Lots of popular television shows get the ax before they can truly find an audience. Animation is no exception. Between the networks, cable, streaming services, and even YouTube, new cartoons debut all the time. And just like with every television genre, many leave the air (or the web) long before their time. Some lucky series, like Family Guy or Futurama, get revived not long after cancellation and manage to thrive for years. Others, like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Young Justice, find new life on streaming services. However even now, with the resurgence of reboots and revivals, many once-popular series are doomed to remain in limbo. Let’s take a look at a few of those dearly-departed cartoons and consider what might have been.
CLONE HIGH: Centered around a high school populated by adolescent clones of famous historical figures, this quirky series was truly ahead of its time. The idea of teenage Abe Lincoln trying to woo the promiscuous Cleopatra, while oblivious to the affections of his best friend Joan of Arc seems like something out of Mad Libs. But this bizarre love triangle was a recurring storyline throughout the series. Rounding out the cast was a womanizing JFK and constantly-partying Gandhi.
Airing first on Canadian TV in late 2002 before debuting on MTV in the states, this adult-oriented comedy was created by THE LEGO MOVIE directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, along with Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence. Each of the show’s thirteen episodes features much of the humor, heart, and cleverness found in the creators’ later work. Both Lord and Miller have stated that much of the jokes and ideas they use now are inspired by the work they did here. Tackling tropes usually found in high-school dramas, this half-hour show was a silly, subversive parody that could easily find success in today’s climate. Unfortunately, the show’s depiction of Gandhi was found offensive by many. This, along with low ratings, led to its cancellation after only one season.
MY LIFE AS A TEENAGE ROBOT: Take the concept and design of Astro Boy but add the themes and metaphors found in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you’d end up with something like this. Our title character is XJ-9 aka “Jenny,” a state-of-the-art android created to be Earth’s ultimate protector. She also happens to have been designed as a teenaged girl. The bulk of the episodes feature Jenny attempting to balance both her high-school life and friends with her responsibilities, which include fending off villainous robots, aliens and various other-worldly threats.
Created by Rob Renzetti, the series debuted on Nickelodeon in 2003 and managed to last two full seasons for a total of twenty-six episodes. Despite positive reviews and support from the network, the series was officially canceled in 2005 due to low ratings. It was pulled before the completed third season even aired. The final thirteen episodes eventually debuted on spinoff network Nicktoons in 2008. Renzetti had already moved on, and sadly, so did the fans. Despite hopes for a fourth season, it appears that XJ-9 will remain in low-power mode for the foreseeable future.
WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN: After a tragic event leaves their mansion destroyed and both Professor X and Jean Grey missing and presumed dead, the X-Men have disbanded. The mutant known as Logan has moved on, resuming a lonely life of solitude. The emergence of an anti-mutant agency called the Mutant Response Division, however, forces his clawed hand and he teams up with former teammate Beast to get the band back together. This story-arc continues throughout the season, allowing the cast to grow and expand, including a lovelorn Cyclops, swashbuckling Nightcrawler and the duplicitous Emma Frost as the team’s new resident telepath.
Developed by Craig Kyle (former show-runner for X-MEN EVOLUTION) and Greg Johnson, the series debuted on Nicktoons in January of 2009 and concluded the following November. Consisting of twenty-six episodes, the finale provided a satisfactory conclusion to the arc. They tied up many loose ends and establishing a new status quo for the newly-reformed team. The episode’s closing moments also teased the next season’s arc, which would likely have been an adaptation of the popular “Age of Apocalypse” storyline. Promotional images revealed that fan-favorite characters Deadpool and Magik would also be appearing. Unfortunately, a lack of financial support and Disney’s acquisition of Marvel would ultimately lead to the series’ cancellation that following year.
GREEN LANTERN: Following in the footsteps of Batman and Superman, the “greatest Green Lantern” Hal Jordan made his animated debut in 2012. Bypassing the origin, most recently seen in the abysmal live-action aberration, this serialized series sees Hal and fan-favorite Kilowog traveling to the edge of known space to face off against the murderous Atrocitus and his Red Lanterns Corps. The cast expands with the addition of Aya, an artificial intelligence program that becomes sentient and Razer, a Red Lantern whose tragic past puts him on a path to redemption, and also contributes to many of the series’ more dramatic moments.
Co-produced by Bruce Timm, the main guy responsible for Batman: The Animated Series, this CGI cartoon continued the quality work seen in that show and its various spin-offs. By focusing on a smaller cast, the writers were able to establish and develop the dynamic between its four leads, particularly in the unlikely romance between Razer and Aya.
While the series finale managed to tie up a lot of loose ends, including a tragic ending for one character and a hopeful new direction for another, it’s depressing that we never got a second season to see where things could have gone. It’s even more depressing when you consider the reason for its cancellation. According to legend, dismal sales of toys from the aforementioned live-action film led to a lack of financial support and resulted in the series ending after one season. Of course, if the upcoming revival of Young Justice proves anything, it’s that there is always hope.
Those are just a few of the great shows we’ve had over the last couple decades that have gone before their time. There are plenty more out there, including one pretty spectacular omission that might deserve an article of its own. Do you have any beloved cartoons of your own that you feel were unjustly canceled? If there are any series you’d like to see covered, animated or otherwise, let us know in the comments. You never know, they may just get covered in a future installment.