Best Sci-Fi Shows That Aired For Only One Season

The best sci-fi tv shows that lasted only one season include Firefly, Swamp Thing, and Defying Gravity.

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

Sci-fi tv shows are always filled with the promise of a high concept, high stakes, and a brief escape into a world of wonder, but sometimes, it’s a very brief trip. These shows only lasted one season and, in a few cases, not even one, usually with the network insisting that there was no audience. Considering most of these went on to become cult hits, it’s clear that what they really needed was time or a consistent time slot, but all of these one-season wonders are worth watching today.

Almost Human (2014)

In the crime-ravaged future of 2048, police officers partner with androids, which is how John Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy) become mismatched buddy cops. Almost Human was only able to give the briefest of glimpses into its world, including genetically modified humans, a giant wall set up around the city to keep something out, and an evil roboticist up to no good. The case-of-the-week structure undercut the attempts at worldbuilding, but as is often the case with sci-fi tv, the moment the series makes a bold, reckless story choice, the series was over.

The final moment of the series finale causes viewers to question everything that came before. What makes it especially frustrating is that the series wasn’t aired in the intended order, and the final, incredible moment was moved from the pilot to the very end of the show. Studio meddling with sci-fi tv shows will be a recurring theme throughout this list.

Defying Gravity (2009)

Marketed as Grey’s Anatomy, but in space, Defying Gravity split the runtime of each episode between a crew of astronauts on a six-year mission into space and their training sessions, set five years before the launch of their mission. Only the first eight episodes aired on ABC, denying viewers a chance to see when the show shifted gears from drama to sci-fi tv, after the real nature of their mission was finally revealed.

The unaired episodes were available on DVD, and also broadcast internationally, giving a small glimpse into the three-season plan developed by the show’s creator, James Parriott. Once again, a slow-burn series was cut-off right when the major story turn was about to take place; after all, a quest for mysterious alien artifacts is far more exciting than relationship drama.

The Cape (2011)

The Cape was an attempt to bring an original superhero to the small screen without any of those pesky licensing fees or audience expectations. Starring David Lyons as a cop that, through a series of betrayals (there are three in the pilot), winds up seeking refuge with a group of circus thieves and being taught the mystical ways of the cape by Max Malini (Keith David). Despite the absurd setup, The Cape is a terrific throwback to sci-fi tv of the 80s and 90s, eventually fleshing out its own criminal underworld.

The Cape also has the distinction of being another in a long line of canceled shows with a Summer Glau appearance. This time, she plays Orwell, a blogger that works with The Cape against Chess, the criminal mastermind controlling Palm City.

Caprica (2010)

Caprica, the Battlestar Galactica spin-off set nearly 70 years before the Cylon’s revolt, suffered from the same issue as most of the shows on this list: it was a slow-burn story that failed to find an audience. Sci-fi tv shows were rejuvenated following the Battlestar Galactica revival, but that show’s success didn’t carry over to the tale of the creation of the Cylons.

It didn’t help that all of the marketing featured Zoe (Alessandra Torresani) naked with an apple or in various forms of undress, undercutting the heavy message of the series about grief, death, and moving on. The origin of the first Cylon is equal parts tragic and horrifying, which is why Caprica is appreciated now, a decade after it aired, as a show filled with untapped potential.

Constantine (2014)

Matt Ryan is an example of an actor finally finding the role that they were born to play when he was John Constantine. Though his show only lasted one season, Ryan went on to keep playing the DC Universe’s greatest magic user in Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, as he was retroactively added to the Arrowverse, because even the studio executives knew he was perfect for the part.

Constantine, as with other magic-based sci-fi shows, including the similarly themed Dresden Files (which also starred a future Arrowverse standout), failed to find an audience on NBC. The cost of the series was cited as the main reason why it was one-and-done, though compared to the Keanu Reeves film, it looked low-budget. For now, this short-lived series is going to be the closest fans get to a comic-accurate depiction of the greatest magical grifter and con-artist in the DC Universe.

Swamp Thing (2019)

An ill-fated DC Universe original series, Swamp Thing was the only one of the group, which included Titans, Doom Patrol, and Harley Quinn, that didn’t make the jump to HBO Max. Instead, the saga of Alec Holland becoming the champion of the “Green” was cut short, and in fact, the series was canceled within hours of the first episode airing on DC Universe. Fans were, understandably, upset over this decision, yet the rest of the season received fan and critical acclaim regardless of the unfortunate situation.

Thankfully, James Gunn announced that a Swamp Thing movie was part of the initial slate of movies for the new DCU, giving fans hope that Hollywood will finally treat the character correctly. Anyone that wants a taste of the untapped potential of the series can still catch the shortened first season on Max.

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (1993)

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. was a sci-fi tv show ahead of its time, mixing the wild west with steampunk and copious amounts of Bruce Campbell’s trademark humor as Brisco, a Harvard lawyer turned bounty hunter. Gunfights and train robberies are side-by-side with slide projectors and zeppelins in an anachronistic jumble that failed to find a substantial audience at the time, but has since become a cult hit.

If nothing else, at least look up the opening credits on YouTube and enjoy the award-winning theme song. Then try and find it on streaming, to enjoy a sheriff that looks and sounds exactly like Elvis Presley, a rocket-powered train, and the escalating reasons why a recurring villain keeps coming back after being killed off.

The Tick (2001)

The Tick has always been a hard sell, with two live-action series and a Saturday morning cartoon failing to become hits. The first of the live-action shows, featuring the perfect casting of Patrick Warburton as the clueless blue-clad hero, should have succeeded, even if it never brought in a live-action Mad Midnight Bomber That Bombs At Midnight. A parody of superheroes, The Tick included brutal jabs at the comic industry that, at the time, went over the heads of the intended audience.

The 2016 reboot was more of a success, airing for two seasons on Amazon Prime before it was canceled for all of the same reasons as the original: the audience wasn’t large enough. Every version of The Tick is an amazing sci-fi tv show parody worth watching, even today.

Firefly (2002)

There’s a law that Firefly has to be mentioned in every list of sci-fi tv shows canceled far too soon. The reason why is that the “sci-fi meets Western” genre that seems commonplace now was perfected by the tale of Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his band of outlaws trying to make just enough money from odd jobs to keep their ship in the air. The show left a lot of unanswered questions, most of which were answered in Serenity, the big-budget movie that came out years later, but others had to be revealed in tie-in comic books.

Even knowing the series ends awkwardly, Firefly is still one of the best sci-fi tv shows ever made. It’s impossible to watch the show without immediately going online to try and find every piece of information on a potential revival, which, sadly, will never happen at this point due to creator Joss Whedon being persona non grata in Hollywood.

Flashforward (2009)

One of the most inventive shows on this list, Flashforward was part of the wave of sci-fi tv shows that followed the success of Lost, but this one had an amazing gimmick: during the pilot, everyone on Earth had a “flashforward” and saw themselves six months in the future. Centered on Joseph Fiennes and Jon Cho as FBI agents investigating the worldwide blackout, the narrative bounces between them and other individuals tangentially involved or heavily involved as the massive global conspiracy starts to unravel.

Though it aired for only one season, the writers had warning and managed to pull together a somewhat satisfying conclusion, and of the shows on this list, it’s the closest to a complete story. The flashforward moment happens, villains are revealed, and even the oddest vision manages to come true. One of the FBI officers saw himself sitting on a toilet during his very exciting flash-forward, and even that gets a payoff.