(Originally appeared in Radar on Feb. 22, 2007)

Behold the graveyard: Freaks and Geeks, which showed how the other half of high school lived in the Reagan era; creator Judd Apatow’s contemporary, collegiate update, Undeclared; Lisa Kudrow’s sitcom-within-a-reality-show-
within-a-sitcom, The Comeback; and Wonderfalls, the quirky dramedy about a quasi-schizophrenic.

All of these recent single-camera, laugh-trackless shows drew critical plaudits for their originality, writing, directing, and acting. Two won or received nominations for multiple Emmys. Every one spawned a cult following. And each got the ax after season one was through. (Or, in the case of Wonderfalls, after just four episodes, though they shot thirteen.)

But before you spite the cruel god who allowed six seasons (and counting) of According to Jim, let’s look at the silver lining of an early end to our canceled shows’ so-called lives. First, like an athlete dying young, these (literally) underrated programs never had a chance to jump the shark.

Confined to a mere handful of episodes rather than the sprawl of multiple seasons, they have the compressed, diamond-like beauty of a short story, not the meandering of a baggy novel. There’s even something downright European about their narratives; we’re left wondering what will happen to the characters in a way closure-obsessed television rarely permits.
Fortunately, these shows have released DVD collections for us to watch even though they’re no longer on-air. Distributors have invested in special features to compensate for the programs’ brevity. (Buying the complete sets won’t break the bank, either.) It’s heartening to see how, once the creators saw the Nielsen numbers on the wall, they felt emboldened to experiment and do what they, not focus groups, wanted from the start.

Finally, when the coveted 18-49 American demographic quickly rejects a show, it usually means it’s good. Except for Joey.