The worst thing about falling in love with a TV show is that it might be cancelled before its story is finished. Not even Netflix, with its massive production budgets and ad-free streaming model, is immune to the need to wield the axe on a beloved series before its time.
While some series’ demises are made inevitable by poor viewing figures or a critical panning – no content provider can expect to hit the mark all the time – Netflix has been known to cancel shows seemingly in their prime. In fact, these days having the plug pulled by the streaming giant isn’t necessarily an indicator of failure – especially when a show gets past the three-season mark, and the production costs start to spiral upwards.
Here’s a list of 10 of the best shows cancelled by Netflix – and with Jessica Jones, BoJack Horseman and Santa Clarita Diet among them, they're in excellent company.
House of Cards (2013-2018)
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Going into House of Cards, Netflix pretty much knew their first original drama was set to be a hit – their vast bank of subscriber data had already told them that viewers liked movies directed by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey. And in its early days this US remake of a brilliant BBC mini-series was tense, gripping stuff, as morally flexible politician Frank Underwood shamelessly maneuvered himself to the top of the Washington tree. The show had started to lose its way long before Spacey’s much-publicized fall from grace prompted Netflix to decree that the sixth season would be the last. By then, however, House of Cards had already confirmed Netflix’s arrival as a major force in Hollywood.
Orange is the New Black (2013-2019)
While it’s not quite Supernatural or Grey’s Anatomy territory, seven seasons is such a good innings that the end of Orange is the New Black didn’t really feel like a cancellation – even creator Jenji Kohan had admitted she was “leaning towards” wrapping things up around then. Netflix pulling the plug on its hit prison drama was still symbolic, however. Over its impressive run, the show had become so much part of the televisual furniture that we’d almost come to take it for granted, forgetting how groundbreaking this female-led drama was back in 2013. Arguably paving the way for the likes of Killing Eve and GLOW, while showcasing the talents of future stars such as Laverne Cox, Ruby Rose and Samira Wiley, OITNB remains one of the most important shows in Netflix’s history.
BoJack Horseman (2014-2020)
By the time BoJack Horseman galloped onto Netflix in 2014, we already knew there was a big market for satirical, adult-oriented animation – Family Guy, Futurama and South Park had made sure of that. But even they couldn’t prepare us for Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s thoroughbred of a series, one of TV’s most heartfelt and painful explorations of the human condition – despite the fact the lead character is a horse. You’re never given any reason to question why humans and anthropomorphized animals live together in this alternative Hollywood, as washed-up, self-destructive former sitcom star BoJack struggles to find his place in the world. Netflix ultimately decided the show’s sixth season would be its last – but not before giving Bob-Waksberg the chance to end the story on his own terms.
You could never accuse Sense8 of a lack of ambition. A collaboration between the Wachowskis, the brains behind The Matrix, and Babylon 5 creator J Michael Straczynski, the series gradually pulls together eight seemingly random people from around the world, who all turn out to share a powerful psychic bond. With an impressive cast, globe-spanning storyline, and levels of LGBTQ representation that rightly won plenty of praise, Sense8 picked up an incredibly passionate audience over its short run. Indeed, the fans even helped save the show when it was cancelled shortly after its second season aired – their campaign helped persuade Netflix to grant closure in the form of a feature-length finale.
Jessica Jones (2015-2019)
Maybe it’s best to think of Netflix’s street-level, New York-based take on the MCU as a single 13-season story arc. After all, the events of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher and Avengers-style team-up The Defenders are so intertwined that you can’t really appreciate one without the others. Jessica Jones just edges Daredevil as the standout – Iron Fist is the only turkey – with Krysten Ritter’s turn as the cynical, super-strong PI making her the most human of the bunch. All the heroes ultimately met their match when Netflix wielded the axe on this particular branch of the Marvel universe across late-2018 and early-2019 – but Jessica Jones remains one of the best superhero TV shows ever made.
Santa Clarita Diet (2017-2019)
Everything about this macabre horror comedy is unconventional. Despite having the trappings of a suburban family drama, its central character (a real estate agent played by Drew Barrymore) becomes undead, and develops a taste for human flesh. Yet it’s not a traditional zombie drama either, because she remains self-aware, and still has to negotiate the challenges of 21st century family life. It’s a mash-up that showrunner/creator Victor Fresco exploits for maximum comedy value, making the most of the chemistry between Barrymore and screen husband Timothy Olyphant as they try to work out what the hell is going on. Sadly, a brilliant third season wasn’t enough to save it from the chop.
The OA (2016-2019)
Back in 2017, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings made the surprising statement that, “Our hit ratio is too high right now. I’m almost pushing the content team, ‘We have to take more risk, you have to try more crazy things,’ because we should have a higher cancel rate overall.” His commissioners were obviously taking note, because few other TV platforms would have taken a chance on a show as ambitious, weird and opinion-splitting as The OA. Telling the story of a mysterious young woman (played by co-creator Brit Marling) who dubs herself the “Original Angel”, the show’s two seasons were possibly too inaccessible to ever pick up a mass audience. Sadly, that meant Netflix pulled the plug after two seasons, leaving the show’s proposed five-year story arc frustratingly unresolved.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (2017-2018)
That the ’80s/’90s cult classic made a comeback at all is so remarkable that nobody should be too upset that it only lasted two seasons in its Netflix incarnation. The reboot was itself the result of a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, so while fans were clearly out there, there weren’t quite enough of them to guarantee the show’s long-term future on Netflix. The original premise – on the Earth-orbiting Satellite of Love, mad scientists force a human and his lo-fi robot companions to watch B-movies – remains intact, with a new cast including Jonah Ray, Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt. This cancellation doesn’t necessarily mean the end of MST3K, either – another comeback elsewhere is not beyond the realms of possibility.
While Mindhunter hasn’t technically been axed – executive producer David Fincher still has the option of making a third season, and it's apparently on "indefinite hold" – but the fact that the cast have been released from their contracts suggests it's possible we've seen last of this excellent crime drama. That would be a shame, because the ’70s/’80s-set story of a pair of FBI agents studying incarcerated serial killers to help solve current cases is a brilliantly made period piece. So far so Silence of the Lambs, but the drama is given extra edge by the fact cases are inspired by real-life, with the series based on a book co-written by former Fed John E Douglas. Yes, Mindhunter tends to favour talky scenes over firefights and action, but who’s going to complain when the stories are this good?
She’s Gotta Have It (2017-2019)
One of the best things about living in this so-called golden age of television is the fact that the best movie directors around have made the move to the small screen. Spike Lee joined the likes of David Fincher and the Wachowskis with this TV update of his 1986 breakout She’s Gotta Have It, helming every single episode of its brief two-season run. Nola Darling (played by DeWanda Wise) is a genuinely groundbreaking lead for a TV show, a polyamorous Brooklyn-based artist juggling several relationships and jobs. As you’d expect from Lee, the show has plenty to say about the world – not least because the characters have a habit of making asides to the camera – but it’s also funny, touching and powerful when it needs to be.
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Richard is a freelance journalist specialising in movies and TV, primarily of the sci-fi and fantasy variety. An early encounter with a certain galaxy far, far away started a lifelong love affair with outer space, and these days Richard's happiest geeking out about Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and other long-running pop culture franchises. In a previous life he was editor of legendary sci-fi magazine SFX, where he got to interview many of the biggest names in the business – though he'll always have a soft spot for Jeff Goldblum who (somewhat bizarrely) thought Richard's name was Winter.