It’s that time again – the beginning of another year of television, with lots of newcomers making their eager debuts on networks, hoping to impress, inspire adoration or create enough heated contempt that audiences can’t help themselves from tuning in to hate watch and raise those viewing figures nonetheless. Television, however, is anything but a meritocracy, with all manner of mediocrity enjoying multiple years of inexplicable success, while greatness can be smothered in infancy because not enough people were watching.
It’s these latter shows that we wish to celebrate this week, with 10 shows that failed to sufficiently excite traditional television that have found healthy afterlives on Netflix. You see, TV folk? These days, even the end doesn’t have to be the end.
FREAKS AND GEEKS
Now famous for its stellar cast — which included James Franco, Linda Cardellini, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen and Busy Philipps — and the creative team of Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, Freaks and Geeks was a show that portrayed high school in a more realistic, more awkward manner, and in doing so ended up one of the most honest, subtle comedies on television.
After Freaks and Geeks, Apatow graduated into a similarly short-lived comedy series about college life (Seth Rogen follows him, with fellow F&G alumni Busy Philipps and Jason Segel showing up, as well). Not as poignant as Freaks and Geeks, but more in tune with Apatow’s movies, there’s a lot to love in the mere 17 episodes that made it to air.
Ostensibly a spin-off of Fox’s Bones, The Finder was far stranger, and more fun, than it’s paleontological forerunner — thanks in large part to Geoff Stults’ enjoyably sincere, eager performance and a series of “cases” that required almost Dirk Gently-esque solutions. Ignore the mythology-heavy finale and you’ve got a wonderfully goofy series.
Arguably the done-in-one-season TV series — if you ignore the movie sequel, which some of us like doing because of the death count — Joss Whedon’s wild-west-in-space show was plagued by all kinds of problems from timeslots and episodes aired out of order to trying too hard on the “future lingo is weird, y'all” front. But nonetheless, this remains some of the most fun Han Solo fanfic ever inflicted on the world.
THE GOOD GUYS
The greatest cop of the 1980s has to come face-to-face with the modern world in this buddy comedy that never quite found its audience, despite winning performances from Bradley Whitford as Dan Stark, the cop that never grew up, and Colin Hanks as his straight-laced, increasingly frustrated partner. (Watching this and then the first season of Fargo allows you to create a fun alternate universe where Hanks gets the attention he deserves.)
Finally, a detective series as scruffy and reckless as the best of the genre’s written work! Of course, just because critics loved to watch Donal Logue’s ex-cop and Michael Raymond-James’ ex-criminal try to be the best private dicks they could be (spoiler: That’s not saying much) doesn’t mean that everyone else did. After 13 near-perfect episodes, the series ended with one hell of a cliffhanger.
THE CHICAGO CODE
He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. That’s the Chicago — oh, wait. The Chicago Code? You mean that short-lived show that tried to do for Chicago what The Wire did for Baltimore, only to find out that (a) you can get away with a lot more on HBO than Fox, and (b) ratings matter a lot more on network television. Come for the cynicism, stay for… well, the cynicism.
KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER
One of the original one-season classics, Kolchak centered around a 1970s newspaper reporter (Darren McGavin) who investigated weird goings-on, which almost inevitably included supernatural or extra-terrestrial elements. Often cited as the inspiration for The X-Files, it’s worth noting that the series also has the first professional writing credit for director Robert Zemeckis, as well as the first Hollywood job for future Sopranos creator David Chase.
An unlikely spin on the what-if genre, Jason Isaacs plays a man caught between two realities: one in which his wife died in a car accident, but his son survived, and another in which the child died but the wife lived. He switches between the two whenever he falls asleep in either one, and finds his dual lives oddly paralleling each other despite their differences. You might have thought that the addition of making Isaacs’ character a cop would’ve saved this high-concept show, but sadly not.
THE BLACK DONNELLYS
What do you get if you take the writer of Million Dollar Baby and Crash and give him a TV show? If you thought “A generational drama about an Irish-American family and their connection to the criminal underworld, starring Olivia Wilde and narrated by a character called Joey Ice Cream,” then you’re either remarkably good at guesswork or familiar with this NBC drama that got pulled midway through its run. A shame; what it did wasn’t exactly new, but it did it remarkably well.