‘The Bastard Executioner’ Knew When to Pull the Plug On Itself

The Bastard Executioner Cancelled After One
Courtesy of Ollie Upton/FX

The Bastard Executioner” achieved a certain nobility in death that mostly eluded it in life. Indeed, if you watched the season finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t) and know what role Kurt Sutter played, it’s fair to say the show’s creator went out in a blaze of glory.

Sutter took out ads thanking everyone involved in the FX series, but basically saying that the audience voted, and it was time to move on. And in this age of reboots and contortions to keep series alive, there’s something refreshing about acknowledging that failure is simply a part of television, even if there was a little bit of “You can’t fire me, I quit” bravado underlying that, since FX would have likely reached the same conclusion.

In today’s fragmented and ambitious age, it often seems like every series is somebody’s favorite show, no matter how small the audience might be. Yet even with ratings having splintered, TV – or at least, the kind of expensive drama that “The Bastard Executioner” represents – remains a medium that requires enough tonnage to justify the cost of production.

This rather simple fact has been somewhat lost, thanks to the ability of premium services to sustain programs with narrow cult followings; and a proliferation of outlets, including streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, which have swept in to rescue a number of low-rated shows. At a certain point, though, there are only so many times people can renew “Community” when the audience – however loyal – comes a little too close to friends-and-relatives territory.

Not all that long ago, those who worked in TV not only accepted their flops but embraced them. NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff often seemed to derive as much pleasure talking about something like “Manimal” or “The Misfits of Science” as his hits. Ditto for producer Stephen J. Cannell. And when ABC canceled “Cop Rock,” producer Steven Bochco and company tacked a big send-off number onto the final episode, one that joked about how the show’s budget “almost cost as much as ‘Heaven’s Gate.’”

By contrast, even the threat of cancellation these days is frequently met with a lot of whining – from producers, from fans, from critics. Spend enough time perusing platforms populated by a few thousand like-minded enthusiasts or in a ballroom at Comic-Con, and it’s easy to draw the conclusion that everything’s a hit just because, well, everyone here likes it.

Sutter’s farewell ad makes clear he’s proud of the show, even if it didn’t work. The final hour (OK, 93 minutes, just one of “Executioner’s” many excesses) even provided a modest element of closure – and something approaching a happy ending – for those who had invested their time watching all 10 episodes.

Yet if some people liked the show, they were too few in number. And the trend lines were wrong, with the audience having dropped by more than 50% since the premiere, suggesting that for many, whatever curiosity existed at the outset didn’t survive the execution.

Fair enough. No need to tweak the concept or try to jump-start things with stunt casting. Onward and upward. Next. So even if the show wasn’t great, give “The Bastard Executioner” credit for being self-aware enough to see the writing on the wall, and recognize when it was time to pull the plug on itself.

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  1. I can believe that you finally put a show on TV that was the Best I’ve ever seen in yrs. And you cancel It… Why, why, WHY?

  2. Laura says:

    Everytime you come out with something jaw dropping it gets cancelled or you just stop I’m so heart broken i love your work but so tired if being let down. Sons now this why both were so awesome and you ain’t going to tell me you couldn’t keep sons going everyone loved that show. I still watch the dvds. Bastard’s exacutioner needs to come back along with sons.

  3. Bill pocock says:

    What a shame. Although I found the show excessively violent at times, it also had a message that seemed to make sense of Christianity. I was so looking forward to another season.

  4. Martha Martinez says:

    So Sad to see this gone! :( I was looking forward to Lady Love and Wilkin Brattle / Gawain Maddox love story unfold with the birth of the child. I was so fascinated by the religious struggles and beliefs that were present at that time. How the church ruled and the people were effected in there everyday lives and what would happen to those who questioned it. Also what woman and men endured because of their hierarchy in society. I wasn’t beautiful or mythical; it was real and gritty and it was a GREAT SHOW! Again sorry to see it go… :(

  5. Ed Sheehy says:

    I too AM TOTALLY PISSED this is cancelled. It was the one show I made sure that I saw each week and made sure it was recorded. I was already looking to see where it would take me. There are so many open questions that need to be answered in all of these complex characters and relationships.

  6. Barbara Santacroce says:

    I’m totally pissed off this is cancelled. I’m a woman so really wasn’t thrilled with some of the gore like the death of children and at least one fetus however I loved where the story was going. I understand why it had to be over the top to explain the era. Characters were well thought out and the set was so appropriate for the time. Im truly sad people did not understand just how enjoyable thee series was becoming.

  7. Mr Soul says:

    I enjoyed the Bastard Executioner. Some of the middle episodes kind of drifted – hence the declining audience. But, the last few were great, even inspiring, as many characters reached (and acted on) higher levels of awareness. Yes, there were story lines left hanging for a season 2, but the finale of The Bastard Executioner pulled the main story lines together in a compelling (and mostly happy) ending.

  8. buffalobilly says:

    boring attempt at violent histronics.
    try a situation comedia next time….

  9. Tony Catt says:

    Sad to see this end so soon. The final episode left enough things up in the air that would have made the wait for season two exciting. Alas it was not to be.

  10. Chris N says:

    I love historical dramas (like Turn on AMC – another show that has been struggling with ratings, but is outstanding). This one just didn’t capture me. I can’t put my finger on it…I just couldn’t get into it. The only character I truly liked was lady Love. Not knowing the show was going to be cancelled, I dropped it from my DVR recording list before the last episode. I have mixed feelings because I’d like to see historical dramas do well. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.

  11. I think it was a great show me and my sister couldn’t wait for Tuesday night it was the best show that has been on I watched the season finale and I didn’t want it to end so please reconsider it outranked legonds 10 to 1 if you can’t change your mind we won’t be watching fx channel thank you Sherri k anderson

  12. Catherine says:

    The show worked for mature people. Not for the idiots who prefer silly reality TV shows.Oh let’s see who’s going to get laid on the Island type shows or the inane comedies that attract the younger minds in hopes of learning new sex jokes.
    The Bastard Executioner was built on real history. The characters were played by amazing actors and actresses.
    You review shows based on what? Your likes? I learned a long time ago to ignore people such as yourself, because if I had listened I’d have missed out on some amazing telly.
    You never once mention numbers being down because the Bastard Executioner was not offered to European countries. It was filmed in Wales, yet no one could see it. No one in England or Scotland, no one in Paris, Sweden , Germany etc could watch it.
    Had more countries been made available to view TBX you can bet the stats for the series would have been much higher.

    • Wil Roddy says:

      Totally agree!

    • Deanna says:

      I agree. I had no idea it wasn’t shown in Wales! It was even titled in Welch!
      (Maybe it’s like me having to wait all year to get the next season of Downton Abbey?)

      I too, enjoyed a historical portrayal of the brutality of feudal life in the middle ages. Where life was hard but fragile and uncertain…when people were practical.

      I suppose we’ll get yet another mindless “reality” show or worse, another stupid zombie show to appease the mindless crowds.

      I don’t even have cable. I purchased this show just like I have all seasons of Game of Thrones. If people are willing to pay for one specific show, there’s a market for that genre.

      • Mike says:

        Although I’m a great fan of historical shows, The Bastard Executioner couldn’t grab me.

        I stopped watching after the 5th or 6th episode
        It’s a little hard to put one finger on where it failed to grab me, it was more a combination of things,

        I didn’t like the art direction, freezing to black and white scene endings.

        the starting point of a retired warrior wasn’t really original.

        at one time tried to be a grim and dark show set in the 13th/14th century
        while at other times it trying so (to) hard to be political correct.

        the rather black and white characters

        and the openings sequence, is aside from not very catchy, having the same problem as the show not really knowing if it’s a historical folk or modern ballad.

        one of these to my opinion doesn’t have to be a reason to stop watching, together thay formed a mix that annoyed the crap out of me.

        to bad I real like to see more historical shows

      • Alex says:

        Lmao, you are clueless! The ratings for the U.S. airings stank up the joint and steadily declined, which has jack crap to do with the show apparently not airing in Europe. And of course critics review TV based on their likes–massive DUH! Any viewer makes a personal decision about whether to watch, and you’d have to be dumb to blindly watch only shows that a particular critic likes. I also love how you trash people who watch genres that you don’t like. That’s so classy.

        This show bombed out. Suck it up and move on with some grace instead of whining like a spoiled 2-year-old.

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