The Second Season - Why Year Two Is The Make Or Break It For Any Show
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The second season - or series here in the UK - is a tricky one. If the first season is amazing then expectations will be impossibly high. If it was good but not great, then the second year has to take things up another level. In many ways, that second season is the most important in the show's history; it has to prove there is longevity in the show - get past year two and you are more likely to come back for seasons three, four and five.
Broadchurch is possibly the latest casualty of a show that failed to deliver on the expectations placed on it. The first series was riveting; everyone was watching it and everyone was talking about it. There might have been some grumblings over the events that concluded that first year - and season two dealt with every one of those moments - but it was seen as must see TV and one the UK's best shows in recent years.
Part of the problem with season two was that no one had any idea what it would be about. It didn't do a Twin Peaks or The Killing and leave the big reveal to the second year. Audiences didn't want the show turn into a Midsummer Murders either and turn a sleeply seaside town into a hot bed of murder each year. The charm of Broadchurch was that the murder of Danny Latimer was an extreme event that rocked the town.
What Chris Chibnall did in season two was create something not really seen in this genre before; show what happens after the killer is caught. Sure it helped that there was the Sandbrook murder still to solve but it was a bold choice to turn the primary murder mystery into a courtroom drama - then let the killer go free - and it didn't play to convention. Was it ultimately successful? I think so, though as fellow Digital Fix reviewer Stephan Burn noted more than once, the second series could have been cropped to six episodes and done away with some of the more random silliness of earlier episodes.
Now series three is on the way and there is part of us asking why? If series two seemed to wrap the story lines up and didn't get quite the acclaim of series one, there is the danger that audiences will be less forgiving for round three, their experiences of year two meaning that they won't be prepared to stick out another full eight episodes if it doesn't go back to its series one's glories.
It is a fate that Homeland fell into. 'Season' one - this is a US show - was touted as one of the best dramas of recent years. Audiences were gripped as the relationship between Brody and Carrie deepened and we wondered week on week whether he was friend or foe. In the end, he failed to carry out his mission and blow up the Vice President and as a result the show suffered, never feeling quite so brave in its story telling as that first magnificent year.
Season two failed in many ways; for a start it descended into many of the pitfalls of series creator's Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa's other show 24. It also failed to regain its first season heights and by the time it did blow up half the CIA - and kill of the Vice President - audiences had begun to switch off. Which was a shame. It still had plenty of great drama left in it and season four was a real return to form. But the damage had already been done by season two and audiences no longer looked at the show with the same reverence.
On the flip side, the second season has proven to be the best year for a number of shows. Buffy The Vampire Slayer matured from a fun, light-hearted mix of drama, comedy and horror into one of the greatest shows of all time over the course of its second season. Gone was the hammy Master, and in came Drusilla and Spike, two vampires with depth of character.
The big twist - Buffy's lover Angel turning into the evil Angelus - gave us the best series arc of possible any Joss Whedon show, with moments like Giles discovering Jenny's body in Passion and the 'close your eyes' ending of season finale Becoming showing dark but startling powerful moments of drama rarely seen in a 'cult' TV show. It also had fun with the show from the hilarious love spell-gone wrong in Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered - my favourite comic episode of the entire 144-episode run - to the arrival of Oz the werewolf in Phases, proving it wasn't all doom and gloom and moments of high tragedy.
Even when a show delivers an outstanding first season, it can still take things up a level in the second. Alias is proof of this. JJ Abram's greatest show - sorry Lost - delivered a magnificent pilot and then followed it up with 21 more riveting episodes as Sidney balanced her home life with her double agent duties between SD-6 and the CIA. It was cool, sexy, action packed and filled with phenomenal characters, particularly Sidney's dad Jack, played by Victor Garber. Fans were expecting more of the same - which would have been wonderful - but instead they got something even better.
How did they do it? The show brought in Sidney's long dead mum, turned evil / reformed secret agent Irina. Lena Olin's appearance on the show was a revelation, taking Sidney's journey up to another level and adding layers of complexity to her relationship with Sloan and her father. Then to top it off, the show killed off a pivotal character mid-season, replacing her with an evil clone, took down the evil organisation SD-6 and flipped the entire show on its head before delivering one of the most ballsy season cliff-hangers in TV history. It was a breath taking second run of episodes and while it never reached those heights again, it did ensure Alias's success for three more years.
There are plenty of other examples too. The recently revived The X Files took a huge stumbling block - Gillian Anderson's pregnancy - and gave use the abduction arc was kick started a number of magnificent arc episodes over the course of the year.
Then there are those shows that learn from the mistakes of season one. Agents Of SHIELD was largely disappointing for the first half of the first season; the Captain America: The Winter Soldier HYDRA arc helped to deliver a captivating final run of episodes, though there fans dubious if it could maintain that momentum in the second year. Judging by the first half of season two, it has done that tenfold, borrowing more heavily from the mythology of the comics and becoming a very confident show that can now stand confidently alongside its bigger superhero move cousins.
Arrow was good in its first season but took things up a gear, influenced heavily by the Dark Knight trilogy and building on its characters and fresh superheroes to the point that season three was a sure thing. Its success also helped the development of The Flash too.So what is it about the second series - or season - that is key? Build on the first series, either by delivering on the potential that the debut year promised or expanding on what made the first series so successful in the first place. It needs to prove it is no one trick pony either - from Broadchurch to Buffy The Vampire Slayer; both shows proved this in very different ways.
There is the temptation to make things bigger and bolder but that doesn't always work, as Homeland proved. What a second series does need to do is demonstrate that there is longevity in the show, giving audiences a reason to keep coming back for years three and four and five. If it isn't engaging, audiences who may have stuck through the first year might not always be willing to stick through the second; if year two is a chore, why would audiences stay for a third helping?
That is the mantra all second seasons of a TV show should live by.