Tomorrow, February 24, is the 18th anniversary of the death of Laura Palmer. (And to think that she was only 17 at the time…gosh, it makes me feel old.) Laura Palmer was, of course, the fictional character around whom the plot of the TV series Twin Peaks revolved. A few minutes into the pilot, her corpse was discovered washed up on a beach. And thus appears the central mystery of the show for quite a few episodes: Who killed Laura Palmer? Everyone in the town seemed like a suspect, or at least everyone had a secret. For almost two decades, this quirky and much-maligned series by David Lynch was my favorite television show of all time. But it was too good for network television: it was cancelled after a grand total of only 30 episodes, leaving major questions unanswered and plot lines dangling.
But Twin Peaks wasn’t the first or the last great TV series to have its life snuffed out prematurely. Needless to say, “great” is a matter of taste, but here is my personal list of the top shows that deserved a much longer life, in order of how sad I was/am at their cancellation:
- Firefly: It’s simply not open to debate. Firefly was the Best Television Program Ever, but its light was snuffed out after only 14 episodes (only 11 of which originally aired, though all are available on DVD, on iTunes, and in syndication). Yes, it was a science-fiction western, and yes, that’s as odd as it sounds. But every inch of it was utterly brilliant, from the writing to the faux-handheld effect for the CGI space footage that Battlestar Galactica later appropriated. The sequel movie, Serenity, was equally shiny.
- Twin Peaks: It’s dead…wrapped in plastic (on DVD). The first season has been out for a while, and the second season is finally being released in April. You still can’t officially get the pilot on DVD in the U.S.; find a region-free import from Hong Kong on Amazon.com or eBay.
- Arrested Development had its development arrested halfway through its third season. It may not have been the funniest comedy of all time, but it was certainly the smartest. I was constantly amazed at the show’s subtle cleverness; clearly it was too subtle for mainstream audiences.
- Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip appears to be about to ride into the sunset. It’s gotten terrible reviews during its single season on the air, especially when compared with 30 Rock. But Studio 60 is one of very few shows on TV I can watch without feeling that my intelligence is being insulted. The dialog, if frequently implausible, is zippy, and the acting is first-rate.
- Star Trek: The Original Series boldly went where too many other great shows have gone: into syndication after a mere three seasons. Of course, it’s been reincarnated many times over, but it still amazes me that the series that started it all had such a short run.
- Boomtown: had a solid first season of 18 episodes, but then busted six episodes into the second season. It was a crime drama, but with the unusual twist of showing the same events from several different points of view within an episode. Once again, as a show that expected too much of its audience, it got the boot.
- In Justice: was unjustly cancelled after 13 episodes in 2006. It must have been Kyle MacLachlan, playing another oddball character. OK, it was a merely average legal drama, though no worse than most. But I liked the fact that it tackled the extremely important if unpopular subject of wrongful convictions. Yes, it does happen, and far too often, with devastating consequences. I thought that a TV show with some slightly wacky characters would help to get the message out, but…I guess there’s no justice.
I know everyone’s going to disagree with something on this list, and have favorites of their own. Feel free to vent, commiserate, or offer additional selections in the comments.