Posted in Television

Before Their Time

We all have our lists of TV shows that jumped the shark, whether early in the game or much further down the road. But what about those intriguing series that other people, not to mention the networks, thought were not quite up to snuff? The shows forced to walk the plank before things really had a chance to gel, or even worse, weren’t renewed when they were so clearly on the verge of delivering?

Exhibit A, ladies and gents—the new “Upstairs Downstairs.”

Caspar Landry and Lady Agnes...what might have been?
Caspar Landry and Lady Agnes…what might have been?

Why did this show die after just two truncated seasons? The BBC’s failure to renew it left us all dangling after the development of some great story lines, not to mention that bang-up finale. True, “Upstairs Downstairs” had several strikes against it before Series Two even began filming—we were left Lady Maud-less when Eileen Atkins quit the show, Jean Marsh’s screen time was limited because of the effects of her minor stroke, and there was a huge elephant in the TV ratings known as “Downton Abbey.”

Nevertheless, life at 165 Eaton Place had some engrossing twists and turns, in the drawing-room as well as below stairs. Pritchard, the butler, was shunned by the staff and ultimately lost a lady friend when his status as a “conchie” (a World War I conscientious objector) was revealed. Sir Hallam, a stalwart at the Foreign Office, had an affair with his young sister-in-law, who never quite gave up her fondness for men in Nazi uniform—or sharing diplomatic information with them. Hallam’s Aunt Blanche, a renowned Egyptologist, renewed and later ended her relationship with the married Lady Portia. And best of all, we saw Lady Agnes fall for Caspar Landry, a Jewish-American manufacturer, who gallantly refused to compromise her reputation. There were guest appearances by the Duke of Kent, not to mention Ambassador Joe Kennedy with son Jack in tow. And Jean Marsh’s short scenes in two episodes were especially poignant.

“Upstairs Downstairs” left us on the verge of World War II, with relationships unsettled and characters about to undertake new roles in life. I know there was a lot of “it was never as good as the original” squawking about the show, but I found it absorbing. How the season ended pointed to some foreseeable yet intriguing possibilities. I have no doubt that had the show continued, we would have seen Lady Agnes heroically drive an ambulance through the height of the Blitz, Sir Hallam undertake a dangerous mission, and Caspar Landry return to London as a U.S. Army officer, probably consummating that mutual attraction with Lady Agnes at long last. Sadly, we’ll never know.

firefly_wallpaper24“Firefly” was another series whose table was set, only to have the banquet cancelled. If you’re a Joss Whedon fan, it was so easy to see what he would have delivered. Certainly there would have been a phenomenal flashback showing how Zoe and Wash fell in love, even though she initially thought he was a total dweeb. There was some tremendous backstory on Shepard Book just waiting to be told—those skills of his didn’t exactly match that collar he wore. And I’m sure we would have gotten so much more about Inara’s past, present and future clients (Speaking of Inara, I have no doubt that the Counselor, her female client, would have been a powerful ally in future episodes).

Yet another excellent series that met the guillotine far too early was the more recent “FlashForward.” We all have our favorites, so feel free to vent your frustration here.

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