When Eureka comes back for its final season next week, the town of geniuses is going to look very different than what we're used to. And meanwhile, Fringe changed up its entire timeline for its current season — which is looking more likely to be the show's last, unless Warner Bros. basically gives the show to Fox for free. But Eureka, and possibly Fringe, are part of a long tradition: Science fiction and fantasy shows that got a total reinvention in their final season.
In Fringe's case, it was the introduction of a whole new timeline in which Peter died as a child, and everything was different. But some shows have gone much, much further in revamping themselves. Here are 18 TV shows that did a total reinvention in their final seasons.
To be fair, some of these were shows that regularly reinvented themselves anyway — while others were shows that had had a pretty set format from the beginning, and then shook it up massively in their last year. Let's hope Fringe doesn't join the ranks of these shows that rolled the dice... and then went away.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This is the classic example, as far as I'm concerned. It went from the story of Buffy Summers grappling with her destiny as The Slayer and trying to prevent the end of the world with a small Scooby Gang... to the tale of Buffy and her small army of future Slayers, all of whom had their own struggles with their Slayer destiny.
It became much more of a show about the Slayer Gang.
And meanwhile, Buffy's sister show (brother show?) also went through a total revamp in its final year. Angel went from fighting Wolfram & Hart to running their L.A. office, and the show's supporting cast and format were completely transformed. And then there's the fact that Angel got a new sidekick... Spike, the other vampire with a soul.
Mork and Mindy
This is one of those shows that changed every season — but the final season was a total shock. First Mork and Mindy get married (with Mork getting turned into a dog along the way) and then a short time later, they have a son — the middle-aged Jonathan Winters, because kids age backwards on Ork. The final season turns into a wacky sitcom about raising an adult baby. And then there's the even weirder cliffhanger ending.
I feel like the move to "flash sideways" constitutes a major reinvention for this show, which needed one last layer of WTF to carry us to its conclusion. And what a WTF it turned out to be.
This was a classic final-season revamp scenario, with the costumes and look of the show changing, along with a lot of its key elements. Gone was the Liberator, destroyed at the end of season three, and along with it went the friendly computer Zen. Instead, they have a new ship called the Scorpio, with a servile computer named Slave. Cally dies off-screen and is replaced by a cocky gunslinger named Soolin. Most of all, though, Avon starts wearing insane black leather shoulderpads bigger than his head, and it becomes the Avon Show.
This show even got a new name: Seaquest 2032. The cast was greatly revamped, with a few main characters being dropped and a whole new bunch of leads being introduced, including new star Michael Ironside. And the show jumps forward in time 10 years, during which time the seaQuest has been abducted. And a whole new storyline launches, as the crew faces the threat of the Macronesian Alliance.
This show started reinventing itself, with greater and greater levels of desperation, in its third season. But season four saw a total revamp, in which the creators made an attempt to give the characters real jobs again — Peter is a paramedic, Claire is in college — and Nathan Petrelli is actually a brainwashed Sylar in disguise. The show ditched a lot of its storylines about the Company in favor of the saga of a mutant circus. Or something.
Just as Blake's 7 became the Avon Show in its final year, some people claim that Farscape became the John and Aeryn Show in season four. And Scorpius, their old enemy, becomes an uneasy ally in the brewing war against the Scarrans over wormhole technology.
Earth: Final Conflict
The fifth season feels like almost a completely different show, with the Taelons completely gone and replaced by a whole new adversary, the "energy vampire" Atavus. A whole new cast are introduced, with the main characters from the first four seasons gone or reduced to "recurring character" status. Instead, we meet Juda, Ra'Jel, Brent and others.
To quote from our feature on the most mortifying seasons of science fiction and fantasy shows, "the budget was slashed and the whole show was drastically reinvented - now, Dylan Hunt and friends were trapped in the small Seefra star system. All of the characters get drastically revamped, to the point where they're unrecognizeable, and meanwhile Dylan Hunt develops godlike powers over time and space because his father turns out to have been a Paradine."
In a nutshell, this show was completely Mulder-less in its final year (except for the finale), and attempted to reverse its traditional dynamic, pairing the "true believer" Scully with a skeptical partner. With... mixed results, to say the least.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Another totally classic example. This always-campy show took a major leap into the campy zone for its second season, with a whole new supporting cast and a brand new premise. Now, instead of spending half his time on Earth with Dr. Huer, Buck is on a spaceship with an admiral and a sweater-wearing scientist. Twiki now talks in a completely different, even sillier voice, and there's no more Dr. Theopolis. And Buck's new best friend? Hawk, who looks like a reject from the Village People. Awesome!
After this show unexpectedly got a fifth season, J. Michael Straczynski changed everything up on his landmark show. To quote from Amazon's summary:
The final run of Babylon 5 found Claudia Christian departed and Ivanova replaced by Captain Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins), who in a soap-opera twist turned out to be Sheridan's first wife. Sheridan was promoted to President of the Interstellar Alliance and the action moved to a group of telepaths seeking sanctuary from the PSI-Corp on B5. Giving a prominent role to Patricia Tallman's Lyta Alexander, a love story for her was woven with the leader of the telepaths, Byron (Robin Atkin Downs). Meanwhile the aftermath of the Shadow War was explored.
Jerry and Charlie O'Connell left the cast, and there was a weird device whereby Quinn was fused with his duplicate from an alternate universe that looked nothing like him, to make a new character, Mallory. It makes my head hurt to contemplate it. Colin, meanwhile, gets lost in the vortex, and we get a new character, Dr. Diana Davis.
This is another show that reinvented itself every year — but this was a doozy. Costar Michael Vartan mostly left the show, and producers scrambled to work around Jennifer Garner's real-life pregnancy. New stars Rachel Nichols and Balthazar Getty were introduced, along with a brand new romance. Plus a number of other new storylines and characters, which added up to a somewhat confusing muddle.
Star Trek: Enterprise
This one was a bit more subtle — no major cast changes, no change to the format or mission statement. But the Temporal Cold War and Xindi storylines were quickly disposed of, and instead the show changed course to become much more of a fan-pleasing prequel to the original Star Trek. We learned why TOS Klingons have no head-bumps, and where Khan Noonien Singh came from, and why the Vulcans became such dicks. And so on.
This show's second season was a complete departure from the first, as Max and Logan succeed in bringing down the evil Manticore and freeing all of the imprisoned Transgenics. Two new main characters join the cast: the half-canine Joshua (Kevin Durand) and, more importantly for Supernatural fans, Alec (Jensen Ackles). And the show gets a whole new villain, a mysterious breeding cult that creates deadlier superhumans.
This show dropped a lot of its mythology and became more soap-operatic in its last season, with Max and Liz getting back together and searching for Max's son, stolen by the evil Tess. Meanwhile, Isabel marries a man she just met and then tries to hide her alien origins from him. Meanwhile, the FBI is closing in on the aliens, until they have to go on the run again.
Thanks to Jennifer Wells, David Paul Lyons, Scott Carrelli, David Ross, Jenn Reese, S. Michael Hawk, John L. Gehron, Mike Moody, Matt Wilson, Alexis Brown, Andrew Liptak, Ray Radlein, Jeremy Ryan, Denis Pacheco, Adam J. O'Donnell, Sigrid Ellis, Gwynne Garfinkle, Rachel Horwitz, Susan Jane Bigelow, Uriel Walker, Sean E. Williams, Sam Caddick, Jeff Carlisle, Sheerly Avni, Lorean Fleming, Laurie Beth Brunner, Ryan Britt, Jason M. Robertson, Sunil Patel, Miriam-Jeannette Castaneda-Handal and everybody else who suggested stuff!