Why did Netflix cancel this much-loved sci-fi TV series – and who is to blame?

When Netflix cancelled Cowboy Bebop, many fans were left heartbroken

Cowboy Bebop Netflix
(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix has a track record for making some incredible TV. Just think of Narcos, Breaking Bad, Top Boy, Bridgeton, Queer Eye, F1: Drive to Survive... The list goes on and on.

But last year, the streaming service made a curious decision: it cancelled its big budget adaptation of the hit sci-fi anime show Cowboy Bebop after just one season, and pulled the trigger just three weeks after it started streaming.

The live-action show, which expands on the anime sensation, had a rough start. The 10-episode series received fairly negative critical reception: a 47% average critics score and a 59% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

As The Hollywood Reporter said at the time, Netflix's renewal rates for series are roughly in line with the rest of the industry. But in this case, the service decided that it was best to can the series after one season.

Netflix's Top 10 website showed that Cowboy Bebop racked up over 70 million viewing hours after its debut but fell by nearly 60% after several weeks, rapidly dropping out of the most popular shows.

A wasted opportunity 

Cowboy Bebop

(Image credit: Netflix)

While Netflix had its own reasons – most likely poor viewership and retention – the cancellation after one season is a missed opportunity in some ways.

The service clearly thought that Cowboy Bebop was going to be a hit, putting a lot of time and energy into promoting the series, both on and off the platform. There was even a Steve Aoki remix!

The show even was supported by the original anime series director Shinichiro Watanabe as a consultant, and the original composer Yoko Kanno, too.

But one of the core problems was likely down to how the show was delivered: unlike the original series, which aired across 1998 and 1999, Netflix's version was dumped all in one go. It was an example of binge culture gone wrong.

This hasn't harmed other series but it does reduce the build-up of hype over time. In contrast, Disney+ releases series episodically, which helps build organic buzz over time. You can see this with the success of The Mandalorian.

But there were positives! John Cho showed promise as a leading man, the rest of the cast gelled well, and the vast majority of the first season was entertaining and captured the tone of the original manga and anime well.

Unfortunately, as things stand, with Cowboy Bebop officially canned by Netflix it looks like we'll never get to see the story continued, so will never know what could have been. That is, of course, unless another streaming service picks up the rights to it. Fans of the series can but hope.

Max Slater-Robins

Max Slater-Robins has written for T3 now on and off for over half a decade, with him fitting in serious study at university in between. Max is a tech expert and as such you'll find his words throughout T3.com, appearing in everything from reviews and features, to news and deals. Max is specifically a veteran when it comes round to deal hunting, with him seeing out multiple Black Friday campaigns to date.