The TV industry has always been a cut-throat business. Now that more and more people are choosing to park it at home and tune into something on the couch rather than go to the movie theaters, it’s become even more so. With so many new options popping up every pilot season, if one even slips the slightest amount in ratings, it can get the axe. That doesn’t deter A-list stars from getting in on the action, though, in what’s been described as the Golden Age of television.
Well-written series that let huge actors dive into meaty roles seem like they would all but secure their own Emmy. So, why don’t they? There’s a tragic sense of irony when shows with poor acting, meandering storylines, and repetitive plots stay on for years, while the brilliant shows starring the biggest names are canceled after one or two seasons. Sometimes they’re too costly to produce, sometimes the market just isn’t there, and sometimes the timing isn’t right. Here are 10 stellar television series that even the A-listers starring in them couldn’t save.
10 THE FOLLOWING
At the time of its release, there wasn’t anything quite like The Following on network television. Every week, viewers tuned in to see what new unspeakable horrors the Edgar Allan Poe fan club/cult of Joe Carroll (James Purefoy, Altered Carbon) would unleash. Kevin Bacon played Ryan Hardy, a hard-drinking, lone wolf FBI agent brought out of self-imposed retirement to track down his old nemesis.
It was a gritty psychological drama, with a new crime each week connected to Carroll and his “followers”. Overarching it all was the taut cat-and-mouse game being played between master manipulator Carroll and tough-as-nails Hardy. The series had just wrapped an exciting ending when it was abruptly cancelled in its third season.
One of the most beautifully-shot series on television to this day, there was no denying the artistic vision of Hannibal even if some viewers didn’t agree with its subject matter. It focused on infamous serial killer Hannibal Lecter during his days practicing psychiatry, right up until he gets caught prior to the events of Silence of the Lambs.
Featuring such stars as Laurence Fishburne as FBI director Jack Crawford, Hugh Dancy as FBI consultant and serial killer profiler Will Graham, Gillian Anderson as Hannibal's psychiatrist, and Mads Mikkelsen (Doctor Strange, Casino Royale) in the title role of Dr. Lecter, it makes Anthony Hopkins’ version seem about as dangerous as Mickey Mouse.
8 THE BRINK
Part satire, part political commentary, The Brink wasn’t afraid to unapologetically tackle challenging socio-political topics with dark humor. It followed Jack Black as a petty Foreign Service Officer, and Tim Robbins as the U.S. Secretary of State as they tried to prevent WWIII from happening around them.
Taking place in the U.S. and in the furthest reaches of the globe, these top government officials and the military scrambled to make sense of the sometimes asinine decisions being made around them, highlighting their shortcomings with bawdy humor in the midst of each new geopolitical crisis they found themselves a part of.
7 SANTA CLARITA DIET
A Netflix Original Series full of dark humor, Santa Clarita Diet starred Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as Sheila and Joel Hammond, two husband and wife realtors whose lives are suddenly changed forever when Sheila becomes a zombie after eating some bad clams. Joel, his daughter Abby, and their neighbor Eric have to come up with inventive ways for Sheila to eat as her need to consume human flesh grows.
The series was critically acclaimed and ran for just three seasons, never faltering with witty writing, an expressive cast, and complex storytelling. Netflix pulled the plug on the hit show just when the series was hitting its stride.
6 PAN AM
Highlighting the “Jet Age” of the 50s and 60s, when aviation technology was really hitting its stride and the “jet setting” lifestyle was at its peak, Pan Am featured a day in the life of the flight attendants that worked for Pan American World Airways. The series was praised for its period costumes, set design, and acting.
It starred Christina Ricci as Maggie Ryan, an idealistic stewardess unafraid to challenge her superiors and Margot Robbie as Lauren Cameron, a stewardess who was on the cover of Life magazine in her Pan Am uniform and became a minor celebrity. Despite its faithful recreation of the Jet Age period, it only lasted one season.
Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in a dual role, Ringer was a complex drama about twin sisters whose lives aren’t what they seem. When the screw-up sister, Bridget, decides to get her life on track, she contacts her socialite twin Siobhan for help. Only Siobhan goes missing, and Bridget needs to hide out from a criminal element.
Assuming her sister’s identity, Bridget comes to realize that Siobhan’s life wasn’t so perfect after all. Her marriage to her millionaire husband is falling apart, and she may have more criminal contacts than even Bridget. Also starring Ioan Gruffudd (Forever) and Mike Colter (Luke Cage), the show was cancelled before all its big secrets were revealed.
Though the story of Dracula has been told many different ways on-screen, the series produced by NBC was something special. Starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (The Tudors) in the role of Dracula, he wasn’t a “Count” as in most versions, but an American entrepreneur eager to bring modern science and electricity to Victorian London.
His persona hides secret plans to take revenge on the creatures that cursed him centuries before, but he finds vengeance a hollow pursuit when he meets the lovely and intellectual curious Mina Harker. With truly impressive costumes, a wonderful cast of supporting actors, and a new take on the old horror story, Dracula definitely deserved to last more than a single season.
Fans of veteran character actress Kathy Bates and veteran genre producer Chuck Lorre (Big Bang Theory, Two and Half Men) thought Disjointed might stick around a while, but the series about Ruth, the owner of a Los Angeles cannabis dispensary, only ran for one season on Netflix.
Kathy Bates was effortlessly charming as Ruth, an advocate of marijuana legalization who, along with the “budtenders” that worked at her dispensary and her son, strove to make the world a happier place by getting high. Standing in their way are government officials, and two hosts of a weed-centric web series, Dank and Dabby.
While at first Hung might appear to be a vacuous show that's just about showing as much skin as possible, that assessment couldn’t be further from the truth. It was a keenly self-aware, satirical look at the lengths regular Americans would go to since the recession to regain their dignity.
Hung stars Thomas Jane (The Expanse) as a regular family man who has to resort to male prostitution just to make ends meet. His commentary and the situations he found himself in proved pertinent enough to earn it several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, before it abruptly ended after two seasons.
1 THE CRAZY ONES
Williams played Simon Roberts, an eccentric genius at the head of an advertising agency that has some of the most prestigious clients. Luckily, he has his daughter/business partner Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who babysits her dad and focuses the company.