The Best and Worst of TV’s Difficult Second Seasons

Which TV dramas sailed magnificently through their second series, and which hit an iceberg and sank?

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Ah, the difficult second season. Like the difficult second album but way, way longer. At least they only go on for about an hour. If only the same could be said for True Detective Season 2.

Second seasons fall (broadly) into three categories. Number one: The undisputed classics that aren’t just the best examples of their series, but the best examples of the genre, full stop. Number two (no pun intended): The unmitigated disasters that leave us wondering if we really made up that elaborate story about not being able to work late because we have to drive our neighbour’s dog to the vet, just so we could watch this.

And finally, the ones that fall somewhere between. And by that, I mean, someone, somewhere, will fight you to the death if you fail to acknowledge that it might be time for a reappraisal. It worked with The Second Coming. Eventually.

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The Good

The Leftovers

The chances of this being one of the best series of television ever made were virtually zero. The first series was solid, intriguing, and couldn’t have been more unsettling if a clown had stared through the window while you watched it.

But one of its primary characters lay in a hastily-dug grave and the source material was exhausted. And in charge of the whole shebang was Damon Lindelof, a man, who if Twitter is to be believed (and when is it not, right?) can’t finish stuff. Then there was news that the action was moving from upstate New York to Texas, which could involve losing a lot of the cast.

And yet, there it is. Series two of The Leftovers is, arguably, one of the best series of television ever made. Beautifully written, beautifully acted, beautifully shot, with an extraordinary kick. The kind of stuff that makes your balls shrink. Even if you don’t have any. Plus there’s two (count ’em, two) female antagonists, a deviously dark sense of humor and what I can only describe as The Full Eccleston. What more is there?


Don’t get me wrong. The first season of Deadwood is a cracking bit of telly. But the second? It’s taking everything I’ve got not to stop writing and just start watching it again.

Probably the best example of the confident swagger with which series two arrives, was the fact that it recast Garrett Dillahunt (who’d played a reasonably prominent character is the first series) as someone else entirely and then just assumed it’d be so good no-one would notice. (Anecdotal experience suggests they were right. I can’t tell you how many Deadwood conversations I’ve had that have ended with someone Googling him.)

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Set seven months after the first series, the town has grown enormously, which is isn’t necessarily great for the residents. But for the viewers, we’re quids in.

And yes, it’s the lawlessness, the political wrangling, the two men going off a balcony in a punch-up that make it such a ripping yarn. But it’s actually all the other stuff that makes it so watchable. The marriage of convenience, the escaped horse and Doc Cochran’s prick poles. The horror.

(If you’ve not watched it, you’re probably imagining something awful now. Sorry. If it makes you feel better, they are way worse than that.)

Happy Valley

After a barnstorming opening series, you always get a clamor for more as soon as humanly possible, but Sally Wainwright took her own time writing a second series of the Yorkshire-based family/police drama. And it is all the better for it. It wasn’t just the characters who need time to process what they’d seen.

There really isn’t time to go into what makes Happy Valley‘s second series so incredible. Just know this: it is flawless. Also, if you watch it on Netflix, there are scenes cut out for syndication, and some of the best scenes too. Which is unforgivable.

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But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe series two won’t turn out to be the best British drama of the decade. Maybe an incoming series three will be. Excited face.

Line Of Duty

At some point, if it hasn’t happened already, someone is going to suggest to you that you watch Line Of Duty. And if you do, you’re going to end the first series and think ‘yeah, that was alright’ and then you’ll be busy for a couple days and then forget and start watching something else on Netflix. This would be a mistake. Because series two of Line Of Duty is where it goes from being ‘alright’ to being everything that’s great about British drama.

A lot of this is down to the simple premise of doing the same, but better. But it’d be wrong not to acknowledge how the arrival of Keeley Hawes’ Lindsay Denton figuratively (and literally) sets the screen ablaze. Impossible to like, but easy to admire, she’s complex, contradictory and really very clever. Just like actual women. Bravo.

The Bad

Friday Night Lights

While the Texas high school sports drama might lay claim to one of the greatest pilots ever made, its second series might well take the prize for the worst second series. It’s quite literally the series everyone wants to forget. The viewers, the writers, even the characters pretended it all never existed.

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It’d be easy to blame the disaster on the Writers’ Strike that closed down production before it could come to a proper end. But in many ways that was what actually saved the whole series, because it gave the writers the opportunity to explain away a lot of stuff in a few lines in season three.

Except that murder. Which I genuinely think I’ve given more thought to over the years than the people who did it.

The Walking Dead

No, but really. What was that? A series in which everybody basically did nothing. Except when they were doing incredibly stupid things in order to drive the plot. A series in which the only black character said about three things and the women had a row about the washing up. I don’t know what else to say. Oh yeah, they fished a zombie out of a well so they could drink the water. The prosecution rests.

Top Of The Lake

Oh the disappointment. The first series wasn’t spectacular. But, you know, Elisabeth Moss, Jane Campion, the best intentions, things looked good for series two. Instead, it kind of punched the resolution of the first series in the stomach before running off laughing through a field of barely believable coincidences and especially grating characters. And then, adding insult to injury, revisited series one through a plot door everyone agreed did not need to be reopened. It’s the hope that kills you. Every time.

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The Second Comings

Breaking Bad

The best series, amiright? Yeah, I know. Gus Fring, Crystal Blue, Ozymandius. You like the other stuff. And that’s okay, I like the other stuff too. But, for me, the stuff that Breaking Bad does best – the claustrophobic two handers, the dark absurd humour, Walt’s ability to rationalise his moral decline – season two has it in spades.

Yes, it can leave you feeling like you fell into a chemical toilet and then just lay down on the floor of a mobile meth lab to sob. But, you know, that’s not always a bad thing. The feeling, that is. Actually doing it must be disgusting. Now let me never hear anyone use the word ‘boring’ about Season Two ever again.

The Wire

What the hell, people? When did we start calling any season of The Wire bad? No, but really, in the last decade season two seems to have fallen in estimations from ‘not the best’ to ‘pretty shit’.

Aside from the fact that 98 percent of television can but dream of being called as good as the worst season of a David Simon drama, series two isn’t even it. I mean it’s not the best. That’d be three. But it’s not the worst. That’d be five. And that is still a really good series.

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I’ve got a lot of time for Frank Sabotka, but even if the (ahem) Greek tragedy at the docks isn’t your thing, there’s still loads to enjoy. Beadie Russell, Avon in prison, Omar in court, “the chair recognises Slim Charles.” Pretty shit? You must be joking.