Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The best "one and done" TV shows (imho, of course)

Other than "The Simpsons" (apparently), all TV shows have to come to an end at some point. And there have been lots of articles and blog posts written about the best and worst series finales. For example, some people loved the end of "The Sopranos," while others loathed it. The same could be said about the end of "Lost." And then there are the shows that got canceled abruptly, leaving devoted viewers with a cliffhanger as their last memory of the show.

But today I'm interested in writing about a specific category of TV shows that come to an end - those that lasted just one season ... or not even a full season. In other words, shows that produced and aired 24 or fewer episodes EVER. Of the shows in that category, which ones rate as the best?

An immediate problem disqualifies most eligible contenders, and that is the fact that they lasted only a season (or not even a season) tends to mean that they weren't very good. In addition, those that got canceled - or non-renewed, if you prefer - often ended on total cliffhangers, which is a pretty unsatisfactory way of ending.*

* Of course, this is a problem even for shows that go beyond a season. Off the top of my head, "The Pretender" and "V" come to mind.

Restricting consideration to shows that lasted no more than a season and that offered a reasonably satisfactory conclusion greatly limits the contenders. For example, cult favorite "Firefly" arguably fails the second prong (requiring resolution in the movie Serenity). I'll grant that reasonable minds can disagree on "reasonably satisfactory conclusion" - but this is my blog, so if you disagree, feel free to leave a comment.

With that in mind, I've got three contenders to discuss, listed alphabetically:

"American Gothic": This was a supernatural/mystery show created by Shaun Cassidy (the "do run run" singer) in 1995. I'd characterize it as sort of a cross between "The X-Files," The Exorcist, and "The Shield." The main character was Lucas Black, the sheriff of the small southern town of Trinity. Played brilliantly by Gary Cole, Black either had demonic powers or was demonic himself, and he ruled Trinity with an iron fist. In the opening episode, he murders a traumatized young woman named Merlyn, whose younger brother Caleb is left orphaned and gradually drawn into Black's orbit. Trying to stand up to Black are Caleb's older cousin Gail, a TV reporter; and the local doctor.

This show did a lot of things well, from the creepy atmosphere, to the ongoing arc about whether Caleb would turn to the dark side, but most of all to how Black made you sort of root for himself despite yourself - not unlike how a decade later, "The Shield" would make you root for corrupt cop Vic Mackey.

The series didn't get renewed after 22 episodes, and CBS didn't do the show any favors by airing episodes out of the intended order. It didn't end in a true series finale, but the last episode did offer an ending of sorts. I didn't watch the original broadcast but caught up when Sci-Fi Channel aired the entire series in 1997 - fortunately in the correct order. I'm not generally a fan of supernatural horror, but I greatly enjoyed this show, and while I was sad that it didn't get renewed, I was also satisfied at the end. I liked this show enough that I picked up the entire set on DVD.

"Last Resort": I blogged recently about this show after catching the first few episodes. It starts off like the movie Crimson Tide with an American naval captain questioning orders to launch a nuclear attack, but here, the sub gets attacked by American forces and ends up taking up port in a tropical Southeast Asian island, where the captain declares that if they aren't left alone, he's got 17 nuclear weapons aimed at Washington, D.C.(!).

This show lasted just 13 episodes, but the showrunner got enough advance notice that there wouldn't be any more episodes to have been able to craft a satisfying ending. Things get a little bit rushed in the last two episodes, but not really any more than Jack Bauer's being to get to anywhere in Los Angeles in 10 minutes. Other than that, this is a dynamite show, with action, suspense, drama, and a bit of moral dilemmas. As with the other shows on this list, when I reached the end, I kind of wished it would go on in the way that I feel about really good novels. I think a full season order of 22 episodes would've been even better, but I'm glad that I'm left with a feeling of wanting a little more rather than thinking it overstayed its welcome. I bought the digital version of this show from Amazon to watch it, and I think it's highly likely that I'll watch it again.

"Nowhere Man": 1995 was a good year for TV shows, huh? This was one of the inaugural shows on UPN, which later merged into the CW. It starts off with photojournalist Thomas Veil showing off his new work, titled "Hidden Agenda," to great acclaim. Later, at the celebratory dinner with his wife, he goes to the bathroom, and when he comes back, she's gone. He manages to get home but he can't open the door, and when someone answers his pounding, it's his wife with another man. Only she doesn't recognize him. In fact, Veil discovers that he's been "erased" - no one remembers him. From there, it's 25 episodes of traveling across the country, trying to find out who did this to him and why. This did get an actual series finale, and while it's not completely mind-blowing, it satisfyingly explains everything. I'd consider picking this up on DVD, except it's out of print, and the available copies on Amazon are outrageously expensive.