Like many, many people on the internet, I entered Big Little Lies season two with equal parts excitement and apprehension.
On one hand: Meryl Streep! Nicole Kidman! Reese Witherspoon! How could I resist? On the other, season one was so, so good, a perfect mini-series that worked so well because of how tightly the show moved through every episode, building suspense before the climactic, deadly, finale. I worried that making a second season would, in hindsight, tarnish the masterpiece that was season one. I was right.
Sadly, Big Little Lies isn’t the only show that has suffered from second season syndrome. Many shows have faltered after a hit season one. Sometimes these shows run out of stories to tell. This is often the case if they are based on a book like Thirteen Reasons Why, The Handmaid’s Tale or Big Little Lies. Or, when their show was conceived as a one-season murder mystery and decided to milk the premise (see: Broadchurch, Riverdale, True Detective, How to Get Away with Murder, Veronica Mars and many more).
Sometimes the second season is ok, and sometimes the third is too. But the showrunners, refusing to quit while they’re ahead, just keep making more and more seasons until the premise eventually turns sour. See: The Walking Dead, Suits, Game of Thrones, American Horror Story, Orphan Black, The 100, Big Little Lies, Glee, Sherlock, The OC, Sleepy Hollow, etc etc. It’s examples like these that make me so nervous when I hear that The End of The Fucking World and Russian Doll, some of my favourite TV shows of the last year, have both been renewed for upcoming second Netflix seasons.
There’s a certain type of heartbreak that comes with watching a show you loved slowly go downhill, year after year, until it’s just a shadow of its formal self. I recently experienced this very acutely with Game of Thrones season eight, and Sherlock season four, both of which can be fairly be described as a hot mess.
Watching the deterioration of a much-loved show is what makes me even more appreciative of the brilliance of a one hit wonder, shows that could have gone longer, but made the commendable decision to quite while they were ahead. A quick scour of the internet finds a litany of these “Best One-Season Shows” list, of which hits like Freaks and Geeks, Firefly, My So-Called Life, The Getdown, Life Unexpected and Sharp Objects feature.
Unfortunately, just like franchise fever has gripped the Hollywood movie machine, so too has it taken over television world. In this era of peak TV, with more streaming services getting launched every day, showrunners are under a lot of pressure to retain viewership. And with all that pressure, inevitably comes the decisions to stick to what you know (as Netflix proved recently when they shelled out $100 Million USD to keep Friends on their platform for only one year).
Sadly, there’s no easy solution to this. Just like relationships, with every TV show that we let into our lives and our hearts, comes the knowledge that these TV shows might one day break your heart. I guess if you really want to avoid the pain, you could only ever watch one season of every show. But where’s the fun in that?