List-O-Rama: Many Things They Never Should Have Cancelled

I just want to warn everyone: This will be an epic-length post.  If you don't feel like reading a lot, just scan for the stuff in bold for what each subject is.

So at Major Spoilers, their newest podcast Top Five did a show about the Top Five Things They Never Should Have Cancelled.  Their answers cover everything from TV to food to the space program (thoroughly agree with that one), and they asked listeners to share what theirs would be.  I wanted to write a response to it in the comments, but as I thought about it more & more, I realized that I had waaaaaaaay more than five things.  So here's 15 things they never should have cancelled and why.

Honorable Mention - Raising Hope:  This is technically not cancelled... yet.  Fox is doing their damnedest to justify doing so, however, in such a ham-fisted way that it's downright inexcusable.  The story of Jimmy Chance & his attempts to raise his daughter (whose mother was a serial killer sent to the chair) with the help of his highly dysfunctional but loving family/social circle, it is at turns sick & twisted and incredibly sweet & tender.  But Fox pre-empts it constantly.  I can excuse X-Factor (because it's their current Great White Elephant Hope for High Ratings) and the World Series of course, but there is no reason a show this good should be continuously displaced by Glee & its Bataan Death March of Whimsical Stereotypes & Graceless Gay Aesops.  If Raising Hope goes off the air faster than a show that has been bleeding both viewers & audience/critical goodwill quite openly, then I'll know Ryan Murphy has incriminating photos of some high-ranking exec.  That or the audience for network TV is genuinely that fucking stupid.  Or both.

15. Project GeeKeR:  Thank you, iTunes, for making this legally available for me to enjoy.  A Doug TenNapel joint, this was a SatAM show about an incompetent but mega-powerful space cadet of an android and his adventures with two rebels fighting the evil corporation/dictatorship that made him.  While the animation was from the era when CBS was being extra-cheap and thus doesn't always deliver the promise of the set-ups in an entirely solid way, that's a flaw easily negated by the excellent voice cast who keep the energy up above maximum, a rollickingly odd sense of humor, and characters like a snarky talking dinosaur & a drama-queen mastodon mad scientist.  It wasn't killed by low ratings but rather by the FCC's 3-hour rule that effectively killed SatAM TV as my generation grew up watching it.  This could've run for at least another season, because everyone needs more quirky blends of action & humor & Charlie Adler.

14. Clone High:  After hearing Rodrigo champion this show several times on the Major Spoilers Podcast, I had to check it out.  One of the last quirky aniimated programs on MTV (until the recent Beavis & Butt-head revival), it was a parody of teen dramas built around a secret cloning project to create duplicates of historical figures for a world-conquering army... once they were done with high school.  Besides the obvious WB-era parodies, there are jokes about media cliches, after-school-special-level moralizing, mad science, current science, and jokes only history nerds will get.  It had the misfortune of ending on a massive cliffhanger, and even the Canadian-produced DVD set functions under the illusion of it having more than one season.  But the season it had gave us Mr. Butlertron's good advice (and comforting red sweater-vest) and Marilyn Manson singing about the food pyramid.  I sincerely wish it had run long enough to see the modern model of soul-killing pseudo-dramedy and give that what it so richly deserves.

13. MST3k:  I wish this was a show that could exist today in the modern cable landscape.  Networks can now make enough product that they no longer need a two-hour movie program unless it's for a special.  But this is a concept (which, frankly, I should not have to explain by this point) that should always be available for public consumption on TV.  Yes, it has spawned new takes on the same basic idea (Rifftrax for home viewing & Cinematic Titanic for live shows), and yes, there are the DVD sets as frequently as rights negotiations can allow (and while I'm here, anyone who bitches about "they should do the full season box sets instead" needs a crash course on rights management & a smack on the snoot).  But it would easily fit on TV if it did, say, failed half-hour shows (which they offered once as a replacement when Comedy Central was going to cancel) or even better, the inexplicable public domain shorts you can see on TCM Underground (since I'm a big fan of MST3k & Rifftrax's shorts compilations, this is what I've love to see).  It's too golden a concept to let languish in a niche market.

12. Amp Lemonade:  As a frequent insomniac who has to get up early for work, I have become something of an energy drink connossieur.  And my favorite line is probably Amp, but my favorite variety seems to have disappeared.  The Lemonade will come out, vanish, come out, vanish again, pop up only in a few supermarkets, and now seems to be gone for good.  It's not as hyper carbonated as the other varieties (so there's less burping), and while it's sugar-free, it doesn't taste like awful fake sweetener (which Monster Rehab does).  It's probably the most palatable energy drink out there, but it keeps disappearing randomly.

11. Homestar Runner:  Technically, the site was never shut down or anything, but it hasn't updated in two years.  Telltale has finished the game series (more on them next), and the merch has slowed to a crawl.  It seems that the Brothers Chaps have abandoned their inexplicable yet awesome little cartoon world.  This is easily one of the best online original series out there - I quote it almost as much as MST3k.  The humor is a perfect mix of pure silliness, pop culture geek-outs, and character bits; every Halloween it was exciting to see what costumes they'd come up with for the characters and how they'd reflect on their wearers.  I miss watching a new Strong Bad Email every week and trying to find all of the Easter Eggs you could click.  I even enjoyed their games, which were spot-on parodies of other genres while still being genuinely entertaining.  But it's been dead so long that it feels like it's a crash away from vanishing into the online ether, and I dread the day that happens.  Stumbling on an Easter Egg gag just ain't the same on DVD.

10. Telltale Games' adventure game serials:  When Telltale announced that they were doing a Back to the Future series, that was amazing news - but only the first one appeared & nothing has been said about any follow-ups.  A little over a year ago, they announced that that they'd gotten the rights to the Kings Quest series & would be making new games starting the fall of 2011 - that never materialized, and no cancellations or postponements were given.  Tales of Monkey Island ended in such a way that it felt like more was there to be told but nothing about that would be addressed as either a possibility or a dropped plan.  Aside from two game series (Sam & Max and Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People), Telltale has either failed to continue the new series that they start or ever start the new series that they announce.  If they're having financial trouble or personnel problems, I wish they'd just say so; honesty endeavors more goodwill than silence.  Telltale was supposed to be the company to keep the traditional adventure game alive (as opposed to hidden object/adventure hybrids, a new sub-genre that has already started to fall into the same traps that nearly killed the mother genre), but unless there's more going on behind the scenes than they're willing to say, it looks like they've stopped trying.

9. My Cage:  One of the best new comic strips to come out in some time, it died after two too-brief years because it was in a market that caters largely to the elderly & habit-driven.  The story of Norm T. Platypus and his efforts to find love (with the adorably ditzy Bridget T. Dog) & realize his dream of being a professional writer while working for a soul-crushing company (his boss, Max, is possibly the devil in disguise & certainly enjoys dicking with his employees for no reason other than to amuse himself).  All of the characters were well-defined, and even though they all fit a certain broad type, they were given enough nuance to flesh them out beyond "she's the gold digger" or "he's the narcissist" (lone exception is, naturally, Max).  The art style has some anime/manga influences, but it also takes its cues from classic animation & funny-animal comics.  A misconception that it was just "Dilbert with animals" and that the characters were one-note kept newer readers from giving it a fair shot, while older ones instinctively avoided anything that was actually amusing (this is the norm for newspaper comics).  Sadly, it has only had one collection of its first year, and I'm not sure if the Cafepress store is still around.  But my description can't do it justice - there's just too much to the strip for me to put into words that made me love it, and I wish it had run until the creators were truly done with Norm & friends' stories, not killed for the crime of being new in a medium skewed to the old.

8. The Dreamcast:  Ah, yes, my Console that Got Away.  We rented it, loved it, ... and couldn't find any for sale at a decent price (except used & we have a history with glitchy used consoles).  Stores usually only had a few games, too, and those were licensed shovelware.  The PS1 was just a safer investment; shame, really, since the Dreamcast really was a stronger system (althought I did like my PS1).  As a fighting game buff, those were really at home on it & I would have loved to play some of those exclusives or even the improved releases of stuff I had on PS1.  But the post-Genesis years of flaky add-ons and Bernie Stolar's reign of terror cost Sega too much consumer & corporate goodwill, and despite its considerable assets, the Dreamcast's fate was sealed.  It had great graphics, nearly no load times, and was the first console to try making online play a vital new play component instead of a novelty.  It should've been huge, but thanks to Sega's past, it had no future.

7. Young Heroes in Love:  I believe that superhero team books appeal to those that like the character interaction on soap operas but want them in a setting where the frequent crises & mysterious revivals & supernatural evil twins make more sense than at, say, a hospital that's supposedly part of the real world.  This title (part of DC's glorious but ill-fated "let's try something different & funky" era in the late 90s that also gave us Aztek, Chronos, Chase, & Major Bummer) was built around that notion.  Sure, there were big superhero fights, but those were secondary concerns compared to the character threads.  Why was Monstergirl screwing around with everyone, physically & mentally?  Did Hard Drive have a good reason for telepathically messing with his teammates beyond power-tripping, and why was he so hellbound to keep Bonfire & Frostbite apart?  Why did Thunderhead, the strongest guy on the team, have such self-esteem problems that Hard Drive had to cater to them just to keep him from quitting?  Would Zip Kid leave her creepy control-freak boyfriend and hook up with fellow tiny hero Junior?  That's some awesome, juicy stuff right there.  It distilled everything that make Claremont's 80s X-Men and New Teen Titans so addictive, but the market had begun to shift to the decompressed widescreen action movie write-for-the-trade era, so a team book driven by character threads was doomed to fail.  After all, they might have to (gasp!) read dialogue or remember stuff between issues that actually happened or something!

6. Freakazoid!:  This show is Exhibit A in my case against the use of demographics to determine a given show's success.  Freakazoid! got great ratings for Kids WB - with adults & teens but not with kids.  So even though it was popular, it wasn't so with the "right" demographic and thus had to die.  If I need to describe Freakazoid! to someone reading a blog by someone who's a comics & animation nerd, then I will have to ask you to step outside, drive to the nearest Best Buy, and buy the DVDs for yourself.  It's pretty much a show about an insane superhero ... and a few parody shorts ... and a few calmer but still rather insane superheroes ... and... look, it's hard to describe.  It make jokes about ET, Gargoyles, Predator, Jonny Quest, the MPAA, time travel cliches, the expected tropes of a superhero story, and God knows what else.  Plus, it had Ed Asner as Cosgrove, who I quote at least once a week.  Just because.  It was probably too crazy to ever survive on network TV, but if you made Freakazoid! now & put it on one of the kids' channels, it'd probably be huge and (with the exception of toy-sale-obsessed Cartoon Network) thrilled with the expanded audience.

5. Sonic SatAM:  This show was proof of two things - that you could do a genuinely good video game adaptation and that you could tell a story with actual drama using little animals.  This series took the basic plot of the game (Sonic runs fast & rescues little animals stuck in robots by Doctor Robotnik) and turned it into the story of Sonic & his friends working to free their homeworld of Mobius from enslavement by Robotnik & his robot army (many of whom contain captured/transformed natives, including Sonic's uncle).  The leader was Sonic's girlfriend Sally, a princess who was everything people should strive for when writing a "role model" heroine - brave & competent but never shrill or arrogant.  It ended on a cliffhanger that freed Mobius from Robotnik's rule but showed his assistant returning with a mysterious new threat.  But between the Capitol Cities merger with Disney and (again) the FCC's 3-hour rule, it was unceremoniously dropped.  Sega has more or less ignored it entirely or kept it at arm's length (it conflicts with a lot of the newer mythology established from the Dreamcast games onward), and while the Archie comics tried to continue the story, it quickly became something else entirely with a mix of SatAM, the games, & its own new additions.  This really is an unsung classic that could've continued for at least a couple more seasons.

4. Cheesy Gordita Crunch:  Taco Bell is my favorite junk food provider, and if I didn't want to live past 40, I could easily eat there every day.  This is one of those "OMG, it's back!" limited time offers that comes and goes like an edible Brigadoon.  It's a regular taco but topped with baja ranch sauce and wrapped in a gordita shell filled with melted cheese (not the nacho sauce - real cheese melted in a steamer).  It's filling, it's delicious, and while many have mocked it (the AV Club said it was an experiment in overlayering food), there must be enough people who love it to keep bringing it back.  But why even do that?  Everything used to make the CGC is on the menu year-round, so why not leave it on the menu year-round?  They don't advertise its return on TV or anything - you just find they decided to make it again when you go there for lunch.  Just leave the damn thing available so you can get it whenever you want it.  It's really not that complicated and no need for this runaround.

3. Blue Beetle:  Jaime Reyes was jinxed from the start.  First, he was a replacement for a character with a loyal following whose death was unsatisfying to many.  Second, he was not a WASP, so comic fandom's country club mentality quickly dismissed his creation as a shallow act of tokenism.  Finally, in the early issues of his book, he decided not to explore his handle's legacy for the moment, so even though it made narrative sense, fandom tarred both the character & the series as being disrespectful to its roots.  All of these reasons are why his first series was cancelled, and all of these are why I'm still bitter about it even with Jaime given a place of honor among the New 52.  Jaime was an heir to Silver & Bronze Age Spidey more than any other character, including his namesake.  He was interesting and relatable in & out of costume, but his supporting cast was just as interesting, if not more so.  In an era where "angsthole" was the default teen hero characterization, Jaime was smart, ambitious, honest, and genuinely caring.  His villains, the Reach, were so sneaky that even the Guardians of Oa thought they were low-down bastards.  John Rogers took the world that he & Keith Giffen made, then fleshed it out till it felt like the most real, human superhero series in a long, long time.  And when he left (after a great epic showdown with the Reach), it was clear no one had the same love & affection for Jaime and his world as he did (although Will Pfeifer's fill-in mini run came close).  We got that whoring-for-news-coverage immigration storyline that Rogers had been fending off from issue #1; we got a last issue where one character was abruptly fridged so another could be forced into the role of yet another tired "dark mirror" villain; we got the Booster Gold storyline that largely existed just to permanently maim Jaime's adorable little sister and remind readers why Ted will always be the "true" Blue Beetle; and we got the disjointed "second feature" run that felt like a bone thrown to fans more than a desire to tell an actual narrative.  The New 52 Beetle is good (it's a reset, of course, but at least it feels like it's trying), but it'll take some time until it can hope to recapture the original series' magic that DC & readers so callously threw away.

2. Legion of Super-Heroes (TV):  Quickest way to kill audience interest in a promising new show - air the same episode every other week, then make a near-identical episode in the second season and air that one every other week.  Yes, SatAM programming as you practice it may be moribund, and yes, a channel shuffle due to network mergers may have needlessly confused viewers looking for the show in the first place, but there's no excuse for laziness of that level.  Thus, more than anything, I blame Timber Wolf for the Legion cartoon's failure.  There were some annoying things in the second season, especially the largely unlikable new character Kell-El & the sidelining of most of the girls on the team, but there was just so much possibility they never got to even try realizing.  After all, this is the Legion - you can do either straight adaptations of the comic stories or just play in their universe.  The comic spin-off really went to town in this respect, and it's a damn shame the show didn't have the time or freedom to do the same.  They wanted to, however, and they had plans - the third season would have had Dawnstar, Wildfire, & Shadow Lass as new focuses, and there would've been a more solid narrative.  But what time they had wasn't enough to explore everything interviews suggest they wanted to do.  When they weren't forced to stay knee-deep in Timber Wolf, they could do very well in the character department - Cosmic Boy acting brusque to Karate Kid because the last new he encouraged died horribly; the matter-of-fact familiar bond between Cham & RJ Brande; shapeshifter Ron-Karr's redemption; the bubbliest, most nerd-girliest version of Shrinking Violet ever, as well as the most competent version of Dream Girl ever; the potential held in the possessive, insane, spoiled Alexis Luthor in her lone use; even Kell-El got a nice piece, bonding with the boy who'll develop the tech behind both himself & his nemesis.  They made characters treated like laughingstocks - Tyroc, Matter-Eater Lad, and especially Bouncing Boy - appealling to a new generation.  They are the only continuity to redeem Mekt Ranzz and make it work.  They might have gone to Sorcerors' World without a certain beloved albino sorceress or tossed aside the dramatic possibilities of Triplicate Girl become Duo Damsel, but they still did a lot of good work.  It's the most accessible version of the Legion and the one I prefer to use in my fan-nerdestry.  And unlike the current book, no one was an unrepentant perpetrator of genocide given a magical author's pass to be on the team.  But the best I can hope for are reruns someday on the DC Nation block, since it's clear Warner Brothers won't be doing any more DVDs.  Even if it's on TV and not in comics, if you're a Legion fan, you will forever get hosed, and it'll always hurt when it happens.  But the work itself, like this show, is so good that it's always worth it.

1. The Critic:  Right now, we as a nation of filmgoers need Jay Sherman.  Every other year, we are subjected to another Michael Bay orgy of explosions & juvenile humor.  The top grossing movie now is a 3D-gimmick furvert romance whose sermonizing makes Captain Planet look subtle & even-handed; hell, just the fact that James Cameron's dismal hackwork masked with visual impressiveness has been allowed to go unchallenged is proof that we need Jay Sherman.  Instead of being dismissed as grumps or snobs, we need The Critic to lead an echoing, united cry of protest to the constant stream of garbage we are given.  But as the Animation Domination block will attest, you'll last longer on TV if you have incredibly low standards.  The Classics reviews on the AV Club illustrate that The Critic could walk the fine line between soul-crushing New York cynicism and genuine moments of tenderness, but people can't handle this mix done well for some odd reason.  It should a balanced blend of fondess & disdain for show business, the movies and criticism as a field.  The characters ran the gamut from sweet & kind (Marty, Alice, Margot) to cynical & mercenary (Duke, Vlada, Eleanor Sherman), and Jay falls somewhere in between.  (There's also Franklin Sherman, who is completely, blissfully, & charmingly out of his mind.  He's probably one of my favorite TV characters ever.)  The movie parodies were priceless, from showing why James Bond comes off as a sleazeball to many modern viewers to giving Jurassic Park a sequel infinitely more intelligent & entertaining than The Lost World in about 30 seconds.  So many golden moments that I could just aimlessly list or quote - a runner's high making Jay picture a pre-Disney Times Square to be a Busby Berkeley setpiece; the inexplicable yet awesome Fishmababywhirligig; the Taxi Cab Driver Exchange Program (to ensure no cabbie speaks the same language as his fares); the clip show's framing device featuring terrorists who were underarmed for the subway & Milton Berle as a badass ninja rescue leader; Duke informing Jay he's been granted a license to hunt people, followed by an invitation to visit his estate; Siskel & Ebert's musical duet (which is actually kind of sad now, since one is dead & the other is now mute).  I should stop, but I really could go on & on.  This series really originated the cutaway gags that plague the McFarlane shows, but unlike most of those, The Critic's gags actually (a) still fit into the scene or conversation they were interrupting in some way, and (b) were usually pretty damn funny.  The Critic was a show that assumed its viewers were smart, wrote & performed it accordingly, and paid the price for reminding those content to stay stupid that they are responsible for the falling standards of, well, everything.

Also-Rans Worth Mentioning:  These are things that I wanted to discuss, but they don't quite rank on the list.
- Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue!:  I am literally the only person who likes this show, and I am among the very few who cannot stand its oh-so-revered replacement.  Apparently turning the established characters into assholes (Scooby & Velma), schmucks (Shaggy), or schmucky assholes (Fred) is more acceptible because it makes "Scrappy sucks" jokes, not because it's actually good or has any sort of good message behind it.  But even if it felt like the title characters were crammed in to sell what was an unrelated series to name-recognition-happy execs, it had the message that anyone can be brave if they need to help someone they love, even world-class cowards like Shaggy & Scooby.  It's part of the curse of Scooby - you can't do the same thing without complaint, but you can't change things too much without complaint.  But turning the cast into a gaggle of unlikable creeps is okay now, and that this series was pushed aside to do it is what angers me the most.
- Vera Bradley's Messenger bags:  This was my absolute favorite style of purse Vera Bradley offered - it was nice & big, so it could hold everything I need to carry with me to work, but it wasn't so large that looked ridiculous.  But they dropped it, and its replacement styles are either too huge (like diaper bags) or less than half the size & with nearly no pockets.  I like Vera Bradley's purses & patterns (it's nice to see a designer line that actually has color in its lines & doesn't have its company name tattooed over every conceivable surface), but without them making the style of bag I like, it's harder to justify shopping for their stuff.
- Darkstalkers:  This was my favorite Capcom 2D fighting game series, as it referenced everything from classic Universal monster movies to Z-grade obscurities to folklore and a downright gorgeous design aesthetic.  It also had a character who was a Red Riding Hood clone that had machine guns hidden in her basket and worked with the Yakuza, which made me laugh out loud in an arcade when I first saw it.  Now, though, the only indication that it ever existed at all is that Morrigan appears in every crossover fighting game Capcom makes, and I'm sure younger gamers are baffled where the flying cleavage lady comes from.  It's clear that Capcom has absolutely no plans to ever touch the series again except for some licensed nostalgic spin-off media, and it pains me to see such a promising franchise thrown by the wayside.
- The last Doom Patrol series:  Attempting to carry on with both the original series, the Morrisson Vertigo run, & what came after, Keith Giffen's Doom Patrol made this team vital again.  He explained how everyone survived & why they're freakish.  The issue focusing on Rita gave her more development & relatability than any other writer had tried since the Silver Age; Larry went from being the boring guy to being a charmingly blase slacker with a paranoid fear of pelicans.  New villains included a downright disturbing porcelain assassin fighting alongside the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Menace.  It was knee-deep in good ideas & bringing old ideas that hadn't been given a fair shake a second chance, but it was just too much fun to last.  Here's hoping the New 52 might give us a new Doom Patrol at least a fifth as awesome as this one.
- Various Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross sequels announced:  Remember "Chrono Resurrection" or "Chrono Break"?  Ever hear of more than just the titles?  Yeah, probably not.  The time & dimension warping Chrono franchise has been allowed to fall by the wayside while Square Enix focuses on others (granted, I can excuse Dragon Quest because that's pretty awesome, but Final Fantasy has been so hit & miss that it's aggravating).  The only time it's mentioned is when they want to either patent a name to keep it available or sue some fan series into oblivion.  If you're going to make the names, use them or let the series drift away entirely.  Don't keep teasing us.
- Super Robot Monkey Team Hyper Force Go!:  I only saw a few episodes of this series, but what I saw I liked.  A perfect mix of affectionate parody & legit entry in the sentai team genre, it had a lot of charm that was starting to be shoo'd away from action-animation in favor of toyetic jerky-boy shows.  And I seemed to have missed the really crazy shit, like an evil meat-themed amusement park or an episode based on the 70s version of The Wicker Man.  At this point, I'd settle for a DVD release just so I can finally see all the stuff I missed.
- Real Adventures of Jonny Quest:  Thanks to the first crew blowing both deadlines & budgets and the decision to rerun this constantly on Toonami even after it became the Two-Hours-Minimum-of-Dragonball-Z block, this show has been unjustly allowed to slip into limbo.  If it hadn't focused so much on the ill-conceived Questworld concept (which one writer on the second season compared to the Holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation in that it was a fatal unnecessary distraction from the series' mission statement), it would have been a solid update to America's first action-animation series.  I'd love to see it tried again, ideally picking up right where it was forced to leave off - returning to the island base and telling us what finally happened to Jonny's mother.  But at this point, I've lost all hope of this happening except for Venture Brothers-style mockery.

It's amazing how, when you sit & think about it, there's so many things you'd like to see come back in some way and be given a chance to see their full potential for success.  Playing "What If" can be fun, but I find it to be a tad sad, too, since all these things are pretty much gone for good. Sigh.


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