2021 brought us a lot of incredible TV series, outstanding episodes, and tidbits to love. But it also brought us some painful farewells. Several of our favorite shows came to end. Some concluded on their own terms, offering series’ finale episodes that were beautiful but bittersweet. Others were cruelly canceled, robbing their creators of a chance to close out the stories started and snatching satisfaction from fans who’d been on board since their premiere.
It’s with a mix of gratitude and grumpiness that we toast these shows, which brought us so much but left us wanting more.
Here are our picks for the best canceled shows of 2021.
Ah, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. A great show from the creative super-team of Dan Goor and Michael Schur that is also an inarguable work of copaganda. It hurt to say goodbye to this cast of beloved characters, but there was no question that their time had come.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine wasn’t always perfect in its final season. In every script, you can feel the writers’ room actively working through many of the racial and social issues with which so many of us are also struggling in our day-to-day lives. But the show’s eighth and final season is generally fearless about looking at these things head-on. For every joke or plot twist that doesn’t land, there’s a pile of others that demonstrate thoughtfulness and growth. All of it built a season of TV that left us with a heartfelt and fitting send-off for these beloved characters.
There’s no question in anyone’s mind that Brooklyn Nine-Nine had to be over. Fans who miss it can take comfort in the fact that it was a graceful and classy exit that acknowledged the vital context of the moment while still remembering to say goodbye.— Adam Rosenberg, Senior Entertainment Reporter
Dear White People
Credit: PATRICK MCELHENNEY/NETFLIX
Justin Simien’s searing satire returned to Netflix after a two-year hiatus for its final musical season. In a not-so-distant future of constant viral outbreaks (yikes!), Sam (Logan Browning) reconnects with her estranged Winchester family while they look back on a tumultuous senior year. It’s not Dear White People’s best season, but it’s an infectious celebration of Black joy that clearly allowed the cast and crew to make the most of their last days together.
Since 2017 (2014 if you’ve watched closely), Winchester was a sharp, immersive world unlike any other on TV; a rare show about college students, produced and starring majority Black talent speaking all manner of uncomfortable truth and humor. Simien’s voice rings clear through irresistible performances from Browning, DeRon Horton, Antoinette Robertson, and more, as well as distinctive cinematography, editing, and colorization. Several years and hundreds of shows later, there’s still nothing like it. —Proma Khosla, Entertainment Reporter
Boo hoo! Rebooted in 2017, this astounding animated series gave fresh takes on adored Disney characters, plus a treasure trove of adventures that were fun for the whole family. Voiced by Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, and Bobby Moynihan, Scrooge’s nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, were no longer interchangeable Baby Donalds. They had plenty of character and distinct passions, which made them a delight to watch interact with a slew of characters new and re-imagined. To all the bouncy mayhem and juicy nostalgia, developers Matt Youngberg and Francisco Angones added a steady jolt of star power with a parade of celebrity guests, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Margo Martindale, and Jason Mantzoukas. Yet the best in a voice cast bursting with stars was David Tennant, who dove headfirst into the money bin that is the cantankerous attitude and Scottish brogue of Scrooge McDuck.
We couldn’t get enough of quests that plunged us deep into the sea, down ancient caves, through haunted homes, or into outer space. Sadly, Disney XD had enough after three seasons. While it was a bitter farewell for fans, at least we got a proper sendoff with the series finale, “The Last Adventure!” (Exclamation theirs. But we feel it.) —Kristy Puchko, Deputy Entertainment Editor
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay
One of my crucial comfort shows during my darkest days in this pandemic was this deeply quirky dramedy series created by and starring Josh Thomas. The Australian comedian plays a fish-out-of-water twenty-something, who is abruptly saddled with major responsibilities. While visiting his teen half-sisters in America, Nicolas (Thomas) learns their shared father is terminally ill. Just like that, Nicolas goes from prepping for his flight back home to agreeing to be the guardian to two sisters he barely knows. One is an oft frantic 14-year-old (Maeve Press); the other is a chipper 17-year-old (Kayla Cromer) with autism and dreams of studying music in New York City. Together, they — along with Nicolas’s new boyfriend (Adam Faison) — form a motley family, who grieves and thrives together.
Like Thomas’s previous Australian series Please Like Me, there’s a beautiful fragility to Everything’s Gonna Be Okay. The characters are funny, but also achingly relatable in their awkwardness, earnestness, and agonies. So, we laugh, cringe, and feel the cathartic release of recognizing ourselves in these loveable oddballs. Through warm writing and fearless humor, we were made part of the family. And when I was isolating, it was an absolute miracle to feel welcomed into this broken but wonderful home. —K.P.
Credit: Cartoon Network Studios, Inc
To say Infinity Train is gone too soon would be an understatement. The show’s main concept — an infinite train whose cars contain different worlds — is perfect for anthology storytelling, and could easily have supported more seasons. Eight seasons were planned, but only four were released.
Infinity Train‘s cancellation is disheartening, especially considering its devoted fanbase. Here was a show that thoughtfully explored emotional trauma through a creative lens, only to be ended due to a lack of “child entry point.” The idea that animation is “just for kids” is ridiculous, and it’s frustrating that it’s still a conversation we’re having. Animation’s versatility as a medium means that it can cater to any age group. Plus, cartoons geared towards children are fully capable of handling mature subject matter in a compelling fashion. Infinity Train was an example of this: brilliant, original, and deserving of better. I’m still holding out hope for one last ride. —Belen Edwards, Entertainment Fellow
Insecure has been a gift to television ever since its 2016 premiere. Creator Issa Rae and executive producer Prentice Penny developed a show at once raucously funny, deeply relatable, and breathtakingly moving in its serious moments. From work to love to friendship, the show tackled growth in all its forms and both the promise and perils of evolving adulthood.
As writer, creator, producer, and star, Rae is downright formidable. It takes immense artistic self-assurance to bring her characters’ insecurities to life, and Rae’s only grows stronger over the course of five seasons. It’s a shame to lose such a magnificent show, but it was the start of a very promising (and secure) career indeed. —P.K.
Despite a promised sixth season, CBC’s comedy about a Korean-American family in Toronto was unceremoniously cut short with the end of Season 5. Actors including Simu Liu criticized the show’s lack of diversity behind the camera, apart from co-creator Ins Choi. But Liu had been excited for a final season that would let him direct, produce, and provide creative input.
It’s hard to watch Kim’s Convenience the same way with that knowledge, but for its time on the air, the series was a rare spotlight for an Asian family. Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee), Umma (Jean Yoon), Janet (Andrea Bang), and Jung (Liu) are deeply endearing, and their simple, silly sitcom stories make for excellent comfort TV. At the very least, production discord and the actors’ comments should serve as a lesson to future shows on how to approach stories like this. —P.K.
Over its two short seasons, Pen15′s central gag of creators Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine playing fictionalized versions of themselves in 7th grade stopped being a gag. It became an emotional imperative for those who grew up in the sartorially undignified early 2000s to put their adult selves back in their pre-teen selves’ shoes. It forced people to look — really look — at what it was like to be that age at that time, and more importantly reminded them that no one can go back and change their past, no matter how cringey it was.
Pen15 ended with Anna and Maya still in the seventh grade. While preserving that period of the characters’ lives in digital amber is thematically fitting, it’s impossible not to wonder where eighth grade may have taken them, or — imagine the horror — freshman year in high school. Those questions remain unanswered as of its series finale, “Home,” which remains the most emotionally devastating episode the show has produced. It’s a damning indictment of what the social circumstances of the early 2000s did to girls that’s difficult to watch and devastating in its simplicity.
Pen15 stuck the landing of a funny, complicated, cringeworthy television moment by capturing the optimism and uncertainty of girlhood — as well as the all-encompassing importance of middle school BFFs.*— Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
For three seasons, Pose broke ground for representation of queer and trans people of color on TV while upholding a standard of storytelling that bridged the gap between historical reality and beautiful fantasy. It made stars of series standouts like Michaela Jaé Rodriguez and Indya Moore, introduced the non-Broadway world to Emmy-winning actor Billy Porter, and invited everyone to experience and commemorate their characters’ inspirations and forebears in the ballroom community.
Pose only aired for three seasons. Thankfully it ended because its story was coming to a close, not because FX canceled it mid-plot. There was almost no doubt that this show would stick its landing, but how well it actually stuck is remarkable. The double-length Pose finale delivered a poignant examination of medical racism regarding the HIV/AIDS crisis, captured the bittersweet relief of finally producing effective antiretroviral therapies, and gave each of its characters a sendoff — sometimes literally — that encapsulated their importance to the world of ballroom. Pose was a show unafraid to show America’s ugly history, but the story was always about the beauty of family and the legacies we leave behind. *—A.N.
When Fiona (Emmy Rossum) left Shameless in 2019, we knew the Gallagher saga was nearing an end. But when the beloved dramedy actually had its series finale earlier this year, the blow of its completion felt awfully fresh.
Across 11 charming seasons, Shameless crafted an intimate portrait of a family living on Chicago’s South Side and won the hearts of an enduring fanbase. Lip (Jeremy Allen White), Ian (Cameron Monaghan), Debbie (Emma Kenney), Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), and Liam (Christian Isaiah) grew up on our screens. So imagining a finite “finish” for them meant delivering an emotional end to an era for viewers who felt like they were family.
The death of Frank (William H. Macy) was an overdue plot beat that concluded the series, but its ethereal rendering imbued it with new importance. Even better, the hope for the future of all the kids — as well as Kevin (Steve Howey) and V (Shanola Hampton) — left Shameless with the knowing optimism that made it so spectacular in the first place. The series had a tall order headed into its final stretch, but it rose to the challenge by finally letting its treasured cast of characters move on to something better. —Alison Foreman, Entertainment Reporter
Bingeing a season of Superstore in a day is no sweat. So, it makes sense that the series’ six-year run felt as brief as a stroll down the aisle of any Cloud 9. From the beginning, Justin Spitzer’s workplace comedy was sharp, kind, and laugh-out-loud funny — more than it had any right to be and more than most sitcoms pull off in a lifetime. It tackled immigration and other social issues with unparalleled comedic timing and a critical lens. It also achieved the distinction in its final hours by being one of the only shows to accurately and tactfully portray the pandemic.
For years, this was where we came to gossip with Cheyenne (Nicole Sakura) and Mateo (Nico Santos), to catch up on the drama of Jonah (Ben Feldman) and Amy (America Ferrera), to kick back with Garrett (Colton Dunn), and to be terrorized by Dina (Lauren Ash). By the time Cloud 9 closed its doors for good, Glenn (Mark McKinney) turned out to be right: It was so much more than a store. —P.K.
The Twilight Zone
Credit: Robert Falconer/CBS
Every 20 years or so, someone tries to resurrect Rod Serling’s landmark anthology series, which offered twisted tales of terror and science-fiction. No revival has lasted as long as the original Twilight Zone, perhaps because it’s so difficult to escape Serling’s long shadow. Still, this third revival was promising.
Hosted and executive produced by Jordan Peele, writer/director of Get Out, this reboot wove spooky setups with social commentary, tackling topics like police brutality, racism, and the “not all men” brand of misogyny. Stars like Kumail Nanjiani, Steven Yeun, Gillian Jacobs, Seth Rogen, and Billy Porter leaped into strange stories, which were brought to life by celebrated indie helmers like Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), J.D. Dillard (Sweetheart) and directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (The Endless). But despite all these credentials, critical praise, and a string of solid episodes, the series never quite took off in the cultural dialogue.
Perhaps it was because CBS All Access struggled to make a dent in the battlefield of streaming services. But when the platform rebranded as Paramount+, the announcement came that The Twilight Zone would not return for a third season. Rather than a cancellation, the decision seemed to be Peele’s, who said in a statement, “We cherished the opportunity to collaborate with so many talented writers, actors and crewmembers. After 20 unique episodes, we have told the stories that we wanted to tell…It was an honor and a privilege to bring audiences a modern reimagining of Rod Serling’s iconic creation.” Cheers to that. —K.P.
Y: The Last Man
Fans of Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra’s classic comic book series waited so long for a Y: The Last Man adaptation to actually happen. And when it finally did, the results were astonishingly good. Here was an adaptation that clearly took a long, hard look at the source material’s plot and themes, taking care to only pull out the stuff that works while updating the clunkier bits for a modern world that’s more knowledgeable about sex and gender than it was when the comics first published in the early aughts.
Y doesn’t shy away from staring down hard truths. It wrestles directly with what a post-apocalypse looks like in a world where the majority of infrastructure jobs are held by people with Y chromosomes. It goes far beyond simply acknowledging transness — something the comics barely did — by incorporating trans characters and trans-centric storylines into the main plot. It’s as thoughtful and empathetic as it is unflinching.
Showrunner Eliza Clark and her team quite simply crushed this adaptation. All we can do is hope another Hollywood player picks up on its brilliance and gives it a much-deserved second chance at life. —A.R.
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