Endangered Series

04.09.14

These 5 ‘On the Bubble’ TV Shows Shouldn’t Be Canceled

It’s that dreaded time of year when network executives turn ruthless executioners and cancel TV shows stuck in ‘on the bubble’ limbo.

Spring is here, a joyous occasion for most of us. But for a certain subset of people living in Hollywood, it’s actually the most terrifying time of the year. It’s the time of year when television executives transform into ruthless executioners and decide which network television shows will be renewed for another season and, more brutally, which will be canceled.

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Brooke Palmer/NBC

The networks have already thrown down the gauntlet on a number of shows, meaning we’ve already seen the heads of the likes of Michael J. Fox, Sean Hayes, and Martha Plimpton roll. And while dozens of other series have already been renewed—some obvious choices (The Big Bang Theory, NCIS); some more questionable (Mike & Molly is still on TV, everyone)—others currently exist in a limbo the ‘biz refers to as “on the bubble.” That roughly translates to “your ratings are so middling that we have yet to decide whether to save you for another season or pop the bubble and end things completely.”

The blog TV By the Numbers has a helpful guide to the series that have been renewed, canceled, and are still on the bubble. It’s that last category we’re most interested in, because it’s an injustice we refuse to live with that Last Man Standing could possibly see another season of television while far superior series are given the axe prematurely.

So here are five series—three new shows, one in its standout second season, and one little-family-drama that could—that have yet to be renewed and could very well be canceled that we are making a plea to save.

Hannibal 

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Brooke Palmer/NBC

Would Hannibal be a bigger hit if it was airing on a cable network? Probably. But the fact that it doesn’t air on a cable network is precisely what makes the show so remarkable, and a major reason why it deserves to be saved. Depending on which critic-with-a-crystal-ball you choose to believe, Hannibal is either destined to be canceled or precariously “on the bubble.” It’s a shame, considering that the killer reimagining of the Silence of the Lamb prequel features such inspired work by Mads Mikkelsen, putting a tasty spin on the iconic Hannibal Lecter, and especially Hugh Dancy as criminal profiler Will Graham.

In the history of boneheaded programming decisions, that ABC never put Trophy Wife on after Modern Family is one of the biggest.

Season one of Hannibal tested broadcast audiences’ stomachs for not only the boundary-pushing blood and gore that Hannibal featured in gushing amounts, but also for the kind of complex storytelling that flourishes on cable but historically has been shunned by the NCIS: SVU: CSI: Los Angeles procedural-loving crowd. Season two of the drama has only grown in its elegance and stylized artistry, and even if ratings haven’t grown in the same fashion, such an impeccably crafted dish deserves to be served for another course.

Trophy Wife

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Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC, via AP

In the history of boneheaded programming decisions, that ABC never put Trophy Wife on after Modern Family is one of the biggest. The two family comedies are such perfect timeslot companions that Trophy Wife, with its sprawling ensemble of acting veterans whizzing off each other like mad cap comedic pinballs, could have been the first ABC sitcom to actually hold onto Modern Family’s massive audience, most of whom have reliably changed the channel once Jay Pritchett monologues about the valuable lesson he learned over the course of the previous half hour.

It’s frustrating because Trophy Wife deserves to be seen. From its launch, its cast gelled as if they’ve been working together for seasons already. Akerman is absolutely winning as the new third wife to a man with three kids for her to step-parent, juggling hapless, helpless, steadfast, goofy, and earnest with circus-worthy skill. Harden and former SNL star Michaela Watkins mine nuanced brilliance out of what could easily be ex-wife clichés. Trophy Wife’s secret sauce, though, is the way it captures the sheer chaos of a truly modern family (seriously—boneheaded programming!) and spotlights the moments of humor and heart that pierce through the din.

Parenthood

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Monica Potter as Kristina Braverman in scene from the NBC series "Parenthood." (Justin Lubin/NBC)

No cold cases are solved. Nobody is murdered. The whispering isn’t done behind anyone’s backs, but during bedroom pillow talk, and the dramatic tension doesn’t come from awaiting a judge’s verdict, but whether two characters are going to sell their house. Parenthood is a rare gem on network television: a family drama. It’s not crass or crude or gruesome or edgy. It’s a well-acted, relatable, and tear-jerking series about the high stakes we put on the rudimentary circumstances of every day life.

The most recent season of Parenthood hasn’t had a storyline as gripping and emotionally wrenching as last year’s cancer plot (so beautifully acted by Monica Potter) to anchor it, but it’s still been reliably touching and surprising. Visiting the Bravermans each week is a lot like visiting anyone’s family. There’s a lot of laughter, a lot of tears, and a lot of bickering, but there’s a comfort that comes with seeing the familiar faces that you’ve come to love unconditionally. Even though Parenthood, a perennial critics’ favorite, has never been a big awards contender or ratings juggernaut, it’s a treat to watch a network drama featuring characters resembling someone you might meet in real life and, better yet, actual emotional depth.

About a Boy

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Jordin Althaus/NBC

TV shows based on movies used to be reliably horrendous. Let’s take a tour of the movie-turned-TV-show graveyard: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Ferris Bueller, Blade: The Series, Uncle Buck, Clueless, the list goes on. But here we are with the second TV series based on a movie that deserved to be saved on this list. And the reason for that is one man: Jason Katims.

Katims has become the go-to guy when it comes to adapting movies into great TV shows, having done it with Parenthood and About a Boy, and Friday Night Lights before them. But now that he’s had three critically praised series debut, it’s become clear that their success has less to do with the fact that they’re based on already-known properties and everything to do with the feel-good warmth and heart-tugging emotional authenticity Katims brings to his projects. About a Boy, a TV-ized version of the 2002 Hugh Grant movie, boasts a winning lead (David Walton subbing for Grant as an aimless bachelor) and a clever tone that has you reaching for Kleenex as often as you laugh.

Growing Up Fisher

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Gus Ruelas/Reuters

The best thing someone can say about Growing Up Fisher is that it’s like The Wonder Years, if Kevin Arnold’s parents were divorced, his dad was blind, and his mom was that kooky lady from Dharma & Greg. It’s also, maybe, the worst thing that can be said about it because, for all the heart and endearing adolescent angst that earns Growing Up Fisher the Wonder Years comparisons, all of that blind dad and kooky mom stuff is so high-concept that it’s almost too high-concept to work. Almost.

Thanks to some seriously appealing actors, Growing Up Fisher pulls off the very nearly too-tricky-for-its-own-good plot devices, with J.K. Simmons and Jenna Elfman imbuing their characters with enough good-natured humor to make them work. There are still kinks to work out: where shows like Trophy Wife and About a Boy manage to do the heartwarming thing without venturing into saccharine, schmaltzy territory, Growing Up Fisher tends to tread a little too far into that zone. But there’s enough quality here to root for more time for the show to find its footing.