In the 2010s, TV turned a major corner to become the medium of choice for both audiences and artists alike. From the achievement that was Game of Thrones to the groundbreaking insanity that is The Good Place and The Walking Dead, from comedy to drama, there is no doubt the 2010s were owned by television. However, that doesn’t mean everyone made it out unscathed.
Despite undeniable quality, there were still plenty of series, such as FX’s Terriers and NBC’s Awake, that met an early demise that shouldn’t have been. And that is no more true than for these 10 in particular.
(The following is presented without ranking.)
Number of seasons: 2 (2014-2015)
Of all the shows that came and went this past decade, none deserved a better shake than Sirens.
Produced by Denis Leary, who co-created with Bob Fisher, Sirens was a workplace comedy that followed the lives of three EMTs in Chicago as they went on progressively crazier emergency calls throughout the city.
Much like Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s comedic slant on police life, Sirens was that for EMTs and, arguably, much more reliably funny while, at the same time, presenting a group of non-hateful male leads that weren’t afraid to show their softer sides. And that doesn’t even go into the fact that one of its leads was, arguably, the best representation of a gay character that’s not having a spotlight turned on his lifestyle for brownie points we got this entire decade.
It’s a shame we won’t get more of Mike, Hank and Brian going forward, but at least the show ended in such a way that allows it to live as a perfect 23-episode package ripe for repeat viewing in the decades to come.
Number of seasons: 1 (2015)
If there’s one genre that took a strange backseat this decade, it’s that of the action drama. The reality is there was only one true contender throughout the decade that managed to succeed in the long term, and that was Cinemax’s Strike Back … which explains why one of that show’s leads, Philip Winchester, would go on to be cast in John Roger’s attempt to revive the genre on network television in NBC’s The Player.
Based around a Blacklist style, never-ending premise involving rich people who bet on the odds of crimes being stopped by the eponymous character, The Player brought an A-game to network action shows. But, owing to a variety of behind-the-scenes dealings and a time slot that put the drama up against the juggernaut that is Shondaland-controlled ABC Thursdays, the show found itself short-lived with a series order that was cut from 13 to nine midway through production.
The saying “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” felt like the best way to describe The Player. It was a throwback to a time when pulp was king. With hope, maybe that day will return, but, God bless the series for trying when it did … and for giving everyone a reason to like Wesley Snipes again while, at the same time, introducing the world to the likes of Charity Wakefield. Blessings all the way around for a show that was gone way too soon.
Number of seasons: 1 (2014)
Another trend that took hold this past decade was that of the extreme comedy. As any sitcom writer will tell you, one of the hardest things to sell on television right now is a half-hour show based on the idea of earnestness. It’s no longer about what can make you laugh the most while feeling more. It’s about what can make you laugh the most while making you cringe. This trend is what, perhaps, explains most of all what happened to Fox’s one-season-and-out military drama, Enlisted.
Created by Cougar Town co-creator Kevin Biegel, Enlisted took a funny and often heart-warming approach to military life via a great and overlooked side of the lifestyle: rear detachment: the soldiers left behind to manage bases at home while looking after the families of those deployed overseas. It was through this lens we were introduced to the Hill brothers, who were a source of endless hijinks week after week and were gone from our lives far too soon.
Thankfully, the show’s first season was at least written in a mostly closed-ended fashion over the course its 13-episode run that allows it to be watched and enjoyed over and over again — so not all was lost in the end.
Number of seasons: 1 (2019)
When The Player came and went in 2015, there was a real question of whether a new contender would come along to try to fill the hole left in the action space throughout the 2010s. And, this past year, one did, in the form of ABC’s spy show dramedy, Whiskey Cavalier.
Of all the shows on this list, none is more confounding in terms of cancellation than this one. Its demise can’t be blamed on a lack of effort on the part of the network. ABC made a hard marketing push for the show in the months leading up to its debut. The pilot was clean and the characters built into stronger and stronger personalities as time went on. This is simply one of those times when audiences failed to show up when they were needed most.
Maybe the show will find a well-deserved second life in the streaming market in the years to come, but we should all be glad to have the 13 episodes we got because they, like The Player, proved there’s hope for a genre many continue to write off year after year.
Number of seasons: 1 (2014)
2014 was a bad year for comedy at Fox, particularly during the 2013/2014 midseason as, in addition to Enlisted, another earnest-based comedy came into the landscape only to meet the guillotine of then-network president Kevin Reilly, Surviving Jack.
Starring a fresh-off-Law & Order: SVU Christopher Meloni, Surviving Jack has the unique placement of being the second adaptation of a personality made famous by series writer Justin Halpern, creator of the famed Twitter account “S**t My Dad Says.” Yes, that CBS sitcom from 2010 starring William Shatner is adapted from the same real-life material Surviving Jack was, which, yes, means he and Meloni were playing the same person. Take that, DC continuity!
But, multi-verse jokes aside, Surviving Jack will go down as a wonderful moment when audiences were reminded of the comedic chops present in a man who had spent the entire previous decade playing a hard-nosed cop in New York City. That alone makes this one worth remembering.
Number of seasons: 1 (2015)
Imagine if you will, a decade where not one, but two attempts at capitalizing on the success of Bones (which was basically Fox’s little engine that could) were made by the show’s creator, only to have them bottom out for reasons that have nothing to do with the shows themselves. And, while many often point to The Finder as the show that got the worst shake this decade, there is a real argument to be made that Backstrom got it way worse.
Starring Rainn Wilson and created by Hart Hanson, Backstrom revealed the harder-edged side of the Canadian-born writer who presented a world based on a fascinating premise: “what if you did the anti-hero story but in reverse?” In a move of satirical brilliance, Backstrom’s premise was one based on the idea of its slobbish main character (who had no real redeeming qualities, unlike, say, Dr. Gregory House) trying to actively turn the overly positive world around him cynical, rather than the usual version of this story, which involves the anti-hero simply resisting the urge to be turned positive by his or her surroundings.
Unfortunately, like The Player, Backstrom went up against the juggernaut of Shondaland Thursday in addition to the night’s No. 2 contender, The Blacklist, after spending a year being redeveloped for Fox after being shot for CBS. It simply never stood a chance. We’ll never know how the world would have broken down its title character’s walls as the years went on, and that is the biggest crime of all.
Dallas & Robo
Network: YouTube Premium
Number of seasons: 1 (2018)
When the concept of a premium, subscribable tier of YouTube content was first proposed, many wrote it off, especially as the said tier’s biggest push was that of a Karate Kid spinoff series starring the franchise’s original stars. But then something strange happened as YouTube quickly became the most consistent outputter of scripted content in the streaming space … right up until the moment they decided to kill their entire scripted-development division. But before that happened, one show was produced that, frankly, should have gotten way more love than it did.
Developed by Andy Sipes, Matt Mariska and Mike Roberts and starring Kat Dennings and John Cena, Dallas & Robo flew under the radar over the course of its eight-episode run to become the best-scripted offering on YouTube’s entire slate. It was a non-hateful, red-state oriented Futurama that had plenty of jokes that played across state lines. It was perfect.
While YouTube had a lot of shows that worked but didn’t find their audience (see: Wayne), Dallas & Robo’s lack of audience was due in large part to a nonexistent marketing strategy that wasn’t even kicked into gear until well after the show’s premiere. Dallas & Robo was simply never given a chance to find an audience, and that’s a shame, as there’s a real chance the viewership at large would have taken to it similarly to the way they took to the likes of Letterkenny.
Number of seasons: 2 (2011-2012)
Before Fox decided to reboot its hit serial drama Prison Break, there was another attempt made to play in that world (though not by design), with two of the show’s executive producers, in the form of a procedural based around insane jailbreaks. But despite solid testing, the show’s pilot never made it to air at Fox … so A&E stepped in, and that’s the story of how we got Breakout Kings.
Created by Nick Santora and Matt Olmstead, Breakout Kings was a network procedural at heart and all the better for it. It was fun and engaging and featured a ton of heavy hitters just before they were about to break, namely in Jimmi Simpson, Serinda Swan and Malcolm Goodwin. It was a reliable series that had one thing going against it: a Sunday-night basic-cable time slot that put it in direct competition with one of the biggest hits of the decade, The Walking Dead.
No amount of Prison Break cameos were going to save the show from that, and a network-mandated offing of a main character in hopes of driving up ratings in the second season only made matters worse. But there’s an alternate universe somewhere where Breakout Kings has only just recently concluded a healthy seven- to eight-season run, and it’s a good bet that, in that universe, everyone went home happy.
Number of seasons: 2 (2012-2013)
Of every show on this list, only one can say its cancellation came not because of poor viewership and lack of interest but rather the disintegration of an entire basic-cable network. No one really knew what to do with FearNet when it launched, including FearNet itself, so the network opted to take a “throw it all at the wall and see what sticks” approach … which is how we ended up with Holliston.
A (very) semi-autobiographical sitcom created by Adam Green, who co-stars alongside his now current podcast partner Joe Lynch, Holliston is an oddball show that chose to turn into the skid of what it was, which is the biggest reason it deserves a slot on this list. Rather than try to make a lackluster sitcom that reached beyond its means from a budget standpoint (though still operating from a healthy place of extended reach), the show chose instead to take a meta approach to its structure and point out every flaw it’s dealing with on the money front in direct fashion.
In the end, what audiences got was a strange show that’s a sitcom while not being a sitcom at the same time. It’s hard to pin down but it’s something we really may never see again in the modern television landscape, so that alone makes it worth tracking down.
Number of seasons: 2 (2017-2019)
No actor featured a more dramatic change in public image over the last decade than Christopher Meloni. When the 2010s started, he was that same old Elliot Stabler of the Manhattan Special Victims Unit. By the end of the 2010s, not only had he become a TV dad in Surviving Jack, a colonel in Man of Steel, and returned to one of his old favorites in Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later, but he also ended up taking on a role that would put him on the complete opposite side of the coin from where he started in Syfy’s Happy!
By far the strangest drama on this list, Happy! was something else altogether. It was an action drama, a noir and a psychotic, drug-infused mental break co-starring Patton Oswalt as a talking, imaginary blue horse. What else is there really to say in order to persuade someone to watch at that point?
Happy! was funny, violent, insane and unabashedly unique. There is no show like it and might never be again. The fact that it made it to a second season at all is a straight-up miracle. It’s a shame this one didn’t last on the network but, for the two seasons we got, it will go down in history as being the show that … you know what, some things just can’t be written in a public forum like this.
Honorable Mentions: The Good Guys, Chase, Lights Out, The Chicago Code, Battle Creek, Limitless, Pitch, Agent Carter, The Punisher, Galavant, Breaking In
And there you have it. In a decade that saw the world of television explode in ways creators of decades past could only have dreamed of, one would have hoped these 10 shows (and many more like them) could have found their place to live on longterm. But sometimes, it’s just not meant to be … which is why we have digital a la cart rentals.
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