Lucky for everyone, there are a number of quality series out there that, whether due to their untimely cancellations or limited formats, cater to that very fear. If our current situation has left you with some extra time on your hands, consider watching one — or seven! — of these 22 shows that lasted only a season each. This list is entirely subjective, of course, and includes only shows that are readily available on streaming platforms. (We miss you, “Freaks and Geeks.”)
“American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson” (2016): Of the two installments that exist so far in the “American Crime Story” anthology series, the season centered on the O.J. Simpson trial is arguably the stronger pick. Featuring an oddly successful hodgepodge cast — Cuba Gooding Jr., Courtney B. Vance, Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, John Travolta and David Schwimmer, among others — “The People vs. O.J.” won a total of nine Emmy Awards.
“I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” (2019): Not only did this comedy series produce one of the best sketches of the past two decades — “I think it’s a good idea, and I stand by!” — but it’s easily pausable for those of you with hectic quarantine lives. (We’re cheating a little here, given that the show will eventually get a second season. Its absurdity is just too good not to share.)
“When They See Us” (2019): If you haven’t yet had the chance to watch Ava DuVernay’s telling of the injustices faced by the Central Park Five, now is the time to do so. Just take the word of our television critic, Hank Stuever, who described it in his glowing review as the “kind of miniseries you get when the right showrunner assembles the right team and right performers with the unequivocating intent to correct an important story that many people still get wrong.”
“Forever” (2018): This is one of those shows best entered blind. So as not to ruin anything, let’s just say that the show Stuever called “exquisite” stars the dynamic duo of Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph, meditates on the meaning of marriage and lifelong commitment, and manages to be funny all the while.
“The Act” (2019)” This true-crime drama deals with the recent past, based on a 2016 BuzzFeed article about a murder that took place the year before. Emmy winner Patricia Arquette stars as the murder victim, Dee Dee Blanchard, a woman accused of abusing her daughter, Gypsy Rose (Joey King), by fabricating her illnesses and disabilities as a result of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
“Bunheads” (2012): Chances are you already know who the Bunheads are in your life, because they will have made their obsession clear. The show stars Sutton Foster as a Vegas showgirl who marries a shortly lived man named Hubbell Flowers (Alan Ruck), moves to his California town and winds up teaching ballet alongside her new mother-in-law (Kelly Bishop). “Bunheads” is a natural pick for anyone who loved “Gilmore Girls,” given that they were both created by Amy Sherman-Palladino.
“Firefly” (2002): Much like “Bunheads,” “Firefly” picked up a cult following during its original run. Falling squarely in the space western genre, the Joss Whedon series takes place 500 years in the future and centers on the crew (led by Nathan Fillion’s character) and passengers of a ship called Serenity.
“Terriers” (2010): Ultimately axed over low ratings, “Terriers” managed to land on a number of critics’s year-end lists. The A.V. Club wrote years later that its “perfect one-season run defied description”; Stuever called it “effortlessly smart” and his “favorite crime show.” Our best attempt is to call it a neo-noir dramedy about a troubled former cop and his ex-con best friend.
“Big Little Lies” (2017): Yes, there is a second season of “Big Little Lies.” But it certainly didn’t need one. Initially designed as a limited series, this tale of Monterey mothers played by Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz and Laura Dern explores heavy topics such as murder, spousal abuse and adultery — and does so with a welcome serving of bougie drama.
“Olive Kitteridge” (2015): “Olive Kitteridge” dominated at the Emmys — winning eight of the 13 awards for which it was nominated — but suffers from what could be called the “Kominsky Method” disease, which afflicts shows that achieve some sort of noticeable success despite the average person having no idea what they’re about. This particular miniseries consists of four parts and, based on a 2008 novel of the same name, chronicles a 25-year relationship between a misanthropic woman (Frances McDormand) and her sweet husband (Richard Jenkins).
“Sharp Objects” (2018): Based on a novel by Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”), this thriller stars Amy Adams as a crime reporter who suffers from alcoholism and, recently discharged from a psych facility, returns to her Missouri hometown to report on a pair of murders. Patricia Clarkson plays her socialite mother, and Eliza Scanlen plays her half sister. Both Adams and Clarkson were nominated for Emmys.
“Watchmen” (2019): Designed as a sort of sequel to the Dave Gibbons/Alan Moore comic, the “Watchmen” series takes place in the modern day and, instead of Cold War anxieties, explores the implications of masked vigilantism through a story of racial injustices. The season, starring Regina King in the lead role, stands alone. HBO seems to be treating “Watchmen” as a limited series and has no plans to renew it, especially given that showrunner Damon Lindelof announced he has no intention of helming another season.
“My So-Called Life” (1994): This series, starring a pre-Juliet Claire Danes as the angst-filled teen Angela Chase, is often cited as one of the most authentic coming-of-age shows to air on broadcast television. It managed to avoid high school cliches while navigating Angela’s relationships, whether with her parents, spunky friends or heartthrob crush, Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto).
This post has been updated.