Nothing fascinates more than an unwatched but much loved gem - shows that burn brightly for a few glorious seasons before being all-too-often consigned to an early and unsatisfying end. These are shows possessing die-hard fan support that can’t quite convert into a mass viewership until it’s too late.
Then, years down the line, after incessant championing from a loyal few, everyone suddenly stumbles across a clip on the internet, and wakes up and (particularly if they’ve just watched 'Twin Peaks') smells the coffee. David Lynch’s mind-bending masterpiece is one such example of a great show that gave birth to a sprawling mythology elevating it beyond mere TV soap, and drawing in a new generation of loyal fans. Forget 'The Killing’s Rosie Larson, 22 years later people still want to know who killed Laura Palmer.
PICTURES: Our Top Ten TV Cult Comedy Classics - Is Yours In There?
David Simon’s 60-hour odyssey through the streets and bureaucracy of Baltimore, 'The Wire', has found a permanent place at the top of every critic’s ‘Greatest Ever’ lists, but flew under the radar of mainstream fans and award-endowers during its run.
Early seasons faced the constant threat of cancellation – potentially robbing fans of the multi-layered joys of McNulty, Stringer Bell, and the POTUS-endorsed, shotgun-wielding Omar Little. It was a fate however that cruelly befell The King of Cult, Joss Whedon’s wildly acclaimed 'Firefly', a show whose 14 much-loved episodes were shaping up every bit as nicely as his other fan-favourite, 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'.
￼￼With a few exceptions (Alyson Hannigan, Dominic West, Idris Elba, and Kyle MacLachlan’s brief heartthrob turn as 'Sex and The City’s Charlotte’s Doctor Love), the stars of cult drama all too often fade into television oblivion, preserved only in box-sets and memories.
Not so the stars of the cult comedy.
'Arrested Development' and 'Freaks and Geeks' might have met depressingly early ends, but their ahead-of-the-curve performers are now today’s comic trendsetters. Jason Bateman and Michael Cera are hugely-popular stars, while 'Freaks and Geek’s alumni are everywhere: Seth Rogan, James Franco, Jason Segal all sit comfortably at Hollywood’s top table, while its creator Judd Apatow is now the undisputed centre of the big screen comedy universe.
Who will be the breaking star of America’s latest cult sensation, 'Community', showing on these shores on Sony Entertainment Television? The hilariously oddball, pop-culture parodying slice of comic genius has built up an almost militant following during its first three seasons, and when rumours of its possible cancellation spread last year, they rose up en-mass to rally the network with the demand: Six Seasons and a Movie.
Its cast are all on the ascendancy, with Donald Glover already one of the hottest properties on the comedy circuit, 'Mad Men' ingénue Alison Brie tipped for the very top, and Danny Pudi’s Abed becoming one of TV’s freshest deadpan creations. Today’s cult shows are tomorrow’s classics, and these are the stars of the future. There’s always someone who says that they saw it first. Be that guy, and catch these soon-to-be-classics today.
Community Season Two re-cap beginning on Sony Entertainment Television: Friday 22 March, from 11pm. (Sky Channel 157/Virgin 192). Season Three premieres in May.
Our Top Ten TV Cult Comedy Classics - Is Yours In There?
10. Family Guy
We’ll start the list with possibly its most successful show. With its creator now deemed worthy of Hollywood’s hottest gig: hosting this year’s Oscars, and his show having made the leap right into the mainstream (you know you’ve made it when Britney Spears is a fan), it is difficult to imagine a time when 'Family Guy' was ever ‘cult’, but the show was cancelled back in 2001 after the barely- watched third season. Its fans soon leapt to its defence, and record DVD sales forced Fox into a U-turn four years later. The pop-culture smashing, gloriously offensive, rib-tickler has never looked back.
Breakout star: Seth MacFarlane
9. Brass Eye
An influence for everything from 'The Office' to 'Black Mirror', Chris Morris’ irreverent social satire delivered a hilariously biting look at turn of the millennium Britain. The show didn’t hold back – spoof news footage showing Noel Edmonds on the rampage armed with a rocket launcher has entered small-screen comedy legend. Chris Morris would return with the equally tabloid-bating 'Four Lions', while a certain Charlie Brooker, getting his break on the show, has quickly become one of the most influential men in British television.
Breakout star: Charlie Brooker
8. Black Books
Despite bringing home a BAFTA, the sardonic charms of 'Black Books' were largely ignored by the wider public upon its release – as 'Little Britain’s catchphrases and slapstick ensured the country went Lou and Andy-crazy. But this is the show that has endured. Centred around a belligerent book shop owner who treats his store as more of a private library than a commercial venture, the darkly droll sitcom has enjoyed a popular renaissance since its disappointingly early end.
Breakout star: Bill Bailey
Blasphemous this may be to say, but it really should have been 'The Simpsons' and not Matt Groening’s space age spin-off that bit the dust in 2003. A lovingly constructed ode to sci-fi, Fry’s journey to the year 3000 featured a sexy Cyclops, a lobster-like doctor, and cigar-smoking robot who would politely ask the others to bite his ‘shiny metal ass.’ All the ingredients for a cult classic we think you’ll agree. Another show eventually brought back by popular demand, it’s those vibrant pre-cancellation seasons that live fondest in the memory.
Breakout star: Bender The Robot
6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
This spoof 1980s horror show, centred around a hospital built over the gates of hell, featured terrible production values (gravestones that blew in the wind), terrible dialogue (‘You and he were...buddies...weren’t you?’), and some of the worst plots seen on television (floating cutlery takes over the hospital). It was also undeniably brilliant, completely original, and introduced the world to some of Britain’s finest comedic talent. Grab yourself the grainy VHS, sit uncomfortably, and enjoy.
Breakout star: Richard Ayoade
5. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
An irreverent sitcom seemingly designed to offend everyone who watches it. Sample episode: A member of ‘the gang’ fakes a life threatening disease in order to secure a date. Its pilot was shot for $200 and the show was on the verge of cancellation after only one season. But backed by a loyal fanbase, against all odds, the show is now 8 seasons old and stars the Oscar-nominated Danny DeVito in a recurring role. How’s that for a wildcard?
Breakout star: Charlie Day
Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and their long-time collaborator Edgar Wright teamed up for the first time to wide spread critical-acclaim with 'Spaced', an affectionate look at a group of twenty-somethings as obsessed with pop-culture and sci-fi as the audiences that watched it. 'Matrix'-riffing slo-mo fights, 'Star Wars' jokes, and early seeds of 'Shaun of The Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz' make the show a real niche gem, much adored by its fans. It wouldn’t be long before Hollywood noticed the genius of its stars.
Breakout star: Simon Pegg
This critically-acclaimed, and fan worshiped cult hit focuses on the antics of a study group created by the smarmy failed lawyer, Jeff Winger, purely in a desperate attempt to impress a woman. Whip-smart and clearly in love with the pop-culture it parodies, audiences have fallen hard for Troy and Abed’s blossoming bromance, the tyrannical Spanish teacher Senor Chang, and Chevy Chase’s wise old letch. Season Three premieres in the UK this May only on Sky Entertainment Television.
Breakout star: You wouldn’t bet against any of them.
2. Arrested Development
The show so passionately adored that a vocal minority spent six years vigorously campaigning for its return. Its fans were finally rewarded when it was announced that it would be back for one last one-off season later this year. An off-the-wall look at a wildly-dysfunctional wealthy family, ‘and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together’, this is the show that brought us The Chicken Dance, The Fonz playing a useless lawyer, and a magician named Gob.
Breakout star: Michael Cera
1. Freaks and Geeks
By turns hilarious and heart-warming, this one-season wonder has entered television folklore as the fertile breeding ground of half of today’s Hollywood comic talent. A high school comedy aimed at adults, the show took an affectionate look at the kids who weren’t ever in the running for Prom King and Queen. Garnering rave reviews, yet going curiously unwatched, only now is 'Freaks and Geeks' making the waves it deserves as people wake up to what they missed – the show waltzing winningly back like the now rich and handsome class nerd at his school-reunion . Filled to the brim with lo-fi high- jinks, and worth watching for Seth Rogen’s sideburns alone, this is true cult perfection.
Breakout star: Just about everyone.
Suggested For You
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more