The 10 Best Shows That Would Have Survived in the Streaming Era
Including a couple that Netflix revived.
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Ten years ago this week, a comedy about a foul-mouthed catering crew called Party Down debuted on Starz. Thirteen months later, the network unceremoniously canceled it after just two seasons.
Having recently binged the show over the course of a particularly lazy weekend, I can’t believe it got the axe so quickly. It hits its stride only a few episodes in (rare for a comedy) and received positive reviews from critics and viewers alike. The only issue is there were too few of the latter.
Got me thinking: If Party Down were around today, it would thrive, right? It’s exactly the type of series the streaming giants love: modest but devoted audience, high rewatchability and a cast full of household-names-to-be (Jane Lynch, Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan).
Consider that in 2009, Starz had 17 million subscribers, which pales in comparison to the 139 million subscribers that Netflix currently boasts. That’s eight times more people that could have been algorithmically introduced to a show with one of the lowest operating budgets of its era.
These days, the near ubiquity of streaming means that any show produced and promoted by Netflix and its ilk (Amazon Prime, HBO Go, Hulu) has a chance at instant success. Netflix alone made 700 original series in 2018, and they’ve only recently begun to adopt the network practice of aggressively culling shows with low viewership. And we’re not even at peak content yet, with both Disney and Apple planning to launch streaming services later this year.
Taking all that into account, it stands to reason that something as smart, inventive and star-studded as Party Down would have enjoyed a long, healthy run had it been born a decade later. But it wouldn’t be alone: below, we celebrate the 10 best shows that streaming could have saved — including a couple that it actually did.
March 20, 2009 – June 25, 2010, two seasons
Why it was great: Each episode takes place at a different event the Party Down company is catering, allowing for season-long arcs to play out over a wide variety of settings, with frequent cameos from budding actors (Kevin Hart, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Josh Gad). This format allows for the core cast (Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Ken Marino, Martin Starr, Jane Lynch) to show off their comedic rapport via constant tomfoolery and site gags. Despite their incompetence, though, the characters are decidedly human: each receives just enough positive attributes and small wins to keep the viewer interested. One of the smartest and funniest shows I’ve ever watched.
Why it got canceled: Mainly due to low viewership. It also didn’t help that after the second season they lost Jane Lynch to Glee and Adam Scott, the closest thing to a main character this ensemble cast had, to Parks & Rec.
Where you can watch it: Streaming: Hulu, Starz, Amazon –Eli London, Director of Partnerships
April 8, 1990 to June 10, 1991, two seasons
Why it was great: No one had ever seen anything like it on TV before. Period. But it became a hit because co-creator David Lynch’s surreal cinematic originality that drew in the Richard Brodys of the world was paired with time-honored serial television themes, from the whodunit murder mystery to the will-they-or-won’t-they love story, which brought in those who normally tuned into Cheers. (Twin Peaks premiered on ABC in the same time slot as the NBC sitcom, and singlehandedly reduced its ratings.) Plus, who doesn’t want to be Dale Cooper?
Why it got canceled: The journey from Best Drama Series at the Golden Globes to cancelation in five months is complicated. It may include ABC changing the time slot willy-nilly, creative differences between the artists and the network, and even a love triangle of sorts between Lara Flynn Boyle, Kyle MacLachlan and Sherilyn Fenn. But at its core, Twin Peaks couldn’t sustain Cheers-level interest once the murder of Laura Palmer was solved in the middle of the second season. If Lynch had his way from the beginning, he never would have answered that question. Even so, the series was followed by the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and eventually a third season from Showtime in 2017.
Where you can watch it: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video –Alex Lauer, Senior Editor
September 20, 2002 to August 4, 2003, one season
Why it was great: A western in space created and overseen by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Avengers), Firefly had heart, geekiness and an incredible ensemble (love you, Nathan Fillion!). It’s hard to create a new universe, but Whedon seemed well on his way to making his own world(s) … and having a hell of a lot of fun doing it.
Why it got canceled: For no good reason, Fox showed the first episodes out of order, and also waited a month between showing the second and third. With no “known” characters to latch onto and an awkward starting point — why you putting western tropes in my sci-fi? — the show quickly faded. Thankfully, fandom helped deliver a really good movie follow-up called Serenity.
Where you can watch it: Hulu –Kirk Miller, Managing Editor
Freaks & Geeks, Undeclared
Undeclared: September 25, 2001-March 12, 2002
Why they were great: Because A) these two shows, despite their criminally short runs, mark the beginning of the Judd Apatow rocket ship really taking off: loveable underdogs struggling through life’s trials and tribulations in ways that are often simultaneously hilarious and heartfelt has become Apatow’s signature, and these two collections of misfits (navigating high school and collegiate life, respectively) embody that brand in a way that’s arguably more pure and realistic than any of Apatow’s subsequent work. And B) you can’t throw a rock in the worlds of these two shows without hitting now-marquee talents in their nascent stages, both in front of the camera (James Franco, Seth Rogen, Charlie Hunnam, Jason Segel) as well as behind it (Jake Kasdan, Paul Feig, Lesli Linka Glatter, Jay Chandrasekhar).
Why they got canceled: The usual Hollywood clusterf*ck of shuffling time slots and low-ratings-despite-critical acclaim, but with a couple of interesting wrinkles: first, various sources (including Rogen) have speculated that then-new NBC president Garth Ancier was ill-equipped to understand public school life and its relevance, having gone to boarding school and then on to Princeton. Second, in a move that possibly signaled early faith by F&G’s creators in the world of digital, they created a website to help fans keep track of the show — but, according to Apatow, NBC wouldn’t share the URL because “they didn’t want people to know the internet existed. They were worried about losing viewers to it.”
Where you can watch them: Shockingly, neither F&G or Undeclared is currently available for streaming on any of the major platforms — the only place your correspondents could find the former is via DailyMotion (which ain’t the greatest quality but it’s free, so whatever), and the latter appears to be available only on a pirate YouTube feed (same deal). Maybe time to dust off the ol’ DVD player? –Danny Agnew, Creative Director