One of the major effects of Netflix and other streaming services’ move into the original content market has been the prospect of reviving cancelled television shows away from the networks that did them in. Netflix showed that it was serious in part by inking a deal to bring back cult favorite Arrested Development, which chronicles the experiences of a deeply dysfunctional family after its real estate empire collapses. Shows like that, and the long-mourned Firefly will always have their defenders. And now, any cancelled network show seems like it’ll go through the same process that Terra Nova did, where after its network cuts it loose, there will be at least a semblance of discussion about whether it should live again on one of the streaming services. But what of the shows that were cancelled before that option was added to the lifecycle? Or that haven’t developed Freaks and Geeks-like followings, but were solid and worthy shows none the less? Here are five shows that deserve a second lease on life—or a first look, if you haven’t checked them out yet.
1. Better Off Ted: Think The Office, but higher up on the food chain. The main character, Ted, runs a research and development division of a cheerily evil corporation, Veridian Dynamics, where he works for the conscienceless but strangely endearing Veronica (Portia di Rossi, absolutely on comedic fire). At a time when we’re both intensely aware of corporate callousness, but the economy doesn’t have a lot of room for us to run off and pursue our dreams, like Linda, the show’s product-tester-turned-children’s-book-author, Better Off Ted was both hilarious and cathartic.
2. Kings: Look, I’d pay money to watch Ian McShane curse the heavens as a standalone weekly enterprise. But there were terrific, long-game stories to be told here about the governance of Gilboa; Jack Benjamin’s repression of his sexuality in the name of dynastic succession (Sebastian Stan should have won Emmys for that performance); the role of the media in public opinion; and how health care reform affects a nation at risk of plague. Plus, it was a gorgeous example of how production design can create a new world that should have been a role model for other science-fictional and futurist shows.
3. The Unusuals: The casting was just ridiculous: Amber Tamblyn and Jeremy Renner as cops partnered in the wake of Renner’s partner’s death; Adam Goldberg and Harold Perinneau as another pair, the first of whom was dying of a brain tumor he refused to treat, the later terrified to die young; Chris Sarandon as Tamblyn’s wealthy father she’s trying to prove she doesn’t depend on. And the show was a smart, sometimes surreal reinvention of the cop genre, moving the cases away from murders to explore everything from New York’s old crime families to Alzheimer’s. If I could have only one show back, it would probably be this.
4. Prime Suspect: That this smart remake failed to find an American audience is a failure of that audience. We still need shows about sexism in American law enforcement. And Maria Bello was fantastic. Not every show has to be high-concept. I wish this smart, solid, fun procedural had survived.
5. No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency: I wish this show was still going less for the show itself, and more for the fact that it helped stand up Botswana’s film industry. It’s disappointing, if inevitable, that we’d get a show set in Africa and with African characters through the creation of a white male writer. But it would be really nice to get American audiences used to watching shows set in non-American countries, and with characters where the default setting isn’t white American. Especially when it comes to solving mysteries.