Hidden down the TV Guide #5 - The Difficult Second Season
What do the shows Boss, Dollhouse and Dark Angel have in common? Talented writers with good track records? Showrunners who have gone on to lead cinematic juggernauts like Star Trek and The Avengers? Great actors, strong drama and a surprising fan following? Well, no, all three were cancelled after their second season and this seems a choice time to mention them as both Hannibal and Vikings start their second years and Ripper Street is offered a third season after Amazon undid its premature demise. Now some shows are great and don't even get past season one, Jason Isaacs in Awake, for instance, and some survive a second year where the quality plummets because the viewing audience won't let go, Once Upon a Time I am looking at you. Still to make it past the first hurdle of making a first impression only to be told that your mature show is no use must be galling, let alone if you are the proto-genius type like JJ Abrams or Joss Whedon. After NBC generously ignored ratings, what does a great show like Hannibal have to do with a second season that will mean it can continue to complete the whole Lecter arc?
Some shows just excel once the beginning is removed. The second season of Chuck is truly awesome as it basks in building the familiarity of its characters and delivers laughs, action and romance. Boston Legal went for the full Denny Crane with silly cases involving likeable murderers, hot button issues and the full Alan Shore liberal lecture. Even the once cancelled Ripper Street shed its shackles and enjoyed munching its way through history.Now for Vikings, just back after a quick break from pillaging, there's always history to follow. As a show based on the real marauding of the original vikings, it can keep to the assumed history of Ragnar Lodbrok and weave documented events amongst the bedding, the battles and the blood. A bit of British history here, a bit of Norse mythology there, the template is easy to follow and guaranteed viewers as long as winsome women and bloodletting balance out the sight of ugly, smelly Scandinavian men sweating. For this History channel foray into drama, how can they get it wrong?
Now, ironically, the more fictional Hannibal has to contend with a greater knowledge of its story arc. All those films, all those books - so many tuned in then out of the first season when their pre-conceived idea of Lecter wasn't met by Bryan Fuller's beautifully produced and written show. How does the second season get those people back on board, how does it play to the crowd and keep those who loved the first season's style? Well, they gambled by showing us the end first - a rabid Lecter attacking Jack Crawford some 12 weeks in the soon to be revealed future. And it worked so well so far. Audiences are as high as season one and the signature dream sequences and creepy images pleased already committed fans. The key to season 2 is how to get Hannibal caught and the falling away of the scales from they eyes of Will Graham's colleagues, along with other striking murders solved en route. It sounds enticing, but I suppose a lot can still go wrong...
Yet, the prime exhibits in how to ace a second season are two shows we've recently reviewed here - House of Cards and Banshee, both confirmed for season three already. Banshee has introduced greater oddity, barbarity and thrilling plots aplenty in season 2, never losing sight of the key pull of the show - its excessiveness. House of Cards similarly gave us more of FU, made us like him and his Lady Macbeth and shocked us, and wowed us as the world falls into their hands.