NOTE: this post contains some spoilers for The Great season 3.
2023 has practically been a culling of the TV landscape, with a wide range of cancelled TV shows consisting of some fan favorites, critically-acclaimed series and, in some cases, ones that were completed but didn't have their premiere yet. To be honest, I was able to watch passively through most of it, as many of the shows that were axed were not ones that I actively watched.
But the pendulum finally swung my way with the news that Hulu had cancelled The Great after three seasons. When I saw the news, I have to admit, I let out an angry "no!" (Any maybe another expletive or two that I won't repeat here.)
The Great was a warped version of the life of Russia's Catherine the Great, specifically her journey to become Empress. The show proudly embraced its historical inaccuracies, adding an asterisk on the title card that popped up in every episode that read "*an occasionally true story." It was created by Tony McNamara (based on his own play) and starred Elle Fanning as Catherine and Nicholas Hoult as Peter the III, along with a strong supporting cast.
Premiering in the early days of the pandemic, The Great became an instant favorite of mine. McNamara crafted sharp scripts that took aim at things like religion, politics, science and human nature, but in a way that would have you laughing out loud. A big part of that were the performances of Fanning and Hoult.
The two were electric alongside each other in what are very possibly the defining roles of their young careers. Fanning played Catherine with an air of grace, but someone who was always on the edge of lashing out and doing something unpredictable. Hoult's Peter, meanwhile, could best be described as a spoiled, narcissistic, violent idiot, and yet he won you over with his desire to be loved and his passion for the things he enjoyed.
The Great was a show that got better and better as it went on, with the most recent and now final season reaching an incredible height. I would have loved to see where they took the story next.
However, it's not hard to see why The Great was just another show given the hook this year. There is no way it was cheap to make, given The Great filming locations at historical estates and locations in the UK and Europe, and the 18th century period costumes for the show certainly costing a pretty penny. Also, with The Great season 3 ending, the show killed off one-half of its leading duo.
Even with the show's fast and loose interpretation of history, The Great could not keep Hoult's Peter around forever, as in reality, his death followed quickly after Catherine's ascension to the throne rather than the many months/year or so the show depicts. Still, his death halfway through season 3 was a stunner. But the remaining episodes still had Hoult, as the show established a lookalike that soon began impersonating Peter to inspire a revolt against Catherine. However, by season's end, he was dead too and Hoult seemingly no longer had a role on the show.
McNamara may have known continuing the show would have been tricky without Hoult. Despite having potential storylines to continue with Grigor (Gwilym Lee) and Georgina (Charity Wakefield) stealing Catherine's son and Archie's (Adam Godley) allegiances always fickle, an ending dance number from Catherine after she used a comet to convince the people from Russia her rule was ordained by God put an exclamation mark on the season that feels just as appropriate as a series ender.
And still, I'm upset. We may have more shows to watch than ever, but when you find one that you really latch onto, having it be cancelled rather than truly going out on its own terms hurts. It's not just me either.
NOOOOoooooooo. Aghast. One of the best shows ever made. Anyone listening out there? @netflix? https://t.co/U9i1LmJMSWAugust 30, 2023
what am i supposed to do with the great being canceled. elle fanning as catherine the great literally gave me life. wtffffAugust 30, 2023
they canceled THE GREAT???, LIKE HULUS ONLY MAJOR ORIGINAL SERIES AIRING CURRENTLY?????August 30, 2023
WHAT THE—the gall to cancel a top-10 show! Which idiots are making these decisionsAnyhoo, I’ll be crying all day today 😭https://t.co/dWQY4g6v26August 31, 2023
HULU CANCELED THE GREAT?? WE STORM THEIR HEADQUARTERS AT DAWN! pic.twitter.com/aeFOs4R5IXAugust 30, 2023
Canceling @hulu after they canceled The Great. Huzzah! 🍾August 31, 2023
Could The Great be revived elsewhere? Never say never in this day and age. But once I get over the shock of The Great's ending, I'll happily remember that we have three seasons of a brilliant, near perfect TV show that is ripe for a rewatch (don't you even think about removing it Hulu). For that, I say huzzah!