A first season establishes a television show. A second season defines it, shakes it up or breaks it completely. Needless to say, there are quite a few that have been, well- weird.
Think about Lost (2004 – 2010). After the opening scene of season two I checked out completely. What an incredible act of self-preservation that was. For the next five years I listened to fans falling apart as it made less and less sense.
Nevertheless I’ve remained more committed to other shows. Without further ado, here is my personal top 5 of television shows that had brilliant first seasons, then from the beginning of season two I muttered, “What the hell is going on?”
Warning: spoilers ahead.
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5) Deadwood (2004 – 2006)
Don’t get me wrong. I love and intensely respect Deadwood, and the reason why it’s #5 on this list is because half of the season’s plotlines don’t bother me at all. The addition of Wolcott (Garrett Dillahunt) is a stand-out in particular. But I have a lot of questions about season two that haunt me to this day.
First of all, episode one seems to be more of an episode six, because it begins with a culmination of rage and frustration the viewers haven’t seen or fully understand. Before the episode is over there has been an explosive fight between its two main characters- Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) and Al Swearengen (Ian McShane)- and the unceremonious end of Bullock’s relationship with Alma Garrett (Molly Parker). Keep in mind: this was a relationship that began in the last ten minutes of the previous season finale. So basically, the main romance of the series isn’t shown in it.
Secondly, what is the narrative function of wounding Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie), Sol Star (John Hawkes) and Swearengen so direly at the same time, only to have their injuries be of such little consequence later? This is particularly noteworthy with Swearengen, who is already having prostate problems and has a stroke a few episodes later. He didn’t need to fall off a balcony. He was already screwed. And even so, the stroke doesn’t even have long-lasting consequences. In season three he jumps off that same balcony and runs to another character’s rescue like a trained athlete.
Thirdly, what was the purpose of William Bullock (Josh Eriksson) in the bigger picture? He was a fictional character who was so underdeveloped that his death seemed like a grab for something that wasn’t there. Was it because he was a kid? Is that the only reason why his death was notable in a place where people brutally die on a daily basis?
And lastly, what happened to Trixie (Paula Malcomson)? All of the nuance and mystery of her character vanished as she proceeds to chew out, berate, insult and swear at everyone she meets. It’s a huge jump in her character that happens without explanation, and relegates her to being a one-note presence for the rest of the season- and to an extent- the rest of the series. I still enjoyed her, but her attitude rarely changed. I missed that.
But I digress. Sorry. I had a lot of questions…
6) Boardwalk Empire (2010 – 2014)
Holy shit did someone want to fire Michael Pitt. In spite of what has been said in the aftermath of Empire‘s stomach-churning season two finale, it has been hard to completely believe it. Even now that the series has ended, showrunner Terence Winter maintains that Pitt’s Jimmy Darmody had to die because of a line he said in the series premiere: “You can’t be half a gangster.”
It’s been three years and I still don’t buy it.
Besides, there were no plans for Darmody to be killed off so quickly. In an interview with Aleksa Palladino, who played his wife, she revealed that the original storyline brought their characters into Greenwich Village, still married and very much alive. Steve Buscemi also objected to the finale and argued with Winter about it, mostly because he thought it made no goddamn sense.
The result was a shaky season two in which Darmody starts making decisions that were less and less believable, setting him up for a fall where the actor taking him out doesn’t really want to… and it shows.
Furthermore, the ongoing consequences was a show thrown completely off-kilter because Darmody was the character that kept most of the ensemble connected. The series finale this year justified his loss somewhat, but by then I had stopped watching it.
3) Downton Abbey (2010 – ongoing)
You’re probably going to think this is hilarious, but when I was introduced to the first season of Downton Abbey I thought it was a miniseries. I had no idea it would be an ongoing thing.
So imagine my surprise when I heard there was more. And what a messy whirlwind it was. I don’t think individual scenes in Downton‘s season two lasted more than thirty seconds. Or had any relevance. Or variety. Didn’t Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Tom (Allen Leech) spend that entire season in a garage?
And why was Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) having an almost-affair? Who cares? The series sure doesn’t. It hasn’t been referred to or even mentioned since then.
I think of this as “the season that just wouldn’t calm the hell down,” like a hospital drama/soap opera on cocaine. It doesn’t relent or hit the brakes until the Christmas special.
Then again, this season acquainted me with how the series actually works. Characters are in their orbit where there is constant change but consistent “returns to normalcy.” This has been suggested as a reason why actors keep leaving the series.
2) Twin Peaks (1990 – 1991)
I am not faulting David Lynch or his creative team with this one. The disintegration of this series has been well-documented, and I blame ABC with pushing Lynch to resolve storylines he hadn’t finished. As a result the show became something else and lost its way.
From the first scene of season two I could sense Peaks was becoming a different show, and the way it ended has been lamented as one of the most craziest cliffhangers to never be resolved.
That is, until 2016? I guess we’ll see. And of course, solid answers will most likely be circumvented in the most Lynchian way possible.
1) Heroes (2006 – 2010)
Of course this is #1. If you bring up Heroes around people who watched it there is a chorus of groans. This show set itself on fire so many times it was beyond ashes before it was over.
I’m not even going to describe what was wrong with season two, let alone what followed. Can you imagine going “WHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAA?” for eleven hours? Do you have the lung capacity to do it? Then awesome, the second season of Heroes is for you.
In the aftermath I’ve told people to watch season one as a standalone television event and “no matter what don’t watch any further. Do you understand? You don’t need to. There is nothing else to see.”* And I mean it. What a frustrating, unsatisfying experience the rest of it was. If there is any second season to be avoided, it’s this one.
* (with the exception of season three, episode four, “I Am Become Death.” The Sylar as stay-at-home dad subplot was hilarious. But seriously. No. Don’t watch anything else.)