Netflix just canceled one of its biggest shows of 2021

Netflix logo on a TV screen next to a vase of flowers
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A new name is now added to the list of Netflix canceled shows for 2021: Cowboy Bebop. Yes, after months of hype that led to a debut that wasn't exactly well received, more on that in a minute, news broke last night (Dec. 9) that Netflix's live action Cowboy Bebop was to be a one-and-done affair.

The show, which landed on November 19, 2021, adapted one of the classic anime series, giving it a high standard to live up to. The Hollywood Reporter broke the news, and noted that Netflix's current renewal rate for scripted series that have two or more seasons is at 60%, so you're only slightly off if you think it feels like Netflix kills more than it saves.

Currently, Cowboy Bebop is at #9 out of 10 in Netflix's Top 10 site listings (for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5) with 15.26 million hours watched by viewers. This was a huge plummet from the previous week (Nov. 22 - 28), which saw it at #2, with 36.95 million hours watched (meaning last week's window had a more than 50% drop-off). In its first three days on Netflix, the previous week, it garnered 21.63 million hours. So if you're looking for what to watch this weekend, just know that you don't need to rush to finish Cowboy Bebop.

A canceled show people may not protest over

Usually, series fans get up in arms and stage petitions to save shows. That may not happen this time around. While I saw a few people frustrated at such an early cancelation, it feels as if more people started the show and were upset by the lack of quality compared to the original. Netflix, at first, seemed to want to do everything to court that audience, including the inspired casting of John Cho as Spike Spiegel and bringing in the anime's original composer Yoko Kanno. But the series, rightfully, was dinged by critics and fans alike (Rotten Tomatoes has it at a 46% Tomatometer average, with a 55% audience score) for a lack of chemistry among other flaws.

Personally, I was enjoying it, but because I was watching it at a slow pace I was arguably a part of the problem. Netflix, big on its viewership numbers, wants shows that are devoured. It was good enough that I recommended it by putting it in our best Netflix shows rankings (Danielle Pineda was killing it as Faye), but the show wasn't killing it enough with audiences to stay alive. While keeping Cowboy Bebop alive may have sated those who were watching, the opportunity to use the potential S2 budget on a new project gives Netflix another chance to give us another reason to keep it on our best streaming services list.

Around the timeline last night, I saw a lot of reactions that match Tom's Guide senior editor Marshall Honorof's reaction in our Slack, where he noted: "There was no other choice. It was a lot of money on something that flat-out did not work." Just like myself, Marshall was not feeling a huge pressure to finish the show, and is only up to episode four. 

And while we love to see Netflix go for ambitious projects, and a live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop is definitely such, it just seems like maybe we didn’t need a live-action Cowboy Bebop. This definitely falls under the category of “who asked for this?" — other than execs who lack original ideas and just want to farm new versions of existing intellectual property.

Speaking of which, the end of Cowboy Bebop recalls — but is likely not — Netflix's biggest fail of 2021. That goes to Jupiter’s Legacy, Netflix's reportedly $200 million boondoggle adapting Mark Millar's comics. Say what you want about Cowboy Bebop's flawed script — why episodes were twice as long as the original, and the show pushed hard on character development where it didn't exist in the original — but its lower-budget sets had a sort of charm to them (and likely didn't cost Netflix as much as Jupiter's Legacy). There doesn't appear to be any reporting of Netflix's budget for Bebop. 

Let's end on the words of the original Cowboy Bebop anime director Shinichirō Watanabe. When asked in an interview about making more Bebop, he said, "Well... I don't think we should just keep on making Cowboy Bebop sequels for the sake of it. It's more in keeping with the Bebop spirit to quit while we're ahead - when people still want more. Don't you think?" 

As for what to watch next, check out our preview for Yellowstone season 4 episode 7, and Succession season 3 finale (a show that isn't getting canceled any time soon, having been renewed for season 4). And for something completely different, check out the UFC 269 live stream.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.

  • Wolfshadw
    See ya, Space Cowboy!

    -Wolf sends
  • Joker965
    Possibly this show didn't appeal to fans of the original. The majority of the people like me watching this had never seen the original however. I thought it was cool and the acting was great. I hated the ending especially if they didn't know they would get a second season.
  • Wolfshadw
    I binged the original (not for the first time and also available on Netflix for the time being) before watching the live version just so it was fresh in my head. So rare that a remake is as good as the original. This didn't do so. I enjoyed it enough to hope for a second season (was kinda hoping to see how Ed would be played). I thought Cho was a very passable Spike. To me, it seemed like he was the only one that watched the original and understood the character. IMO, Jet wasn't brusque enough and Faye wasn't irritated enough and, as previously mentioned, no Ed.

    I also loved that they brought in the original musical score conductor for the intro!

    Just my opinion, of course

    -Wolf sends