2016 was disappointing for plenty of reasons. Just the last few weeks have been full of sorrow, as we've mourned the loss of legend after legend.
Of course, 2016 also brought about the end of a number of TV shows, and some disappeared from our lives rather abruptly due to cancelation. Although many of the shows that are canceled in any year are axed for good reasons, some of the shows canceled this year fall into the “gone too soon” camp, while others showed remarkable potential early on before falling off in later seasons.
It’s true that all TV shows have to end at some point, but that doesn’t make the loss of these shows sting any less. We lost some truly great programs this year, and many of these losses were unexpected. They came into our lives, entertained us, and disappeared just as quickly as they had come. Here are the 15 Best TV Shows Canceled In 2016.
15 Marco Polo
Netflix isn’t exactly known for its cancelations. Typically, it allows shows to create content, and is seemingly less worried about ratings than its broadcast TV counterparts. For Marco Polo, though, that was only true through two seasons. The show, which never really caught on with audiences or critics, was canceled following its second season, which was the first time in Netflix’s history that a show had been canceled that quickly, perhaps because of a $200 million loss that the show reportedly cost the streaming service.
Marco Polo focused on the early years of the titular explorer’s adventures, and his interactions with Kublai Khan during the 13th century. Despite its lack of popularity, Marco Polo managed to be a fairly complete history lesson even as it provided viewers with a sense of the scale of Khan’s army, and of the events that shaped the Eastern world. Marco Polo wasn’t Netflix’s best show, but it was canceled before its time.
14 Project Greenlight
Despite a headline-grabbing fourth season, Project Greenlight won't be returning for a fifth. The show, which returned from a 13-year absence in 2016, followed one filmmaker as they attempted to make a movie that came in on budget, even as they dealt with the demands of their producers and crew. Mentored by a group of veteran filmmakers, including Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the show’s fourth season was remarkably entertaining, and got to the core dilemmas at the heart of filmmaking.
These dilemmas came into sharp focus as the director came into conflict with one of the film’s producers. Project Greenlight poised questions about creative vision, and about what collaboration does to art. Does it weaken it, or does it make the end product stronger? Is the director being a brat, or is he protecting his ideas? Project Greenlight didn’t provide answers, but during its four seasons, it always managed to leave us wondering.
13 Agent Carter
Agent Carter was one of Marvel’s less successful television products, but it was a great show nonetheless. Starring Hayley Atwell in the role she originated during the first Captain America movie, the show takes place in the aftermath of World War II and follows Carter as she moves to Hollywood following the emergence of a new threat during the atomic age.
While Agent Carter certainly had its problems, they were outweighed by the show's ability to regularly capture Atwell’s outstanding charisma and presence, and by the fact that the show had a definitive tone and feel. This wasn’t just another detective show. It was a throwback to the idea of noir, and it allowed women to ascend to their rightful place within that story. Peggy Carter didn’t have superpowers, but she never really needed them. She was capable of kicking plenty of ass with just her wits, some moxy, and a pistol.
Originally a 2011 movie starring Bradley Cooper, Limitless was part of a slew of shows that tried to adapt a film premise into a successful TV show. Limitless was among the more successful of these, in part because the film’s premise came tailor-made for television. Following a man who gains access to more of his brain’s power following his ingestion of a mysterious drug, Limitless turned the film’s premise into a detective show, one where the man at the center regularly used his expanded thought power to solve complex cases.
In a way, Limitless was the latest in a long line of “genius crime solver” stories, which would lead you to believe that the show was derivative or unoriginal. While it’s true that many of the shows conceits weren’t completely original, Limitless provided familiar comforts, and allowed itself to be sillier than many similar shows that came before it. Unfortunately, CBS canceled it this year after a single season.
Vinyl was one of two big gambles from HBO this year, and it was by far the less successful of the two. Even though it had Martin Scorsese behind it, the show earned meager ratings through the ten episodes of its first season, and was canceled as the first season wrapped up. The announcement of the show’s cancelation was more shocking because HBO had previously announced that they would be picking the show up for a second season.
While Vinyl, which followed a music producer in 1970s New York, was often inconsistent in its plotting, but it was an incredibly fun show to look at and watch. The show had a solid grasp of the power that music could have, especially in such a fraught period of New York’s history. Vinyl was often stunningly gorgeous, and it never lacked in production value. The show also featured some stellar performances from Bobby Cannavale and Olivia Wilde; ones that the show largely wasted. Still, it was better than many of the shows that earned renewals.
10 Good Girls Revolt
Many shows have attempted to tap into the success of Mad Men in the years since that show wrapped up, but Good Girls Revolt put a unique spin on that concept, following women in the magazine industry during the 1960s. Unfortunately, the show only got a single season, and was the first show that Amazon had ever canceled that quickly.
This cancelation is a real shame, especially considering the complicated true story the show decided to tackle. During the '60s, when many women were earning more rights in their work places, newsrooms weren’t exactly evolving rapidly. The women at the story’s center decided to ask for equal rights, and that one decision rippled across their entire lives.
The story of Good Girls Revolt is one of empowerment, and it was admirably told. Good Girls Revolt always worked to acknowledge the complexities of its characters. The show was about women who were no longer willing to be treated like second-class citizens, and it’s one that had particular relevance in 2016.
This show, out of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer school of television, had a fairly successful six season run on NBC before finishing up in 2016. It follows a detective in Portland who is the latest in a long line of beast hunters called Grimms, and regularly takes on creatures called Wesen, which are part human and part animal. While the show had several ongoing plots throughout its run, Grimm was most entertaining when it adhered to its formula, and managed to tell engaging and surprising stories that stemmed from its central premise.
While it may not have been a widely talked about show, it was always engaging, and treated its characters seriously without ever becoming too grim (pardon the pun). While the show certainly had a longer run than many, there will be plenty of people sad to see it go. At its best, Grimm was smart and engaging, which definitely isn’t true of many shows still on the air.
Galavant was the kind of oddity that we’re rarely given in the world of television. Combining elements of fantasy with the idea of musical comedy, the show created a rare blend that often produced an insanely entertaining show. The series follows a noble hero named Galavant as he attempts to save his love after she is taken from him by King Richard. Along the way, Galavant finds some unlikely allies, and much hilarity ensues.
Of course, like many musical TV shows, Galavant failed to find an audience that was big enough to sustain it, and was canceled after two short seasons on ABC. Even so, the show provided a new and welcome take on the fantasy genre, one that worked well alongside the much more serious Game of Thrones. The talent behind Galavant, including Alan Menken and screenwriter Dan Fogelman, gave viewers a promise that the show regularly delivered on. Unfortunately, Galavant was just ahead of its time.
7 Pretty Little Liars
Pretty Little Liars had an extended run on ABC Family (now Freeform), and after seven seasons on the air, its end was finally announced this year. The show follows the friends of a teenage girl in the aftermath of her disappearance. After this tragic event, years pass before each friend begins receiving texts from someone named “A” who is privy to their darkest secrets.
The show, which is based on a popular book series, was always intensely compelling and filled with mystery. While many of the shows on ABC Family are a bit hokey or overly dramatic, Pretty Little Liars fit the network like a glove, steering into the drama and silliness of the books without ever becoming camp. Although the show has had a long and successful run on the network, many will surely be sad to see it go. It was an ABC Family staple for an entire generation.
In a year filled with political drama, one would think that a dark political sci-fi/comedy would really catch fire. Alas, Braindead was not the success many hoped it might be. The absurd show followed an employee on Capitol Hill who discovers that Earth has been an invaded by an alien species that is eating the brains of many U.S. congressmen and staffers, and is causing the government to come to a standstill.
While the show was often hilarious, Braindead also offered a fairly pointed commentary on the way government is supposed to run, and on the ways in which absurd things happen that keep it from working as it should. There’s a frustration behind Braindead that wonders at the inefficiency of our current government, and gives us a rather silly explanation for it. Almost the anti-West Wing, Braindead left us far too soon. In these highly political times, it was one the few reminders that it’s okay to laugh at it all every once in a while.
5 Comedy Bang! Bang!
Originally a podcast, Comedy Bang! Bang!’s run on TV was just as strange and delightful as its all-audio hours. A parody of late-night talk shows, Comedy Bang! Bang! made its name by combining outlandish humor with that familiar premise, and became a wonderful riff on a formula that’s been around for decades.
Created and hosted by Scott Aukerman, the show features high profile guests from both inside and outside the comedy realm. Aukerman provides the show with the typical late-night host charisma, but combines it with something stranger and more distinctive.
Through five seasons, the show had three different band leaders/side-kicks, including Reggie Watts-- who went on to lead the band on The Late Late Show-- Kid Cudi, and Weird Al Yankovic. The show finished its run on IFC in 2016, but it provided us with plenty of memories along the way. Comedy Bang! Bang!, in all its odd, off-beat glory, will be sorely missed.
4 The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore
There was a void on Comedy Central after Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart left the network, and it was one that Larry Wilmore and The Nightly Show attempted to fill. Taking over in Colbert’s old slot, Wilmore chose to be more than just an imitator of Colbert. Instead, Wilmore took the show in his own direction, using comedy to talk about race in a way that his predecessor never really did.
Wilmore’s time on the air was short, but he made effective use of it, gathering colleagues for nuanced conversations about a host of issues. Wilmore never forgot that his show was designed to be comedic, but he went out of his way to drive certain points home. He was an incredible host, and an outstanding heir to Colbert. During his short run on Comedy Central, Wilmore gave his parody news show his own voice, and made sure his viewers understood how he felt about all of the day’s most pressing issues.
Bloodline was an exorbitantly expensive show for Netflix, but it was also well liked. Starring Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn, the show follows the Rayburn family as they are torn asunder by their pasts. The show reveals the events that led to the present dynamics within the family, as Chandler’s sheriff is forced to deal with the actions of Mendelsohn, who plays Chandler’s older, screw-up brother. The show unfolds as a thriller, chronicling the pair as we begin to understand more about where they came from.
Both Chandler and Mendelsohn give remarkable performances on the show, and the series came out of the gate strong with a well-received first season, which also featured some stunning direction and cinematography that took full advantage of the show’s Floridian backdrops. The response to the second season was less enthusiastic, but the show was renewed for a third season which will premiere in 2017. Despite this, Netflix also announced that the show’s third season would be its last.
2 Masters of Sex
Initially a critical smash, Masters of Sex faded into obscurity in later seasons, and was eventually canceled following the fourth season’s end. The show followed William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the pioneering sex researchers who eventually published a book detailing their research on the subject. In addition to chronicling their research, the show also did an elegant job depicting their personal struggles, and suggesting the reasons they were so interested in the science behind sex.
Masters and Johnson eventually married, and the show chronicles their romance and details the complex dynamics that all sexual relationships bring with them. Set in the straight-laced 1950s and '60s, the show could be read as a mere Mad Men imitator, but at its best it was much more than that. Masters of Sex was interested not only in the scintillating nature of sexual relationships, but also in the ways men and women interact, and in the ways those dynamics shifted over the course of the show’s run.
1 Penny Dreadful
Perhaps the most consistently acclaimed show to be canceled this year, Penny Dreadful wasn’t interested in imitating other shows. Instead, it carved its own path, and reaped the benefits for three incredible seasons. The show is set in Victorian London, and follows a captain who has lost his daughter to many of the monsters that now populate our popular imagination, including Frankenstein and Dorian Gray.
As the show plays out, the captain, played by Timothy Dalton, unites with an enigmatic young woman played by the marvellous Eva Green, who does regular battle with forces from the underworld. Penny Dreadful takes its name from a specific kind of lurid British fiction from the 19th Century, and it uses that tone as an inspiration. Penny Dreadful is often as lurid as the source material it draws from, but it’s also thoughtful and serious, examining the plights of its characters, even as it sets them against a fantastical backdrop.
Which canceled show are you sorriest to see go? Let us know in the comments!