The best sci-fi shows cancelled too soon include Dollhouse and Almost Human.
The television industry is full of tales of what-ifs and unfulfilled potential, from brilliant pilot scripts that never saw the light of day, to shows canceled before their time. Sci-Fi fans these days have plenty of excellent options for premium viewing, such as Netflix’s Black Mirror and Love Death and Robots, as well as the upcoming Hulu revival of Futurama, but there was a time not long ago when science fiction programming was under constant threat of cancelation. Whether it was because of their enormous budgets and set pieces or their ensemble cast, here are five of the best sci-fi shows that were canceled far too soon.
1. Almost Human (2013-2014)
Almost Human was a beloved cyberpunk crime drama that aired on Fox for a single season nearly 10 years ago. The series was produced by J.J. Abrams and starred The Boys‘ lead actor Karl Urban as a grizzled detective with a cybernetic leg. The series takes place in the year 2048, where rapid advancements in science and technology have led to an enormous uptick in crime, as well as a militaristic police force composed of humanoid androids to pick up the slack of the human cops.
Despite being regarded as one of the best sci-fi shows of its time, and even being nominated for an Emmy award, Fox didn’t seem to see the value in the series, cutting it loose after concluding its 13-episode single-season order. Though Almost Human doesn’t tend to come up often in casual conversation, a brief viewing of the series would prove that it holds a great deal of influence, inspiring a number of sci-fi programs that came after it. The series also starred Michael Ealy, Pirates of the Caribbean‘s Mackenzie Crook, and Barry‘s Michael Irby.
2. Sense8 (2015-2018)
For years, Sense8 served as a high watermark for scripted Netflix sci-fi programming, often regarded as one of the best sci-fi shows of its day. Throughout two excellent seasons, Sense8 followed an ensemble cast of eight strangers who find themselves connected by a shared telekinetic ability. The series starred several known actors, such as Kill Bill‘s Daryl Hannah and Lost’s Naveen Andrews, as well as an international cast of actors renowned in their home countries, such as Max Riemelt and Doona Bae.
Developed by the Wachowski sisters as part of the duo’s first foray into television, the series carries many distinct writing and directing choices that will seem highly familiar to fans of the Matrix film series. Citing budgetary constraints, Netflix canceled the series after two seasons but allowed the Wachowskis to conclude it on their terms via a two-hour-long extended special finale.
3. Dollhouse (2009-2010)
Dollhouse was a groundbreaking science fiction series that explored a number of intense themes, including the programmability of the human brain. Joss Whedon created the series following his immense success with his previous shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Despite only airing for two seasons over a decade ago, Dollhouse is largely considered one of the best sci-fi shows, touting an all-star cast including Eliza Dushku, Frank Kranz, and Enver Gjokaj.
The series received critical acclaim and subsequently garnered cult status in the years since its cancellation, though the show was plagued with low ratings throughout its run, ultimately leading to it being axed by Fox after just two seasons. Dollhouse is largely considered a classic example of Whedon’s trademark blend of science fiction, humor, and drama. However, the Marvel filmmaker has since gone on to be canceled himself due to a series of alleged abusive behaviors on set.
4. The OA (2016-2019)
The OA was a sci-fi mystery series that began airing in 2016, following Brit Marling’s Prairie Johnson, a young woman who suddenly and miraculously appears after having been missing for over seven years. In addition to returning from her presumed dead status, Johnson can see for the first time, having mysteriously cured her blindness. The series was created and executive produced by Brit Marling in collaboration with Zal Batmanglij, with Batmanglij directing all 16 episodes.
The OA is one of the most heartbreaking entries on this list, as Netflix unceremoniously canceled it on a cliffhanger ending. According to Marling and Batmanglij, the series did have a planned ending, leaving Netflix’s decision baffling to audiences, many of whom initially believed the cancelation announcement was some meta-marketing ploy. Despite the cliffhanger ending, the series is still regarded as one of the best sci-fi shows of its day, though the question of whether the series will ever get a satisfying conclusion remains to be seen.
5. Firefly (2002)
In a move that should shock absolutely nobody, our final entry in this list is the Nathan Fillion-led sci-fi series that continues to break our hearts to this day. If ever a show existed that was canceled too soon, it was Firefly, leaving internet jokes and memes to recognize the show more for its status as a cult classic axed before its time than for its terrific writing and sci-fi concepts. Set 500 years in the future following a civil war amongst federations across the universe, a small transport ship takes on various jobs to scrounge up enough money to scrape by in the distant and unending vacuum of space.
Though the series has been hailed as a classic since its inception, even earning 9 out of 10 stars by reviews on IMDb, Fox only gave Firefly a single season consisting of 14 episodes. Nielsen ratings led the network to believe that nobody had been watching the series, though it is now widely regarded as one of, if not the best, sci-fi shows of all time. The series launched Nathan Fillion’s career, prompting a number of questions regarding the possibility of a revival to this day.