Epigram Film & TV mourns three TV cult classics that were denied the attention they really deserved.
Dark Angel (2000-2002)
by Leah Martindale, Third Year Film
IMDB / 20th Century Fox Television
Dark Angel is, with no trace of exaggeration, a masterpiece of television. Despite its aged production, occasionally absurd plots, and premature cancellation after only two series, it will always be a fond favourite of mine, and its abrupt end will always haunt me.
Dark Angel, Jessica Alba’s first leading role, follows a genetically enhanced young girl and trained soldier Max (Alba) in post-apocalyptic Seattle. As children, her and the other child soldiers in the X5 series broke out of the government facility they called home, Manticore, and now she works as an inhumanely powerful, impossibly enticing, motorcycle mail courier. Quite the change.
Created by James Cameron, it featured one of his trademark strong female leads, and with characters as diverse as the real King County, I can think of few contemporaneous shows with a cast to compete. Her best friend and roommate ‘Original Cindy’ is sharp, loyal, black, and fiercely gay, and her partner-in-crime Logan is physically disabled in an early episode, leading to complex and sometimes tragic plot points.
Its style dabbles in gothic cinema and action films; if Vin Diesel and Morticia Addams had a child, she would most certainly be Max. Max is fervidly protective, deeply caring, and entirely loveable. She makes some monumental mistakes and occasionally is guilty of the dithering femme act that drives me, Max-like, directly up the wall, but never has another character touched me quite as earnestly as my dear X5-542.
The show touches on everything from self-love to government conspiracy, and with a pilot episode costing approximately $10mil it definitely had potential, but unfortunately dwindling audiences earned it the axe. What can I say? Sometimes the customer is just plain wrong. I will always be saddened that I never got more instalments of my favourite badass babe Max Guevara.
Freaks & Geeks (1999-2000)
by Patrick Sullivan, Film & TV Editor
IMDb / Apatow Productions
Freaks and Geeks was the platform for many of today’s most successful comedy actors and writers. Judd Apatow, Paul Feig, Busy Philipps, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, and James Franco were all involved in the single season masterpiece.
The show is high school with a twist. Lindsey (Linda Cardellini), formerly a smart, obedient kid, ditches her former identity, chucks on her grandad’s military jacket, and mixes in with a rougher crowd (Philipps, Segel, Rogen, Franco). Elsewhere, her younger brother Sam (now writer/director John Francis Daly) struggles with the jump from middle school as a prepubescent geek, along with his two best friends, Neal (Samm Levine) and Bill (Martin Starr).
The legacy of Freaks and Geeks comes from how it was the first to execute classic comedic storylines and tropes we know all too well today. The masculine gym teacher teaching female sex education in Mean Girls (2005), the smart girl helping the dumb guy with algebra (also Mean Girls), and kids playing Dungeons & Dragons in Stranger Things (2016) all owe Apatow and Feig for their inspiration. Even the popularity of red cups seen in beer pong are partially accredited to Freaks and Geeks, as well as American Pie (1999), since the network NBC did not wish to explicitly show high schoolers drinking alcohol on evening time telly.
Epigram / Patrick Sullivan
The network was disillusioned with the show and expected it to be a false pretence where all the geeks would end up with cheerleaders, and the freaks stopped smoking weed to improve their studies. But Freaks and Geeks is about the alternative teenagers who exist and their lifestyles, not the usual Hollywood, afterschool special versions.
Unfortunately, NBC’s dislike for the show and the time slot - Saturday 8pm - attributed to its cancellation. In fact, the network interjected breaks between episodes, which disrupted its following. The first five episodes were aired in Autumn 1999, albeit with a three week break in between episodes two and three, but then there was only one episode each in January and February 2000, two each in March and July, and six episodes of the only season - not even the final six - were excluded from its original run altogether.
The producers created a website to inform fans of the erratic schedule, but NBC refused to share it, because Apatow claims ‘they didn’t want people to know the internet existed. They were scared of losing viewers to it.’ It was never given a chance to succeed, but thankfully Freaks and Geeks has become a cult hit since.
by Luke Silverman, Film & TV Deputy Editor
IMDb / 20th Century Fox Television
Ah, Firefly: every sci-fi fan’s one that got away. Even though it is relatively old and dated compared to more contemporary shows such as Netflix’s Star Trek: Discovery (2017-present) - which I would also highly recommend if you enjoy space sci-fi by the way - Firefly remains in the hearts of every fan as one of, if not the greatest sci-fi tv shows. So, why was it cancelled?
The simple yet horrible truth is that the viewer numbers just weren’t high enough to ‘justify’ the big budget. Like greatness ever needed justification - am I coming across as bitter? By the time the decision was made, and cries of outrage began to be heard, it was too late.
The space-western comedy-drama created by Joss Whedon follows a loveable crew on their journeys around space. Whilst not strictly good, they aren’t bad either which makes them very endearing characters. The crew is ultimately driven by the need to make enough money to survive and keep their ship working but at the same time make sure that they don’t attract too much unwanted attention. The dynamics of the recurring characters complicates this situation, giving the crew interesting dilemmas throughout.
The endearing cast including Nathan Fillion as Mal Reynolds, the captain of the ship and Gina Torres as Zoe Washburne, the second-in-command. The two of them play off each other brilliantly as a pair of war veterans, with Washburne serving underneath Reynolds and passionately loyal to him.
This relationship is only tested with the addition of Washburne’s husband and pilot of the ship, Hoban Washburne, played by Alan Tudyk, who is jealous of the pair’s ‘war buddy’ relationship. Hoban’s character was a great addition due to his light-hearted nature and tendency to make jokes even in dire situations. It is safe to say that the casting of this show was genius.
Firefly fans were finally given closure with the film Serenity (2005) which - whilst not an extra season of the show - was enough to answer most of the questions that were left unanswered by the show. It is sad to think what could have been, but at least we had a conclusive ending, right?
Collage via Canva
Featured Images: IMDB / 20th Century Fox Television, IMDb / Apatow Productions, IMDb / 20th Century Fox Television
What TV shows do you think deserved more time to shine?