Counterpart was a Critical Darling With a Compelling Premise... So Why did it Fail?

Credit: STARZ

Credit: STARZ

Counterpart, the sci-fi noir from STARZ, had a lot going for it: Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons playing two different characters, exquisite writing, a gripping storyline and skillful direction. But after two critically-acclaimed seasons (both sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes), STARZ pulled the plug on the series.

What happened?

We looked into the show’s online engagement to see what, if anything, could have saved the show.


Those who did watch the show were unquestionably satisfied with it. Measuring the sentiment of each episode on the Sunday it aired, as well as the subsequent Monday, the overall reactions are overwhelmingly positive.

While there is a slight trending down in the second season, these are the kind of numbers any show would dream of. There are three episodes that aren’t above 80% when it comes to positive sentiment but there are caveats. The second episode from season 2 is an anomaly, though it must be noted that 75% is still a very strong response for any show.

As far as the final two episodes, we must factor in that the penultimate episode aired one day before it was announced the show had been cancelled, leading to a flurry of negative comments (night-of sentiment is 81%). And this also led to more negative sentiment for the last episode, with seemingly most people happy with the finale but unhappy that it was over for good.

In other words, when it comes to the people who loved the show at the beginning, they seemed to love it at the end and would have liked another season.

But how many people loved it?


Counterpart Series VolumeFINAL.jpg

Like with sentiment, the trending for volume show mentions is something most shows would be happy about. Each episode from Season 2 shows an increase over its Season 1 (pun incoming) counterpart, which is certainly a sign of success. But the graph also highlights a major issue that the series faced: this volume of mentions is incredibly small.

In a world where Game of Thrones was responsible for millions of mentions while it aired, these Counterpart numbers, which encompass an entire week between episodes, is so meager that it’s not surprising a show like this could not justify production costs.

So why did it do so poorly? We can float a few theories, some more educated than others.

The first is more anecdotal, that while the show was superbly well done, it was very complex. In fact, one critic said that “missing key beats can throw the whole thing off” for viewers, and this was from an overwhelmingly positive review.

In other words, while the show rewarded those who hung on its every plot twist, those who were a little more distracted (a not uncommon trait for audiences nowadays) may have had a difficult time keeping pace with the storyline.

Another issue may have been star J.K. Simmons.


Simmons is an exceptional actor who is both prolific and not exactly known as a leading man. While he did win a Supporting Actor Oscar in 2015 for the drama Whiplash, he is more remembered for smaller roles in bigger films, like Commissioner Gordon in Justice League and J. Jonah Jameson in the original Spider-Man trilogy. Looking at online engagement just for the actor over the last three years shows not a very large amount of mentions, but his biggest spikes tend to center around those films, and talk of him reprising those roles. During the life of the series — January 2018 through February 2019 — his mentions were often lower than usual.

J.K. Simmons Online EngagementFINAL.jpg

Had the first season garnered him a major award, similar to Sandra Oh winning a Golden Globe for Killing Eve, that could have boosted him and the show but it was not meant to be. (Her co-hosting that particular awards show didn’t hurt either.) The following graph shows the meteoric rise in her mentions, which helped her brand as well as greatly increased the profile of her show.

Sandra Oh Online EngagementFinal.jpg

And finally, another struggle the show faced was due to its network. STARZ is not a Netflix or a Hulu when it comes to audience exposure, so not only was the series not promoted by these larger services, but search engine data shows that Counterpart in tandem with STARZ was not a popular search. Instead it was more likely to be searched along with streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime (which does allow for a STARZ subscription, but with an additional fee).

That barrier was simply another hurdle the show faced that led to its cancellation; a notable example of how a show has to be more than just good to be a success. The hope is that the creators not only are able to replicate the quality of Counterpart, but figure out ways in which their new project can successfully engage with a larger audience.