Sometimes, TV shows happen before the world is ready for them.
Most of us have a favorite series that was cancelled too soon–or not appreciated the way it should have been during its time. The following totally underrated fantasy TV shows have a special place in my heart and deserve the respect they didn’t get while they were on air.
Lost Girl (2010-2016)
This gem of a show gave us the charming, bisexual leading lady Bo Dennis (Anna Silk), a succubus with a knack for solving crimes in the Fae world. With her best friend Kenzi (Ksenia Solo) by her side, Bo navigated the complicated world of Fae politics, while refusing to choose between the Light and the Dark.
Bo had many exploits throughout the course of the show, but one of the most significant subplots was her love triangle with Light Fae Dyson (Kris Holden Reid) and human doctor Lauren (Zoie Palmer). While Lost Girl managed to score five seasons on Showcase, it never got the respect or publicity it deserved for its clever premise and groundbreaking LGBTQ+ representation.
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It only lasted two seasons, but Hex packed a hell of a punch. The British series, which featured the then relatively unknown Michael Fassbender, took place at a boarding school with a dark past. Student Cassie (Christina Cole) discovered that she was a powerful witch and was drawn to the dangerous, fallen angel Azazeal (Fassbender). After Cassie’s best friend and roommate Thelma was murdered by Azazeal, she came back as a ghost to protect Cassie from the growing evil around her.
The show’s second season was likely what sealed its fate, as [spoiler alert!] Cassie was killed, and a new cast of characters was left to do the heavy lifting. However, the show is a wonderful example of gothic fantasy, and at only 19 total episodes, it’s definitely worth checking out.
This one still hurts. This excellent fantasy series was cancelled way too soon, after only two seasons on HBO. Set during the depression, Carnivale followed a carnival troupe through the Dust Bowl, as they picked up unassuming farm boy Ben (Nick Stahl), who harbored powerful magic abilities. In another plotline, the group ran up against Brother Justin (Clancy Brown), a preacher who might actually be the devil incarnate.
Carnivale’s world building was top-notch, but the premise may have been a bit too ahead-of-its-time, and the show’s second and final season ended with cliffhangers for nearly all of the major players. TV audiences started demanding more sophisticated storytelling in the later 2000s, so I can’t help but wonder if Carnivale would be a hit if it came out now.
Based on the incredible novel by Stephen King, 11.22.63 followed a time-traveling teacher named Jake (James Franco), who set out to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. But jumping through time has its dangers, and Jake couldn’t always change the past for the better.
Franco was a capable Jake, and the story had a way of sucking you in, especially if you love period pieces. The series aired on Hulu, which might account for why it didn’t receive more recognition, since Hulu has yet to earn the same stellar reputation for original programming as Netflix or Amazon. The good news: Hulu is still considering making a second season, although most of the original material was covered in the first.
Wonderfalls was a victim of poor publicity and possibly its own cleverness, and it’s a shame this series never got a chance to fly. Only four episodes ever aired, although the entire season is available on DVD and is a must-see.
In the show, Jayne (the excellent Caroline Dhavernas) was a classic underachiever, working a cruddy job in her hometown of Niagara Falls, when she discovered she could talk to inanimate objects. While her gift troubled her tremendously, she was able to use it to help people. Wonderfalls was also very much about family, as Jayne’s siblings and parents played a huge role.
Being Human (2011-2014)
While its British counterpart received much love, the American version of this tale of supernatural roommates never quite took off in the same way. That’s unfortunate considering it was one of SyFy’s finest series to date.
Vampire Aiden (Sam Witwer) and his werewolf best friend, Josh (Sam Huntington), moved into a house only to find it haunted by the ghost of a murdered woman named Sally (Meagan Rath). The trio became a family of sorts, and, much in the vein of Buffy, the show balanced moments of comedy with very serious subjects. The cast had an unbeatable chemistry, and while the show was underappreciated during its run, the finale provided much-needed closure to its core fans.
Tru Calling (2003-2005)
Why doesn’t the rest of the world appreciate Eliza Dushku as much as I do? In Tru Calling, Dushku (in her post-Buffy, pre-Dollhouse days) played Tru, a medical school student who learned that she could communicate with the dead and even relive their final day in an effort to save them.
Unfortunately, that intriguing premise just didn’t fly with Fox’s audience, despite a stellar cast, including Zach Galifianakis, Matt Bomer, A. J. Cook, and Lizzy Caplan. If Tru Calling premiered today, I believe it would likely receive a warmer welcome.
Dead Like Me (2003-2004)
What was up with the early aughts and underrated fantasy shows? In Showtime’s Dead Like Me, Broadway legend Mandy Patinkin played the boss of a group of grim reapers, who walked among the living. Georgia “George” (Ellen Muth) was a reluctant reaper who couldn’t move on from the family she left behind when she was killed in a freak accident.
The series had a very dry sense of humor and treated death very much as it is: a part of life. I would have loved to see this show explored beyond its two seasons, but it did run into some challenges that may have caused its early demise. It lost one of its stars (Rebecca Gayheart) early on, and showrunner Bryan Fuller departed after the first season. Fans, like myself, will always have to wonder what might have been.
Featured still from "Wonderfalls" via Fox