The 33 greatest TV shows that ran for only one season

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

When we think of iconic TV shows, we might think of long-lasting sagas that unravel over many seasons. But some of the best TV shows of all time only managed to eke out just one season at all, if that. So, what might be some of the greatest one-season TV shows ever made?

While many TV classics like The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad spent many years on the air, some gems have only lasted just one single season. Many times, these gone-so-soon shows were greatness far ahead of its time, too original and too daring to be appreciated in the time it aired. Other times it was just bad marketing, with the right audience members unaware that their next favorite obsession is already canceled. 

In the streaming era, some shows do not attract enough paying subscribers, never mind that our claustrophobic algorithms often trap us in what we're already familiar with. Which is why there has been an uptick in limited miniseries, shows that are designed as one-and-done experiences (like a movie!).

Whether they were canceled due to low ratings or designed as a limited series from the start, these are 33 of the greatest TV shows that ran for only one season.

33. Clerks: The Animated Series


(Image credit: Miramax Television)

Only a few years after Kevin Smith's 1994 directorial feature Clerks became an indie film sensation, it somehow made its way to network TV as Clerks: The Animated Series. Set in the same continuity as the movie, Dante and Randall (voiced by original actors Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson respectively) still work the counter of the Quik-Stop convenience store in New Jersey when billionaire Leonardo (Alec Baldwin) rolls into town, turning their lives upside down. Though it ran for only six episodes and came with softer edges than its movie counterpart, Clerks: The Animated Series was quickly embraced online as a subversive comedy that lampooned sitcom conventions and the pop culture zeitgeist. Its popularity foreshadowed the arrival of other adult animated hits like Family Guy.

32. Stumptown


(Image credit: ABC Studios)

A comic book TV show with nary a superhero in sight, Stumptown - based on the Oni Press comic book series by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth - was an episodic crime drama that premiered on ABC in 2019. Marvel and How I Met Your Mother's Cobie Smulders leads as Dex Parios, a Marine veteran who works as a P.I. in Portland to support her mentally disabled brother and wipe away debt. Stumptown drew very positive reviews as a riveting throwback to dated episodic story formats, and was even renewed for a second season. But the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic forced ABC to reverse the renewal and cancel the series.

31. Fastlane


(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

Ask anyone who tuned into G4TV back in the day and they might remember Fastlane. In what is basically an episodic TV version of "Heat meets Fast & Furious," Peter Facinelli and Bill Bellamy star as two mismatched cops working undercover in a secret division of the LAPD while Saved by the Bell's Tiffani Thiessen co-stars as Billie, their commanding lieutenant. Though lauded for its action movie presentation and entertaining chemistry among its stars, Fastlane was simply too expensive - so many exotic sports cars! - for Fox to keep on the air. Fastlane found a brief second life on the gamer-centric G4TV channel, where it ran on repeat.

30. Devs


(Image credit: FX)

From science fiction filmmaker Alex Garland, Devs was an eerie thriller that explored the dark underbelly of bleeding edge technology. Sonoya Mizuno stars as a software engineer who takes a job at the ultra-secretive quantum computing company Amaya to figure out the circumstances of her boyfriend's death at the same job. Parks & Recreation's Nick Offerman co-stars as the antagonistic Amaya CEO, Forest. Premiering on Hulu just weeks before widespread quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Devs drew widespread praise from TV critics and was reportedly one of Hulu's most-watched shows on its platform.

29. Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

In 2019, the second TV adaptation of the horror superhero Swamp Thing surfaced for the short-lived DC Universe streaming service. Based on the comics by Len Wein, Swamp Thing tells of a CDC doctor (Crystal Reed) who looks into the disappearance of biologist Alec Holland (Andy Bean) who has in fact transformed into the supernatural superhero Swamp Thing. Despite very positive reviews for its production design and spooky storytelling, some creative differences at the very top and budget shortfalls due to reduced tax rebates in North Carolina (where production took place) forced Swamp Thing almost too quickly back into the deep.

28. The Night Of

The Night Of

(Image credit: Bad Wolf)

Based on the British series Criminal Justice, The Night Of was a critically acclaimed crime drama on HBO that probes the shortcomings of the American justice system. Its mystery centers on a Pakistani-American college student (played by Riz Ahmed) who is accused of murdering a woman in the affluent Upper West Side neighborhood of New York City. Though considerations were made for a second season, executive producer Steven Zaillian maintained in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter that the original eight episodes were designed from the start as "a stand-alone piece."

27. Terriers


(Image credit: FX)

A surreal crime comedy noir, Terriers from Ted Griffin enjoyed a short run in the fall of 2010 on FX. Donal Logue stars as a former cop and recovering alcoholic who, along with his best friend and ex-con (Michael Raymond-James) operate an unlicensed private investigation business. Despite positive reviews and eventual placement on various "Best of 2010s" lists by outlets like Time, The Daily Beast, and IGN, Terriers failed to find a big enough audience. In a 2023 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, executive producer Shawn Ryan blamed its uncommunicative title - which was actually nothing more than a placeholder - and bungled marketing by FX that collectively failed to make sure the right viewers tuned in. 

26. High Fidelity

High Fidelity

(Image credit: Hulu)

Based on both the 1995 novel by Nick Hornby and the 2000 movie starring John Cusack, High Fidelity, which streamed on Hulu, stars Zoë Kravitz as a record store owner who re-evaluates her failed relationships through the filter of her taste in music and pop culture. (Fun fact: High Fidelity is kind of a Kravitz family tradition, as Zoë's mother Lisa Bonet appeared in the movie version.) Despite very positive reviews, High Fidelity was canceled after just one season due to both low viewership and the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. In August 2020, Kravitz stated on Instagram that the show's cancellation was "a big mistake."

25. Station Eleven

Station Eleven

(Image credit: Paramount Television Studios)

Just before the popularity and acclaim of The Last of Us, there was Station Eleven, a miniseries adaptation of Emily St. John Mandel's post-apocalyptic novel from 2014. Exclusive to the then-named HBO Max in December 2021, Station Eleven told two stories in parallel: The sudden outbreak of a flu pandemic, and the remnants of humanity eking out an existence 20 years later. The show focuses on Kirsten, who at the start of the pandemic was a young stage actress in Chicago and played by Matilda Lawler. She later grows up into a young woman (Mackenzie Davis), as a member of a traveling theater troupe who meet a dangerous cult. Station Eleven received widespread acclaim for its storytelling and filmmaking, being an ominous post-apocalyptic show that insisted, even at the end of all things, the show must go on.

24. Brand New Cherry Flavor

Brand New Cherry Flavor

(Image credit: Netflix)

In this horror limited series for Netflix, Rosa Salazar plays an aspiring director who comes to Los Angeles and is betrayed by a powerful producer (Eric Lange). She soon falls into a hallucinatory odyssey of sex, magic, kittens, zombies, and revenge. Although not that many critics fell in love with Brand New Cherry Flavor, it earned enough attention as a stylistic homage to David Lynch and a showcase for Salazar. The series has remained an under-the-radar gem since its muted premiere on Netflix in 2021. 

23. Looking For Alaska

Looking For Alaska

(Image credit: Paramount Television)

After several attempts at a feature film adaptation fell apart, John Green's best-selling young adult novel Looking For Alaska finally became a live-action miniseries on Hulu in 2019. Like the book, the show centers on a teenager named Miles (Charlie Plummer) who attends a rustic Alabama boarding school and falls in love with a fellow student, Alaska (Kristine Froseth). Her disappearance, however, shocks everyone, especially Miles, and the event forces him to confront life's unexpected turns. The series was celebrated for its beautiful filmmaking, bittersweet atmosphere, and overall faithfulness to Green's original book.

22. Almost Human

Almost Human

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

Anyone who calls themselves a fan of Blade Runner should probably know about Almost Human. Broadcast on Fox during the 2013-2014 season, Almost Human starred Karl Urban as a cop in the year 2048, where police officers are paired up with a lifelike model android. Urban's troubled detective John Kennex is paired with Dorian (Michael Ealy), who stands out from other artificial units due to his dry and friendly wit. An elaborate sci-fi metaphor for racism and integration in law enforcement, Almost Human entertained critics and slowly drew buzz as a cult hit during its short 13-episode run. Its high costs and low viewership numbers, however, forced Almost Human to go offline from the airwaves after only one season.

21. Selfie


(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

It has, just maybe, the worst title for a TV show of all time. But anyone who saw Selfie couldn't get enough of it. Broadcast on ABC during the 2014-15 season, Selfie, from creator Emily Kapnek, was essentially a millennial retelling of George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion in its budding romance between vapid Instagram influencer Eliza (Karen Gillan) and buttoned-up executive Henry (John Cho). Despite its gaudy title, Selfie drew praise for the electric chemistry between its romantic leads and insightful satire about the emptiness of "followers" as a substitute for love and attention. Despite instant "likes" by critics and a dedicated audience who supported it with a grassroots campaign for renewal, Selfie was canceled by ABC still in the middle of its season in November 2014.

20. Journeyman


(Image credit: 20th Television)

Amid the genre TV renaissance of the mid-2000s, led by shows like Lost and Heroes, a new show took a comparatively more spiritual approach to Quantum Leap. In Journeyman, Kevin McKidd plays a San Francisco journalist who discovers the power to travel backwards in time. He quickly learns that each "jump" brings him in touch with a person whose life he's meant to change. Naturally, this newfound power affects his life and relationships - including with his deceased ex-fiancee (Moon Bloodgood), who in fact was a time traveler too. Though Journeyman couldn't attract the same viewers as its contemporaries, it drew positive reviews based on McKidd's magnetism as its male lead.

19. Mare of Easttown

Mare of Easttown

(Image credit: HBO)

In this acclaimed HBO miniseries that accrued a whopping 16 Emmy nominations, Kate Winslet plays a haunted Pennsylvania detective who investigates the murder of a teen mom. Surrounding Winslet is a sterling ensemble cast that includes Evan Peters, Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart, Angourie Rice, David Denman, Guy Pearce, and more. Renowned as a showcase for Winslet (who laboriously studied the regional "Delco" accent) and its immersive, textured depiction of working class Philadelphia suburbs, Mare of Easttown might seem like a prestige TV cliche but is in fact so much more.

18. Enlisted


(Image credit: 20th Television)

Could war be hilarious? That's the high-wire act that the Fox comedy Enlisted bravely took on. From creator Kevin Biegel, Enlisted follows three brothers in the U.S. Army who are assigned to the same unit and work together to strengthen their childhood bonds. Essentially Brooklyn Nine-Nine in digital camouflage, Enlisted surpassed low expectations during its all-too-brief run from January to June 2014. While reviews were very positive, its poor time slot on Friday nights and out-of-order broadcast of episodes sentenced Enlisted to the brig. The show was officially canceled in May 2014.

17. Black Sash

Black Sash

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

What do you get when you mix Cobra Kai with 21 Jump Street? You get the way underrated, way overlooked Black Sash. Created by The Karate Kid screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, Black Sash starred Russell Wrong as an ex-narcotics cop turned kung fu teacher who instructs San Francisco teens - played by actors like Sarah Carter, Missy Peregrym, and eventual R&B star Ray J - in the way of Shaolin. As Tom helps his students find courage in their personal lives, he slowly returns to his own career in law enforcement whilst repairing his relationship with his estranged family. Black Sash aired on The WB for just eight episodes, and flew far under the radar the whole time. It aired for just three months between late March and early June in 2003. 

16. No Tomorrow

No Tomorrow

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

An English-language remake of a Brazilian series that aired during the 2016-2017 season, No Tomorrow follows a Seattle woman named Evie (Tori Anderson) stuck in a dead-end job who gets involved with a free-spirited man (Joshua Sasse) who is confident the apocalypse is nigh. The man encourages Evie to make a bucket list of things to do before the world ends, and Evie and her friends balance between taking the man seriously while also checking off Evie's list. Despite strong reviews from critics, No Tomorrow was canceled by The CW after only 13 episodes.

15. Constantine


(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

 While everyone loves Keanu Reeves' moody interpretation of John Constantine from the 2005 movie, a comparatively more faithful version to the DC Comics character made its way to the small screen in Constantine, which aired on NBC during the 2014-15 season. British actor Matt Ryan dons the trenchcoat of John Constantine, a private investigator who takes on cases of an occult nature. Although Constantine summoned a loyal audience, it failed to draw high enough ratings to save it from damnation. Miraculously, Matt Ryan's version of Constantine found new life in the adjacent "Arrowverse" franchise, where he made multiple appearances on other DC shows like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow.

14. Terra Nova

Terra Nova

(Image credit: 20th Television)

Despite the involvement of Hollywood titan Steven Spielberg as executive producer, Terra Nova still couldn't gain a foothold in the TV landscape. A sci-fi drama in the footsteps of Lost and Battlestar Galactica, Terra Nova tells of mankind creating a colony 85 million years in Earth's past to flee the hyper-pollution and ruination of the 22nd century. Though Terra Nova attracted praise by TV critics at the beginning, such feelings eroded as weeks went on; Boston Herald's Mark A. Perigard panned it as "Stargate Universe by Dr. Seuss." Due to high production costs and ratings that weren't high enough to justify expenses, Fox declared Terra Nova extinct in March 2012. (There were brief considerations to collaborate with Netflix on a second season, but those ultimately never happened.) 

13. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

After The West Wing went out on a high note, its creator Aaron Sorkin strove to essentially do it all over again by replacing Washington D.C. for Hollywood. Set behind the scenes of a fictional live sketch comedy show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip followed the lives of its eccentric cast and crew whose personal and professional lives clash in hilarious ways. Friends' Matthew Perry plays the head writer whilst Bradley Whitford co-stars as the producer. Its large ensemble also included Amanda Peet, Sarah Paulson, D. Hughley, Nate Corddry, and more. While Studio 60 was outclassed by another similar show that premiered at the same time, the longer-lasting 30 Rock, Studio 60 has kept a devoted audience ever since it was canceled in 2007.

12. The Queen's Gambit

The Queen's Gambit

(Image credit: Netflix)

It was and is one of Netflix's most popular original shows of all time. A few years after her breakout role in Robert Eggers' folk horror hit The Witch, Anya Taylor-Joy found an even bigger audience in the Netflix limited series The Queen's Gambit. Taylor-Joy asserts her onscreen dominance in her lead role as Beth Harmon, a female chess prodigy and alcoholic in the late 1950s. Acclaimed for its top-notch filmmaking and Taylor-Joy's leading performance, The Queen's Gambit also inspired a modern day revitalization of chess as a hobby.

11. Maid


(Image credit: Netflix)

Based on author Stephanie Land's memoir, the Netflix 10-episode miniseries drama Maid focuses its lens on the resilience of people living in America's margins. Margaret Qualley stars as Alex, a young mom who leaves an abusive relationship and struggles to provide for both herself and her daughter when she takes a job cleaning houses. The series drew widespread praise for its writing, tone, and Qualley's lead performance. Among its numerous accolades from the Primetime Emmys and Golden Globes, Maid was also recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the best TV shows of 2021. 

10. Watchmen


(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

Though comic book creator Alan Moore wants nothing to do with it, the HBO "sequel" series to his groundbreaking graphic novel for DC Comics is still recognized as one of the finest superhero dramas ever made. From Lost creator Damon Lindelof, Watchmen picks up decades after the comic, taking place in an alternate 2019. Tulsa detective Angela Abar (Regina King) operates under the alter ego Sister Night and finds herself embroiled in a conspiracy that traces deep into America's racist past. Watchmen was only made with one "season" in mind, yet its nine episodes still feel like they contain a lifetime of discovery.

9. Giri/Haji


(Image credit: BBC Two)

In this handsome bilingual British crime drama, Takehiro Hira plays a Tokyo detective who travels to London in search of his brother, once presumed dead but is in fact alive and accused of murdering a Yakuza relative. While in London, the detective Kenzo Mori (Hira) gets close to a British constable, played by Kelly Macdonald, and develops a bond with a young sex worker (Will Sharpe). A modern day crime epic with dashes of Wong Kar-wai flavors of forbidden romance and yearning, Giri/Haji earned widespread acclaim from critics. Perhaps due to the COVID-19 pandemic, production on a second season never materialized after it aired its first season on BBC Two in the UK in 2019 (and internationally on Netflix in January 2020).

8. Kings


(Image credit: Universal Media Studios)

Despite early buzz as a must-watch new show on NBC, Micahel Green's Kings never really took its destined seat on the throne. Loosely based on the story of King David, Kings takes place in an alternate historical timeline where its characters inhabit the fictional kingdom of Gilboa, a place that closely resembles 21st century United States. Ian McShane stars as Silas Benjamin, King of Gilboa, an analog to King Saul. Christopher Egan co-stars as the David analog, a character named David Shepherd, an idealistic soldier caught in the show's court intrigue. Though TV critics didn't hail Kings and it suffered middling ratings due to mishandled marketing, Kings has sustained some level of cult popularity since it went off the air in July 2009.

7. My So-Called Life

My So-Called Life

(Image credit: ABC Productions)

An authentic portrayal of young adulthood in the 1990s, My So-Called Life stood out from the Beverly Hills 90210s of the world with its fully-dimensional characters instead of shopping mall models. Claire Danes starred and narrated as Angela, a 15-year-old in suburban Pittsburgh who navigates the highs and lows of modern teenagedom. In contrast to so many other teen shows of its time, My So-Called Life felt lived in and textured, never stopping for an obvious laugh and never talking down to its impressionable audience regarding serious issues. While My So-Called Life earned glowing reviews and enjoys an ongoing legacy among audiences, it was still canceled after a mere 19 episodes. Some say it was because Danes' parents objected to the commitment and shooting schedule, while Danes herself told Entertainment Weekly in 2004 that it was due to low ratings and bad marketing. Whatever the case, My So-Called Life remains a beloved cult hit, its existence as fleeting as all our teenage years.

6. I May Destroy You

I May Destroy You

(Image credit: BBC One)

One of the most adored television shows of the 2020s, Michaela Coel's pseudo-autobiographical limited series I May Destroy You is not for the fainthearted. Coel stars as Arabella, a novelist who tries to rebuild her life and make sense of a traumatic night where she was a victim of assault. Described by The New York Times as "the perfect show for an anxious world," I May Destroy You unearths dimensions of real human feelings - bravery, humor, discomfort - all in a complete package of 12 perfect episodes.

5. Chernobyl


(Image credit: HBO)

Before transforming The Last of Us from a video game to acclaimed HBO drama, screenwriter Craig Mazin proved he was more than "the Scary Movie guy" with his searing period miniseries Chernobyl. A five-part epic, Chernobyl dramatizes the April 1986 nuclear plant disaster in Soviet Union Ukraine, and the literal fallout from what happened. With the opening line, "What is the cost of lies?" Chernobyl reveals the expected and unexpected hazards of mankind's precarious ability to contain the elements.    

4. Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass

(Image credit: Netflix)

For TV viewers who think they might love vampires with a side of Catholic guilt, Mike Flanagan has you covered. After the success of his Haunting anthology series for Netflix, the horror filmmaker changed things up with an original miniseries, Midnight Mass, released to Netflix in 2021. Set in a remote island community, the arrival of a new and strange priest (Hamish Linklater) kicks off a strange series of harrowing events. Gorgeous and arresting, Midnight Mass injects new blood into the vampire genre that will have you on your knees.

3. Reboot


(Image credit: Hulu)

Not to be confused with the animated TV show, the Hulu comedy Reboot from 2022 is a fresh take on Hollywood's stale creativity. In Reboot, the cast of a popular 2000s sitcom reunite for the streaming era revival. But the actors still have unresolved problems to get over, not to mention a totally different Hollywood environment than the one they knew when they were last on the air. Featuring a cast that included Keegan-Michael Key, Johnny Knoxville, Rachel Bloom, Calum Worthy, Judy Greer, and Paul Reiser, Reboot was a mirror to all of Hollywood and its paralyzing obsession with remaking and redoing everything we can remember. Ironically, Reboot's originality may have been its death sentence, as the show ended at just eight episodes.

2. Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and Geeks

(Image credit: DreamWorks Television)

Has there ever been a one-season show that left as big a legacy as Freaks and Geeks? Created by Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, Freaks and Geeks - and its ensemble cast of future Hollywood mega-stars - aired for just one measly season on NBC, during the 1999-2000 season. Set in the early 1980s, Freaks and Geeks follows the misadventures of teenagers in suburban Detroit. With a cast that included Linda Carellini, James Franco, John Francis Daley, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, and Busy Philipps, Freaks and Geeks might have died a swift death, but it's hard to ever forget.

1. Firefly


(Image credit: 20th Television)

You can't stop the signal, ever. From Buffy creator and The Avengers director Joss Whedon came Firefly, an imaginative sci-fi Western that has since become the definitive "gone too soon" cult TV show. Across its 14 episodes, the scrappy crew of the ship Serenity navigate the dangers of space - from big, powerful empires to ravenous, cannibalistic raiders - all while trying to get paid and keep flying, no matter what. After the beloved show came to an unceremonious end in 2002, it enjoyed the rare big screen sequel Serenity, a movie that has also become a cult classic in its own right. Even if the chances for a Firefly revival are long gone, the magic of the show proves that you can't ever take the sky from its fans.

Eric Francisco

Eric Francisco is a freelance entertainment journalist and graduate of Rutgers University. If a movie or TV show has superheroes, spaceships, kung fu, or John Cena, he's your guy to make sense of it. A former senior writer at Inverse, his byline has also appeared at Vulture, The Daily Beast, Observer, and The Mary Sue. You can find him screaming at Devils hockey games or dodging enemy fire in Call of Duty: Warzone.