List, Television

5 TV SHOWS CANCELLED TOO EARLY:

*NOTE* – Contains spoilers for some of these TV shows, continue at your own peril.

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The American system of making television is one that is very different to over here in the UK. It is a much more commercial system which, for better or worse, is mainly interested in making money through selling advertising slots. This can mean that successful TV shows are dragged out long by their natural sell by date – just look at CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its numerous spin offs as a prime example. However, it can also mean that shows which are perhaps more of a slow burner are for one reason or another cut down in their prime. Ratings are the dictating force on US networks, and if a show is failing to hit high levels of viewership it will be axed – a fate that has befallen many a good show. Here are five examples of American shows that were cancelled too soon…

5 – CLONE HIGH

Clone-HighWhat do the guys behind The Lego Movie (2014) and the creator of Scrubs have in common? The answer is Clone High – an animated MTV series that lasted for one season back in 2001-02. Phil Miller, Christopher Lord and Bill Lawrence all worked on the highly inventive series, which focused on a high school populated by clones of famous historical figures including Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc and John F Kennedy.

It was an interesting premise, and the show was since gained a cult following, but upon its original airing it was dogged by a controversy over its depiction of Gandhi, which saw groups of people in India go on hunger strike in protest. The show never fully recovered and was hit with low ratings, leading to MTV cancelling the series in the face of mounting pressures.

4 – FREAKS & GEEKS

freaksandgeeksFreaks and Geeks is one of those shows that is hysterical to watch now because it features such a range of some of the biggest stars in comedy before they made their names. James Franco, Jason Segal and Seth Rogen all started out in Judd Apatow and Paul Feig’s (two of the biggest comedy directors in Hollywood today) sitcom set in the an early 1980’s American high school. It is also really worth watching because Biff from Back to the Future is in it (Thomas F Wilson plays Coach Ben Fredricks).

The show followed the lives of ‘freaks’ Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and co. and her brother Sam (John Frances Daley) and his friends, the ‘geeks’. Whilst it might seem crazy now that the show was cancelled after only one season consisting of 18 episodes, back in 1999-2000 these comedy giants were still small-time, though it is arguably Freaks and Geeks that set most of them on the path to success. The entire first season is available on Netflix and is well worth your time (I repeat, Biff from Back to the Future is in it).

3 – PUSHING DAISIES

pushing-daisies_1280x1024The 2007-08 Writers Guild of America Strike has a lot to answer for – it played havoc with a whole host of shows – but perhaps one of the worst outcomes us the fate of Pushing Daisies, ABC’s ‘forensic fairy-tale’ that aired right in the midst of the strike. The show followed the life of pie-maker Ned (Lee Pace), who has the ability to bring people back to life by touching them. The downside is that if he touches them a second time, they will return to being dead permanently. This causes chaos when he brings back to life childhood crush Charlotte ‘Chuck’ (Anna Friel) and then enters into a romance with her.

The show was met with huge critical acclaim and was nominated for a total of 12 Emmys in its first season. However the first season was cut short by the strike, and attention had waned by the time it returned, with ratings dropping. The show was cancelled at the end of the second season, breaking the hearts of the shows cult following as they never got to find out if Ned and Chuck were able to make things work.

2 – TWIN PEAKS

TWIN PEAKSTwin Peaks is never far from anybodies lips when the subject of TV shows cancelled too soon comes up. The CBS show came from the king of the surreal, David Lynch, along with Mark Frost, and was based around the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Airing from 1990 to 1991, the show – like much of Lynch’s work – looked at what lurks beneath the veneer of idyllic small town life and saw Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) become further entrenched in the fictional Washington town as he investigates Palmer’s murder.

The show was met with huge success in its first season, but things took a nosedive as the second season began in 1991. CBS worried about the fact that Laura Palmer’s killer had not yet been disclosed, and placed pressure on making the reveal. This led to the mystery being solved in the middle of the second season, which along with various timeslot changes led to a sharp decline in ratings. The show was cancelled at the end of the season, leaving the plot on a frustrating cliffhanger.

Lynch returned to Twin Peaks in 1992 with the prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, but he has since expressed huge regret at the Laura Palmer reveal. He claims that they never originally intended to tie up the mystery, and that in doing so they “killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.”

The show is set to be revived in 2017 with many members of the original cast returning and Frost and Lynch once again at the helm, so here’s hoping they can tie up those loose threads and return Twin Peaks to it’s former glory.

1 – HAPPY ENDINGS

happy-endings-food-w724Happy Endings was a fantastic ensemble sitcom that aired on ABC from 2011 to 2013. Lasting for a total of three seasons, the show charted the lives of a group of friends living in Chicago. The gang consisted of married couple Brad (Daymon Waynes Jnr) and Jane (Eliza Coupe), Jane’s sister Alex (Elisha Cuthbert), Dave (Zachary Knighton), Max (Adam Pally) and Penny (Casey Wilson). The show quickly became popular with critics for its quickfire wit and outrageous antics.

Originally airing on Wednesday nights following ABC’s sitcom juggernaut Modern Family, the first signs of trouble for the show came when ABC decided to change their timeslot to Tuesday nights in season three. Ratings immediately deteriorated and attempted damage control saw the timeslot make another change to Friday nights, which acted as the final nail in the coffin. Further drops in ratings led to the shows cancellation at the end of season three.

Happy Endings felt like it still had a lot of steam left, and this wasn’t helped by the fact that the show was cancelled quite suddenly, robbing fans of any real sense of closure as the series ended on a cliff-hanger of sorts, with viewers finding out that Alex and Dave had broken up for the second time. A huge part of the shows success was down to it’s excellent cast, something other networks obviously picked up on – as soon as the show was cancelled Fox brought Waynes Jnr back to New Girl, as well as enlisting Pally for their other sitcom The Mindy Project.

Which shows do you think were cancelled too soon? Let me know in the comments section!

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List, Music

5 BEST MTV UNPLUGGED SETS:

MTV Unplugged began in 1989 and has featured countless bands and artists in its 26 year history. Regular sessions stopped in 2000, though the format has been used numerous times since then to feature a variety of modern artists. MTV Unplugged is, however, by and large considered a seminal product of the 90’s, a time which saw it produce some of the best acoustic music sets of all time. Here are my five favourite MTV Unplugged sessions, let me know what yours are in the comments section!

Honorable mention…

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (1992)

Bruce_Sringsteen_-_In_Concert_MTV_PluggedThis one doesn’t make the top five due to the fact that is slightly deviates from the traditional MTV Unplugged format, and is instead referred to as MTV Plugged. Recorded with a hired band at a time when the E Street Band was dissolved, Springsteen was reportedly unhappy with the acoustic sound and opted for a plugged in version instead. There is no doubt that the E Street Band are a huge part of the Bruce Springsteen identity, the absence is strongly felt. But the album is still strong, kicking off with an acoustic rendition of the previously unreleased Red Headed Woman before delving into a number of underrated classics including Atlantic City and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Even the more well known classics, namely Thunder Road, are played in a way that is more intense than Springsteen performances tend to be – there is a much more serious vibe than fans are generally used to. Whilst it may not be for the casual listener, this is essential listening for any serious Springsteen fans, a reminder that whilst he is always at his best with his beloved band behind him, he is still a strong solo performer.

Best track: Thunder Road – Even without the E Street Band.

5 – KISS (1995)

KISS_UnpluggedThis one makes the list not only because its fantastic in its own right, but also due to the wider significance that it held. Forming in 1973, Kiss had been around a long time by the time the 90’s hit. However, a variety of factors – most notably the release of the 70’s set film Dazed and Confused (1993) set off a wave of Kiss nostalgia and the band were met with a new wave of mainstream popularity. It was therefore no surprise that they were invited to appear on Unplugged, but the real treat came for fans when the set saw the bands original line up reunited on stage for the first time since 1980. Peter Criss and Ace Frehley joined Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons on stage for the final four songs of the set, making it the only time the original line up performed together without their trademark make-up. This was the catalyst which saw the reunion take place, with Tupac introducing them on stage at the Grammys the following year, with Criss and Frehley remaining in the band again until 2000. You can feel the electricity when the foursome reunite, and it makes for an epic conclusion to a strong set. Kiss are a band which are so well known for the make-up and gigantic arena shows, making it a change of pace to see them perform in the Unplugged format. It also allows for a true appreciation of the sometimes underrated song-writing, with Beth being a particularly good example.

Best track: Rock and Roll All Nite – An epic finish that shows the original line up in all their stripped back glory.

4 – BOB DYLAN (1994):

Bob_Dylan_-_MTV_UnpluggedBy the time the 90’s rolled around Bob Dylan had been in the industry for over 30 years, providing the world with a whole wealth of versatile and popular music. Anticipation was thus at a high when he took to the stage to record his Unplugged performance over two nights. Mostly focusing on classics from his earlier albums, Dylan offers a fresh perspective by reworking his tracks for the acoustic format, with Like A Rolling Stone being a particular highlight. There is a different feel to some of the songs, with The Times They Are A-Changin’ and With God on Our Side in particular being tinged with a sadness that wasn’t present in the initial recordings – perhaps a product of Dylan’s life experience. The album plays out like a greatest hits, charting Dylan’s career from the 60’s right through, but is enhanced by the live, acoustic renditions which offer a new take on the old material.

Best track: With God on our Side – Arguably the best rendition of this song Dylan has ever done. 

3 – ERIC CLAPTON (1992):

Eric_Clapton_UnpluggedEric Clapton’s Unplugged album is one of the most wildly successful MTV ever produced, having sold over 26 million copies worldwide and winning three Grammys in 1993, totally revitalising his career. Featuring a totally reworked rendition of his well known track Layla, Clapton also opted for the fresh take on older material. Without a doubt the highlight is Tears in Heaven, which was written about the tragic death of his four year old son, and is a song that is at its most stirring here. Performed in front of a small audience in Clapton’s native England, the acoustic blues set is the perfect mix of relaxed and passionate, emotional and invigorating. Truly a work of Unplugged legend, the album has gone on to establish a whole range of myths and misconceptions, but there is one solid fact – this is Clapton at his very best.

Best track: Tears in Heaven – Puts a tear in your eye, and that’s before you know the tragic circumstances behind it.

2 – ALICE IN CHAINS (1996):

AIC_UnpluggedPart of original Seattle formation of the grunge movement in the early 90’s, Alice in Chains were a prime candidate for the Unplugged treatment. By 1996 leading man Layne Staley was struggling increasingly with substance abuse and depression, with this performance proving to be one of his last with the band before retreating into relative solidarity. This is a sad contrast to the likes of Kiss and so many other bands whom used their Unplugged performances to mark the beginning of a new era, with the Alice in Chains set instead marking the tragic end of one. Staley died in 2002, making his raw vocals even more resonant when listening with this in mind. Staley’s performance has a ragged quality that only makes it stronger, with the bands popular tracks Down in a Hole and Rooster finding new depths. The band had played together very little over the past few years by the time the Unplugged gig came along, though it would be hard to believe from the way they respond to each other. It’s far from an uplifting listen, but Alice in Chains unplugged imbues the essential traits of 90’s grunge to a tee.

Best track: Down in a Hole – Haunting and ridden with despair, made all the moreso by Staley’s passing.

1 – NIRVANA (1993):

Nirvana_mtv_unplugged_in_new_yorkNot only do I believe this to be the best Unplugged album of all time, it is in my top five albums of all time overall. 1993. New York City. Nevermind (1991) had been out for two years, In Utero (1993) for two months, Nirvana were arguably at the height of their success, and the timing is just right for this performance. Kurt Cobain reportedly asked for the set to be decorated in the manner of a funeral, and the band recorded the performance in a single take, with the almost eery atmosphere carrying into the music. Following Cobain’s death in 1994 MTV played the episode continuously, with the album being released later in the year, unsurprisingly met with critical adoration and massive sales. It is essential listening for any Nirvana fan, capturing the band in a way that only a live performance could. Stripped way back, the impact is incredible. As tends to be the case with deceased musicians, the songs take on a sadder meaning, with All Apologies and Where Did You Sleep Last Night taking on the creepy feeling of Cobain’s final goodbye. Material from all three albums are compiled into a well thought out set-list, making for just over an hour of Unplugged perfection.

Best track: Where Did You Sleep Last Night? – Whilst any track could have taken the top spot, this haunting cover will always be the winner, a perfect finale to a superb album.

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