Live and let die?: The perils of resurrecting canceled TV shows

serenityThis week, teen detective Veronica Mars heads to the big screen, making a surprise comeback after a Kickstarter campaign helped to resurrect the character. “Veronica Mars” is a cult favorite TV series that continued to have a fan base following its cancellation in 2007 after just three seasons. A Kickstarter campaign raised a surprising $5.7 million from fans for a film featuring the title character, played by Kristen Bell.

While I’ve never watched the original “Veronica Mars” TV show, I’m excited for fans of the series, and I hope the film will be satisfying. Early reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are mostly positive, and I’m curious to see how the film performs at the box office. If the film is a hit, it may offer hope to fans of other well-loved TV shows canceled before their time.

There isn’t always justice in the world of television, and sometimes really good shows slip under the radar or aren’t given enough time to grow before studios give them the axe. If fans are lucky, show runners are given a head’s up about the impending cancellation, and they can at least try to give fans some closure. Other times, a show is canceled mid-season, and we’re left to ponder what might have been.

However, whether a canceled show can be revived and whether it should be revived are two different questions. Sometimes it’s not easy to recapture the magic a cult hit had during its first run. For example, reviews were mixed when the comedy “Arrested Development” returned to Netflix for a 15 episode season last year.

So, why are successful TV revivals challenging, even if most of the original cast and crew return? It may depend, in part, on how much time has passed between the cancelation and the revival. In between those times, all the actors, writers and directors have (presumably) participated in different projects, and they’ve changed as people and evolved as performers. It’s tough to capture the exact same feeling as the show’s original run. Also, fan expectations increase the longer viewers have to wait for a revival, and it is perhaps inevitable that when the revival does happen, the content — no matter how good it is — often feels like a little bit of a letdown. That’s why I’m hesitant to see some of my favorite canceled TV shows revived, especially if it has been several years (or more) since they were canceled.

Perhaps no other canceled-before-its-time show is more beloved than Joss Whedon’s sci-fi Western “Firefly.” The show may have lasted a mere 14 episodes, but it’s one of my all-time favorite TV series. It has (at least in my opinion) 🙂 one of the best ensemble casts ever put together for a TV show; every single one of the characters is a complex, multi-layered person who challenges stereotypes. And yet, as much as it breaks my heart to say it, I don’t know if I want a “Firefly” revival.

Yes, it was canceled far too soon, and despite a 2005 movie, “Serenity,” that tied up some loose ends, fans will always have to wonder about unexplored possibilities. Would hired gun Jayne Cobb have ever reached a point where the money was good enough for him to actually betray Captain Malcolm Reynolds and the rest of the crew? Was Shepherd Book really a traveling preacher, and what secrets remain hidden in his past? Why did licensed companion Inara really decide to join up with a gang of smugglers and criminals — was she running from something, or looking for something?

Although “Firefly” fans would like to know the answers to these questions, it has now been more than a decade since “Firefly” went off the air. I guess I’d rather have the show ride off into the sunset, leaving us satisfied but wanting more, than come back and have the revival not quite live up to the hopes we had for it. The “Serenity” movie also complicates matters because it limits what show runners could do plot-wise in a series revival. If they set the revival after the movie, the show would be missing several key characters, who died in the film. Would the show still be a success without these characters?

There are other shows I loved but ended too soon: quirky crime drama “The Unusuals” and Edgar Wright’s hilarious but too brief British sitcom, “Spaced,” which lasted just 14 episodes. However, like “Firefly,” sometimes it’s hard to go back to what happened before.

So, what do you think? Are there canceled TV shows you’d like to see revived? Or do you think a revival is too risky? What are some of your favorite canceled shows?

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19 thoughts on “Live and let die?: The perils of resurrecting canceled TV shows

  1. The one that has always bothered me most is Carnivale. It’s second season ended under misinformation – that they were getting a third season. Which means it ended on a huge cliffhanger that is equal parts fascinating and promising.

    Only we never got to see it.

  2. Yeah, it’s frustrating when show runners aren’t given any notice about a show’s cancelation. Too many times fans are just left hanging, and have to speculate. At least with “Firefly” we got a movie to wrap up some story lines.

  3. They made a Veronica Mars movie? This I have to check out. As for series I’d like to see a revival of, I’d go with 666 Park Avenue. I know they aired the rest of the filmed episodes already but I really think there were alot of unanswered questions left that I’d like to see resolved.

  4. I always wondered why SyFy which spends lots of money on original series never bothered to pick up Firefly after it was cancelled. Now the chance of a revival with the original cast is impossible.
    Would the fans be willing to settle for a reboot/continuation of the story with a new generation of characters piloting the Serenity?

    • I agree — SyFy would have been a great home for Firefly, if only they’d picked it up right after it was canceled. I think now it’s too late to do a revival. I’d be interested in seeing a new series set in the same universe, but it might be a tough sell.

  5. Count me among those of you who say leave FIREFLY alone. Yes, it’s a marvelous series and didn’t deserve to die off so soon. But let’s face facts, most of the cast have moved onto other things. Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres are on hit TV shows where they’re making three times the money and only working half as hard. And Joss Whedon is far too busy with the MCU.

    • I agree, “Firefly” was great and I’m thankful we got what we got (though I wish it was more!), but I think a successful revival is unlikely, and it would be too tough to “get the gang back together.” I am definitely glad to see the cast and crew involved in successful projects now, and was happy to see Joss Whedon get some well-deserved success for his work with “The Avengers.” Thanks for commenting and stopping by! 🙂

  6. Its hard to say how soon some of these shows would have jumped the shark though anyways. You talk about the unexplored potential of Firefly, but look at Heroes, which is a comparable series. Imagine if that show was cancelled after the first season, fans would have been cringing for new episodes because there was so much potential. But in reality, it did have a second season which pretty much sapped that potential. Firefly may have very well been the same way.

  7. Some cancelled series that I’d be curious to know what happened after is Sarah Connor Chronicles, Deadwood and Firefly. I think there’s a window of opportunity to revive a show, but after that passes it doesn’t make sense any more especially if the actors have moved on and it’s been too long. While it doesn’t quite capture the magic of the series, there are Serenity comics written or consulted with Joss Whedon, that answer some questions like Book’s mysterious past. Other revivals like Heroes Reborn, I’m not too excited about mainly because I lost interest after the second season. In the case of 24, I’d be curious to see Jack Bauer again if the script is strong enough. That show is essentially a roller coaster ride featuring Kiefer Sutherland stopping terrorists, while formulaic it’s something that can be easier to recapture. Great topic and Firely is one of my fave series too!

    • Thanks, I’ll have to look up some of those Serenity comics! 🙂

      It will be interesting to see how the 24 continuation goes. I agree, the more time that passes after a show’s cancellation, the tougher it is to pull off a revival.

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