Sometimes the first season of a show is so good that the second season just can’t measure up, resulting in the dreaded sophomore slump. With its season 2 release on Netflix in mid-May, 13 Reasons Why became the latest example of a series to stumble in its foll0w-up season, scoring an abysmal 27% on the Tomatometer for season 2 after being Certified Fresh with an 80% score for last year’s season 1.
How does that plummet compare to other sophomore slumps we’ve seen before? We’ve put together a list of shows with the biggest drops from season 1 to season 2 by Tomatometer, each with at least 10 reviews on each season. The series on this list fell for different reasons – some had good second seasons that simply weren’t as great as their first; others truly lost their way. Few that made it past season 2 ever truly recovered.
And if you’re wondering where shows like The Walking Dead, Friday Night Lights, Heroes, Glee, and even the original run of Twin Peaks are on this list, their second seasons still got good reviews even though word-of-mouth seemed to suggest otherwise. If you disagree, let us know in the comments.
Here are the 11 biggest sophomore slumps on television by Tomatometer score.
The show: Each season centers on a different set of detectives investigating a harrowing case.
The ratings: The first season debuted mid–Hunger Games mania for Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey‘s career “McConaissance” (coming off of acclaimed performances in the likes of Dallas Buyers Club and Magic Mike) and captivated 3.5 million HBO subscribers by the finale. Season 2 stars Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams, and Taylor Kitsch were each probably hoping for their own career renaissance (“Vaughnaissance”? “McAdaissance”?) after collectively starring in a number of Rotten movies around the time they signed on for the series. But the HBO thriller held onto viewers (2.7 million, which was on par with season 1 regular viewing), who stuck with season 2 hoping it would get good again.
What happened: They rushed it. With the first season’s success, HBO asked creator Nic Pizzolatto for another season, but a show as intricate as True Detective takes time. HBO President of Programming Michael Lombardo copped to essentially setting Pizzolatto up to fail. Lombardo told radio show The Frame: “When we tell somebody to hit an airdate as opposed to allowing the writing to find its own natural resting place, when it’s ready, when it’s baked — we’ve failed … I take the blame. I became too much of a network executive at that point. We had huge success. ‘Gee, I’d love to repeat that next year’ … I think that’s what I learned from it: Don’t do that anymore.” We’ll see if more time and new directors save the third season.
The ratings: Only two-thirds of Einstein’s audience of a million tuned in for Picasso, down to only half in week two, and only about one-third by midway through the season.
What happened: Perhaps artistic genius was too abstract to contain in episodic format. Surely an artist as complex as Pablo Picasso cannot be encapsulated in a TV series, but critics complain Genius didn’t even try. The Straits Times’ Alison de Souza called it “disappointingly conventional” and New Statesman’s Rachel Cooke said the script failed both Picasso and Banderas. “Even he can’t make his lines sound convincing,” Cooke said. Plus, the creative magic that led to season 1’s 10 Emmy nominations, including one for Rush’s buzzy performance, may have set the bar impossibly high for any subject or lead actor that followed.
The show: Based on Stephen King’s 1,000-plus page novel, the town of Chester’s Mill becomes enclosed in a clear dome leaving the residents to deal with a lack of resources and laws.
The ratings: A summer hit for CBS, season 1 averaged 11 million viewers. By season 2, they were down to six or seven million, still enough to earn a third season. By the time season 3 hit a low of 3.7 million, there was no plan for season 4.
What happened: Under The Dome straying from the book showed early potential for keeping the story going beyond the finite novel. By the second season, viewers and critics alike felt the story was stretched too thin to try to make it last. Showbiz Junkies’ Rebecca Murray said the show “has taken itself so seriously and yet it’s one of the most nonsensical prime time shows to ever survive more than three episodes.” Backing her up, Screenrant’s Kevin Yeoman called it “one of the most frustrating and dim-witted shows on television.”
The show: Marvel’s first Netflix series told a grounded version of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), the blind lawyer who uses his other enhanced senses to fight crime as Daredevil.
The ratings: Netflix famously does not reveal their ratings, but the success of Daredevil launched several more Marvel series and more seasons of Daredevil.
What happened: Season 1 was a revelation, both compared to the derided Ben Affleck movie and to show how serious superhero shows could work on streaming. By the time season 2 rolled around, Daredevil couldn’t measure up to the monster it created in Jessica Jones. “It’s still nowhere near as interesting or innovative as Marvel’s Agent Carter or Jessica Jones,” wrote The Daily Dot’s Gavia Baker-Whitelaw. “It’s hard to do anything new in the superhero genre, but the second season of Marvel’s Daredevil seems resolutely determined not to try,” wrote Abraham Riesman 0f New York Magazine/Vulture. Sharing the spotlight with Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) just made people more excited for The Punisher than Daredevil. Aggressive Comix’ Steph Cozza called Punisher “the true MVP here” in her Fresh review.
The show: The NBC series featured all of the drama of putting on a Broadway musical, the fictional Bombshell about the life of Marilyn Monroe, along with the backstabbing and rivalries behind the scenes.
The ratings: Starting strong with 11.44 million viewers, season 1 steadily lost viewers week by week, ending with 6.74 million. Season 2 began with only 4.48 million and by the middle of the season NBC moved the show to Saturday to dump the remaining episodes.
What happened: Show creator Theresa Rebeck departed the series following the first season, and the plot veered Off Broadway, literally, splitting its focus between Bombshell and a new independent rock musical, and in so doing losing some of its glitzy central appeal. “Its failure wasn’t so much that it didn’t reflect the real workings of Broadway; it never came close to reflecting any aspect of the real world,” New York Times critic Charles Isherwood wrote. With the grind of writing new songs every week and rehearsing the same show, basically it was never as good as the pilot. Or as Boston Herald’s Mark A. Perigard put it, “It still feels as if you’re trapped in the middle of opening night of a third grade dance recital.”
The show: A modern-day reboot of the ’80s series, in which lizard-like aliens arrive wearing human skin.
The ratings: Season 1 dropped from 14.3 million viewers to below five, but ABC still gave it another chance. Season 2 couldn’t rise much above 5.7 million so that was that.
What happened: V went on hiatus after only four November episodes. By the time it returned in March following the Olympics, viewers just didn’t come back. A second season may have been a chance to establish stability, but critics assured viewers it hadn’t improved. Uproxx’s Alan Sepinwall said, “This one’s not working, and it doesn’t matter how many fresh coats of paint or new showrunners they try to slap onto it.” The San Francisco Chronicle’s David Wiegand said, “The groan-worthy dialogue, usually spoken in a monotone by alien and human alike, is rarely credible and lacks the kind of self-aware irony that might make this enjoyable.”
The show: The dysfunctional Rayburn family admits in the series premiere that they killed Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), compelling viewers to find out just what tore this Florida dynasty apart. Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, and Sissy Spacek played the Rayburns.
The ratings: Netflix does not release ratings, but the creators of the show were planning five or six seasons. They got three.
What happened: Danny died by the end of the first season. The season finale ended with a cliffhanger reveal that his long-lost son came looking for his aunt and uncles, but the real mystery was over. The Young Folks’ Katey Stoetzel called the season “a long, drawn out plot that at times seemed to make up mysteries on the spot in an effort to be just as mysterious as the first season.” In Vulture, Brian Tallerico wrote, “This year’s story never felt as confident as the first.”
The show: When you imagine what the world would be like if Hitler had won World War II, that’s good drama. Based on the Philip K. Dick novel.
The ratings: Amazon called The Man in the High Castle their most streamed original series. Season 2 came with no such announcement, but they are still making season 3.
What happened: The setup was great! The follow-up started treading water with aimless subplots and villains failing to remain threatening. “The scary people who were villains in season one ultimately become antiheroes,” said YouTube reviewer Jeremy Jahns. Andy Hartup of Gamesrada went further, saying, “Thanks to dull characters and mostly flaccid story lines, it falls short of being essential viewing.”
The show: Based on the Danish series, detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) investigate the death of Rosie Larson, which has ties to mayoral candidate Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell).
The ratings: Season 1 averaged two million viewers — pretty strong for AMC. Season 2 was down to 1.5 million and AMC canceled it. Thanks to a deal with Netflix, they revived it for a third season, and Netflix streamed the fourth and final.
What happened: They solved Rosie’s murder, but it was too little too late. By then, critics grew tired of the mystery and its characters. Slant’s Mike Lechevallier called it “a mystery show whose mysteries agitate and bore rather than mesmerize and astound.” The Mercury News’ Chuck Barney wrote, “The longer we spent with the show’s brooding characters, the more we came to realize that they were an unbearably dour and detestable bunch.”
The show: A Secret Service agent (Matt Dillon) wakes up in the mysterious town of Wayward Pines after an accident, and the authorities in town just will not let him leave.
The ratings: Season 1 was a solid summer hit with about 3.82 million viewers. Season 2 dropped to 2.0.
What happened: Once season 1 revealed what Wayward Pines actually was, season 2 was just about new characters (Jason Patric, Djimon Hounsou) who didn’t know as much as the audience. IndieWire’s Ben Travers wrote, “You almost feel bad for the series in its second season, limping along, trying to rebuild from what little was left.” THR’s Dan Fienberg wrote, “If what you liked about the first season was the insidious unknown, that’s gone with little to replace it.”
The show: Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) commits suicide and leaves 13 tapes for her classmates. As Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) listens to the tapes, each one reveals one of the reasons Hannah ended her life.
The ratings: Netflix does not release ratings, but the first season was a water-cooler conversation piece, as well as the center of controversy. Some mental health advocacy groups worried it glamorized suicide. But season 2 remained a trending topic on social media, and on Wednesday, Netflix announced that 13 Reasons Why has been renewed for a third season.
What happened: We already found out the 13 reasons in season 1. Season 2 tried to add more reasons, and stretch out the story with the civil trial Hannah’s mother (Kate Walsh) filed, but it was obvious to fans and critics that the story had naturally concluded. ScreenRant’s Kevin Yeoman wrote, “Right away it becomes clear this season’s narrative foundation is built on sand, which is worsened by a lack of forward momentum and over-reliance on rehashing the past.”
Trying to tackle gun control only gave critics more reasons to grouse about the show’s handling of sensitive issues. “It is bleak and depressing, scarringly graphic and stupidly glamorizing in its treatments of guns and ideas of vengeance,” wrote Siena Yates of the New Zealand Herald.