Some TV shows build on a promising first season to achieve true greatness in their second and third and fourth seasons. These… are not those shows.
Here at TVLine, we’ve been burned too many times by shows that wowed us during their freshman runs, only to completely crash and burn when they hit Season 2 and beyond. So we’re getting revenge — and that’s a big hint right there — by naming names. We’ve come up with a dozen TV shows that would’ve been better off sticking to a single season, rather than stretching out a thin premise past the breaking point for multiple seasons of diminishing returns. (It’s better to burn out than to fade away, after all. And limited series are all the rage these days, right?)
For all 12 of these shows, we wish network executives had just pulled the plug after Season 1, so we could remember them fondly as being cancelled too soon rather than way too late. So check out the list below, then hit the comments to give us your take: Did any of our picks deserve to stick around for multiple seasons? And which TV disappointments did we forget to include?
Remember when Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke was a badass who systematically Red Sharpie’d her father’s enemies into oblivion? And then remember when people/things like The Initiative, Eli, Amanda’s mom, Trask and (shudder) Padma gummed up the works? While subsequent seasons restored some of the drama’s soapy energy, the show never quite regained its Season 1 momentum.
UNDER THE DOME
CBS’ Stephen King-inspired summer drama arrived with a killer premise: What if an unsuspecting town suddenly found itself encased by a massive, unexplained dome? Viewers were intrigued — Dome notched the biggest summer debut ratings for a TV drama in two decades — but after Season 1, the show veered away from King’s original story and stumbled into a few brain-dead plot twists, and the ratings suffered. We finally got some answers about the dome’s origins in Season 3… but by then, our summer crush had long since passed.
Lifetime’s searing exposé of a Bachelor-type reality show exploded on the scene with a wickedly clever first season, and we prepared ourselves for a multi-season run full of juicy dating-show antics. But Season 2 went completely off the rails with a misconceived storyline about racial bias and police brutality, and the buzz quickly evaporated, with the final season getting dumped on Hulu without any notice. We kind of wish it had left us wanting more after one superb season rather than falling so far that it got left at the altar by its own network.
Save the cheerleader, save… the best stuff for the end of Season 2? After the goings-on in Kirby Plaza during the explosive Season 1 finale, the NBC superhero drama took its time ramping up the action upon the series’ return. Even creator Tim Kring would go on to apologize publicly for spending so much screentime on newbies like Maya and Alejandro, for saddling Claire with a lame-o boyfriend and for having Hiro in Japan too long. Add in the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, and you got a shortened season with decreased stakes — a series in need of a rescue itself.
13 REASONS WHY
C’mon, people… the show’s perfect length is right there in the title! Hannah Baker used 13 cassette tapes to explain her shocking suicide, and if it had just stuck to a single 13-episode season, Netflix’s high school drama would have stood as a powerful and timely portrait of teen life that transcended the genre. But the streamer renewed it for a second season that already felt unnecessary, and ultimately, the series ran for four total seasons before wrapping for good in 2020. Couldn’t we have just let it rest in peace?
M. Night Shylaman is known for jaw-dropping supernatural twists, and his Fox horror thriller delivered at first, with Matt Dillon starring as a Secret Service agent who finds himself stranded in a creepy small town. It was billed as an “event series” all along, but Fox surprisingly ordered a second season — an unpleasant affair that felt like it largely existed to kill off fan-favorite characters. Thankfully, Fox learned their lesson, wisely opting not to order a third season.
Season 1 of HBO’s crime anthology was a masterstroke of vivid storytelling from director Cary Fukunaga and dazzling performances from stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. And then… Season 2 happened. Despite noble efforts from Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams, the sophomore run was so mawkishly grim and plagued by laughably bad dialogue (“It’s like blue balls… in your heart”) that it retroactively tainted what came before it.
A day and time change (from Tuesdays at 9 to Fridays at 8) didn’t help James Cameron’s futuristic action series, but it’s not the only reason the Jessica Alba drama didn’t deliver in Season 2. New cast members, a depressing tonal shift — unlike her plucky wins in Season 1, Manticore bests Max again and again! — and an unsatisfyingly unresolved thread about our heroine’s destiny made for one bleak hour of TV.
Another case where the show’s title knew better than the producers did: Fox’s pulse-pounding prison drama was a lot of fun in Season 1, as brothers Michael and Lincoln conspired to bust out of a highly guarded penitentiary. And they succeeded! But the show continued for three more seasons after that — along with a recent revival season — getting more and more outlandish as it went. The writing was on the wall (and in the tattoos) with this one from the very start: Once the initial prison break was over, Prison Break should’ve been over, too.
We finally learned who killed Rosie Larsen in the gloomy series’ Season 2 finale (after being promised that the killer would be outed in Season 1), but by that point, the revelation didn’t seem quite worth the time it took to get there. Too little of the Holden-Linder dynamic we love, too many loose ends going into Season 3: To take a note from Rosie’s Super 8 film, what we know is that the first season of the AMC (and subsequently, Netflix) drama was far superior.
Showtime’s spare, meditative infidelity drama cast a spell on us in its freshman season, using multiple perspectives to show us every angle of an extramarital dalliance — and the huge ramifications that came from it. Season 1 even won the Golden Globe for best drama series, but the seasons that followed descended into messy melodrama, and we struggled to remember what excited us about the show to begin with. When Showtime announced that Season 5 would be the last, our only reaction was a sigh of relief.
The NBC drama spent Season 1 telling us how important the tower and the pendants were to the survival of a post-catastrophe, electricity-lacking society, then ditched that idea for a Season 2 where ersatz government officials and autonomous nanites (!) ran the show. Not even the sparks between Miles and Rachel were enough to keep the show’s lights on.