We've all been there. You start a new TV series and are blown away. Every episode is perfectly crafted, filled with complex characters you love or at least love to hate; the scripts are tight, the plots are well crafted, every joke lands. You can’t wait for the second series...
And then it arrives. And somehow, all of a sudden, the magic is gone. The wheels fall off the plot, the characters have become caricatures of themselves. This phenomenon is known as the sophomore slump, and it’s a reminder that while some television programmes hit their stride in their second season (Buffy, Blackadder and Parks and Recreation, to name but three), some struggle to keep the magic alive. A few notable cases in point - feel free to disagree.
With spectacular performances from Jodie Comer, Sandra Oh, Fiona Shaw and Kim Bodnia, and witty, inventive writing, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s adaptation of Luke Jennings’s Villanelle novels was a deserved critical and popular hit when the first series aired last year. But Waller-Bridge handed over the showrunning reigns to Emerald Fennell for the second series, and while the cast were still spectacular, the plotting and characterisation became increasingly incoherent.
The first season of the hit Netflix show was both a genuinely compelling supernatural smalltown drama and an homage to and a pastiche of classic eighties books and films. Alas, the problem with homages and pastiches is that they can easily run out of steam, and while Stranger Things was never less than entertaining in its second season, it started veering closer and closer towards a 'greatest hits of the eighties' montage.
When it aired back in 2004, Lost felt like a gamechanger. The story of the survivors of a plane crash who find themselves stranded on a mysterious island was totally compelling and skilfully told, using flashbacks to reveal the past lives of the island dwellers while. Alas, as Season 2 progressed, it became increasingly clear to the viewers that the showrunners were basically making it all up as they went along – it became hard to have faith that any sudden twist or revelation would actually pay off. If you wanted a complicated mind-bending, time-bending drama where everything actually made sense, you had to wait until Netflix’s Dark arrived in 2017.
The first series of Homeland was a compelling and complex tale of obsession, mental illness and divided loyalties. But the finale was a mess and the show should have ended right there and then, preferably killing off Damien Lewis’s Brody in the process. Alas it continued, becoming even less convincing, and while later seasons saw a rise in quality, it was too late for many viewers.
"Save the cheerleader, save the world." This story of ordinary people who develop superpowers was a witty and original take on comic book tropes. Showrunner Tim Kring originally planned to end their story at the end of the first season, introducing a whole new cast in season 2. But the charismatic characters and cast, which included Zachary Quinto, Milo Ventimiglia and Hayden Panettiere, proved so popular they returned for season 2 – with disappointing results. You should have let it go, Tim.
The best of Marvel’s Netflix shows had a spectacular first season, thanks to superb performances from star Krysten Ritter as tough, traumatised super-powered investigator Jessica Jones and David Tennant as the deeply unsettling Kilgrave, a sociopath who can force people to do whatever he wants. But although Ritter was as charismatic as ever in Season 2, the new villain was a massive disappointment, making the whole season feel like a let down.