys and sentenced to a boys detention facility called Quitman that was a peyton place of abuse and pedophilia run by a monstrous warden who is now running for Congress on a "family values" platform. The four men decide to reunite to try to take down the warden and all the corrupt and enabling guards on his payroll. Six episodes in, it's been very suspenseful and well-crafted, with a number of nicely played twists and revelations that make for great television. I hope there's some closure at the end of its limited run this summer because the series deserves it.
#6. "Traveler" (2007)--TV was really starting to get good again in the mid-2000s and the success of modern classics such as "24" and "Prison Break" seemed to inspire a new wave of fast-paced and suspenseful serialized shows. One of the best was "Traveler" which opened with a trio of college guys partaking in what they though was an innocent prank that led to a terrorist bombing at the Smithsonian, with an intense manhunt to follow and a wave of plot twists that played out nicely. I'm not sure what ABC's problem with this show was but they sidelined it until summer and then cut its episode order from 13 to 8 before it even aired. It generally got good reviews so it wasn't like I was the only one who found this show interesting. Whatever the case, it ended with an unresolved whimper in July 2007, never to be heard from again. It deserved at least 13 episodes, if not 22, to fully play out the storyline.
#5. "Chicago Code" (2011)--Fox got in on the wave of harder-edged cable-style police dramas back in 2010 and had a winner on their hands with the three-dimensional "Chicago Code", documenting the seedy underbelly of corrupt local government machinations in the city of Chicago, particularly the brilliantly corrupt Alderman Ronin Gibbons played by character actor Delroy Lindo who used an elaborate ring of patronage to keep a tight grip on friends and enemies alike. Jennifer Beals played the new Police Superintendent who naively tried to do right and change the crooked culture of the department and its connection with corrupt politicians (none more than Gibbons). Great performances throughout and it was always thrilling to see the chess match between the police and Alderman Gibbons, who always seemed to be one step ahead of them. It lasted an all-too-brief 13 episodes following its premiere in February 2011 and regrettably did not get renewed for the next season. I figured for sure it would come out on DVD and was hopeful to at least pick that up, but strangely, it never did get released.
#4. "Chase" (2010-2011)--Even with the reinvention of the crime drama/action show on network television in the 2000s, most of the shows were more serialized and had a different feel than the 80s era action shows from my youth that I so enjoyed. But perhaps more than any other show of the last decade, "NBC's Chase" stood out as a throwback to the action shows of a bygone era, featuring a team of US Marshals chasing after a new target each week in Texas. The cast was solid, the stories were clever, and the action was solid for network TV. The show got off to a decent start ratings-wise but didn't survive a timeslot change from Monday to Wednesday and was rather abruptly cancelled in January 2011. There were five episodes left in the can that eventually aired on Saturday nights in the spring of 2011, and I'll have to concede those last episodes didn't live up to the standard of the early episodes and perhaps made NBC's decision to cancel easier. I was pleased to get 18 episodes out of the show, most of which were great, but still would have liked to have seen what the show could have done with a second season had the opportunity arose. I'd have been even more pleased if it came out on DVD, which unfortunately it did not.
#3. "Do No Harm" (2013)--Few shows in recent years have had as absurd of a premise as the NBC drama "Do No Harm", a modern-day take on Jekyll and Hyde with actor Steven Pasquale playing the split personality role of righteous brain surgeon Jason and ruthless drug dealer Ian, but the previews looked so ridiculous I just had to check it out. Sadly, I was one of few who did as the ratings were absolutely disastrous, but the country missed out on a masterfully crafted 13-week adventure with outstanding performances that made you laugh, roll your eyes, and sit on the edge of your seat in gripping suspense almost every episode. NBC pulled the poorly rated series after only two weeks but I kept a close eye on it knowing it would likely return in the summer to burn off the remaining episodes, and thankfully it did, playing out its entire run firing on all creative cylinders. I'm almost glad this show only lasted 13 episodes because the premise would not have lent itself to an extended run, but was it ever a hoot while it lasted, a throwback to a prior age of series but adjusted for modern viewer sensibilities. I'd give up my first-born to get this series on DVD but it'll never happen.
#2. "Harper's Island" (2009)--Why is it that the best shows of the last decade got such piss-poor ratings? Such was the case with the promising CBS murder mystery which premiered to heavy promotion in the spring of 2009 in a decent time slot but did so badly in its first three episodes it was shipped off to the Saturday night ghetto for the remainder of its 13-episode run. The show was dark and gory unlike anything else I've seen on network TV, featuring a wedding party on an isolated Pacific Coast island with an ugly history and a resurfaced serial killer offing the members of the wedding party "one by one" in devilishly elaborate and clever ways. The cast was great and the slow burn of the narrative was nicely played all around, taking several episodes before the wedding party began to realize the extent of the danger they were in. In most cases, serialized mysteries such as this disappoint in their resolution, but after flirting with a resolution that would have seemed unsatisfying, they came up with a great curveball in the finale that just about nobody saw coming. I'm rewatching this show on DVD right now and enjoying it immensely. There's no way it should have gone beyond its originally 13 episodes, but it's a damn shame that so few people were around to watch those 13 because they would have liked it.
#1. "Gang Related" (2014)--I was pretty excited when Fox revived "24" for the summer of 2014 for an abbreviated 12-episode season, but if you had told me that "24" would only be the second best show Fox would air in the summer of 2014 and ultimately get upstaged by the action-drama "Gang Related", I'd have questioned your mental health, but that's exactly what happened and it was pretty clear from the pilot that "Gang Related" was my kind of show. Terry O'Quinn and Cliff Curtis brought some minor league star power to the cast, but all of the performances were good and the show's central premise was what sold it, focused on the conflicted loyalties of Ryan Lopez, a young cop taken in by the Acosta crime family as a young boy who was then foisted into the Los Angeles Police Department to work as a double agent and do the bidding of the crime family. Lopez was a good guy trapped in an impossible situation, and had an endless litany of suspensefully nervous moments trying to work both sides and not blow his cover. Cable snobs looked down their noses at it as being a ripoff of "The Shield", and having never seen that series I can't comment on whether it is or isn't, but I know compelling TV when I see it and "Gang Related" was 13 weeks of uninterrupted awesome with some of the best hours of programming I've seen in years. Ratings were poor, but Fox had low expectations for the summer and word was that they were expecting to renew it for the following summer. Unfortunately, a couple of months later, the cancellation news came in and I was distraught. Worse yet, the show got replaced by the lukewarm "Wayward Pines" the following summer...and somehow that show did get renewed despite not doing any better in the ratings. If any show in TV history was deserving of a second season, it was "Gang Related", but instead it has to settle for the being the best 13-episode series in network TV history.
Going through this list, it's regrettable but quite likely to deduce that more great series will come out in the decade to come and not live up to their ratings potential despite being better than just about anything else on the air at the given time. But it's a safe bet that if there's a hidden gem out there I will find and do my best to let the world know what it's missing.