Great first seasons are a rare thing in television. Some of the greatest shows of all time, like Parks and Recreation, Seinfeld and Buffy The Vampire Slayer have had to overcome some historically bad starts in order to find greatness. Occasionally, though, a show does come along that manages to defy expectations and produce something truly brilliant right away.
However, there’s sometimes a curse that comes along with a brilliant first season. Call it a sophomore slump or maybe the burden of expectations, but sometimes a show just can’t manage to follow-up its brilliant debut with an equally incredible second season. In the worst cases of this effect, the second season can even manage to do irreparable damage to the show that can’t be undone.
Here are 10 TV Shows That Fell Off In Season 2
10 Sleepy Hollow
Sleepy Hollow should not have worked as well as it did. It’s nothing short of a miracle that a story based on a time-traveling Ichabod Crane could be so genuinely entertaining. Yet, this supernatural mystery thriller pulled off its ridiculous concept with surprising grace.
At least for a time it did. Season 2 of Sleepy Hollow tred much of the same ground that its predecessor did, but the novelty of the show’s premise had long worn off. Even worse, the show’s “monster of the week” formula failed to yield the same entertaining storylines it once did while the larger plot in play proved incapable of carrying the intrigue past these bad episodes.
Season 1 of Sleepy Hollow debuted with 10.10 million viewers. By the time that season 2 concluded, only 4.35 million remained.
9 The Killing
The Killing was always kind of a tough sell. It was a mystery show, but a mystery show that wasn’t in a hurry to answer its biggest questions. It was more about the effect of a bizarre murder on the people who survived than it was about solving the murder itself. Still, its initial run was just clever enough to keep viewers tuned in for the payoff.
It wasn’t long into the show’s second season, however, before it became clear that The Killing wasn’t really interested in satisfying its most tantalizing plot threads. Even worse, the writers decided to focus on some of the show’s least likable characters in the second season in an apparent attempt to fix how they had been presented thus far.
It didn’t work well and neither did The Killing. The show was able to squeeze a couple more seasons out of the concept, but the thrill was gone.
8 Prison Break
Prison Break fans had to deal with some uneven pacing, occasional moments of stilted acting and huge gaps in logic, but ultimately the show was able to find a dedicated audience thanks to its genuinely exciting plot. Michael Scofield’s elaborate plan to break his brother out of the very prison he built may have been highly unlikely, but watching it unfold was a true thrill. When Michael and his band of prisoners escaped at the end of the first season, fans everywhere wondered just what compelling adventures they would embark on next.
It was a question that even the showrunners apparently didn’t know the answer to. Though a fugitive storyline was the logical follow-up to the events of the first season, the fly-by-night nature of the events that occurred were a far cry from the intricate escape plan that lent the first season much of its brilliance.
Through Prison Break’s ratings held strong throughout much of the second season, the third's sharp decline in viewership had made it clear that the damage was done.
7 Desperate Housewives
Granted, Desperate Housewives wasn’t exactly an artistic triumph, but it was a rather clever guilty pleasure that managed to entertain through a well-chosen cast and dramatic storylines that never stopped long enough for you to have the chance to analyze the absurdity of them. It was the kind of show you couldn’t stop watching despite your better judgment.
Whatever underlying intelligence made Desperate Housewives better than the sum of its parts had vanished by the time the second season premiered. Whereas the first season of the show had a certain flow to it that helped keep things lively, the second was marred by a series of nonsensical plots that diluted the chemistry of the cast by focusing more on individual stories.
Despite the second season’s slight drop in overall ratings that would only grow worse in the third, Desperate Housewives would stay on the air for six more seasons. Still, the larger audience the show’s initial season had attracted had moved on to greener pastures.
If you look at the best revenge films, you’ll find the one thing they all have in common is a sense of urgency. Whether it’s The Crow, John Wick or Man on Fire, the best pieces of revenge entertainment feature a fast pace that matches the drive of their protagonists. In its first season, Revenge had that sense of urgency. It had some fairly corny writing and a couple of “Really?” moments, but it felt driven.
It’s hard to maintain that urgency across an entire TV show, however, as the second season of Revenge confirms. Revenge’s writers slammed down on the brakes in the show’s second season in an effort to prolong the central storyline, which led to a show that suddenly needed to get a lot more mileage out of its characters and their relationships than was perhaps initially intended.
By the end of Revenge’s second season, the show had lost over three million weekly viewers and much of its purpose.
5 The Following
Imagine you’re in school and you turn in the best science project of your life. In fact, it’s the best science project anyone has ever seen. However, it’s not long after you turn in your project and reap everyone’s praise that someone turns to you and says, “So, what’s next?” Dumbfounded, you stand there with your mouth agape unable to form a proper answer.
This is roughly what happened to The Following. This clever little show about a former FBI agent hunting down the followers of a crazed killer he put away years ago attracted a strong following of its own thanks to its unflinching brutality and moments of horror, but it wasn’t long before creative exhaustion set in.
It soon became clear that The Following was not likely to equal the brilliance of its initial creation ever again.
4 Halt and Catch Fire
You can go a long way with a good idea. The characters of Halt and Catch Fire learned this in the show’s first season as they entered the booming personal computer market with little more than ideas to their name. The show itself also managed to maintain a pretty healthy viewership despite some of its pacing and character issues, largely because its concept was so intriguing.
The problem was that the show never really found a way to capitalize off that initial intrigue. Halt and Catch Fire’s second season is arguably stronger from a production standpoint, but the show revealed that beneath its Mad Men quality atmosphere and talented cast was a story that didn’t have much to say.
Halt and Catch Fire’s second season failed to really build upon the potential of the first. In many ways, the show is still searching for a hook that will allow it to attract an audience outside of its dedicated fanbase.
3 Twin Peaks
Even though Twin Peaks’ greatest strength was arguably its bizarre characters, dream-like dialog and fascinating small town world, the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer still served as its driving force. There was no way that you could casually tune into Twin Peaks and not want to know who the killer is.
While the reveal of Laura’s murderer was indeed an incredible moment for the series, the fact that it happened so early in the second season deprived Twin Peaks of a greater purpose for the rest of its run. While the show’s characters were no less compelling, the second season’s focus on their interactions and relationships lacked that hook that all shows need to keep their audiences glued to the set.
Though behind the scenes issues between the show’s creators and the network may have put Twin Peaks third season in jeopardy anyway, its aimless second season managed to alienate even some of the show’s hardcore fans.
2 True Detective
There is no other show in television history quite like the one that True Detective gave us in its first season. Though True Detective billed itself as a murder mystery, it was more of an exploration of human nature bolstered by a unique cinematic setting and macabre implications. It’s TV at its very best.
Season two, on the other hand, is an absolute mess. Fans knew the anthology nature of True Detective meant that the characters and world we grew to love from the first season wouldn’t be returning, but few predicted that the show’s clever writing and compelling plotlines would bow out as well. In their place was a motley crew of unlikable antiheroes, a genuinely confusing story and a far more generic setting.
Rumor has it that True Detective’s planned third season will not come to pass. Given the quality of the show’s second outing, it’s not hard to understand why that may be the case.
Heroes was a show ahead of its time. No other superhero show had treated its subject matter with such maturity. It was as close to a serialized graphic novel as comic book fans had ever seen on television, and it wasn’t long before fans began to refer to it as the next Lost.
However, season 2 of Heroes sunk whatever potential the show may have once had. Series creator Tim Kring may have put it best when he stated that season 2 “took too long to get to the big-picture story.” The show failed to deliver on many of its most tantalizing implications and generally suffered from a lack of true direction in the long-term.
Season 2 of Heroes led to a double-digit percentage decline in viewership, as well as the fall of one of television’s most intriguing concepts.
What other shows just couldn't keep pace with the quality of their first seasons? Let us know in the comments!