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Best single-season TV shows

  • Best single-season TV shows

    For all of the long-running, beloved television series that exist in the cultural zeitgeist, there are many more that vanished almost as quickly as they came. Many were axed because of a network’s limited number of seasonal time slots, and before the widespread age of streaming and internet fan campaigns, weren’t given ample opportunity to find homes on new networks. Whether the shows received low ratings, had behind-the-scenes production issues, or were only intended to last for a single season, many are still worth examining despite their short runs.

    Many of these brief series, like Fox’s sci-fi Western “Firefly,” and NBC’s teen dramedy “Freaks and Geeks,” have inspired loyal cult followings and managed to influence pop culture years after being released. Other such shows served as vehicles for breakout actors who became stars, such as Claire Danes’s leading, Golden Globe-winning role in ABC’s teen drama “My So-Called Life,” and the introduction of James Franco and Seth Rogen on “Freaks and Geeks.”

    So, what are the best single-season series that viewers should watch? To answer this question, Stacker compiled IMDb data on nearly 300 of the highest-rated TV shows of all time (as of September 10, 2020), then ranked the top 40 with a single season. Rankings were done according to IMDb user scores, with ties broken by the number of votes. In order to qualify, the series had to be labeled as a TV series—miniseries and documentary series were not included. Anime series were also not included, because of their TV structure, in which a single season can last several years and span over 100 episodes. The shows also had to receive over 5,000 votes. Counting down from 40, here are the best one-season TV series of all time.

    Read on to see if your favorite brief show made the list.

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  • #40. Space: Above and Beyond (1995–1996)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Votes: 7,371

    In the years 2063 and 2064, a squadron of Marine pilots known as the “Wildcards” is thrown into a war against aliens called “Chigs” who have launched an attack on Earth. Created by prominent “The X-Files” writers Glen Morgan and James Wong, the series was nominated for two Emmy Awards and a Saturn Award. “Space: Above and Beyond” was conceived as a five-episode series. Fox canceled the show after it received low ratings.

  • #39. The Chicago Code (2011)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Votes: 7,826

    This series follows Chicago police detective Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke), as he and his fellow officers struggle to reduce crime in the city and fight corruption within the Chicago Police Department. Along the way, Jarek and his new partner, Caleb (Matt Lauria), encounter cops working undercover to expose Chicago’s Irish Mob. Fox announced the cancellation of “The Chicago Code” in May of 2011, and in 2019, Screen Rant’s Padraig Cotter went on to call it “the best cop show nobody watched.”

  • #38. The Dresden Files (2007–2008)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Votes: 9,182

    Based on Jim Butcher’s fantasy book series of the same name, “The Dresden Files” stars Paul Blackthorne as Harry, a wizard who works as a private detective investigating paranormal crimes. Meanwhile, he’s tailed by a magical warden (Conrad Coates) and a police lieutenant (Valerie Cruz) who struggles to understand his success rate. The Canadian-American show ran for 12 episodes before the Syfy Channel announced that it would not be renewed for a second season.

  • #37. Crashing (2016)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Votes: 11,900

    Before Phoebe Waller-Bridge became an Emmy-winning creator known for shows like “Fleabag” and “Killing Eve,” she wrote and starred in the British dramedy “Crashing.” The six-episode series centers on the lives of six twenty-somethings living together in a disused hospital, whose personal baggage and sexual tension quickly overlap. While Waller-Bridge has never spoken about revisiting the show and has since moved on to projects like the James Bond film “No Time to Die,” she did win Best Breakthrough Talent at the 2017 British Academy Television Craft Awards for her performance.

  • #36. The Finder (2012)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Votes: 14,508

    Loosely adapted from Richard Greener’s “The Locator” series, this “Bones” spin-off revolves around the character of Walter (Geoff Stults), a paranoid man whose previous brain injury left him with a preternatural gift for finding anything. “The Finder” occupied the same time slot as “Bones” on Fox when it was on hiatus, but the network canceled it after a single season.

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  • #35. Limitless (2015–2016)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Votes: 60,829

    Burnt out musician Brian Finch’s (Jake McDorman) life changes when he takes a mysterious drug called NZT-48, which gives him access to 100% of his brain capabilities. Soon, he’s hired by the FBI to use his newfound abilities as a consultant. “Limitless” was based on the 2011 film of the same name. In May 2016, showrunner Craig Sweeny officially announced that the CBS series would not return.

  • #34. Death Valley (2011)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Votes: 5,114

    The Undead Task Force (UTF) is a brand-new division of the Los Angeles Police Department that is responsible for catching monsters in California’s San Fernando Valley. A news crew films them documentary-style as the cops hunt their supernatural foes. In the spring of 2012, the creator of “Death Valley” officially confirmed that the mockumentary wouldn’t return for a second season on MTV, tweeting, “There will be no season 2 of #DEATHVALLEY for MTV... BUT that is NOT the end! Looking for other possibilities!!”

  • #33. John Doe (2002–2003)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Votes: 7,554

    “John Doe” stars Dominic Purcell as the sci-fi drama’s titular protagonist, who has no memory of his past but seems to know everything about everything else. The man teams up with the Seattle police to solve crimes while trying to figure out who he really is and being targeted by a mysterious conspiracy called the Phoenix Organization. The Fox series was canceled after the season-one finale due to low ratings, after ending on a cliffhanger revealing that John’s good friend was the Phoenix Organization’s leader.

  • #32. The Brink (2015)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Votes: 13,047

    In “The Brink,” Jack Black and Tim Robbins play top U.S. officials who scramble to prevent World War III when a geopolitical crisis occurs in Pakistan. Although HBO initially renewed the comedy for a second season while season one was airing, they later rescinded their order for more episodes. Had it continued, “The Brink” was meant to feature the same main characters, as they tackled a different world crisis each season.

  • #31. Vinyl (2016)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Votes: 21,176

    Musician Mick Jagger and Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese collaborated on the period drama “Vinyl,” which follows fictional record executive Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) as a record executive who fights to make a career within New York City’s 1970s music scene. HBO renewed the series for another season not long after the pilot episode premiered, but later reversed that decision and canceled it four months later. In 2018, Scorsese called the “Vinyl” cancellation “tragic” and said the show would’ve had a better chance at surviving if he had directed every episode of the first season (instead of just the pilot).

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