“Always leave them wanting more” is a well-worn adage in show business. However, not everyone knows when it’s time to take that final bow and leave the stage. The lives of some shows are tragically cut short, while others simply wear out their welcome. In this age of television, there is no shortage of amazing shows that are worth your time. Just as certain series never truly get a chance to take root, there are favorites that continue on until their quality begins to dip.
Many of the shows on this list began as truly excellent… until the enticing promise of more money pushed them into becoming mere shadows of what they once were. It’s like trying to recapture the magic of a relationship that no longer has any. You can hold on until there is nothing left between you but bitter resentment or you can simply let go.
Some of these series were and remain woefully underrated, while the genius of others has become apparent in the years since their untimely cancelation. Several of these shows were never given the opportunity to reach their full potential and others technically went out at the top of their game, but clearly had more story to tell.
Here are 8 Shows That Ended Too Soon (And 7 That Should’ve Ended Sooner).
15 Ended too soon: Firefly
Joss Whedon has kind of become the patron saint of canceled shows. Firefly may not be his only project that never got to reach its full potential, but it is the one that fans will never get over. After airing just eleven of fourteen episodes, Fox canceled the unequivocally original sci-fi western before most people even had a chance to see it. Like many of the shows on this list that were canceled before their time, much of the blame lies with a severe lack of promotion from the network, as well as the episodes being aired out of order.
As always, Whedon’s world was intricately crafted, populated by characters both memorable and relatable. The writing boasted his trademark wit and humor, as well as that of the excellent team of writers he had on board, several of whom had followed him from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending. While few viewers actually caught Firefly when it was on the air, the DVDs created an incredibly passionate fan base. This enabled Whedon to give the series the big screen sendoff it deserved with Serenity in 2005.
14 Should’ve ended sooner: Dexter
The first two seasons of Dexter were undeniably phenomenal. Michael C. Hall was positively magnetic as the titular serial killer, making Dexter into an oddly sympathetic antihero. The rest of the cast was extremely talented, the writing was pitch perfect and the premise was fascinating. However, the series basically squandered all of this after season 2.
The stakes were never as high as they were in that second year, with Dexter in the crosshairs of his own department, as well as the FBI. The problem was, where could the show go from there? If the next year was any indication… the writers weren’t entirely sure.
Yes, season 4 was a large improvement with a worthy villain, but after that, the series began to completely go off the rails. Perhaps if Dexter didn’t have one of the most disappointing series finales ever, all would’ve been forgiven.
13 Ended too soon: Happy Endings
It’s incredibly difficult to explain exactly why Happy Endings is so great. The premise is a familiar one: six best friends living in Chicago attempt to navigate their way through adulthood and hilarity ensues. The hard part is describing what differentiates it from numerous other seemingly similar comedies.
Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) leaves her fiancé, Dave (Zachary Knighton), at the alter, completely upending their group of friends… well, for an episode or two. Eliza Coupe, Damon Waynes Jr., Casey Wilson and Adam Pally round out the amazing cast. Aside from the ubiquitous pop culture references, the jokes are rapid-fire, and typical sitcom fare is transformed into wonderfully absurd stories that will make you laugh out loud.
Would any other series use a 3rd season Thanksgiving episode to reveal that several members of our core group met on the set of The Real World: Sacramento?
Happy Endings was canceled in 2013 after only three seasons. Fans of the show have never quite gotten over it, but the show remains criminally underrated. If you haven’t gotten acquainted with these characters, the entire series is currently streaming on Hulu, so you’ve got some binging to do!
12 Should’ve ended sooner: The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory has been divisive since its pilot aired. The series has no shortage of fans, but it has always seemed to have an equal number of detractors. When the show began in 2007, it was a fairly novel idea: the exploits of four self-professed geeks and their very foxy, very out of their league neighbor. However, what began as a fun premise has since evolved into one terribly redundant joke – we get it, they’re nerds!
Many disliked the way that geek culture was portrayed on the show, while others were excited to see it as a major plot point on TV. Most people who hate the series have disliked it from the beginning, but even the show’s most loyal fans have begun to admit that at ten seasons and counting, The Big Bang Theory is starting to show its age.
It is true that some viewers continue to enjoy the exploits of Leonard, Sheldon, Raj, Howard and Penny, but many feel that the joke stopped being funny a long time ago.
11 Ended too soon: My So-Called Life
My So-Called Life aired only nineteen episodes from 1994-1995, but it remains one of the most influential shows of all time. The series perfectly distilled adolescence to its very essence, encapsulating all of the accompanying heartache, confusion, and angst that come with growing up.
It launched the careers of Claire Danes (Homeland) and Jared Leto (Suicide Squad). MSCL gave us the first openly gay teenager on American network television. It also realistically portrayed not only teen drug abuse, but also the road to recovery.
Creator Winnie Holzman’s creations were undeniably authentic, and MSCL tackled issues such as homelessness, homophobia, and abuse – such things had never been portrayed so realistically on a television show aimed at adolescents. These situations weren’t played for melodrama and also, amazingly, never made the series feel like an after-school special.
Like many of the canceled too soon shows on this list, My So-Called Life was a critical darling, but sadly, not enough people were aware of its existence. Luckily, Holzman knew that the series wasn’t going to make it to season 2 and was able to craft a spectacular sendoff for this unforgettable show.
10 Should’ve ended sooner: Smallville
Smallville was controversial from the moment it was announced. A series about the early exploits of Clark Kent, but with no Superman? Aside from that, the show’s central friendship was between Clark Kent and Lex Luthor – a comic element that had been all but erased by post-Crisis continuity. In spite of their original skepticism, most viewers fell for this iteration of the Man of Steel and Smallville made it on the air for ten seasons… which was about five seasons too long.
The series was meant to be a show about Clark’s teen years that would focus more on his humanity - hence no costumed flight allowed. Undoubtedly, this mandate was created with showrunners having no idea of how many years the series would last.
The time came for Clark to embrace his superhero destiny, but the “no tights, no flights” mantra simply kept him from doing so. Well, that and the fact that the network chose quantity over quality, taking this beloved show well past its prime.
9 Ended too soon: Angel
With five seasons under its belt, the BtVS spinoff may not seem like a candidate for this list. However, when you consider the way that Angel ended, as well as the direction the series had taken, it begins to make sense. Angel may have never quite reached the heights of its parent show, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t great.
Season 4 was an all time low for the series, as writers desperately struggled to write Charisma Carpenter’s surprise pregnancy into the main arc. However, after that debacle, Angel completely reset itself for season 5 and the results were fantastic! Bringing Angel Investigations into Wolfram & Hart reinvigorated the series, shifting its entire paradigm.
Due to low ratings, which were arguably because of the show’s continually shifting timeslot, Angel was canceled that year. The series was then forced to cram a much larger story into a handful of episodes. Although the writers did an excellent job, it is easy to see that the ending was rushed, not to mention the enormous cliffhanger fans were left with.
The series clearly hadn’t yet run out of gas. Angel really could’ve benefited from another season to properly wrap things up.
8 Should’ve ended sooner: True Blood
When True Blood aired in 2008, it immediately became a phenomenon. The show, based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of books by Charlaine Harris and created by Alan Ball (Six Feet Under), quickly developed a rabid fan base and established itself as truly unique – for the first few seasons anyway.
By season 3, what were once fresh elements had begun to grow stale and the show started to loose its identity. One aspect of the series that set True Blood apart from its contemporaries was its ability to not take itself too seriously. Somewhere around season 3, the show lost that sense of whimsy. True Blood had always been gloriously over the top, but it went from a fun ride to a ridiculous letdown.
During those first couple of years, it seemed that True Blood could do no wrong, but its premise proved unsustainable over the course of seven seasons. By the time the series finale aired, not only did the show go out with a whimper, but most fans were no longer even paying attention.
7 Ended too soon: Hannibal
Hannibal had a nearly impossible premise to sell to viewers. Creator Bryan Fuller – another writer with way too many amazing canceled shows under his belt – had to tell stories about characters that hadn’t been successfully rendered since Silence of the Lambs. Many fans balked at the idea of anyone else attempting to even compare to Anthony Hopkins’s most iconic performance as Hannibal Lector. Hannibal very quickly won over both viewers and critics with its stunning visuals, clever writing and incredible performances.
Unfortunately, not enough people were watching. Hannibal did get three excellent seasons, and both Amazon and Netflix discussed picking up the series. Ultimately, neither streaming service came to the rescue and the show ended on a literal cliffhanger. Fuller hasn’t completely shot down the idea of a fourth season - talks are happening - and Fannibals remain hopeful that there will be fine dining in their future.
6 Ended too soon: Freaks and Geeks
Adolescence is awkward, painful and needlessly cruel. Few series understood this as well as Freaks and Geeks, and fewer still have managed to portray the genuine trials of growing up, while also completely nailing the undeniable humor that goes along with it.
When you consider all the incredible talent both onscreen and behind the scenes of Freaks and Geeks, it’s almost impossible to imagine that the series aired a mere twelve episodes (of eighteen) before it was axed by NBC. Created in 1999 by Paul Feig, the show was executive produced by Judd Apatow. The auteur has become so successful since that it’s ridiculous that both this series and its spiritual successor, Undeclared, were both canceled well before their expiration date.
The cast was comprised of actors who were largely unknown at the time, including Jason Segal, Seth Rogan and James Franco. Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, Samm Levine, and Martin Starr rounded out the main cast, and they’ve all gone on to pretty impressive careers as well. Everyone could relate to at least one of these characters, which is why the series continues to resonate with viewers of all ages.
5 Should’ve ended sooner: Supernatural
The first five seasons of Supernatural just got better and better. The show’s original Monster of the Week format gave way to a rich, ever-expanding mythology, as Sam and Dean Winchester continued the family business of “saving people” and “hunting things.” Once it became apparent that the show was a hit, creator Eric Kripke began to work out a five-year arc for the Winchester brothers. He stepped down as showrunner after the fifth season.
It’s not that Supernatural is bad. We have become so invested in the characters that it’s kind of impossible to give up on them. However, at twelve seasons and counting, the stories are getting kind of tired. Sam and Dean have seen Heaven, Hell, and everything in between. They’ve hung out with God, defeated the devil, and even killed Death. By this point, we know that whatever happens, they will make it out alive, which means that the stakes have completely disappeared.
“Swan Song” was an excellent finale, not only for season 5, but also for the entire series. Ever since, the show has had years of varying quality, but nothing has ever come close to reaching the heights of those first five seasons.
4 Ended too soon: Pushing Daisies
Although the canceling of Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, and Hannibal were all crimes against humanity, no loss was quite as heartbreaking as the untimely end of Bryan Fuller’s other show, Pushing Daisies – luckily, it seems like American Gods might stick around for quite a while. Pushing Daisies somehow managed to take a bunch of disparate elements and blend them into the most incredibly romantic, noir, musical, fairy tale, mystery you’ve ever seen.
Cut short after just two seasons (totaling 22 episodes), this delightful show was centered on a pie maker named Ned (Lee Pace). However, he was no ordinary baker. Ned had the ability to bring back the dead, but if he did so for more than a minute, someone else would die in their place. If he touched them again, they were dead for good. Ned used this gift/curse to help a P.I. named Emerson (Chi McBride) solve crimes. They were accompanied by Chuck (Anna Friel), Ned’s childhood sweetheart who he brought back to life, but now could never touch again.
Pushing Daisies was both truly innovative and incredibly inventive, with unbridled creativity, sumptuous visuals, and an amazing cast. It’s soul-crushing that hardly anyone was watching it.
3 Should’ve ended sooner: How Met Your Mother
Although it had a bit of a rocky start, How I Met Your Mother quickly found its footing and managed to become well loved by critics and fans alike. Unfortunately, the expiration date is right there in the title.
On its surface, the show followed a hopeless romantic telling his kids about his desperate search for love and how that eventually led him to meeting their mother. The problem was that the series became so popular that his tale took nine seasons to unfold.
Fans quickly fell hard for the group of friends portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris, Cobie Smulders, Alyson Hannigan, Jason Segel, and Josh Radnor. The series frequently rewarded long-time viewers, building on hilarious in-jokes and, despite the laughs, it had undeniable heart.
It’s not that HIMYM got so terrible in later seasons, although writers definitely wrote themselves into a corner in the show’s final year. The issue is just that by the time the mother in question finally appeared, she was almost an afterthought. The series will no doubt always be adored, but most fans feel that it should’ve wrapped up sooner.
2 Ended too soon: Veronica Mars
Veronica Mars deserved better. The series had it all: the central mystery of Twin Peaks, the socioeconomic divide of The Outsiders, and a heroine who was not only a mash-up of Buffy Summers and Nancy Drew, but who also rivaled both characters. There was no one on TV quite like Veronica Mars, a teenaged P.I. who solved new cases every week, all the while unraveling a much larger mystery.
Although the series was canceled after its third season, its fan base was so loyal and passionate that creator Rob Thomas’s Kickstarter campaign to make a Veronica Mars movie met its two million dollar goal in a record breaking eleven hours!
Aside from that much loved film, Thomas has co-written two excellent novels featuring everyone’s favorite sleuth. Although we all desperately miss the series, Thomas made sure that his next show, iZombie, would fill the Veronica-shaped hole in our hearts.
1 Should’ve ended sooner: Grey’s Anatomy
There are so many reasons why Grey’s Anatomy should’ve ended a long time ago, not the least of which is that hardly any of the original characters remain as the show prepares to move into its fourteenth season. No one would argue that Grey’s wasn't a great show when it began, giving viewers plenty of reasons to tune in week after week. However, by this point, many of the elements that once made the series so awesome have morphed into more reasons to hate it.
The show has one-upped itself too many times for the continuous disasters to remain believable, the relationships are incredibly contrived, and the characters have become largely unsympathetic. We understand that actors need to move on, but the loss of both Sandra Oh and Patrick Dempsey were simply too much for the show to bear.
Surprisingly, Grey’s Anatomy maintains a decent sized fan base, despite the fact that it is virtually unrecognizable. This horse died a long time ago, but ABC refuses to stop beating it while people are still watching.
Do you agree with these choices? Let us know in the comments!
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