The 50 Best One-Season TV Shows in Television History
For great TV, you don't need to commit to a 100-episode binge.
When you think of great TV, several shows immediately leap to mind: The Sopranos, M*A*S*H, Game of Thrones—stuff like that. But if you're looking for quality programming, you needn't sink 116 hours into a 10-season binge-watch. In fact, some of the best shows ever only lasted for a single stellar season.
Now, it should be noted, there are countless factors at play when it comes the the life of a TV series. Sometimes—often, even—it's a business decision (bad ratings). Sometimes, the producers just understand the value of quitting while they're ahead (only one, tight, deft season was written). In any event, just because network execs give a particular show the ax doesn't mean it's low quality. Here's proof.
The Get Down (2016)
This Netflix original, from visionary director Baz Luhrmann, made a splash when it loudly debuted in all of its extravagant glory. Centering on the rise of hip hop in the Bronx during the 1970s, the show was ripe with sensational music, costume design, and electricity. Unfortunately, it wasn't able to keep up with its own hype and was cancelled after its first season.
This cult classic is the poster child for one-season wonders, and rightfully so. With a star-studded cast and an engaging season full of humor and angst, it's a true shame we never got to see what happens after the finale's cliffhanger.
Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, Bunheads had the same impressively quick-witted and sharp-tongued dialogue that Sherman-Palladino became famous for in Gilmore Girls. However, this show didn't get the same fan club right away and only lived to see one season.
This show blended together sci-fi and western tropes and themes to create a wildly fun, distinct world that felt like it deserved several seasons of exploration, at minimum. Just ask any die-hard fans of this show; they'll be happy to tell you how the cancellation of Firefly was one of the greatest tragedies in television history. (In fact, you can still find true diehards posting about it in the depths of Twitter and Reddit.)
Clearly audiences didn't know what they had until it was gone when it came to this show, as My So-Called Life is now considered one of the best, most classic teenage dramas of all time. Plus, it gave us Claire Danes in her breakout lead role. We were not worthy!
Following Freaks and Geeks, this show was Judd Appatow's second attempt to make a hit TV show about the trials and tribulations of being a teenager trying to survive high school. Just like its predecessor, it only lasted one season and is now renowned as an underrated gem.
Fresh off her controversial performance at the 2018 White House Correspondents' Dinner, Michelle Wolf kept the punchlines coming on her own Netflix-produced talk show. The show was well-written, imaginative, and packed with delightful segments and sketches, but it was also the first of Netflix's to air on a weekly basis—a move that streamers and binge-watchers weren't quite ready for. Alas…
Karl Urban and Michael Ealy's natural dynamic felt like enough to keep this sci-fi-horror cop show afloat as it found its footing, but unfortunately the ratings weren't high enough for this to be the case. And for more small-screen frights, here are the 40 Best Horror Movies for Totally Freaking Yourself Out.
Selfie depicted and critiqued a generation that hadn't yet become as self aware as the show needed it to be. It's well worth a rewatch now, though, that we are truly living in the age of the selfie.
Australian comedian Chris Lilley made a name for himself when he played multiple characters in this hilarious mockumentary set in a fictional high school in Sydney. Lilley's performances are impossible not to laugh at, and the entire series is ripe with quotable moments.
This animated series may have been too much for audiences at the time. The premise surrounded a group of teens that were living clones of historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Cleopatra. It's too bad, because the MTV show was uproariously funny, and filled with the kind of clever pop culture references that make you feel pure joy when you realize you understand the joke.
Those of us who suffer from '90s nostalgia were thrilled to see Netflix release this fun throwback to both the era and adolescence itself, which only made the abrupt cancellation all the more painful. It's been a while since we've seen a sincere depiction of growing up, and Everything S*cks! gave us exactly that. Too bad it had to go, proving that everything…is bad.
A comedy that manages to center on a group of men in the military while remaining politically neutral is something that probably wouldn't make it these days either. That said, the show was charming and the dialogue was impressively fast-paced and sharp. It was a shame to see this show go.
Plagued by its own title, Trophy Wife never really got the shot it deserved. The comedic writing was fantastic, the chemistry among the the main characters was strong, and the trajectory of the show was just beginning to find its way when the network sadly cancelled the show.
At surface level, Terriers was just another procedural, but critics were quick to realize that this show had the kind of character development that gave it depth. Unfortunately, TV critics aren't the ones calling the shots when it comes to ratings.
Television has been very picky about which teen dramas are dismissed, and which teen dramas graduate on to become classics. Life As We Know It stood out as a show about the formative years that didn't dwell too much on the pain and angst of it all. However, its sincerity sadly wasn't enough to save it.
A riveting drama with a knack for climactic moments, Awake was also unique in its concept. The show centered on a man living in two parallel universes after a car accident involving his family. In one universe, his wife survived. In the other, his son did. It was original and captivating, two qualities that warranted more than the sole season it was given.
Robin Thede became the first black female late night host in this expertly written show. The writers were never afraid to tackle issues that other shows of its ilk ignored—mainly issues of race and criminal justice—and the pre-filmed sketches were exquisite.
Godless was made with only one season in mind, which makes the lack of further episodes feel a bit less tragic. And to its credit, the arcs of both the characters and the plot lines feel finished just as the series ends, making the feminist Western a satisfying watch. Still, we want more!
A high concept, time-traveling drama with a high budget, this show had all the potential to be fantastically entertaining. And it was, but the writing didn't find its voice right away, and by the time the season finale brought one of the series' best episodes, it was unfortunately too late to survive the ratings ax.
This thrilling drama came at a time when AMC was churning out noteworthy masterpieces like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead. The writing was strong and intricate, with some episodes credited to Homeland writer Henry Bromell, and there was a small, but dedicated audience that loved the show. But with such a saturated drama slate at the time, it ultimately didn't make the cut.
Inside Look: The People v. O.J. Simpson, American Crime Story (2016)
Intentionally close-ended, this historical drama expertly laid out the infamous trial of O.J. Simpson in ten magnificent episodes. The acting is exceptional, the writing is impeccable, and the series will leave you caught in a daze, thinking back on what you just watched for weeks.
This buddy-cop show played off of classic tropes used in the genre, and it was both quirky and fun as all hell. Its eccentricity was its strength and its downfall, but the short lived series is a delight to revisit.
With Rob Lowe taking the lead as a television lawyer who thinks his years reading lawyer scripts qualify him for a gig running his family's law firm, in partnership with his actual-lawyer brother, this could have been one of Fox's strongest comedies. And, honestly, it was. The season ran for 22 episodes, and the show managed to develop into a cohesive, unique, delightfully meta take on the family sitcom over time. The ratings weren't bad, either. It's one cancellation that truly doesn't make any sense.
Cynthia Mort's series appeared to have everything it needed to make in an instant hit on HBO: explicit sex scenes, experimental cinematography, and comedian Adam Scott trying out a serious dramatic role. All of those elements do make it worth a watch, especially as its theme—namely, a lack of intimacy and communication—feel more in line with what audiences are willing to invest in these days.
Ahead of its time, this witchy teen drama was cancelled before it had the chance to really shine. It found its groove towards the end of the first and final season, especially in terms of the strong chemistry between its leads, but the world just wasn't ready for a show about young, feminist witches yet.
Meant to be an anthology series about different murder mysteries, this show was a predecessor to current hits like American Horror Story. It was campy, melodramatic, and sexy, but when ratings didn't turn out as expected, CBS moved its time slot to Saturday nights, which led to a quick death.
A cinematic masterpiece with solid writing and dazzling performances from cast members like Dustin Hoffman, this HBO drama had the chops to become a buzz-worthy series. Tragically, three horses died on set, and production was forced to end as a result.
The Night Of (2016)
One of HBO's most gripping, brutal dramas, this miniseries is an exercise in must-watch TV. The show centers on a murder case, with the main character as the number one suspect, and throughout the entire season both he and the audience are unsure of his innocence. With an amazing, heartbreaking performance from Riz Ahmed, this one will undoubtedly leave an impact.
Based on a true story, this period piece about gender discrimination in the workplace was well received by critics and audiences alike. It came at the perfect moment in history, if not slightly ahead of the curve. In the end, it was cancelled by former Amazon executive Roy Price (who, according to The Hollywood Reporter, left Amazon Studios amid sexual harassment claims).
One of Aaron Sorkin's only "failures," this fun behind the scenes look at a live sketch comedy show has the star-studded cast to make up for the fact that it has the same exact premise as the far more successful 30 Rock. In fact, the show debuted at around the same time as Tina Fey's hit show, and it was expected to be the one of the two to survive. Regardless, Matthew Perry's innate charm and Sorkin's infamous writing chops make it an enjoyable watch.
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
A season-long television adaptation of the Jane Austen classic, with Colin Firth starring as Mr. Darcy? Need we say more?
A show about a woman who communicates with inanimate objects would be a hard sell even today. Wonderfalls leaned into its quirk, and at time its dark depiction of loneliness and perhaps mental illness, but it didn't resonate with viewers at the time. Now, it's considered to be a work of genius.
Pan Am (2011)
An exciting portrayal of the strong women who worked as flight attendants on Pan Am, this short lived series was a whole lot of fun while it lasted.
The Beast (2009)
Patrick Swayze gave his last performance in this role, and his delivery is reason enough to give the show a watch.
AMC was excited to air Dietland this year, and with good reason. The show was bold, unapologetic, and empowering. Critics agreed, but the audience started out slight and declined with time.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (2015)
True crime has recently zeroed in on cases of the seemingly falsely accused, with shows like Making a Murderer and podcasts like Serial. Robert Durst is presented as "probably guilty," though, which is what makes The Jinx stand out. Plus, it's unbelievably fascinating.
A lot of cancelled shows are victims of being tossed around a network's schedule, leaving them unable to find a returning audience. That may have been the case with this ambitious series, or it was the fact that an adaptation of the biblical story of David and Goliath was too much for an NBC show in 2009.
The Black Donnellys (2007)
A show made for broadcast television that focused on organized crime was a rarity back in 2007 when Black Donellys aired. Its deep dive into the world and examination of the characters that dwell there was refreshing at the time, and paved the way for similar shows we see thriving on air recently.
Simply a fun, humorous adaptation of the comic book, this series had the potential the be a digestible show for superhero lovers. However, it was given the dreaded Friday night slot, and was killed pretty quickly after.
Karen Sisco (2003)
Carla Gugino played a tough-as-nails female U.S. Marshall who tracked down fugitives in Miami, in this fun, sexy procedural. Unfortunately, a female version of this kind of show at the time wasn't what audiences were craving at the time.
Worst Week (2008)
Toeing the line between laugh-out-loud and cringe-worthy comedy can be difficult to pull off when taking on a story about trying to win over your in-laws. Worst Week doesn't always meet the challenge, but it does most of the time. Plus, Kyle Bornheimer is fantastic as the lead, and the comedy is spread out enough throughout the complete story so that it comes together as a charming comedy with laughs to boot.
I Love Dick (2016)
Based on the book by the same name—in which a New York City transplant moves to Texas and falls in love with a university professor named Dick—Jill Soloway's adaption is artful in its reworking, and dares to tell its own version of the story. Kevin Bacon picked up a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.
A paranormal romance about a vampire who falls in love with a mortal, Moonlight has all of the over-the-top drama you'd expect from a supernatural tale of forbidden love.
The Jamz (2016)
A workplace sitcom based in a Chicago radio station, The Jamz may not be what 2016 audiences were hungry for, but it is well done and easy to watch. The writing is solid, and the world feels authentic and lived in. It's a great show to toss on when you're looking for an easy laugh.
Eerie, Indiana (1991)
Basically a cross between Twin Peaks and Stranger Things, this bizarre, bold mystery set in suburbia was simply ahead of its time. Bring it back!
While this show is widely considered a flop, it deserves credit for how daring it was. By portraying Hollywood in all of its grit, despair, and filth, Action was never afraid to be honest. It also had an impressive roster of guest stars that would go on to become big-name celebrities, which makes watching it a fun trip down memory lane.
Grosse Pointe (2000)
One of the first shows within a show, the amusement in watching this show comes from trying to figure out who the characters are based off of. Created by TV celebrity Darren Star, it's obvious that he drew from the people he met behind the scenes in order to bring this cast of characters to life. Piecing together who is who makes an already fun series that much more satisfying.
American Woman (2018)
Reviews were harsh for this show, and many of the critiques given were valid. The quality isn't amazing here, but it is a lot of fun, and watching Alicia Silverstone star as a Real Housewives type is a delight.
Seven Seconds (2018)
Regina King stars in this Netflix crime drama, and her stellar performance is undeniably the driving force that makes the ten-episode series worth while. And if you're looking for some new entertainment to get pumped up about, These Are the New TV Shows Everyone Will Be Talking About in 2019.
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