I’m a huge fan of 30 Rock, but I was happy to hear it when they announced the series is wrapping up next season. I prefer the Ab Fab model to the Bonanza one - a series moving on while adoring fans still want more as opposed to becoming something we take for granted. It’s like reading a good book. We approach the end aware how many pages are left while appreciating what we’ve enjoyed so far.
While the concept seems foreign (literally, the concept seems completely un-American), it often works well. Some of the best shows I can remember have been perfect examples of quality over quantity. Whether they had well-planned exits or were unexpectedly cut short, my top picks for shows that left primetime while still in their prime:
Absolutely Fabulous - 6-ish seasons (3 seasons and 3 specials)
Last January, Patsy (Joanna Lumley) and Edina (Jennifer Saunders) returned for an hourlong special, 20 years after the first season of the drinking, drugging, Lacroix-loving fabulousness began. And it’s still brilliant. Maybe even better as reality TV and social media have given Saunders so much more fodder for the PR and fashion worlds Edina and Patsy inhabit. Best news of all, Saunders is at work on the film.
LOST - 6 seasons
The show took a huge (brilliant) risk three seasons in by announcing the show was halfway over. Aware that only three seasons remained, fans saw that the writers were crafting a very deliberate story, and no episode was taken for granted. In this DVR-and-watch-it-later era, LOST fans remained old school, tuning in when it aired. Social media spoilers were worthy of Facebook unfollows by some. Ringing phones went unanswered for an hour each Wednesday. This was TV taken very seriously.
My So-Called Life - 1 season
[Editor's Note: The following clip is probably my favorite scene in a TV series ever. --Morgan]
In 19 episodes, MSCL became a classic. It introduced us to Claire Danes and Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto played the part, but honestly, he’ll always be Jordan Catalano). It fast forwarded a decade and brought us a new sort of Breakfast Club, my generation of brains and princesses and criminals. Ratings hurt the show, fans then fought to save it, but it didn’t make it. Looking back, perhaps it was a good thing. John Hughes films weren’t made to be episodic television. Maybe, just maybe, Winnie Holzman’s show was meant to give us just a slice of nineties adolescence.
The Office (UK) - 2 seasons
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant did something kind of extraordinary with The Office. With just 14 episodes, they created this fantastic show, like a Christopher Guest mockumentary for the small screen. I'd seen the original and was excited to see how it would translate. It did so globally, as it was adapted in a half-dozen countries to critical acclaim. Call it Kontoret (Sweden), La Bureau (France) or The Office (US), the show was a hit. Most countries seemed to stick with the UK two season concept. Here in the US, the show is on season eight and counting.
Extras - 2 seasons
Gervais and Merchant did it again with Extras. This time the mockumentary moved from corporate cubicles to the crafts services table, and for two seasons, they gave us a fantastic ensemble, took home about a dozen awards and called it a wrap. If anyone ever wonders why Gervais hosts the Golden Globes, tell them to watch Extras (which took home a Globe). It was a show that made making fun of Hollywood fun for Hollywood, with guests like Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller and David Bowie.
Arrested Development - 3 seasons (+ one more to come)
Arrested is something of an enigma. The show was critically acclaimed, it took home a Golden Globe, six Emmys and other industry honors. TIME named it one of the top 100 shows. Ever. Yet, it never had the ratings to keep it afloat. It’s followers are dedicated, and have grown in numbers since the series ended in 2006 (thank you, Netflix), which means there’s a large audience anxiously awaiting the show’s return for one final season (thank you, Netflix). Shooting begins momentarily.
Flight of the Concords - 2 seasons
You can’t have it all. And that’s OK. The Conchords, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, realized that they couldn’t be making music and performing while they were making a show about music and performing, so after two successful seasons, they called it a day. They still can be seen performing live in concert...and accepting Oscars live on television. (McKenzie wrote a number of songs for the The Muppets, including “Life’s A Happy Song” and the Academy Award-winner “Man or Muppet.”)
So, tell me, what are your favorite shows? The classics and cult favorites that were fun while they lasted?
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