Everyone’s got their treasured show they wish lasted just one more season (or that they wish would at least get a two hour movie, see that #VeronicaMarsMovie campaign that’s still running four years since its cancelation) to wrap up all the loose ends.
Sadly, those campaigns don’t always work out — and when they do, sometimes the beloved show goes on for another season and never meets a satisfying ending (see: Jericho). The only recent show I can think of that’s the exception is Chuck, miraculously saved on three different occasions and getting a final season to debut this Fall.
The truth is that most shows do not make it past their first season airings but even those 22 episodes, or 13 in some cases, can be enough to warrant it as must-see TV, even after it’s no longer hitting the airwaves. And while there are plenty of shows I wish could have been blessed with just one more season, at least, (some in this post) there are plenty of shows still worth watching despite their cliffhanger endings.
1.Dead Like Me (Showtime)
Sometimes it’s hard getting death and comedy blended perfectly without being too cheesy. Other times, it’s hard blending death and comedy without being cheesy enough. That’s exactly what Dead Like Me was: perfectly cheesy. And I am perfectly okay with that.
What’s the deal: Georgia, who likes to go by the name “George” for short, is our resident unmotivated heroine: she doesn’t care to attend college and just found a job as a temp in a typical nine-to-five office. But things get a bit atypical when she leaves on her lunch break and is accidentally killed by falling debris — a toilet seat.
And you think your life’s in the crapper. Soon thereafter, she becomes a grim reaper of sorts, claiming souls minutes before their human vessels’ lives are about to end. Except there’s one problem: grim reapers are undead beings living with humans on Earth, too. So she must suffer living life while taking lives. She can’t see her family again, but struggles with wanting to communicate any last words to make them feel better. Oh, and she continues with her temp job where her best friend is middle aged, cat-owning Delores. When she’s not reaping souls or working, she’s meeting with the rest of the grim reaper New York gang at a local Diner (their go-to hangout spot), including leader Rube, carefree Mason, take-no-bull meter maid Roxy, and actress Daisy. Plus, she has to do it all with the look of an entirely different person.
Its abrupt ending: Dead Like Me went on for two years and 29 episodes before it was canceled by Showtime. But an unaired movie nearly five years after its premature death (kind of puts a Veronica Mars movie in perspective) allowed the show to wrap up some storyline. Except most people, including me, didn’t exactly care for the fact that an entirely new actress was playing Daisy and Rube was written off (presumably because the actor was busy). In some ways, it’s better to skip the movie and just watch the series; every episode is available on Hulu, too (as of the time of this posting).
Why you should watch it: This series takes a fun, campy spin to death and takes an even better approach to being a slacker.
4. Dirt (FX)
You know her as Monica from Friends or perhaps you know her as the doesn’t hold back journalist from the Scream film series. If it’s the latter, Courtney Cox takes ruthless to an entirely different level in the raunchy, edgy, and dirty Dirt. And it’s fantastic.
What’s the deal: Courtney Cox plays Lucy, the editor-in-chief of two magazines: Drrt and Now. Drrt is a celebrity gossip tabloid and Now is a much more respected periodical of sorts — but they’re both losing money, and Lucy needs to find a solution. Stat. What she decides to do is somewhat of a spoiler, so I’ll leave that out.
What you need to know is that Lucy will do anything for a story. And when an actor whose career is in the toilet gives her some scoop in turn for good press, everything spirals out of control. What follows is death, betrayal, deceit, drugs, sex, and videotape. No, literally, videotaped sex is a huge part of the plot. And Lucy, with her schizophrenic best friend-slash-photographer Don at her side, get the story.
Its abrupt ending: Two seasons and 20 episodes later, Dirt took a slightly lighter spin during its second season and not because the plot warranted it. (In fact, it almost felt like FX wanted to tweak it incessantly.) It left a couple of cliffhangers… well, hanging, and killed off a character or two in its last episode, but you could probably guess how things would have wound up.
Why you should watch it: Dirt is Courtney Cox like you’ve never seen her before. That alone is worth watching. And there’s never been a more ruthless leading lady that you end up caring for. Plus, a chance to peek into the tabloid and glamour biz? That’s just a perk.
3. Dollhouse (Fox)
Eliza Dushku and Joss Whedon team up again for this freaky project. Dollhouse is about a private team which contracts people “out of their debt” (which can be grief, wanting to forget something bad they did) by making them dolls for a period of time while they rent them out to high rollers. Sometimes they’re wives and husbands, sometimes they’re special agents… but no, usually they’re just sex slaves, really.
What’s the deal: Eliza Dushku plays Echo (her Doll name), our heroine, who’s slowly beginning to gain some sort of consciousness and wake up to what’s going on around her. An FBI agent is looking for her and trying to bust the biggest conspiracy of all time. Meanwhile, everyone’s headed to inevitable doom as shown by flashforwards in two episodes, one unaired and the other the official series finale.
Its abrupt ending: Dollhouse knew it was probably getting the boot. So another aforementioned flashforward episode as its series finale served up a not-really satisfying ending. But it did have Felicia Day, so that’s pretty awesome. But by the end of its run, Dollhouse was more like Chuck… you can figure out how on your own.
Why you should watch it: It takes about six or seven episodes into the first season for the plot to finally take a turn for how Whedon and Company wanted it to be, since Fox let them go about creatively and stopped tinkering — and it’s good! And this isn’t a show that’s willing to sacrifice plot for the sake of the audience’s needy qualities. Plus, every week Dushku plays a new persona but there’s always someone underneath her to root for. It’s pretty good.
4. Ghost Whisperer (CBS)
Jennifer Love Hewitt plays Melinda Gordon, a woman who can see… ghosts, hence the name of the series. She runs an antique shop named Same As It Never Was but always puts helping lost souls “cross over” before anything else. It’s a sweet show that many a-woman has cried weekly to. Oh, and it has Jennifer Love Hewitt, did I say that already?
What’s the deal: Ghost Whisperer has a tricky plot because it can easily get cheesy fast — and it does sometimes — while it’s trying to be really serious and somber. But the cheesiness is okay because other elements of this show work well together and there are enough twists and a season-long story arc that makes things worthwhile.
The show is about a woman who honestly tries to help ghosts cross over into the light and help those they left behind in the process, all while explaining the rules of the afterlife. And don’t worry: Ghost Whisperer is completely diplomatic. You’ll never hear the word “heaven” or “hell” or “angel” or “demon.” Instead, there’s “light” and “darkness” and “shiny” and “shadows.” I’m serious about those last two, the entire final season was about Shadows versus Shinies (shinys?). That plot easily led to its demise.
Its abrupt ending: Ghost Whisperer usually ends by wrapping up the season story and doing a last-minute prologue. And that’s what they did here, too. So it’s not so heart-wrenching to watch the series finale.
Why you should watch it: Because even though it’s a show about ghosts, there’s also relatable drama, a story of the week, and awesome mythology. No, seriously. For a CBS show starting Jennifer Love Hewitt: this show goes in on its own mythos. Crazy. And it’s not afraid to take its story and turn it completely upside down. Exhibit A: season four. But you’ll have to watch it before I spoil it!
5. Kyle XY (ABC Family)
Kyle XY is a show about a (spoiler alert:) science experiment (not an alien) that knows too much and escapes with the help of a… friend or foe, it’s not clear. Helmed by actor Matt Dallas (how awesome is a name like that, really?), it’s really an ensemble and centers about getting to the bottom of who’s behind these experiments and what is it that they want? At least, the show would want you to believe that.
What’s the deal: Kyle is found because he roams the street naked. A psychologist takes him into her home in a complete violation of ethics. He soon becomes part of their family, makes friends (albeit not immediately), and does awesome and weird stuff, like: learn how to speak in a day, sleeping in bathtubs, being absolutely amazing at basketball, doing math and reading books in nanoseconds. But there’s danger afoot! A mysterious man is stalking Kyle. Why!?
Meanwhile, everyone’s trying to get the answer as to how Kyle came to be — including Kyle himself. And his non-existant bellybutton doesn’t help him lead a normal life, either.
Its abrupt ending: Make no mistake: Kyle XY does not have an ending that wraps itself up in a nice, little bow. You will be mortified that the series ended the way it did with absolutely no answers. But still…
Why you should watch it: Kyle XY is an absolutely terrible show. It’s completely plot-driven and will do whatever with its characters sometimes to make that work. And it relies way too much on family twists — that is, “I’m your father” type things. But it’s fantastic! Damn it if this show isn’t just completely addictive! You’ll want to watch the next episode and the next one and the one after that because that’s just what it does to you. It hooks you and will never claw out. Plus, it has a romantic pairing that ships almost as much as people do for Chuck and Sarah.
6. Life UneXpected (The CW)
In the first (and probably last) heartwarming series from The CW, a family just has regular ol’ drama, portrayed in a very poignant way. Life Unexpected is also just really glow-y and is beautifully shot. And, unlike Kyle XY, is the opposite of plot driven. It feels like things just happen as they’re supposed to. (Aside from a contrived plot in the second season, I’ll be the first to say.)
What’s the deal: Almost-16 year old Lux goes to meet her real parents close to her birthday so that they can sign emancipation forms. Turns out that the dad never knew he was a dad and the mom is a successful radio show host who isn’t exactly the most head over heels, head in the clouds kind of person. (Case in point: she says “no” to a proposal by thinking extremely practically.)
A judge orders that her real parents take her in, years after her mom gave her up. And with memories of foster homes for all her life, things don’t exactly go all swell and dandy for everybody. It’s all very touching. No, seriously.
Its abrupt ending: LUX knew it was probably getting canned, so it made a very rushed flashforward ending that feels… very rushed, as mentioned.
Why you should watch it: It’s poignant and the performances are pretty good. Your heart has never been this warmed. And just in case you wanted something other than prissy cheerleaders and rich socialites gossiping as a TV show, you’ve got LUX.
7. Party Down (Showtime)
It’s a show about actors-slash-waiters that work for a waitering company called Party Down and each episode is a new event they’re waitering. That’s really all there is to it. That’s even the what’s the deal. Along the lines, there are subplots and romance and so on. And it’s pretty funny.
Its abrupt ending: Party Down ended after just two seasons but it didn’t exactly suffer from a series-long story because each episode is just a vignette of one night. (Except a character does make a decision in the finale that we never get to see play out because of its cancelation.) And it will make you laugh. So watch! C’mon. It’s on Netflix Instant.
Why you should watch it: Besides the fact that it’s laugh out loud funny and goes there because it’s on Showtime, has amazing comedians like Jane Lynch, Megan Mullaly, Ryan Hansen, and so on, it was created by Rob Thomas, it’s hilarious (seriously), and the cast has amazing chemistry… well, where was I? Oh, yeah, it’s hilarious.
8. Reaper (The CW)
In an era where shows were taking the everyday slacker and giving him big responsibilities, entered Reaper. It’s the story of a life-is-going-nowhere guy Sam who works at a big box, Home Depot-type store who learns on his 21st birthday that he is literally the son of the Devil. It’s a fantastic show that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
What’s the deal: Sam now is in debt to his father, the Devil, and basically becomes his bounty hunter. Souls that have escaped Hell must be brought back with a new weekly vessel given to Sam — sometimes it’s a dust vacuum, sometimes it’s a sword, and every time it will surprise you. He also has a growing crush on his co-worker Andi, and that’s important sometimes because his lives keep suffering from the responsibilities of the other. But this isn’t a show that keeps the secret forever: Sam’s best friends know he’s the Devil’s son by the time the pilot’s credits roll.
Its abrupt ending: Reaper was canceled by The CW because it was on the lower-end of the ratings spectrum and had even less female viewers, which is important to the network. For months, talk was going back and forth that ABC Studios (the studio behind the show) might save it by selling it to air new episodes in syndication, something it was then-currently doing with Legend Of the Seeker. Ultimately, talk died down and the cast and crew moved on to other projects. And Reaper‘s finale episode? Yeah, it opened up the possibility to an entirely different show, which is something that usually happens when your show is on the bubble: you tend to leave nothing back. A blessing and a curse. No closure, but there’s always fan fiction, right?
Why you should watch it: It’s fun. It’s scary. It’s hilarious. It’s mysterious. It’s romantic. It’s slackers saving demons. It’s frickin’ Ray Wise. Need I say more?
9. Reba (The WB/The CW)
“Hey, hey!” sings Reba McEntire during the beginning of each and every episode for six seasons. Hourlong shows are all good and fun but what’s even more fun? A full-on sitcom (with its poignant moments, of course). And that’s what Reba was: good, clean hilarity. It’s truly one of those family sitcoms you saw in the ’90s transferred into the 2000s but no lame morals at the end after Steph has yelped “How rude!”
What’s the deal: Reba, a no holds back red and hothead, used to be married to Brock; they have three children together. Brock cheated on her with Barbra Jean (one of the best comedic relief characters in sitcom history) and now she’s pregnant with his child. Meanwhile, Reba and Brock’s eldest child who’s still in high school Cheyenne is pregnant by her football jock boyfriend. What follows is the weirdest family dynamic ever and huge laughs.
Its abrupt ending: Reba got canceled after it transitioned to The CW because it wasn’t hip enough (while being the most-watched show), in a nutshell. And it only got a season renew while still at The WB because the network would have lost a ton of money if it didn’t produce more episodes. But the showrunners knew they were coming to a close, so there’s a perfect ending for a poignant and hilarious series.
Why you should watch it: Because it’s funny. Why else would you watch a sitcom? It makes you laugh. And it has a fantastic cast with great chemistry.
10. Veronica Mars (UPN/The CW)
UPN / THE CW | Veronica Mars is one of those little gems that perhaps suffered from bad advertising, or perhaps it suffered from a low-rated network (UPN), or perhaps it was just too good and flew over people’s heads. It was so good, CBS tried to give it a shot by airing reruns of the series on its own network during the summer for a few weeks. I don’t know what it was, but as one of the most critically-acclaimed series of all times with the least amount of viewers of all time, it still regins as one of the best shows to have graced our televisions.
What’s the deal: In Neptune, California, you’re not anything if you don’t have a certain cachet (though, I suppose that’s true for anyone). Usually, in the small town that means money. For Veronica Mars, that once meant being the daughter of the town sheriff. But not after her father accuses one of the most rich and powerful men in town of killing his own daughter. That then turns Veronica into the town’s outsider (along with her father, who now owns a private investigation business) but also a PI for hire to anyone who needs her services. And boy, do people need her services. With new assignments every week, Veronica sets out to find who killed her best friend Lily Kane if not her father, struggles with the absence of her runaway mother, and fights back for the respect she deserves.
Its abrupt ending: Veronica Mars was riding a fence ratings-wise but ultimately the showrunners decided to throw all their cards on the table. So, Veronica Mars doesn’t exactly end with any closure. In fact, there’s a huge question left unanswered and perhaps a crime that goes unpunished (or not!). That’s the ending of the less-acclaimed, and CW-tweaked, third season. But still, one of the best shows on television. At least you know who murdered Lily Kane. No season-long mystery goes unsolved.
But fans don’t accept it has ended. A #VeronicaMarsMovie campaign still runs strong, cast members have said they would do a movie in a heartbeat, Rob Thomas has a story, but Warner Bros. doesn’t think a film would make money.
Why you should watch it: If you like mystery: I’ve never seen it done smarter than this show. If you like pop culture references: you’ve got ’em. If you like snark and humor: in spades, here. This is a show about family and class and struggles, and packs on a lot of fantastic mysteries to boot. All played by fantastic actors.
UPDATE: Now a major motion picture. And you should definitely watch.
11. Pushing Daisies (ABC)
I recently watched the entire series of Pushing Daisies (created by Bryan Fuller, Dead Like Me) — and it is absolutely a series you need to watch, regardless of its cancellation. Pushing Daisies is one of the most well-imagined, creative, unique shows in television history. I promise. And each episode is a delight to watch.
What’s the deal: The facts were these… Ned, also known as The Piemaker, has a gift: he can bring people back from the dead with just a touch. But there’s a catch! If he keeps them alive for more than a minute, something else has to die, and if he touches them again they die… forever. His unique ability was spotted by a Private Detective who harbors him into his PI business and together they collect bounties by solving murders — which isn’t hard when you can ask the source. But Ned’s conscience is blurred when he must re-alive his childhood sweetheart Charlotte “Chuck”; he keeps her alive, but they’re never allowed to touch ever again, lest she dies. Together they run The Pie Hole with Olive, the waitress who’s madly in love with Ned, and keep tabs on her two aunts, who are mourning the grief of Chuck.
Its abrupt ending: Pushing Daisies suffered abysmal ratings but ran for two seasons and twenty episodes before the plug was pulled. It was also nominated for 17 Emmy nominations and seven wins, including Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Kristen Chenoweth. But ABC gave the writers just a tiny bit of time to write a 2-minute finale that was… well, rushed. But it did tie up several arcs, just not with a pretty bow or anything. I plead: don’t let that stop you from watching.
Why you should watch: Pushing Daisies suffered a lot from family revelations, sort of like Kyle XY. There’s parent abandonment, there’s child runaways, and the like. But none of that is a match for the unique charm that emanates from this delightful series. It’s one of the smartest, quick-witted, sharpest, most imaginative, and creative shows I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. For a show all about death, it feels like a kid’s pop-up book — in the best sense of the word. Also, it will leave you with a great craving for pie.
And there you have it. A list of ten — ahem, eleven — shows you should watch (and there are of course more). These shows all have interesting plots that are addictive, but they also have characters that hook you and suck you in. That’s really what it’s all about. And you can find most of these on Hulu or Netflix, so get to it! What else is there to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon? (If only you were watching while they were on air, then they would still be around!)