In the Cancel Culture Age, I Still Feel Empowered To Whine About Someone Canceling My TV Shows
I don’t mean boycotts and shutdowns and shaming or firing people for saying the wrong thing. There are certainly places that has gone too far, too.
I’m talking here about a more traditional victim of cancel culture: TV shows that are killed off in the middle of a cliffhanger.
That’s now happened this year to four shows that I was watching. This isn’t what I needed from 2020, which to be honest has already made us suffer enough.
Two of the programs were on Showtime: Ray Donovan and Penny Dreadful: City of Angels. Two were produced by ITV in Britain and aired here on PBS: Sanditon and Beecham House.
Okay, cancellation is always a possibility in the TV game. You get to like a story and the characters and suddenly, poof, a network executive snaps his or her fingers, like Thanos in The Avengers, and the show dissolves into dust.
But when the pandemic has already diminished the supply of engaging television, I feel entitled to whine about four shows I watched and enjoyed.
For starters, each one stopped in the middle of a storyline. We’re not talking about a few random loose ends here, like did someone’s brother ever propose to his girlfriend. We’re talking full cliffhanger. It’s like you had lifted a piece of key lime pie to your mouth and suddenly were told you could not eat it.
It’s that annoying.
Sanditon and Beecham House, which were cancelled largely because of disappointing ratings in the U.K., were not Downton Abbey. They had problems. Just not enough to merit the death penalty.
Sanditon was based on the first chapters of the novel Jane Austen was writing when she died, and the TV adaptation/extension, written by the talented Andrew Davies, would have left Austen mortified more than once. Like by the naked man on the beach.
But it was beautifully filmed and it had the feel of Austen, plus Rose Williams was delightful as the strong-willed female lead, Charlotte Heyward.
Charlotte has a classic Austenesque relationship with the wealthy Sidney Parker (Theo James). The moment she professes to despise him, we know they’re meant for each other. But we will never see that confirmed, because in the middle of a melodramatic breakup, based on a terrible misunderstanding, the first season ended. And so, sayeth ITV, doth the show.
At a time when there’s so much television yet so little period romance, tossing a good one off the cliff seems cruel.
Beecham House, set in 1795 colonial India, tilted a little more toward story than romance, but it had both. While it was soapy and not entirely unique, it shared the visual pleasures and the elegant style of Sanditon.
The lead character, John Beecham (Tom Bateman) was an aristocrat who was, as colonial aristocrats go, relatively decent. His main mission, aside from falling in love with the winsome exile Margaret Osbourne (Dakota Blue Richards), was to protect a young child who was an Indian heir.
As the first season ended, that mission had suddenly fallen in deep jeopardy, as seemingly had his relationship with Margaret.
So what would happen next? Dunno. ITV says there will be no next.
Things were no better at Showtime, a network that in the past has been good about letting big series like Dexter, Weeds or The Affair run their natural course up to the ending their creators envisioned.
Ray Donovan, an intense drama that starred Liev Schreiber as the troubled antihero in a shadowy family with crime connections, seemed to check all the boxes for similar consideration.
Critics loved it. It won awards. It started with great ratings and still had good ones after seven seasons. The unofficial word was that it would wrap up with season eight, and then in February Showtime said there would be no season eight.
This left some characters bleeding in the street and the fate of everyone blowing in the New York wind.
We deserved to know where this was going. It probably wasn’t all happy endings, but after 82 episodes we can take it.
After the cancellation, Schreiber posted that the show might continue elsewhere. Then the pandemic hit and production of everything stopped, and what was already a long-shot for an expensive show became longer.
Schreiber’s latest posts say it may wrap up in a movie. While that would beat no wrap at all, the plan does seem to be shrinking. Let’s hope it doesn’t wrap with a series of tweets.
Meanwhile, it is true that Showtime’s parent, CBS, has hit the same financial quicksand as the rest of the entertainment industry, and that may be part of the reason City of Angels was cancelled.
City of Angels starred, among others, Nathan Lane and Natalie Dormer, who presumably didn’t come cheap.
But they helped make City of Angels a terrific show, with a touch of the supernatural but mainly a fascinating mélange of cops, immigrants, politicians, evangelists, Nazis and other miscellaneous players in 1930s Los Angeles.
It tackled social justice, racism, the looming world war and just about everything else that was floating through L.A. at the time. It had dark humor and a spot-on noir soul that bored to the heart of problems we’re still trying to work out today.
The forces of darkness were about to steamroll the city at the end of 10 episodes, setting up great anticipation for the next season.
And now there won’t be a next season.
Now sure, these are just shows I happened to like. A huge percentage of America didn’t know they existed.
And yes, we’ve all had shows yanked out from under us. But somehow, losing four good shows from a shrunken field feels like one more reason the Cancel Culture should do something admirable and just cancel 2020.