TV’s top one-season wonders from the ’00s

With HBO’s “Luck” bidding a sudden farewell to the airwaves after one season, this is as good a time as any to ponder which freshman shows most deserved a sophomore year but never got one.

Here’s my list of the top 20 one-and-done TV shows of the 2000s. It’s not a comprehensive list, but rather one based on what I watched (which wasn’t inconsiderable) and meant something to me in some way. To fans of “Firefly” — that show serves as an example of a program that others would include on a similar list but just won’t happen to be on mine. No doubt, I’m also probably forgetting something I should remember.

Still, I found plenty to choose from. And I’m readying a spot, however regretfully, for “Bent” if NBC doesn’t figure out what it has with this new, clever and ignored comedy.

Prelude) “John From Cincinnati” (HBO, 2007): Didn’t make the cut, but I wanted to include it for the opening credits, which were awesome.

21) “Over There” (FX, 2005): Co-created by Steven Bochco, “Over There” was one of the first TV efforts to deal with American involvement in Iraq. It wasn’t up to Bochco’s “Hill Street Blues” gold standard, but it was solid. (Oh, and when I wrote all my capsules, I miscounted. So, there’s 21 on this top 20.)

20) “Gideon’s Crossing” (ABC, 2000-01): A promising post-“Homicide” vehicle for Andre Braugher in which he portrayed a doctor dealing with challenges in and out of the teaching hostpital, but it never took off.

19) “The Nine” (ABC, 2006-07): It had trouble matching the excitement of its bank-robbery pilot, but this drama about the witnesses of that robbery (including Tim Daly, Chi McBride, Scott Wolf, Kim Raver, Camille Guaty, Lourdes Benedicto, Jessica Collins, John Billingsley and Dana Davis) wasn’t bad. 

18) “Swingtown” (CBS, 2008): Airing in the summer, the show was deemed risque by CBS standards but really was more quaint than anything when you consider what other networks, especially on cable, were airing. With Molly Parker, Jack Davenport, Lana Parilla, Grant Show, Miriam Shor, Josh Hopkins and Brittany Robertson, the show strained under its premise at times but nevertheless told some interesting stories.

17) “Life on Mars” (ABC, 2008-09): Jason O’Mara, Harvey Keitel and Gretchen Mol headed the cast of this adaptation of a British series. It didn’t completely work, but it remained grounded while executing a high concept.

16) “Lone Star” (Fox, 2010): No, we don’t know whether its initial quality would have held up had it not been canceled after two episodes, but the point is, many of us are still wondering — even as creator Kyle Killen has moved on to “Awake.”

15) “Kitchen Confidential” (Fox, 2005): A sharp comedy based on the Anthony Bourdain book and featuring a pre-“Hangover” Bradley Cooper, along with “Buffy” alum Nicholas Brendon, Owain Yeoman, Jamie King, Bonnie Somerville and a much taller “Freaks and Geeks” grad John Francis Daley.

14) “The Knights of Prosperity” (ABC, 2007): Ridiculed in some parts for its premise, which involved an attempt by a group of misfits to rob a celebrity, the show was wildly inconsistent but nevertheless clicked in a weird way, thanks in no small part to a cast that included Donal Logue, Sofia Vergara and Kevin Michael Richardson.

13) “Andy Barker, P.I.” (NBC, 2007): The second starring sitcom vehicle for Andy Richter after he first left Conan O’Brien’s right side wasn’t quite as magical as “Andy Richter Controls the Universe,” which ran for 19 episodes over two seasons on Fox, but it was still an entertaining halfhour. Tony Hale, Harve Presnell and Clea Lewis co-starred. 

12) “Carpoolers” (ABC, 2007-08): Created by “Kids in the Hall” alum Bruce McCulloch, “Carpoolers” was unassuming but fun. The only thing it lacked was a feeling that it was indispensable.

11) “Luck” (HBO, 2012): The pacing was too slow for some (OK, most) and some storylines and characters worked better than others, but there was an elegiac beauty to “Luck” that most programs lack.

10) “Thief” (FX, 2006): Featuring another starring fole for Braugher, the well-scripted “Thief” ended up in the miniseries category (with Braugher winning an Emmy), but my understanding is that it was conceived originally as a drama series, so I’m including it.  Six episodes ran on FX.

9) “The Tick” (Fox, 2001-02): Kooky but clever and definitely likeable, “The Tick” starred Patrick Warburton, Nestor Carbonell and Liz Vassey and David Burke in a romp that needed a better chance to survive than it got on Fox.

8) “Tell Me You Love Me” (HBO, 2007): Never let it be said that a show with sex on its mind can’t be morose. But this rare first-season HBO cancelation, which featured Adam Scott before he reached super comedies “Party Down” and “Parks and Recreation,” along with Jane Alexander, Michelle Borth, Tim DeKay, Sonya Walger and Ally Walker, explored some worthwhile territory, and for the most part did so effectively. 

7) “Traffic Light” (Fox, 2011): It got lost in the shuffle of a number of shows featuring couples last year, perhaps due to the lack of a star and an utterly unalluring title, but there was good chemistry and scripting throughout its 13-episode life.

6) “Six Degrees” (ABC, 2006-07): Every time this show comes up in conversation (say, once a year or so), I joke about how I wish I had sent thermometers to ABC in an effort to keep it on the air. It was pushed as something of a high-concept show about the connections between random people, but at its heart it was an earnest drama about navigating life in the big city. Jay Hernandez, Erika Christensen, Hope Davis, Bridget Moynahan, Campbell Scott and Shiri Appleby were among the ensemble’s highlights. What can I say – I just liked it.

5) “Rubicon” (AMC, 2010): Methodically paced, “Rubicon” improved over time and gave those who went along an edge-of-your-seat conspiracy tale, while also yielding one of TV’s best-named villains ever: Truxton Spangler.

4) “Undeclared” (Fox, 2001-02): The heir to “Freaks and Geeks” has such a great pedigree of writers and performers that it’s almost amazing it wasn’t given a second season just from the force of its talent.

3) “Terriers” (FX, 2010): Creatively, this Shawn Ryan series starring Logue and Michael Raymond-James was on a par with the first season of fellow FX drama “Justified,” with superb characterizations on top of intriguing season-long stories. But it lacked a matinee-idol star and lost in the one-word title sweepstakes.

2) “Aliens in America” (CW, 2007-08): The CW abandoned halfhour comedy not long after “Aliens” premiered, an inexplicable decision at least in the sense that the network hasn’t done anything better than this show, which was not only clever and sensitive but dealt with a challenging topic expertly. “Freaks and Geeks” fans should have loved it, if they saw it. Dan Byrd, Adhir Kalyan, Amy Pietz, Lindsay Shaw and Scott Patterson starred.

1) “Freaks and Geeks” (NBC, 1999-2000): The king of brilliant-but-canceled freshmen. Technically, the premiere date of “Freaks” puts it out of bounds, but most of its 18 episodes aired in 2000, so we’re counting it. “Freaks” was, quite simply, a treasure.

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  1. Jay Poppa says:

    HBO’s Carnival was a show that got cancelled way to soon. Another one was Jericho.

  2. rycki1138 says:

    I saw why you didn’t include Firefly, but what about Wonderfalls? I don’t see how any list of one season wonders could not have Wonderfalls on it.

  3. Jon Weisman says:

    I take it you didn’t see that part in the second paragraph where I talk about Firefly?

  4. MilesAwayEnt says:

    Really shocked that you not only didn’t highly rate Firefly, but somehow excluded it entirely. Mystifying, really. Best one year show ever, hands down. FOX, as usual, screwed the pooch on Firefly, given its critical acclaim and rabid fan base whose support led to a top-notch feature film. Great comedic writing mixed with serious themes, vibrant characters and a multiethnic cast, killer premise (c’mon–a Reconstruction-era western in space?! With cussing in Chinese?!) and Morena Baccarin. If you haven’t seen it, it’s 14 episodes of pure excellence, and of there were any justice it and Arrested Development would have run for a decade apiece.

  5. Jon Weisman says:

    Studio 60 was hugely flawed, starting with but not limited to the fact that the show-within-a-show that they purported to be so great was in fact awful. Sarah Paulson has gotten better since, but she was as unconvincing a comic performer as you’ll ever see.

  6. Cadavra says:

    How could you possibly omit Aaron Sorkin’s phenomenal STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP? The first half of the season was as good as dramatic television has ever been, and even the second half, when it was clear the sky was falling and they reacted accordingly, was still first-rate. NBC’s mistreatment of this show compared to its coddling of the similar-but-inferior 30 ROCK is typical of the mismanagement that has brought the network to its current state.

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