The Comeback is making its comeback. Nine years after the HBO show was cancelled, the sitcom starring Lisa Kudrow was resurrected for a second season.
This isn’t the first time a series has been brought back to life after an untimely death (not you, Firefly, I’m so sorry). Not every revival has worked– you need look no further than the doubly cancelled 90210 and TNT’s fading Dallas for reference– but some have been lucky enough to dig in and establish themselves in the lives of audiences once more.
Here’s a primer in case you’ve forgotten:
Star Trek (1966-1969 and subsequent films, 1987-1994, film: 2009/2013)
In the beginning, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for the mother of all television shows. After a slew of low Nielsen ratings and confused viewer reactions, the original 1966 sci-fi series, which starred William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, was cancelled in 1969 after a three season run. But the brains behind the operation weren’t finished yet. In the 20 years that followed its cancellation, Star Trek rose to become a powerhouse generator for Paramount Pictures and, after four wildly successful movies and years of popular television syndication, the show was renewed in 1986 and premiered late in 1987. Although hardcore Trekkies debate the pros and cons of both the original and Next Generation runs, neither can deny the importance of the other.
Since its revival, and thanks largely in part to its Paramount years, Star Trek has become one of the most successful television shows of all time, prompting two shiny new film adaptations in 2009 and 2013–with a third installment on the way–and turning youngsters everywhere into devoted fans 50 long years after creator Gene Roddenberry first birthed the idea.
Scrubs (2001-2008, 2009-2010)
When the kooky medical comedy–starring Zach Braff, Sarah Chalke and Donald Faison–premiered in 2001, it became an instant favourite. Critics hailed it as witty, likable, and hilariously entertaining, and for eight seasons J.D., Elliot, Turk and Carla brightened the halls of Sacred Heart teaching hospital, giving viewers an easeful Tuesday night reprieve from their busy lives. As the seventh season dawned however, the simmering WGAE writer’s strike began boiling over, cutting short what was expected to be Scrubs’ final season and leaving fans hungry for more. Despite protests from Braff and creator Bill Lawrence that the abbreviated seventh season had definitely been the last, the tumultuous hiatus that ensued wouldn’t last long: Immediately following NBC’s sudden announcement of the show’s cancellation in January of 2008, ABC swept in and picked up the crumbling comedy in time to try and salvage what was left.
Though fans were elated, their glee wouldn’t last long. Critics began wondering if the show shouldn’t have been left to die peacefully. And when the eighth season premiered on January 6th, 2009 with a largely refurbished cast and goofy storylines, the cheap seats began crying foul. “Somebody decided to ignore that ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order,” wrote the Boston Herald. “The revamped show features an uncertain mix of old and new characters. It’s easy to spot the newbies–they’re the unlikable ones.” Just over one year later, it was announced that the show had been cancelled for good with the second finale airing March 17th, 2010. Wrote Braff, “’New Scrubs’, ‘Scrubs 2.0′, ‘Scrubs with New Kids’, ‘Scrubbier‘, ‘Scrubs without JD’ is no more. It was worth a try, but alas… it didn’t work.”
Arrested Development (2003-2006, 2013- present)
Michael Hurwitz’ outlandish band of weirdos first took center stage on Sunday nights starting in 2003 and remained there for three full seasons, gathering a large cult-following and making a name for itself. But when the dysfunctionally hilarious Bluth family bit the dust at the end of 2005, Fox executives agreed to air just 13 of the 22 originally planned episodes, positioning the last four consecutively during the winter Olympics opening ceremonies (an inharmonious send-off for the beloved series). Fortunately for those invested in Bluth’s Frozen Banana, the series was picked up once more in 2013, debuting 15 new episodes in partnership with their new home network, Netflix.
The problem? Arrested Development debuted 15 new episodes in partnership with Netflix… in one go. This was no issue, of course, for television fans accustomed to binge-watching their favorite series in a span of a few days, but it turned out that not everyone was prepared for such a huge influx of what turned out to be sub-par material.
“The problem is, creatively, Season 4 of Arrested Development isn’t very good,” wrote The Daily Beast’s Jace Lacob. “Whereas the first three seasons were subtle, there is a decided lack of finesse here. Season 4 feels like an anvil being dropped on the heads of the viewers, one with a note attached that reads, ‘LOVE ME. PLEASE LOVE ME. LOVE ME,’ all in caps.”
As it currently stands, Arrested Development has been renewed for another season on Netflix.
Doctor Who (1963-1989, 2005- present)
Premiering in November of 1963, this heady British classic opened with a bang, swathed in positive reviews and enthusiastic declarations (with the exception of this downer, of course). Thanks in part to an ever evolving (and exceptionally talented) main cast, Doctor Who lasted well past the typical expiration date to become one of the world’s favorite sci-fi series.
At the close of its record breaking 26th season, however, declining viewership and disappointing ratings brought the longtime BBC favorite to its knees and the show was all but cancelled–and though BBC executives promised that Who would very likely return one day, fans were crushed.
In 2003, after a mediocre film release meant to appease parched viewers, talks to reboot the show began again. Rumours of a revival did not go unnoticed. And by September of that year, it was finally announced that Welsh screenwriter Russell T Davies (of Casanova and Queer as Folk fame) and BBC Head of Drama Julie Gardner had accepted roles as the series’ new showrunners, leaving the fandom in ecstatic uproar. Audiences were delighted by early episodes and, with show leads Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, it seemed there was no stopping Who as it barreled down the tracks of success.
Though Doctor Who has encountered its fair share of criticism since then, it has consistently pressed on in an upward trajectory to become a worldwide phenomenon. And at the end of an eighth season, complete with In The Loop veteran Peter Capaldi at the helm, Who doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
24 (2001-2010, 2014- ??)
You simply can’t mention action television without referencing 24 or the elusive Jack Bauer in some way. For eight years, the melodramatic Bourne Identity-esque drama regularly molded itself into be whatever audiences needed: super spy action, intellectual dissection, witty candor–it all worked. And for a world still visibly shaken over the vicious attacks of September 11th, 24 was just what the doctor ordered. So when series lead Kiefer Sutherland and showrunner Howard Gordon released statements in May of 2010 announcing the end of the Fox favorite, tearful fans immediately began lobbying for a follow-up, a movie, anything.
It appears that their lobbying worked because in early 2014, following numerous failed attempts at a feature film script, Fox presented its viewers with a special reward for their patience: a 12-episode, limited revival series entitled 24: Live Another Day. Jack Bauer was back.
Wrote Chancellor Agard of Entertainment Weekly, “24: Live Another Day […] reminded us all why we fell in love with the show way back in 2001 when it premiered.” “Jack Bauer’s still got it,” the LA Times enthused . IGN’s Jim McMahon insisted, “This season was one of the most satisfying in 24’s history.” With higher ratings than the season finale in 2010, Live Another Day was estimated to have reached up to 10.7 million viewers, 12% higher than the original.
“My guess is that this won’t be the last we see of these characters, but if it is, it was a spectacular victory lap for a landmark series,” wrote McMahon. Here’s hoping he’s right.
In an age of reboots and resurrected favorites (Veronica Mars, Robocop, Fargo, and The Flash), it’s anyone’s guess as to which crowd favorite will get a turn at the wheel next. Except for you, Firefly.
…It’s never Firefly. (Sigh.)