I’m a sucker for series that only get short runs. I like ruminating about untapped potential, I suppose; the what-ifs and what-could-have-beens make great daydreaming material (and story fodder). Every so often there’s talk of reviving Firefly, Joss Whedon’s beloved 2002 space western series, whose fans often feel was given short shrift by FOX. Firefly’s first season was fourteen episodes long; but only ten were shown (and aired out of order) before it was cancelled — which was a shame, because once again, as happens so often in science fiction shows, the acting and writing goes unnoticed and/or unrewarded by larger audiences. In 2004, the film Serenity tied up some of the plotlines from the series — but we fans of the ‘Verse could always use more adventures on our favorite starship.
Here are three more SF/F series that deserve cult followings based on the release of their DVD sets:
Threshold (CBS, 2005). Starring Carla Gugino, Brent Spiner, and Peter Dinklage, Threshold focused on a secret government emergency group racing to uncover the threat posed by an alien lifeform that transformed everything it touched. Strategist Molly Caffrey (Gugino) is called to Washington DC to enact a contingency plan she designed in the event of first contact with a hostile alien lifeform. No one expected it to happen, but now it has — and the lifeform is infecting humans to rewrite their DNA via a strange audio signal; humans who don’t transform die horribly. Caffrey forms a team of scientists and soldiers to chase down the surviving victims of first contact. But even studying the alien frequency brings its own set of complications; halfway through the season, Caffrey and two other agents were mildly infected by the pulse, bringing on hallucinations. The cast worked well together; Spiner and Dinklage provided comic relief as Gugino led soldiers into the fray. The first season was chopped after ten episodes; SciFi (now SyFy) picked it up and showed the remaining three episodes. The story that developed made it clear that CBS shouldn’t have been so hasty. This page gives us some clues about what might have been — and it looks pretty exciting, even twelve years later. Because insidious alien incursions make good stories!
Wonderfalls (FOX, 2004). The second of Bryan Fuller’s TV series to be produced — and the second (after Dead Like Me) to be axed — this time after only 4 episodes had aired. Thankfully the full-season DVD set has gained a cult following, and thankfully Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Hannibal) is still working in television (I will watch the forthcoming American Gods just out of allegiance). Wonderfalls is a funny series about a sarcastic, disaffected college graduate named Jaye (played by Caroline Dhavernas, lately of Hannibal) working in a Niagara Falls gift shop and who has zero motivation to move forward in life. She works for a teenager, has a snarky best friend, a gay Republican sister, a spiritually-minded brother, and parents who can’t connect with her on any level. Unfortunately, the gift shop’s animal trinkets start connecting with Jaye on a conversational level, telling her to do things for which she has no context. No one else but Jaye can hear them. Jaye’s relationship with these animal trinkets develops over the series, as she tries to decipher why the trinkets talk and why they focus on her. When Jaye attempts to ignore their directives, tragedy results. The result is a wild ride that forces Jaye out of her comfort zone and into the enjoyment of life — even if she drags her feet on the way.
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (FOX, 1993). This wacky, steampunk, and often-anachronistic adventure series stars scifi mainstay Bruce Campbell. Bounty hunter (and Harvard Law graduate) Brisco County Jr (Campbell) travels the Old West in search of the gang that killed his father and is drawn into the search for a mysterious, super-powered Orb. Brisco’s showrunners threw everything and the kitchen sink into the plotlines, including (but not limited to): an Old West sheriff who looked, acted, and dressed like Elvis; time-traveling villains; slide projectors and fingerprint evidence (long before slide projectors were invented and right at the time fingerprinting was popularized in criminology circles), mad scientists, rockets, motorcycles, a horse that knows Morse code, and supernatural goings-on. Let’s also mention the futuristic gadgets Brisco uses to get out of scrapes. For the first half of the season, Brisco County Jr. often rode the crazy train between western, historical, comedic, scifi, fantasy, and back again; without spoiling too much, the second half is more comedic Western. And of course Bruce Campbell was his blustery self, delivering over-the-top one-liners with gusto. Brisco was an enjoyably wacky Western series.
Do you have any favorite series that wasn’t given much of a chance beyond the first season, or even a few episodes — and you miss it? Keep the chain going in the comments!