Following my friend Chris Fox’s excellent article about underrated classics, I hesitated between writing a follow-up piece about Farscape (or Firefly), but then I decided to open a new topic instead.
Shows are ruled by their viewing results. Because of that, oh too many shows have been canceled way before their prime. As a matter of fact, even Babylon 5 was impacted by this threat of cancellation in its fourth season, which is why Michael Straczynski had to end the biggest plot point early in season 4 instead of doing it over his planned 5-season arc. And if you ask me, that particular thread (the shadows) conclusion felt very rushed.
But I digress. Here is a non-exhaustive list of shows I think have been canceled way before their prime, and I’ll choose a few from the list that we can discuss while centering on the one I really, REALLY wished hadn’t been canceled last year (Dark Matter). Feel free to mention other shows you think got the ax way too soon in the comments, as I’m sure I’ve left some off of this list.
Stargate Universe (just when it stopped sucking balls)
Star Trek Enterprise
Space Above and Beyond
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
V (both old and reboot)
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers (thank you NFL playoffs for that one!)
Star Trek TOS
Before you come at me with pitchforks for forgetting tens of other great shows in that list, remember, I’m just going over those I can think of as of the writing of this article.
Farscape, Stargate Atlantis, and Enterprise are oddballs, as they did get four seasons or more. Farscape at least got a 3h finale (dubbed season 5: Peacekeepers Wars) and some sort of conclusion/closure. So did Atlantis and honestly, I don’t remember how STE ended, just that season 4 was amazing and the show could have easily gone 7 seasons like TNG or DS9. Firefly is among these unfortunate gems that got killed off in the first season, which I entirely blame on Fox for not showing the episodes in order (TV execs should sell potatoes or wash dishes, they obviously don’t understand how storytelling or entertainment works). Anyone into Sci-Fi will tell you that Firefly was a great show that could have had a long and prosperous run. But at least we got an excellent movie as a conclusion for the show. Other shows haven’t been so lucky.
Then there’s Flash Forward that also got the ax at the end of S1, a show that had a brilliant premise and casting and that probably was too complex for its own good. Similar shows that were axed in their first season include Invasion, Terra Nova, Threshold, and I’m sure others I’m forgetting.
But the one show that started with a bang, consistently delivered every week from day 1, got the ax last year, and the one I’m going to miss deeply is Dark Matter.
This show had it all, produced by Stargate executives, with brilliant writing, exciting concepts and technology, awesome characters and character arcs (that is as incomplete as they might be now that it’s off the air). This show was amazing. That Syfy chose to cancel Dark Matter over Killjoys is baffling to me. Don’t get me wrong, Killjoys is fun, but it’s not as fun as Dark Matter. And to make matters worse, the first 3 episodes of season 4 are sub-par at best (my polite way to say they’re shite).
It had been a long time since I got so engrossed in a Sci-Fi show. The anticipation for next week’s episode was always high with Dark Matter. It had it all, kick-ass characters, excellent writing, humor, the works! And it had a healthy dose of Stargate actors as guests too, which I didn’t mind, either.
In terms of character arcs that deliver, as we covered last week, Babylon 5 pioneered the continuous storyline with characters that have super interesting arcs. Chris mentioned Vir, but my personal favorite was definitely G-Kar. His arc was magnificent and so was Londo’s. To draw a parallel, I thought Three had a similar arc in Dark Matter, except it wasn’t done by a long shot, I suspect, when the series got canceled. But even the Android’s arc was fascinating. There was no character that was ignored in that show and they all got episodes that further advanced their arcs, as it should be.
That’s what I’m striving for, in my own writing, which is to make sure that most of my characters, if not all, get the right amount of “screen time” and get their arc fully developed. Some of my favorite reviews of Universe in Flames are those from Book 10, the series’ “final” book, and those who said they thought the characters of my books had become friends and family members to them. I cannot think of any higher praise, and these reviews really touched me. Why the quotes on the final you ask? Well, because it was just the end of an arc, not the end of these characters’ adventures. But we’re not here to discuss my books but the shows that we all loved and that were taken away from us way too soon.
Dark Matter's character Four also had a great arc (spoilers ahead). From member of the crew all the way to the Emperor and even a villain figure, it’s one I didn’t see coming (even though I’m usually pretty good at guessing) and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Later, at the end of Season 3, was the beginning of a redemption arc for the character. And, well, I love redemption arcs (as my readers would know).
One other point I loved about the show, was both its production values and I even enjoyed the music, as well. The music can make or kill a show, in my humble opinion. Take Babylon 5, it had strange music but it worked well, and the composer was talented. Move forward to Babylon Crusades and I posit that anyone able to play Beverly Hill’s Cop theme on a keyboard could have done a better job (and If I’m not mistaken he also did the music on the “A Call to Arms” movie that is a prelude to this particular series and was equally deafening with its overly bizarre, rhythmic-based tones). It gave the show a really strange mood and it didn’t help that Crusades took too long to find its footing. Like Stargate Universe, it was canceled just when it was starting to get interesting. But for these two shows, I’ll say that’s the creator’s fault. You have to hook your audience early on, and unlike Firefly, which had a false start with not airing the pilot (granted that’s a slow double episode that better writing could have cut down to 45 min.). I think Star Trek Discovery, whether you love it (like I do) or hate it, it starts fast and gets your attention from the very beginning.
The pilots are important. They need to be good enough, to make you want to return to the show the second and third week until you’re addicted to these characters to the point you feel diminished if you don’t find out what happened to them. In that regard, and I may take some flak for this, but Firefly’s pilot was on the weaker side. Don’t get me wrong, the show more than made up for it later and the pace improved gradually.
In that regard, Dark Matter succeeded where many shows failed (and that includes B5’s pilot that’s not all that great, really). It delivered a kick-ass pilot episode and in Dark Matter typical storytelling fashion, almost every episode ended in a cliffhanger, so that you’d count the days to the next one. It did it brilliantly too.
As for Syfy, well, if you’re reading this, I hope you realize you bet on the wrong horse by now. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed most of Killjoys, but it to me it doesn’t hold a candle to Dark Matter. I love both super strong female protagonists of these shows, and the rest of the cast is strong on both sides, with an edge for Dark Matter (ihmo, remember that tastes are subjective). But DM’s storyline was more cohesive and less wishy-washy than Killjoy’s. The threat of the Hullen aren’t that interesting if you ask me, and I’m not sure the writers know where they’re going with it, and that's never a good sign.
If a Netflix employee or executive ever reads this, here is a show prime for picking up and making both new subscribers and cash: Dark Matter.
I miss it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Let me know in the comments what you think and make sure to list all the other shows I’ve most likely forgotten. I’m sure we can triple, or at the very least double, this list easily.
Signing off for now; next time I might either revisit Farscape or Firefly as underrated classics, or I might go and give you a rant, I have one in mind about something more science than fiction but that could still be fun to talk about. Let me know if you have a preference in the comments below.