It takes a lot of work to deliver a great show year after year, season after season, and a lot of unforgettable TV series we’ve come to know and love are actually just mostly known for a single really good season – even if they were already on air for a while or went on to exist for years.
Unlike a trilogy of films, which usually comes up to seven or eight hours of content and takes about a decade to be written, shot, and distributed, TV shows have to keep audiences interested for more than 10 hours (sometimes, more than 20 hours) every year, and if they’re successful, they go on for many seasons and need to constantly be challenging their characters and introducing new situations. Plus, while box office numbers are often justified, television ratings can be quite cruel.
The advantage of TV? Well, sometimes it takes a little while for shows to find their ground, and it’s always an exciting thing when a promising series finally fulfills its potential and viewers are able to dive deeper into that story and return to those characters on a weekly basis.
These are 15 TV Shows That Only Had One Good Season.
15 DC’S LEGENDS OF TOMORROW (SEASON 2)
After what was widely considered a somewhat weak first season in comparison to other Arrowverse shows such as Arrow and The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow picked things up and ran with a very exciting story arc for its second season, getting even more fan approval, in many ways, than other DC Comics television shows on The CW.
While the Legends of Tomorrow main lineup of heroes – Professor Martin Stein, Rip Hunter, Atom, Firestorm, White Canary, Heatwave, Captain Cold, and Hawkman – remained nearly intact from seasons one to two, their stories became much tighter and more thrilling, and other characters such as Reverse-Flash, Vixen, and Steel were added to the mix. The show became a spotlight for lesser known heroes to be introduced to the mainstream public and a very fun sandbox for DC Comics to take chances inside.
14 THE 100 (SEASON 1)
The 100 had a great concept and a very promising cast, and it aimed to please both the young target market that usually tunes into The CW and also attract a new sci-fi audience that probably didn’t think of the network as an obvious entertainment choice. The series’ first season was exciting and inventive, unafraid of killing off major characters and pushing its story to limits not usually associated with teen shows.
But as The 100 grew in scale after season one and became less about the one hundred people who were recolonizing Earth, the show lost its steam and started to focus more on complicating its plot and building a massive world full of different groups of people, seemingly borrowing from the Game of Thrones playbook.
13 HEROES (SEASON 1)
Very few shows became overnight hits like NBC’s Heroes in 2006. Conversely, however, very few shows became overnight failures like Heroes in 2007.
Though Heroes had a four-year run, it is safe to say that the three succeeding years after season one were merely trying to replicate or salvage the cultural impact the series had in its first year. Along with Smallville, it was a very early success story for the live-action superhero genre on TV, but failed to keep up with its potential.
The original concept for the show – of having different characters in each subsequent season – would’ve quite possibly introduced the idea of seasonal anthologies to television, but those plans were scratched as the original cast’s popularity became evident.
NBC tried to revive the franchise with 2015’s Heroes Reborn miniseries, but it failed to capture everyone’s attention once again.
12 ONCE UPON A TIME (SEASON 1)
Before 2014’s Maleficent, Disney’s first major live-action adaptation of one of its classic animated fairy tales, the company wasn’t known for playing around with its valuable intellectual property. On the contrary, Disney was known for protecting its most treasured characters at all costs.
But then came 2011’s ABC television series Once Upon A Time, a live-action adaptation of several of Disney’s most beloved characters, such as Snow White, Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, the Seven Dwarves, and Belle. While the show was cheesy and not-so-serious from the beginning, it had a very strong and promising first season. It the first glimpse at the potential of turning animated properties into live-action features, which has been working very well for Disney ever since.
The five seasons that followed that first year, however, became repetitive and uninspired, seemingly building stories around characters that Disney wanted to include in the show without actually being invested in presenting new and exciting stories.
11 PRISON BREAK (SEASON 1)
But just as the premise of Prison Break was promising, it also raised questions such as: how long can this possibly go on for? How many times can these people escape and be arrested again? How long can the escape plan be developed until it’s not interesting anymore?
And with time, those answers came: Prison Break enjoyed a fantastic season one, but was never able to fully capture that prominence ever again. The series had three weak follow-up seasons and ended in 2009. In 2017, Fox tried to revive it with a limited fifth season, which unsurprisingly didn’t go well.
10 LOOKING (SEASON 2)
HBO’s Looking came with the promise that gay men would finally be portrayed in a realistic light on television. Creator Michael Lannan came with writing credits from Sons of Anarchy and Nurse Jackie, and actor Jonathan Groff – the series protagonist – was already a major Broadway star.
But the show only started to figure itself out in season two, where the cast became more inclusive and the storylines became less stereotypical. Even though it ultimately wasn’t enough to keep it going for a third year, Looking’s second season fixed everything that was wrong about the series’ season one, giving characters complicated emotional stakes and featuring realistic conversations that gay men actually have.
The abrupt end to the show compelled HBO to green-light a TV movie to resolve the stories around these characters, which culminated in 2016’s Looking: The Movie.
9 HOMELAND (SEASON 1)
What started out as a compelling, intense, and suspenseful Showtime drama following CIA officer Carrie Mathison’s operation in Iraq and her relationship with Nicholas Brody, a U.S. Marine who had gone missing, ended up becoming a slow-paced, low-stakes TV series that focused less and less on what made it special.
Homeland is a comeback story for actress Claire Danes, who captured everyone’s attention in 1994’s My So-Called Life and chose to focus her career on movies until she decided to give television another chance in 2011. Carrie, her character in Homeland, struggles with bipolar disorder and is brilliantly presented to the audience with a lot of nuances – a performance that gave the actress an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2012. The show, however, was never able to recover the hype that followed it during season one.
8 TRUE DETECTIVE (SEASON 1)
One of the most compelling HBO dramas to have come out in the past ten years, True Detective’s first season was a masterclass in screenwriting, and also featured Emmy-nominated performances from movie stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.
True Detective was so well-received that the casting choices for the series’ second season became an instant Internet meme, but unfortunately, as the season premiered with actors Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, and Rachel McAdams, it negated every single piece of excitement that audiences felt for the show.
It is widely acknowledged that True Detective’s second season could not have been a bigger failure in terms of quality storytelling than it was in comparison to the show’s first year. While creator Nic Pizzolatto blamed the lack of time he had to write season two, the season came out nonetheless, and it became an instant flop.
7 TWIN PEAKS (SEASON 1)
ABC’s Twin Peaks, created by David Lynch, has captured the hearts and minds of fans all over the globe, being hailed by many publications as one of the greatest television dramas of all time. Its magnitude is so grand that the series is currently enjoying a revival on Showtime – a limited-series third season - sixteen years after the show ended.
But while Twin Peaks had an incredible and unforgettable first season, if we’re being honest, season two wasn’t really all that fantastic. As Laura Palmer’s murder was resolved, the second season went to strange places and lost a huge portion of the public it had captured. The ratings declined so steeply that ABC even considered not airing the season’s final episodes due to a general lack of interest (and also because coverage of the Gulf War was going on).
6 GLEE (SEASON 1)
When Glee premiered in 2009, its biggest challenge was to get musicians and record labels to license their music to the show, which was actually the best thing that could’ve happened. Because this TV musical didn’t have new and exciting songs to feature, it had to rely on storytelling to attract children and teenagers to a show that covered songs such as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and show tunes from Broadway musicals like Cabaret and Chicago.
But as Glee was catapulted into mainstream success and getting songs to be featured in the show was no longer a challenge, this Fox TV musical series became more about song choice than plot, seemingly more concerned about featuring famous singers and performing their songs than developing interesting story arcs and characters.
5 INSIDE AMY SCHUMER (SEASON 3)
Comedian Amy Schumer’s Comedy Central sketch show Inside Amy Schumer only really found its footing on season three, when it featured the incredible episodes “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer”, “'80s Ladies”, and “Last F*ckable Day”-- featuring actresses Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Patricia Arquette.
Inside Amy Schumer’s third year was a clear standout for the series, being the only season of the show to have won the coveted Emmy for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series and to have a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
After a weak season four, the show was renewed for a fifth season, but Schumer later cancelled those plans for the foreseeable future. Amy Schumer has decidedly focused on a movie career that has so far yielded 2015’s Trainwreck and 2017’s Snatched.
4 SCREAM QUEENS (SEASON 1)
Writer Ryan Murphy’s success with American Horror Story and Glee propelled his next TV show into existence, Scream Queens, which seemed to be a combination of both: a teen horror show filled with meme-ready one-liners and mystery.
The series featured Jamie Lee Curtis, reunited Ryan Murphy with Glee’s Lea Michele and American Horror Story’s Emma Roberts, and became Billie Lourd’s – the daughter of Star Wars’ Carrie Fisher – first television work.
However, the execution of Scream Queens did not live up to the cast it assembled and the idea behind it. While the show had a strong first season, it completely fell apart in year two and was cancelled by Fox, joining Ryan Murphy’s The New Normal as his biggest and fastest TV series failures ever.
3 BLOODLINE (SEASON 1)
2015 was a great year for Netflix as it introduced shows such as Sense8, Narcos, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Grace and Frankie, and of course, Bloodline – the Kyle Chandler-starring drama that was released to entice Emmy nominations for the streaming platform.
Entirely shot on location in the Florida Keys, Bloodline received praise for its cinematography and photography, and introduced a thrilling and dramatic family story that centered around four siblings and their aging parents. While the first season definitely grabbed a fair share of viewers and positive criticism – even giving Ben Mendelsohn an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series – the show wasn’t able to follow up with its story year after year. Season one remains the only compelling set of episodes.
2 SCREAM (SEASON 1)
As the news regarding MTV’s Scream began to roll out, it did not seem like a good idea to reboot this classic horror film in a TV show format on a network not widely known for quality original content – but all of those assumptions turned out to be wrong.
The first season of Scream captured a lot of what made this franchise great and elevated it to a new standard. It gained so much popularity that Netflix secured the international distribution rights for the series right away, and MTV started to work on a second season.
How bad was that follow-up season? Well, let’s just say that the third season will completely reboot the series and attempt to ignore whatever happened in the second.
1 HALT AND CATCH FIRE (SEASON 3)
As Breaking Bad ended and Mad Men was approaching its final season, AMC became intensely invested in finding a successful drama series which didn’t involve zombies that could follow up on the network’s mainstream success. And so, Halt and Catch Fire came about.
Though the series was always smart and somewhat interesting, it wasn’t until Halt and Catch Fire’s third season that its execution really flourished, drawing a parallel to Breaking Bad, a show that also took a long while until it was fully developed and caught the attention of the mainstream media.
But just as Halt and Catch Fire found its ground, AMC announced that a fourth season would be its last, which probably signaled that not even the great season three was able to make up for the show’s weak first two years and live up to The Walking Dead's ratings and Better Call Saul's positive criticism.
What other TV shows only had one good season? Let us know in the comments!
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