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‘The Most Obscure Cult TV Shows Ever’ (review)

Written by Richard Irvin
Published by Bear Manor Media


The Most Obscure Cult TV Shows Ever: Profiles of Fifty Offbeat Comedies and Dramas, Unsold Pilots, and Unaired Series is an unwieldy name for a recent book by Richard Irvin. Being a devotee of obscure television, myself, this one was right up my alley.

A good book along these lines should always define its parameters.

In this case, Irvin tells us up front, “This book prefers to define a cult series as one whose concept is edgy, hip, or emblematic of a particular subculture.” I would disagree with that. To me, a cult series has to literally have a cult built up around it. Star Trek, for example, is the very definition of a cult series. Even though it has long since returned to the mainstream, after its initial cancellation by NBC, it grew into a phenomenon throughout the 1970s with pervasive reruns generating clubs, conventions, fanfic, etc.

THAT is a cult TV series. Still, that’s MY definition. Richard has presented the reader with HIS and as long as he sticks to that, then he probably shouldn’t be faulted.

Having enjoyed the various earlier books on unaired TV pilots and such, I expected to enjoy this one as well, but it turned out to be hit and miss.

The main reason for that is that many of the author’s choices of shows to write about actually do not match his definition of a cult series. Obscure, yes, as I had never even heard of many of them…but for the most part they just aren’t any more interesting to read about than they apparently were to watch.

Some shows described do show interesting casts—The Eagles’ Glenn Frey as a private detective, for instance, in a short-lived (one episode) show from 1993 called South of Sunset. Outside of that stunt-casting, though, it sounds like it would have been same old, same old.

Then there are shows like Hugh Jackman’s highly touted but then highly trounced musical drama series, Viva, Laughlin!, which does manage to make the series sound like a missed opportunity.

Some of the science fiction series included look interesting but even as a science fiction buff of long standing, the only ones I remember ever even hearing of are 1980’s Beyond Westworld and 1987’s Once a Hero.

A couple of series I actually liked quite a bit made it into the book—The Ugliest Girl in Town, and Wonderfalls.

The former was a drag sitcom set in the swinging London fashion world of the late ‘60s and starring Peter Kastner, a charming young actor who was predicted to be “the next big thing” after starring in Francis Ford Coppola’s early film, You’re a Big Boy Now. The latter was an off-the-wall hour-long fantasy sitcom set at Niagara Falls that crossed the Twilight Zone and Twin Peaks with Dead Like Me and starred a gifted young Canadian comic actress named Caroline Dhavernas. Both shows were canceled with leftover episodes.

For every show, the author gives a bit of background, some statistics, episode summaries, and summaries of unaired episodes or even unfilmed scripts.

Far too many of them are from the past couple of decades for my personal tastes and the choices seem fairly random when there are so many failed series to choose from. Something like Patrick McGoohan’s Rafferty, NBC’s Cliffhangers!, or Peter Cook in The Two of Us would seem to me to be just as obscure and yet infinitely more interesting than most of the chosen shows.

I don’t terribly dislike The Most Obscure Cult TV Shows Ever but I do feel it doesn’t live up to its title.


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