The Best Canceled Shows of 2020 — Year in Review


It’s the time of Peak TV! There’s TV everywhere! You can’t shake a stick without hitting another TV show on another streamer! TV! TV! TV!

All that’s true — until it’s not.

The sheer quantity of TV does not always equate to quality TV winning out, and each year, there are a number of worthy shows that don’t reach whatever mystical threshold television executives have ascertained is required to keep a project in production. This is even more true this year, with the business pressures created by the pandemic often — and some cynics would argue, conveniently — cited as the reason for cancellation.

Here, IndieWire lists, in alphabetical order, the year’s shows that were canceled too soon. They’re gone — but not forgotten, thanks to the afterlife they could receive on those same streaming outlets that didn’t want to fund new episodes. As it turns out, during Peak TV shows don’t die, they’re just buried.

Leonardo Adrian Garcia, Steve Greene, and Ben Travers also contributed to this list.

Astronomy Club: The Sketch Show


“Astronomy Club”

Netflix

It’s hard to forgive Netflix for the cancellation of “Astronomy Club: The Sketch Show” if for no other reason than the cast had more than proved themselves worthy of several seasons on the streamer. The latest project from the UCB house team-turned-sketch comedy troupe was a critical darling (it holds a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and featured sketches that tackled race with aplomb. Its cancellation is mind-boggling, but even more aggravating is that sketch comedy, on the whole, is not an expensive endeavor, with individual sketches having the constant potential to go viral. “Magical Negro Rehab,” a sketch from the pilot, is exactly the kind of sketch that can help bring potential subscribers to the fold. When the cast spoke to IndieWire in June, however, they expressed frustration at how difficult it was to find the show on the platform, noting their own anecdotal evidence that the show wasn’t being promoted widely by the Netflix algorithm.

Netflix’s sketch strategy has always been a bit scattershot (“The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show” and “Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun” being their big 2020 projects) with the streamer never really giving comedy the time to grow. One need only look to the one-and-done experiment “Netflix Presents: The Characters” for how quickly the streaming giant gives up on a concept. If there was a positive there, it’s that it led to “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson.” And that’s actually the most hopeful aspect of the demise of “Astronomy Club: The Sketch Show:” the potential for more sketches from the creatives at its center in different projects. Keep in mind, “Astronomy Club: The Sketch Show” was executive produced by Kenya Barris as part of his $100 million development deal, so there’s hope yet that some combination of Shawtane Bowen, Jonathan Braylock, Ray Cordova, James III, Caroline Martin, Jerah Milligan, Monique Moses and Keisha Zollar could show up again on Netflix. In the meantime, watch all six episodes on Netflix and then catch up with the digital shorts they made for Comedy Central in 2018. —LAG 

Castle Rock 


CASTLE ROCK -- "Let The River Run" - Episode 201 -- A nurse gets waylaid in Castle Rock. Annie (Lizzy Caplan), shown. (Photo by: Maura Longueil/Hulu)

“Castle Rock”

Dana Starbard / Hulu

Once touted as the “most successful Hulu original,” Dustin Thomason and Sam Shaw’s anthology series inspired by the works of Stephen King was canceled a year after its second season debuted. And both seasons were great! The first, starring Andre Holland, Melanie Lynskey, and Sissy Spacek (in an unforgettable turn), introduced the fictional Maine setting used in multiple King novels with nuance, grace, and a character-first attitude. Season 2 brought us another compelling turn from Lizzy Caplan encased in a heart-pounding thriller. Rather than leaning exclusively on nostalgia and easter eggs (which it still featured), “Castle Rock” invested in its citizens and found rich new text for the screen. Unless its creators suddenly devested, there’s no reason this couldn’t have created a few more seasons. Blame Disney’s rebranding/re-shuffle, I guess.—BT

Dare Me


DARE ME -- "Shock & Awe" Episode 110 -- Pictured: (l-r) Willa Fitzgerald as Collette French, Herizen Guardiola as Addy Hanlon -- (Photo by: Rafy/USA Network)

“Dare Me”

Rafy/USA Network

Luckily, audiences who may have missed this show during its original USA run will have a chance to give it a second life when it drops on Netflix later this month. Without revealing too much, it’s safe to say that the season’s fifth episode proved that it was more than a by-the-book literary adaptation. Co-creators Megan Abbott (the author of the original novel the show is drawn from) and Gina Fattore found a way to open up the first-person source material and really dig into an entire town’s perspective on a meticulously unfolding mystery. What begins as a contentious season on a high school cheer team becomes something even more abstract and unknowable. It’s a wild ride, one ended far sooner than it should have.—SG

“GLOW” 


“GLOW”

Netflix

It’s a difficult thing to wrestle (heh) with the fate of a show that is canceled too soon. On the one hand, I should be grateful that Netflix’s “GLOW” got three amazing seasons to highlight the brilliance of creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, the acting and athletic prowess of the cast, including Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin, and one of the greatest stunt teams in the business, headed up by the Emmy Award-winning Shauna Duggins. And I am grateful. But I’m also devastated. Not only that “GLOW” is gone, but that we had been promised a fourth and final season, an opportunity for loose ends to be tied up and for the emotional investment we’d made into the characters to find some sense of finality. There are already too few series that focus on the complicated ways in which women build relationships with each other, and losing one of the best shows on TV doesn’t exactly soften the blow. If there is but one bright spot in this terrible loss, it’s that our streaming age allows most everything to live on. “GLOW” will still be on Netflix, waiting for you to discover and appreciate it years down the road. “GLOW” will still warm your heart and make you laugh, even if you come to it 10 years from now. And when you do, finally, sit down and appreciate the series that brought heart and humor to the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, I will also be there, just behind you, screaming, “I TOLD YOU SO!” —LH

“High Fidelity” 


High Fidelity -- "Fun Rob" - Episode 109 -- It’s A milestone birthday forces Rob to confront her past and the demise of her relationship with Mac. Robyn (Zoë Kravitz), shown. (Photo by: Phillip Caruso/Hulu)

“High Fidelity”

Phillip Caruso/Hulu

There’s gone too soon and then there’s not even getting an opportunity to thrive. The latter is what happened to Hulu’s “High Fidelity,” a gender-swapped update on the Nick Hornby novel and subsequent moviefilm of the same name. Starring a dynamite Zoë Kravitz as Rob, a record store owner who was impossibly cool while simultaneously being deeply unchill, the series was infinitely more interesting than its source material, with a queer woman protagonist whose past relationships and behavior take on a completely different tenor than when Rob was a white guy in his mid-30s sulking about women he’d loved and lost. This was the rumination on love and relationships that 2020 needed, as opposed to AMC’s “Soulmates” or HBO Max’s “Love Life,” both of which received second seasons. It’s a miscarriage of justice that the world is denied more of Kravitz in such a rich role and a crime that there will be no more Da’Vine Joy Randolph around to steal every scene she’s in. Top five ways Hulu broke my heart in 2020: One through four: Cancelling “High Fidelity.” Five: “Normal People.” —LH

I Am Not OK With This 


“I Am Not Okay with This”

Netflix

This show seemed like Netflix was figuring things out. It was an adaptation of a Charlie Forsman graphic novel that wasn’t burdened by the caustic navel-gazing of “The End of the F***ing World.” It had a story of a young protagonist coming to terms with their powers that, unlike “Stranger Things,” didn’t feel beholden to its spiritual predecessors. Syd (Sophia Lillis, in another performance that hints at even more great work to come) discovers that she has the power to move things with her mind. But like “Daybreak” — another high school-set Netflix show that was halted before it got to fulfill its full potential — it didn’t try to avoid what has made similar stories great. While addressing some of those tropes head-on, the show also let Lillis play to her strengths and build around a character with an interiority to match the scale of her burgeoning abilities. The season’s bookending sequences gave this story some air of being self-contained, but it would have been fascinating to see where Syd’s story headed next. —SG

I’m Sorry 


“I’m Sorry”

Scott Everett/Tru TV

This show, written and created by Andrea Savage, will end up being the greatest scripted show that truTV ever aired. It’s frank, it’s funny, and it isn’t afraid to mix those together for its own brand of goofiness. (Any parents catching up with the series on Netflix probably found that some of the storylines rang a little truer somehow this year, too.) After learning that truTV wouldn’t be continuing the show, Savage’s various posts explaining the situation became both an honest message to fans and some much-needed insight into how networks are using the events of this year to reframe their programming and financial decisions. Savage explained that all of Season 3’s episodes are written and ready, even the ones that hadn’t been filmed before March. Any network looking for a comedy that’s hit its stride should have snatched this up months ago.—SG

Kidding


“Kidding”

Andrew Eccles / Showtime

Too good for this world, but almost certainly too morbid, “Kidding” really opened up in its second magical season. Starring Jim Carrey as a grief-stricken children’s show host, the Showtime comedy from creator Dave Holstein faced a challenging hurdle from the get-go — convincing audiences to spend time in a whimsical world of puppets alongside a family still trying to process the death of one son. But those who were able to handle its frank discussions of loss were also able to appreciate its outstanding craft work, ambitious direction (led by Michel Gondry), and Carrey’s moving turn. “Kidding” devised more than its fair share of spectacular moments. Here’s hoping people go back and find this gem. —BT 

“On Becoming a God in Central Florida” 


“On Becoming a God in Central Florida”

Showtime

I maintain the world wasn’t ready for “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” because it was so frank about what this year would become. Kirsten Dunst’s should-have-been Emmy-winning performance of Krystal, a put-upon single mother trying to infiltrate a pyramid scheme while keep her head above water financially, represented all of us. Dunst was game for anything, whether that be doing jazzercise in a swimming pool or giving a series of speeches that would make Elmer Gantry proud. On top of that, it hilariously gave us an overly confident Alexander Skarsgard in a mullet being eaten by a gator. Krystal’s rage, perfectly hidden by gritted braced teeth, spoke to everyone. So it’s even more ironic that Showtime canceled it after giving it a Season 2 renewal. In a year that took away everything, why not take away the series that was cool enough to tell us what life was really like? —KL

“The Outsider” 


“The Outsider”

Bob Mahoney/HBO

As the old song goes, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. “The Outsider” was a mind-boggling, curiosity-spiking adaptation. A bevy of great actors. Jason Bateman directing. Richard Price running the show. But they were all working off a Stephen King story that wasn’t exactly a hot commodity or all that heralded. Still, the first and final season (on HBO) managed to pose intriguing questions about what it means to believe the unbelievable, while creating some of the best audible creature effects in the history of television. (Pro tip: Watching “El Cuco” scenes with subtitles is a gamechanger.) “The Outsider” isn’t a murder-mystery. It’s not even a horror show. It’s a character drama, and these characters will be missed — El Cuco included. —BT

Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj


“Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj”

Cara Howe / Netflix

The latest in a long line of canceled late-night-esque shows, “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” joins Netflix’s “The Break with Michelle Wolf,” Hulu’s “I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman” and HBO’s “Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas” as shows that all deserved to have longer lifespans. Obviously, Netflix likely made this decision based on the oodles of data they have at their disposal, but it’s odd to get rid of a show that seemed to be generating an organic following (“Patriot Act” clips regularly garnered millions of views on Netflix’s comedy YouTube channel, Netflix Is A Joke, only falling behind clips of Dave Chappelle, Adam Sandler, and Kevin Hart’s comedy specials). Yes, there are there are other shows that nominally serve the same purpose in entertainment landscape, most notably “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” on Comedy Central, TBS’s “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” and HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” but “Patriot Act” felt different, and at the risk of alienating fans of those other shows — it felt fresh. A lot of that was due to Minhaj’s presence as a host simultaneously aghast at whatever vile malfeasance his writers and researchers had uncovered and beyond thrilled to be delivering said monologue elaborating upon it. 

The argument could be made that “Patriot Act’s” “sixth” season, filmed during quarantine, might have been its strongest. Episodes focusing on the ability (or inability) of citizens to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic or how, as a country, we’re fundamentally voting incorrectly (which leads to awful “lesser of two evils” choices at the ballot box) felt like mandatory viewing for all Netflix subscribers. Speaking of Netflix, it’s a bit maddening to look at the streamer shelling out for another lazy David Spade show (“Netflix Afterparty”) and launching an unoriginal edge lord comedy series (“Schulz Saves America”) in the wake of “Patriot Act’s” cancellation. “Schulz Saves America,” is an especially egregious addition to their comedy roster, if not for the misleading way in which the self-made YouTube comedian’s Tosh.O schtick is delivered as if he has a team of staffers researching for him (he doesn’t), but rather the “joke about both sides” angle comes across as virulently anti-Asian. In the end, “Patriot Act’s” legacy will likely be the fact that most of the topics it tackled, such as its finale on “Why Doing Taxes Is So Hard?” are evergreen and will be relevant for years to come. —LAG

Pure 


“Pure”

Channel 4

One of the strongest entries in this year’s new collection of HBO Max Originals, this show charts Marnie’s (Charly Clive) impulsive move to London when her own imagination becomes her enemy. Beginning with a catastrophic anniversary toast, Marnie grapples with the everyday conversations with friends, family, and strangers crashed by intrusive sexual thoughts. If this show won’t continue (as it looks like is the case), hopefully it leads to more opportunities for Clive, who’s proved here that she’s more than capable of anchoring a story. Watching her continue to embrace Marnie in full, with all her infectious enthusiasm and decisions of varying advisablity , could have been a fundamental building block for a show that should have lasted far longer. —SG

Single Parents / Bless This Mess 


“Single Parents”

ABC/Richard Cartwright

Both of these ABC sitcoms made it two seasons before getting the axe, and both of them were only getting better. Led by the underrated comic talents of lead actor Leighton Meester, “Single Parents” had found its groove as a sweet, ensemble-driven family comedy with enough light romance to keep you coming back, but not so much that it betrayed the ethos of its title. “Bless This Mess,” which marked Lake Bell’s first TV creation, managed to be the rare rural network comedy that didn’t talk down to its small town citizens or promise all would be better if they just moved to a city. Plus, the animal work was exquisite. Watch them both on Hulu. —BT

Stumptown 


“Stumptown”

ABC/David Bukach

Dex, we barely knew ye. Cobie Smulders’ hard-drinking, tough-talkin’ private investigator carved out a good living for herself by the end of Season 1, not to mention the ideal “office” hangout inside her best friend’s bar (played by the perfectly cast Jake Johnson). But she’d only just begun to open herself up emotionally, and there were plenty more Portland-area cases to be cracked. With a cheeky sense of humor and a team of actors with high-grade chemistry, “Stumptown” had all the makings of a beloved, seasons-long procedural. The renewal-cancelation only made its disappearance hurt more.—BT

Teenage Bounty Hunters 


“Teenage Bounty Hunters”

Netflix

Most times when a show ends after a single season, the disappointment comes from the fact that it was just figuring out what it wanted to be. While the season finale of this under-the-radar Netflix gem certainly was a bridge to a different stage of the series, there was plenty to love already. Maddie Phillips and Anjelica Bette Fellini had some of the best on-screen sibling energy you’ll find anywhere, as a pair of sisters who stumble backward into helping newfound associate Bowser (a delightful Kadeem Hardison) chase down a collection of suspect individuals throughout Georgia. The show had such a sense of kinetic motion, especially in the sequences when Blair and Sterling used their fish-eye sibling telepathy to help get out of tricky situations. We’ll always have the ice cream shop. —SG

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