Comedy could very well be the trickiest and most divisive genre on TV. While it’s relatively easy to determine the quality of a show’s performances or writing, comedy is almost completely subjective. This means when a TV comedy hits it can hit very hard and become a roaring success. At the same time, a show can completely flop, but still have a rabid fanbase.
More than any other genre, comedy is filled with shows that went on far too long and those who had their life snuffed out way too early.
It’s highly subjective and individual opinion when determining the perfect length of the show. Still it can be maddening to think of one show’s success when compared to another (better) show’s failure. This list tries to do examine that problem in minute detail.
In a lot of cases, thinking about the lives of these shows are flights of fancy. Most of these shows are long gone and the ones that should end have no real chance of being canceled anytime soon.
This is more about looking at which shows deserved more airtime and comparing them to the ones who have gone way past their prime. It’s not a petition to have any of the canceled shows return and take their place-- although that wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Here are the 10 TV Comedies That Were Canceled Way Too Soon (And 8 That Need to Go).
18 Gone too Soon: Freaks and Geeks
Freaks and Geeks isn’t just a who’s who of future stars. The show which ran for one criminally short season from 1999 to 2000 is one of the best and most tragically canceled comedies.
Freaks and Geeks' greatest asset was probably its cast which included actors like Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel and Busy Philipps all before they were famous. It must more than just a great cast.
Freaks and Geeks is one of the funniest and genuine looks at high school life. There’s a lot of comedies set in high schools. Few have managed to be as entertaining and still realistic as Freaks and Geeks.
Sadly, the show never found an audience. Eighteen episodes were produced, and the show was canceled after 12. The last episodes were burned off, moving from home network NBC to Fox Family Channel, due to a petition from fans to see them.
17 Needs to Go: The Simpsons
At this point, it does feel like The Simpsons is more an institution than a TV show. The animated adventures of the Springfield residents are a shadow of their former glory. Still, it’s hard to imagine a TV landscape without Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. It just can’t be denied that The Simpsons has run out of ideas.
The show that was once so subversive, clever and unexpected is now none of those things. The Simpsons in its current iteration is fine but utterly inoffensive and forgettable.
There’s occasionally a very funny joke or moment because the team behind the show is extraordinarily talented. The Simpsons, even at is worst, is TV comfort food. It used to be much more.
At 29 seasons and counting, it might be best for The Simpsons to go out on the hallmark year of season 30.
16 Gone Too Soon: My Name is Earl
My Name is Earl did make to season 4 which is a good run for any show. Even with that sizable number of seasons, My Name is Earl still should’ve gotten one more year. If for no other reason than season 4 ended a significant cliffhanger.
My Name is Earl with much more serialized than the average TV comedy on NBC, especially for its era. The show was all about the title character trying to better himself. The commitment to growth and change is something that Earl really stuck to and made the show feel fresh and exciting.
That’s why it’s a big deal when the season 4 finale suddenly revealed that the character of Dodge was Earl’s biological son with his ex Joy.
Furthermore, the father of Joy’s other son Earl Jr. wasn’t Darnell as everyone believed. It’s a double twist that has no real resolution.
15 Needs to Go: The Ranch
A conservatively minded multi-camera sitcom is a concept that is doubtless to be controversial with more than a few viewers. Yet there’s nothing inherent wrong with the idea. It’s just that Netflix’s The Ranch takes the laziest method possible with its ideas. The Ranch is not awful but it’s boring and uninspired.
The idea of a mutli-camera sitcom with just a handful of sets is a great one for Netflix’s binge-worthy model. The format might not be too popular for TV comedies now but it's still oddly relaxing if done right. The Ranch isn’t done right. The Ranch is sad and wasted potential.
This is something that’s very true among its cast. Ashton Kutcher seems to be the only one who is given something to the best of his abilities. Everyone else from Elisha Cutbert to Sam Elliot (and his magnificent mustache) is totally under-ultizied
14 Gone Too Soon: Reaper
Reaper feels like it just missed its window for long-lasting success. Reaper was quirky, weird and exactly the type show that’s expected to be short-lived and beloved. Yet it produced a rabid enough fandom and would’ve fit perfectly into the current line-up of its network, The CW.
Reaper saw its main character Sam be employed by The Devil to reap souls. The show was just the right mix of accessible and weird, being inventive enough to still feel new but not so creepy it was off-putting.
Ray Wise was perfectly cast as The Devil but enough good things can’t be said of Brett Harrison as Sam. Harrison was so charming and funny as the reluctant reaper.
Harrison, Wise and the rest weren't enough to keep the show on the air. There were plans to continue it after season 2 but they failed. The show ended after little over 30 episodes.
13 Needs to Go: Man with a Plan
Of any of the main Friends cast, Matt Le Blanc has been the one to keep a steady job in TV. It’s a position he deserves too. Joey Tribbiani might not be everyone’s favorite “Friend” but Le Blanc is an excellent comedic actor. Sadly, Man with a Plan is a poor excuse for his (and everyone else’s talents)
Man with a Plan is about as forgettable and disposable as its name. It’s a paint-by-numbers family sitcom and has no ambitions to be anything else.
The series sees Le Blanc’s character become a stay-at-home dad when he loses his job and his wife goes to work. A comedy can be much more than its premise, however hokey. Yet Man with a Plan feels outdated, dull and mildly insulting.
Joey is still the worst sitcom that Le Blanc has ever done but Man with a Plan is a close second.
12 Gone Too Soon: About a Boy
NBC’s About a Boy premiered admist a slew of TV shows which shared their names with 00’s movies. Like most of those shows, About a Boy was quickly canceled. Unlike most of those shows, About a Boy didn’t deserve to end so early.
About a Boy did share the name and basic premise of the 2002 Hugh Laurie film. A single slacker, played by David Walton, befriends a young child and starts a flirtatious connection with his mother, played by Minnie Driver. About a Boy went far beyond its uninspired premise. It was funny, clever and the chemistry between the leads was excellent on several levels.
Network NBC tried to make About a Boy work. It premiered after the Olympics and was given a regular spot after The Voice but the audience never latched on. Although that could just be due to the fact that it was a family-friendly series airing relatively late at night.
11 Needs to Go: Kevin Can Wait
Kevin Can Wait was always a bland sitcom, heavy on Kevin James shtick but light on actual jokes. In the jump for season 1 to season 2 though, the show became downright stupid (and bizarre).
The show began as straightforward family sitcom with Kevin James and Erinn Hayes playing husband and wife. Yet towards the end of season 1, Leah Remini guest-starred and everything changed.
Remini was brought on as a series regular for season 2. Subsequently, Erinn Hayes was fired and her character was killed off, off-screen with very little explanation. Kevin Can Wait became a watered-down King of Queens reunion.
The cast shake-up did very little to improve the quality of the show. It insulted the original fans and gained no real new ones in the process. It should just end even if Kevin James is a weird and powerful draw for some people.
10 Gone Too Soon: Suburgatory
Suburgatory was more of a live-action cartoon than a classical comedy. Yet it was a live-action carton that worked being tremendously funny.
The show began with a single father, played by Jeremy Sisto, moving his daughter (Jane Levy) from the city to the suburbs to give her a better life. While Sisto and Levy were good in their straight man roles, especially the former, Surburgatory worked because of the wild cast of characters surrounding them.
The undeniable standout was Carly Chaikin’s Dahila. She took the well-trodded archetype of the spoiled rich girl and perfected it. Chaikin’s performance was embelamtic of Surburgatory . There was nothing totally new but it did everything to the best possible extreme.
Sadly, the show proved to be a little too wacky for ABC’s line-up. It struggled for three seasons before being canceled.
9 Needs to Go: Family Guy
Family Guy was already canceled once and brought back to life. Initially Family Guy was canceled shortly after season 3. If it had never come back, Family Guy could’ve been considered one of the shows that was canceled too soon. Yet Family Guy was resurrected and lived long enough to become a poor imitation of its best self.
Family Guy isn’t nearly as funny and clever as it wants or seems to think. 16 seasons in, the show is telling the same jokes in a repetitive style. It’s crude without being the slightest bit clever. Even when it commits to mini arcs, a rarity for primetime cartoons, it never feels exciting.
Family Guy has grown stale and uninteresting. The spark of creativity that was always present in the early seasons has completely disappeared.
8 Gone Too Soon: Better Off Ted
Profoundly silly comedies are difficult to pull off. While it can result in a wildly entertaining laugh riot, it can also go past the point of no return. The show can stop being funny and start being annoying. Luckily, ABC's Better Off Ted was an example of the former.
The show was utterly ridiculous. It was a workplace comedy that took place in one of the most evil companies ever, Veridian Dynamics.
There’s no logical way that Veridian Dynamics would stay open or be acceptable. The insanity of the job just enhanced Better Off Ted, especially since it was presented in a self-aware (and fourth-wall breaking) manner.
Better Off Ted managed to do a lot in a short time but it should’ve got more than its pitiful two seasons.
7 Needs to Go: The Orville
The Orville is obviously a labor of love for front man (and executive producer) Seth MacFarlane. The Orville also has its fans and is relatively popular. However, The Orville just isn’t very good.
Done right, The Orville would be like a televised Galaxy Quest, a long-form Star Trek parody. While Orville has ambitions for that goal it falls very short. The Orville is definitely a comedy, but it also contains way too many dramatic moments.
The crass MacFarlane jokes bump up against serious problems, which results in the entire show being a tonal mess.
Ratings wise, The Orville is a hit for Fox. For the sake of quality, the show should end sooner rather than later. At the very least, it would free up the mostly wasted cast to pursue better and funnier projects. Adrianne Palicki deserves so much better.
6 Gone Too Soon: Party Down
Executive producer Rob Thomas manages to have his name attached to one of the great canceled-too-soon dramas and comedies. On the drama side, there’s Veronica Mars. But with comedy, it’s definitely Showtime’s short-lived Party Down.
In a running trend for most shows that were axed early, Party Down is stacked with a tremendous cast. Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan alone are worth their weight in comedic gold but they’re just a slice of what the show has to offer.
Party Down was about a group of caterers, who also had dreams of making it big in Hollywood. This facilitated a rotating cast of hilarious people.
The showwas the perfect balance of silly and stupid. It blended incredibly adult humor with wacky moments but never felt the slightest bit childish. The cast sparkled in the roles. Sadly that talent landed them bigger jobs and with low ratings the series was finished.
5 Needs to Go: Modern Family
There’s a few reasons to take umbrage with Modern Family. The show has won (and been nominated for) far more Emmys than it deserves.
It’s in large part because of that praise that it has become the jewel in ABC’s family comedy crown, overshadowing much better shows in similar veins. There was time when Modern Family was fantastic but that time has passed.
Modern Family isn't bad. It is wildly overrated. When it premiered Modern Family did break ground with a diverse and, well, modern cast. However, that emboldened and inspired other series to take the concept same concept further and do it better.
Modern Family isn't leading the charge anymore in any respect. It exists in a state of perpetual boredom and repeated jokes.
4 Gone Too Soon: Happy Endings
ABC's Happy Endings was hardly the most original comedy. It was about six (mostly) single friends living a life in the city they couldn’t afford. The show even acknowledged the similarities to Friends in a series of memorable jokes. Happy Endings wasn’t a new concept, but few comedies have hit on a truly new idea.
The familiar trappings of Happy Endings were just a joke delivery excuse. The show was rapid fire and inventive. Every episode is densely packed with jokes. The archetypes of the core group was nothing new but the show took those outlines and presented something original. The show was funny, weird and almost always unexpected.
Sadly, throughout its seasons, Happy Endings was on the edge of cancellation. The end finally came after the season 3 finale leaving more than a few plot threads hanging.
3 Needs to Go: The Big Bang Theory
Even if it’s not quite as huge as it once was, The Big Bang Theory is a ratings phenomenon for CBS. There’s no sign the show is slowing down, earning its own prequel spin-off and being slotted for whatever CBS show needs a boost. The Big Bang Theory isn’t going anywhere any time soon, but it should.
The show capitalizes on geek culture but in a very cynical way. The jokes fall into the same predictable formula and there’s also no respect for any of the characters or their interest. The Big Bang Theory is rather mean-spirited and dull.
To the show’s credit, they have developed the characters more than would be expected. Relationships have been able to form and stick but any slight amount of growth ends up being outweighed by a rude and disconcerting “joke.” The Big Bang Theory tries to be everything for everyone but it just fails to deliver.
2 Gone Too Soon: Trophy Wife
It’s hardly shocking that Trophy Wife was canceled after one short season. The title of the show was a complete nightmare and didn’t represent the show at all. Yes, there was a “trophy wife” in the show played by Malin Akerman and she was the main character. Yet the title was more ironic or tongue-in-cheek than anything literal.
At its heart, Trophy Wife was a funny, irreverent but still heartwarming family sitcom. It had an amazing cast. There were heavy hitters, comedically, in the smallest roles. Yet even in its very short run, Trophy Wife managed to spread the comedic joy around to every character.
Most importantly though the show was a great vehicle for star Malin Akerman. Akerman is a far funnier and talented actress than most people give her credit. Though, to be fair, the right roles for her have been few and far between.
1 Gone Too Soon: Flight of the Conchords
It’s a little strange to argue against the ending of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. The decision to end the show had very little to do with money and/or ratings.
It was all down to the fact that the stars and minds behind the show, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, wanted to move on from it. Flight of the Conchords had become too time-consuming and difficult for the pair, so they ended things after season 3.
It’s a decision that fans must respect. Still, it’s hard to swallow that there were only a few years of such a weird and wholly original series.
The show followed fictionalized versions of Jemaine and Bret as they struggled to be working artists and musicians. Flight of the Conchords was half musical / half autobiography and all hilarious. It's a sweet but way too short series.
What other comedies do you think were canceled too early? Which would you like to see go? Sound off in the comments!