Julia Roberts in Homecoming (Amazon Prime)

(Photo by © Amazon)

Julia Roberts’ turn in the mind-bending Amazon series Homecoming marked the A-list actress’ debut as a series lead. She’s not the only big-screen actor drawn to the TV and streaming boom in serialized entertainment: Benicio Del Toro makes his debut in the Ben Stiller–directed Showtime miniseries Escape at Dannemora, and Avengers: Infinity War star Elizabeth Olsen is getting raves as a grieving widow in Facebook Watch’s Sorry for Your Loss.

Upcoming projects include Helen Mirren’s Catherine the Great miniseries, Jennifer Connelly in FX’s Snowpiercer, Henry Cavill in Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher, Russell Crowe in Showtime’s Roger Ailes miniseries, and Chris Pine’s TNT drama collaboration with Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, I Am the Night. Even three-time Oscar winner (out of 21 nominations) Meryl Streep joins Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in the upcoming second season of HBO’s Big Little Lies. And that’s just the shortlist.

Below, find Rotten Tomatoes’ accounting of the best small-screen debuts for A-list movie stars from the past few years, ranked by season 1 Tomatometer scores (that is, the season on which they  made their TV or streaming debut). A note: Many actors got their start on TV, and while we included stars with a few guest parts on their resume, anyone with a significant number of TV credits (or a series regular or recurring role on a show, no matter how short-lived) got cut.


Julia Roberts, Homecoming: Season 1 (2018) 98%

Famous For: Pretty Woman (1990) 64%Notting Hill (1999) 83%, Erin Brockovich (2000) 85%

How She Fared on TV: While the Oscar winner has filmed a few one-off TV guest spots (a 1999 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and the two-part former series finale of Murphy Brown) and starred in Ryan Murphy’s HBO movie The Normal Heart, Roberts’ starring role in Sam Esmail’s podcast-turned-streaming drama Homecoming, Certified Fresh with a 99% Tomatometer score, is her first true venture as a lead in a series. Critics agree that Homecoming is “an impressive small-screen debut for the actress, balancing a haunting mystery with a frenetic sensibility that grips and doesn’t let go.”


Winona Ryder, Stranger Things: Season 1 (2016) 97%

Famous For: Beetlejuice (1988) 85%, Heathers (1989) 93%, Black Swan (2010) 85%

How She Fared on TV: The ’80s superstar first dipped her toe into TV with the Oscar Isaac–starring HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero, but made a splash as the grieving mother of a missing son in Netflix’s nostalgia-heavy phenomenon Stranger Things. Both seasons of the horror series are Certified Fresh at 96% and 94%, respectively, but the first garnered fan and critical attention with a performance that the Village Voice’s Alan Scherstuhl described as “continually inventive in her grief” and Vulture’s Jen Cheney described as “grounded and convincing in Joyce’s moments of anger and quiet resolve.”


Elizabeth Olsen, Sorry For Your Loss: Season 1 (2018) 94%

Famous For: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) 90%, Kill Your Darlings (2013) 76%, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) 85%

How She Fared on TV: The actress’ feature film debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene, was Certified Fresh with a 90% Tomatometer score, and she’s now a critical success in her TV debut as well. The Facebook Watch series — yes, Facebook — was Certified Fresh at 95%, with Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic saying that Olsen “anchors the story with her extraordinary portrayal of Leigh, a writer and barre instructor in Los Angeles whose husband has unexpectedly died.” Olsen is an executive producer of the series, which premiered in September 2018, and was actively involved in its development.


Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies: Season 1 (2017) 93%

Famous For: Election (1999) 92%, Walk the Line (2005) 82%, Wild (2014) 88%

How She Fared on TV: With her production company, Hello Sunshine, Witherspoon shepherded her TV debut Big Little Lies through the development process to the small screen. The first season featured the actress’ performance as a Type-A mom in “a precise turn with sharp, informed decisions made time and time again, in a role perfectly built for Witherspoon’s talent,” wrote Indiewire’s Ben Travers. She’ll next star in the series’ second season, as well as in Apple’s first TV series, a morning-show drama alongside Jennifer Aniston.


Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Honorable Woman: Season 1 () 91%

Famous For: Secretary (2002) 77%The Dark Knight (2008) 94%, Crazy Heart (2009) 90%

How She Fared on TV: Gyllenhaal’s first TV outing, 2014 miniseries The Honorable Woman, was Certified Fresh with the Critics Consensus that she gave an “enthralling performance.” In HBO’s The Deuce, both seasons of which are Certified Fresh at 93% and 99% respectively, critics say she carries the series in “a tour de force performance.”


Penelope Cruz, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (2018) 89%

Famous For: All About My Mother (1999) 98%, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) 81%

How She Fared on TV: Cruz got real-life friend Donatella Versace’s blessing to portray her in the second season of FX’s American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Playing the slain fashion designer’s grieving sister, Cruz’s small role was overshadowed by a career-defining performance for star Darren Criss, who went on to win an Emmy for his role. Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield called Cruz “simply fearsome” and “no caricature” as the designer. Her version of Versace is “ruthless in her resolve to keep the House of Versace alive as an aesthetic.”


Laura Dern, Enlightened 87%

Famous For: Blue Velvet (1986) 94%, Jurassic Park (1993) 92%, Wild (2014) 88%

How She Fared on TV: One of the first major stars to jump to TV in the peak TV era, Dern starred in the before-its-time HBO series Enlightened as a woman who returns to her life after a public breakdown and time at a mental-health retreat. Both seasons of the canceled-too-soon series were Certified Fresh. “I was blown away by how Dern is able to keep Amy on this knife’s edge between maniacal optimism and seething anger, and there’s no telling which direction she might go at any moment. It’s exhilarating to watch,” wrote Meredith Blake of The AV Club.


Matthew McConaughey, True Detective: Season 1 (2014) 87%

Famous For: Dazed and Confused (1993) 92%Dallas Buyers Club (2013) 92%, Interstellar (2014) 72%

How He Fared on TV: The first season of the anthology series starred McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as Louisiana detectives investigating a murder over a 17-year span. NPR’s Eric Deggans said the series, which debuted the same year the actor won an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, “has the feel of an indie film spread over eight episodes starring two of the best character actors in the business.” Season 2 of the series — which again mined the film community, starred Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, and Rachel McAdams — did not live up to the first.


Cillian Murphy, Peaky Blinders: Season 1 (2013) 87%

Famous For: 28 Days Later (2002) 87%, The Dark Knight (2008) 94%, Sunshine (2007) 77%

How He Fared on TV: Murphy, whose only other TV credit is the 2001 miniseries The Way We Live Now, takes the lead as a crime boss hoping to move up in the world, in this 1919-set period drama that streams on Netflix in the United States. Chris Barton of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “This BBC effort set in post-WWI Birmingham, Britain, has more direct pleasures than the departed Boardwalk Empire thanks in part to a fresh, hellish setting and the reliable chill of Cillian Murphy, whose icy stare pairs well with the show’s grim Nick Cave soundtrack.”


Zooey Deschanel, New Girl: Season 1 (2011) 87%

Famous For: Almost Famous (2000) 89%, Elf (2003) 85%, (500) Days of Summer (2009) 85%

How She Fared on TV: Though she appeared in a few episodes of Weeds in 2006 and an episode of her sister’s series Bones in 2009, Deschanel didn’t fully commit to a lead role on TV until 2011’s New Girl. This is the performance that brought the world the adjective “adorkable,” and the first season was Certified Fresh at 86%. Critics Consensus is that “Deschanel ‘s offbeat style gets a worthy showcase in New Girl, and while It can get awfully cutesy at times, the show benefits from witty writing and a strong supporting cast.”


Benicio Del Toro, Season 1: Miniseries (2018) 90%

Famous For: Traffic (2000) 92%, Sicario (2015) 92%, Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) 91%

How He Fared on TV: Aside from just a couple of one-off roles in the late ’80s and early ’90s on shows like Miami Vice and Tales from the Crypt, Del Toro has made his career in the movies. The Oscar winner (for 2000’s Traffic) stars in the Ben Stiller–directed Showtime miniseries Escape at Dannemora, about a real-life 2015 prison break. Carlos Valladares of the San Francisco Chronicle said the series, which debuts November 18, “proves yet again that the miniseries is the site of the most engaging long-form storytelling in television today.”


Paul Giamatti, () %

Famous For: Sideways (2004) 97%, Cinderella Man (2005) 80%, Private Life (2018) 93%

How He Fared on TV: After starring in HBO’s John Adams miniseries (and a guest role on Downton Abbey and the memorable 12 Angry Men spoof on Inside Amy Schumer), Giamatti returned with his first true series in Showtime’s Billions, the first and third seasons of which are both Certified Fresh. Regarding Giamatti’s portrayal of the founding father, Tom Shales of the Washington Post wrote, “Nearly throughout, Giamatti’s performance is captivating, often poignantly so.”


Jude Law, The Young Pope: Miniseries (2016) 80%

Famous For: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) 83%, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001) 75%Sherlock Holmes (2009) 69%

How He Fared on TV: Though Law’s TV debut encouraged plenty of bad jokes — you’ll never believe just how young this pope is! — the actor’s performance as the American-born, cigarette-smoking, Cherry Coke Zero-drinking pontificate (previously known as Lenny Belardo) earned plenty of praise. RogerEbert.com’s Brian Tallerico lauded Law’s “magnetic lead performance” and Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen wrote, “I’m transfixed by the sumptuous visual storytelling of creator and director Paolo Sorrentino and mesmerized by Law.”


Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Murder House: Murder House (2011) 72%

Famous For: Tootsie (1982) 90%Cape Fear (1991) 74%, Big Fish (2003) 76%

How She Fared on TV: Ryan Murphy recruited the two-time Oscar winner (and six-time nominee) for his horror anthology American Horror Story, for which she won a Golden Globe and two Emmys. While the actress, who debuted on the small screen alongside Drew Barrymore in HBO TV movie Grey Gardens, left the series after four seasons, she returned in the latest, Apocalypse, and worked with Murphy again as Joan Crawford in the creator’s anthology series Feud: Bette and Joan. Lange’s first four seasons of AHS and Feud were all Certified Fresh, with Salon’s Melanie McFarland saying of Feud, “Lange and Sarandon hold the center with stunning likenesses of the legends they’re portraying, but the actresses also bring their inspirations down to Earth, tempering their decadent rages and vengeful spats with a gutting sense of loneliness that tempers its lightness in solemnity.”


Nicole Kidman, Top of the Lake: China Girl (2017) 72%

Famous For: Moulin Rouge (2001) 76%, The Hours (2002) 79%, Boy Erased (2018) 80%

How She Fared on TV: Kidman won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her portrayal of ritzy California mom Celeste in HBO’s Big Little Lies, but her TV series debut came alongside Elisabeth Moss in the second season of Sundance Channel’s Top of the Lake. The Sydney-set series featured Kidman as the recently separated mother of a troubled teen girl. Slate’s Willa Paskin called Kidman “resplendent,” though the season itself got mixed reviews. Kidman also appeared alongside Clive Owen in the 2012 HBO movie Hemingway & Gellhorn.


Anna Faris, Mom: Season 1 (2013) 70%

Famous For: Scary Movie (2000) 52%, Lost in Translation (2003) 95%, The House Bunny (2008) 43%

How She Fared on TV: Aside from short stints on Friends and Entourage, Mom was Faris’ first leading role on TV. While costar Allison Janney has gotten most of the praise (and the award-season hardware), Andy Greenwald’s Grantland review noted that the “perfectly cast” Faris “kills from the opening scene,” and that the series was “the first multi-cam comedy to crack me up in a decade.”


Sean Penn, The First: Season 1 (2018) 66%

Famous For: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) 78%, Dead Man Walking (1995) 95%, Milk (2008) 93%

How He Fared on TV: The two-time Oscar winner (and five-time nominee) has filmed (or voice recorded) cameos on comedies including Family Guy, Two and a Half Men, Friends, and The Larry Sanders Show (and, fun fact, was on two episodes of Little House on the Prairie as a kid). But his true TV commitment came in 2018 as an astronaut in the Hulu series about the first manned mission to Mars. While the series itself got mixed reviews, its Critics Consensus was that Penn “gives an intensely poignant performance as the driven but conflicted Tom Hagerty” in the slow-moving first season. He’ll next hit the small screen as the star of an HBO miniseries about seventh U.S. President Andrew Jackson.


Vince Vaughn, True Detective: Season 2 (2015) 62%

Famous For: Swingers (1996) 87%Wedding Crashers (2005) 76%, Four Christmases (2008) 25%

How He Fared on TV: Though Vaughn appeared in cameos in Sex and the City and Mr. Show (and appeared in a few bit TV parts in the earliest days of his career), his true TV debut came in the second season of HBO’s True Detective. The season didn’t garner the same acclaim as the first, with critics split on the season as a whole but praising its performances. Chuck Barney of the San Jose Mercury News wrote,“All of the lead actors dig deeply into their roles, with Farrell playing the wary, weary burnout to perfection, and Vaughn shifting into full-throttle intensity.”


Jane Fonda, The Newsroom

Famous For: Barbarella (1968) 74%, 9 to 5 (1980) 83%On Golden Pond (1981) 93%

How She Fared on TV: Aaron Sorkin brought Fonda to the small screen with his TV news drama The Newsroom, in which she played the strong-willed owner of cable news network ACN. But the real critical acclaim for her TV work comes with Netflix comedy Grace and Frankie, where, alongside Lily Tomlin, she plays the jilted wife of a husband who leaves her for the man with whom he’s been having an affair for decades. The first season got mixed reactions as a whole, but critics credited its “stellar cast” with bringing the series an “undeniable appeal.”


Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom

Famous For: The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) 92%, Dumb & Dumber (1994) 68%, The Martian (2015) 91%

How He Fared on TV: Now a small-screen veteran, with Hulu’s 9/11 drama Looming Tower and Netflix’s Western miniseries Godless under his belt (both Certified Fresh, by the way), Daniels first made the jump to the small screen with Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. Critics were mixed on the series, saying it had “good intentions and benefits from moments of stellar dialogue and a talented cast.”


Woody Allen, Crisis in Six Scenes: Miniseries (2016) 18%

Famous For: Annie Hall (1977) 96%Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) 91%, Blue Jasmine (2013) 91%

How He Fared on TV: Critics were not kind to the controversial writer and director’s TV debut, the 2016 Amazon series Crisis in Six Scenes. Among the scathing reviews were Dana Schwartz of the Observer’s critique that, “Woody Allen setting a new show in the sixties feels a little desperate, like he’s trying to physically yank back his glory days.” Wrote Sonia Saraiya of Variety, “it is hard to see the 80-year-old auteur as charming in the harsh light of the present.”

Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad; Finn Jones in Iron Fist keyart; Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) - Mad Men - Season 2 (AMC/courtesy Everett Collection; Netflix; Frank Ockenfels/AMC)

(Photo by AMC/courtesy Everett Collection; Netflix; Frank Ockenfels/AMC)

Great new shows leave critics and fans clamoring for their second seasons, but new series don’t always deliver when they return for round two – many suffer the dreaded sophomore slump.

That’s not the case with these titles — in fact, just the opposite. We’ve pulled together a list of TV series that enjoyed the biggest sophomore bumps between season 1 and season 2, according to our Tomatometer. To ensure a fair accounting of opinion, we only included series with at least 20 reviews determining their scores in both their first and second seasons (you could find, if you dug deep, shows with bigger season-on-season improvements, but the pool of reviews would be pretty shallow).

A few of the shows here weren’t very good to begin with, so any improvement is noticeable, but others started strong and managed to get even stronger by their second seasons.

Some of the most prestigious titles in television turned up — hello, Breaking Bad and Mad Men — but the series with the biggest bump of all is Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix, which on Friday releases season 2. The second season has a 58% Tomatometer score (updated) from 45 reviews, giving the title a 40% bump between its first and second seasons. The next biggest bump was for Fox’s Human Target, which experienced a 26% jump between season 1 and 2.

Read on to see which other titles were competing with Marvel’s Iron Fist bump.

Updated on February 24, 2019 to reflect season score changes.


15. Narcos: Season 1 (2015) 78% | Narcos: Season 2 (2016) 93%

UP 13%

The show: The first two seasons centered on Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal)’s pursuit of notorious druglord Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura).

The ratings: Netflix won’t say, but they’re still producing the show, this week announcing that the fourth season, set in Mexico, will premiere November 16. Season 3 tackled the Cali cartel.

What improved: Season 2 was building up to the death of Escobar. Screenrant’s Kevin Yeoman wrote, “By streamlining the narrative into a compelling manhunt that makes far better use of actors like Pascal and Holbrook, while still giving Moura room to shine, Narcos has definitely improved in season 2.” AV Club’s Joshua Alston wrote, “Even with less ground to cover, Narcos is pleasantly dense and steadily introduces intriguing new characters to fill its impending power vacuum and firm up the show’s historicity.”


14. The Good Wife: Season 1 (2009) 83% | The Good Wife: Season 2 (2010) 96%

UP 13%

The show: Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) stands by her husband (Chris Noth) when he admits to an affair, and ultimately becomes a successful lawyer with a complicated love life of her own.

The ratings: It was a juggernaut from the beginning by modern broadcast standards. The first two seasons each averaged 13 million viewers and only dipped slightly below 11 million by the end. Spin-off The Good Fight is still going on CBS All Access.

What Improved: The supporting cast became every bit as important as Margulies. Many critics lauded Archie Panjabi for her role as in-house law firm investigator Kalinda Sharma, while USA Today’s Roberto Bianco singled out another: “Wife has expanded its reach to envelop all of its well-acted main characters, a growing stable that now includes Alan Cumming‘s Eli Gold (a great addition).” The show also rewarded viewers who watched every episode making it a worthwhile investment. EW’s Ken Tucker wrote, “The Good Wife is so layered with previous-episode details that are never forgotten that it already has its own sort of mythology.”


13. () % | Mad Men: Season 2 (2008) 100%

UP 16%

The show: Hard-drinking, womanizing ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) tries to survive the ’60s while times change around him; meanwhile, female employees Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) rise through the ranks.

The ratings: After a strong premiere to 1.65 million viewers, season 1 averaged 900,000. It nearly doubled for season 2 as the show’s acclaim made AMC a major player in cable originals.

What Improved: Critics caught on that Mad Men was a slow burn. TV Guide’s Matt Roush said, “Mad Men sizzles, simmering with erotic tension and crackling with cynical wit.” Alan Sepinwall, then with the Newark Star-Ledger, wrote, “as with a great baseball game, the leisurely pace gives you more time to marinate in the details.”


12. You're the Worst: Season 1 (2014) 82% | You're the Worst: Season 2 (2015) 97%

UP 16%

The show: Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere) are both dysfunctional, but they may be perfect for each other. Their friends Lindsay (Kether Donohue) and Edgar (Desmin Borges) may be on their own.

The ratings: Season 1 only averaged 300,000 viewers on FX, so they moved it over to FXX where season 2’s 200,000 was just fine. The show will wrap up in its fifth season next year.

What Improved: Season 2 went deeper into the characters’ psychological issues like Gretchen’s depression. Critics appreciated the frank portrayal of delicate subjects. GQ’s Joshua Rivera praised “the way it handles a sobering character arc while remaining one of the sharpest comedies around.” And like life, You’re the Worst’s problems can’t be solved in 22 minutes. “It resists learning the lesson that each installment would seem to set out to teach its characters,” wrote TV Fanatic’s Caralynn Lippo. The show hits 100% in seasons 3 and 4.


11. Enlightened: Season 1 (2011) 79% | Enlightened: Season 2 (2013) 96%

UP 16%

The show: Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) visits a mental-health retreat after she suffers an epic breakdown at the office. When she returns, she is reassigned to the company’s basement operations with other corporate misfits.

The ratings: Enlightened was never a ratings juggernaut for HBO. The first season barely averaged 170,000 viewers. Season 2 jumped up to 250,000.

What Improved: The show connected with the viewers who saw it, but its season 2 critical surge ultimately couldn’t save it. Alternet’s Eileen Jones said, “Unleash Amy and watch the endless repercussions in unsparing detail and laugh sardonically at your own stumbling way through the poisoned world.” Francine Prose of the New York Review of Books marveled at the strength of the show’s characters, especially “how much of ourselves we may see in them, if we only have the temerity to allow it.”


10. Halt and Catch Fire: Season 1 (2014) 76% | Halt and Catch Fire: Season 2 (2015) 91%

UP 17%

The show: The early days of the computer business were full of drama for Joe (Lee Pace) and Gordon (Scoot McNairy). But by season 2, the show became more about Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna (Kerry Bishe) developing online games.

The ratings: Season 1 averaged 750,000 viewers. Season 2 was down a tad to half a million, but the show held on for four seasons on AMC.

What improved: Turns out software is more dramatic than hardware, and focusing on the women helped. “The fact that two young women are bossing the enterprise gives it an added piquancy,” Globe and Mail’s John Doyle wrote, while Andy Greenwald wrote in Grantland, “Its inversion of decades of prestige-drama gender convention seems painfully obvious, and yet I’m not sure if any other show has actually attempted it.”


9. The Magicians: Season 1 (2016) 74% | The Magicians: Season 2 (2017) 91%

UP 17%

The show: Harry Potter for twentysomethings, the series takes place in a secret magic academy, where young adults learn how to practice the magic they only read about in storybooks.

The ratings: The Magicians averages 750,000 viewers on Syfy with a high of a solid million for the second season premiere. It’s still going with a fourth season on the way.

What Improved: The second season gave fans more of what they wanted: more sex, bad behavior, witty banter, and whimsical magic, but with higher emotional stakes, too. Black Girl Nerds’ Kyndal Wilson wrote, “There is no truer statement than ‘more magic, more problems.’ If you’re already a fan of the show, you won’t want to miss this.” Screenrant’s Molly Freeman called it “another season focused on the darker, more cynical side to magic grounded in the whimsy of the show’s characters.”


8. Breaking Bad: Season 1 (2008) 86% | Breaking Bad: Season 2 (2009) 97%

UP 17%

Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) - Breaking Bad _Season 5 - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels/AMC

(Photo by )

The show: After a cancer diagnosis, high school teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) becomes the crystal meth cook Heisenberg with his partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), to the chagrin of his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn).

The ratings: As AMC’s follow-up original series to Mad Men, Breaking Bad started out modestly. Its first two seasons averaged 1.5 million viewers. It wasn’t until after season 3 that people started binging and catching up to follow the saga as it aired.

What Improved: Season 1 was only seven episodes, so it was just getting started. Season 2 may have been when critic Alan Sepinwall decided it was a modern classic, writing, “This brilliant second season of Breaking Bad is starting to earn a place in any discussion of the classics of the genre.” Sepinwall would go on to write a book on the series, Breaking Bad 101. Newsday’s Verne Gay also accurately predicted the show’s Emmy dominance saying, “if the rest of the season matches Sunday’s premiere, an Emmy nomination for best drama seems certain.”


7. Hannibal: Season 1 (2013) 82% | Hannibal: Season 2 (2014) 98%

UP 17%


The show: Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) works with Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) to help the FBI catch serial killers. Fans of films Red DragonThe Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal and the novels of the same name by author Thomas Harris know, of course, that Hannibal the Cannibal is the most evil one of all.

The ratings: NBC gave series creator Fuller three seasons to tell the story, at least up through the end of the Red Dragon story line. Season 1 dropped from just over 4 million viewers to just below 3 million. The ratings didn’t improve in season 2, but those who kept watching agree that the show did.

What Improved: Fuller rewarded loyal viewers, never compromising the series’ artistic sensibility or explicit gore to try to win new fans. Critics, at least, noticed the level at which Fuller was working; TV Guide’s Matt Roush said, “[It] is a feast of macabre freakishness, going beyond the realm of guilty pleasure in a sustained nightmare of horrific yet elegantly hypnotic design.” Slate’s Willa Paskin marveled, “Somehow it has become an engrossing, psychologically dense show that is also visually stunning.”


6. The Expanse: Season 1 (2015) 78% | The Expanse: Season 2 (2017) 95%

UP 18%

The show: Based on the James S. A. Corey novels, the trio of U.N. executive Chrisjen Avasaraia (Shohreh Aghdashloo), detective Joseph Miller (Thomas Jane), and captain Jim Holden (Steven Strait) combat espionage and hostile alien technology in the colonized solar system.

The ratings: Ratings for the expensive sci-fi series went from 700,000 viewers in season 1 to half a million in season 2 on Syfy. The network ordered a third season, but then cancelled the show. Fans rejoiced when Amazon founder, president, and CEO Jeff Bezos announced that the company’s premium streaming service will distribute the fourth.

What Improved: With a whole solar system, you can imagine there’s a lot of ground for the first season to cover. Those who stuck with it were rewarded with more focused storytelling.“Unburdened with introductory world building and backed by surefooted writing, The Expanse returns as thrilling and intriguing as ever,”  We Got This Covered’s Mitchel Broussard wrote. Indiewire’s Liz Shannon Miller said, “There’s more focus to the first four episodes of the season than expected, thanks to more of the characters uniting in proximity to similar goals.”


5. Penny Dreadful: Season 1 (2014) 80% | Penny Dreadful: Season 2 (2015) 100%

UP 20%

The show: Famous characters from horror literature team up to save Victorian London from monsters, including Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), and Van Helsing (David Warner) with American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and the haunted Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) added to the mix.

The ratings: Season 1 averaged 750,000 viewers for Showtime. Season 2 dropped to about half a million, but surged back by the season finale. The series got a third season, but the season finale ended with “The End,” though Showtime never announced that the show was cancelled.

What Improved: Season 2 didn’t offer a jumping-in point, according to New York Daily News’s David Hinckley, but “it should nicely satisfy those who hopped onto the ride last year.” Salon’s Sonia Saraiya wrote, “If anything, the return from hiatus has shifted Penny Dreadful into even higher gear.”


4. Sense8: Season 1 (2015) 72% | Sense8: Season 2 (2016) 93%

UP 22%

The show: Eight people around the world discover they are linked by extraordinary mental abilities and must team up to survive being hunted by Whispers.

The ratings: Even though Netflix does not release ratings, the streaming service clearly wasn’t happy with the performance of the second season, because the series was cancelled. There were enough passionate fans demanding more Sense8, however, that Netflix agreed to a finale movie, but the Wachowski siblings and J. Michael Straczynski had a five-season plan for this story.

What Improved: The Wachoskis’ bold new mythology takes a while to explain, but patient viewers are rewarded, according to Indiewire’s Liz Shannon Miller, who wrote, “Sense8 may have had a slow start in season 1, but season 2 is a hell of a ride.” The Washington Post’s Sonia Roo wrote that she was just getting into the characters: “Sense8 avoids tokenizing its characters, which involves giving each sensate a full backstory that helps viewers understand what motivates them.”


3. The Newsroom: Season 1 (2012) 48% | The Newsroom: Season 2 (2013)

UP 22%

The show: After a breakdown, newsman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) tries to redeem himself while working under ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), while young producers Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) and Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) try to prove themselves.

The ratings: Creator Aaron Sorkin’s opinionated dramatization of real news stories from recent history polarized audiences and critics, and seasons 1 and 2 hovered around 2 million viewers. Sorkin, who also created acclaimed NBC White House drama The West Wing, decided to end his HBO series after its third season.

What Improved: Sorkin won over some Rotten reviews to Fresh in the second season, like LA Times’ Mary McNamara and People’s Tom Giliatto. A few critics posting negative reviews for season 1 simply didn’t come back to review the second season, like Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz and Time’s James Poniewozik, which also gave Fresh reviews more weight in season 2’s score.


2. Human Target: Season 1 (2010) 62% | Human Target: Season 2 (2010) 88%

UP 26%

Human Target promo art (Fox)

(Photo by Fox)

The show: Based on the DC Comic, Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) keeps his clients safe by making himself the target.

The ratings: A lead-in from American Idol, the action series brought a lot of eyeballs to season 1, though its initial audience of 10 million viewers dropped. By season 2 it was only getting six million, not enough for Fox to give it a third season.

What Improved: If viewers had listened to the critics, they might have known that Human Target really brought it in season 2, adding Indira Varma and Janet Montgomery as two strong female characters. That sold What Culture’s Dan Owen on season 2, writing, “The inclusion of two strong women is an obvious but welcome change to Human Target‘s dynamic.” For HollywoodChicago’s Brian Tallerico, season 2’s changes should have made it must-see TV: “Human Target seems to be taking itself more seriously in season 2, trying to add the emotional weight that might have kept it from becoming a water-cooler hit last season.”


1. Marvel's Iron Fist: Season 1 (2017) 20% | Marvel's Iron Fist: Season 2 (2018) 55%

Up 40%


The show: After studying Kung Fu in Asia, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returns to New York, where he fights crime as the superhero Iron Fist.

The ratings: Netflix does not release ratings, but it’s no secret that season 1 of Iron Fist was a bust. Fans and critics complained about the choppy editing (kind of a problem when showcasing his super power requires badass fight scenes), its slow pace, and derivative echoes of other origin stories.

What Improved: Praise of season 2 credits the show with hearing those complaints and addressing them. TVLine’s Matt Mitovich said in his Rotten review, “Iron Fist season 2 marks an improvement over its well-derided freshman run, but still lacks punch,” while Den of Geek’s Mike Cecchini said in his Fresh review, “A new showrunner, a new fight coordinator… all help tremendously, along with better villains, a more focused story, and a willingness to put the show’s supporting cast to better use.”


Want more?

Here are titles 16-30 of series measured by Tomatometer whose scores increased most between seasons 1 and 2 and the size of their bumps:

16. The Leftovers – 12%
17. American Horror Story – 11%
18. The Knick – 10%
19. The Good Place – 9%
20. Love – 9%
21. The Americans – 9%
22. How to Get Away With Murder – 8%
23. Masters of Sex – 8%
24. Pushing Daisies – 8%
25. Bates Motel – 7%
26. Justified – 7%
27. The Sinner – 7%
28. Game of Thrones – 6%
29. The Missing – 6%
30. Rectify – 5%

This week on home video, we’ve got a little something for everyone, whether you’re looking for some fantastical drama, a bit of sword-and-sandal action, a dash of spy intrigue, or just something to babysit the kids for an hour and a half. Plus, there’s a few smaller releases also worth mentioning, as well as a couple of notable series sets of fan favorite TV shows. Read on for details:



Maleficent

54%

Disney’s Maleficent had a few things going for it: a charismatic, larger-than-life A-lister in the lead role, an intriguing twist on a familiar tale, and a Disney-sized budget for some wild special effects. The only thing it could have used, apparently, was a bit more help in the writer’s room. Angelina Jolie stars as the titular sorceress from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, a fairy once betrayed by the man she loved whose actions are motivated by vengeance. Unfortunately, for every critic who felt it was a novel retelling of the story, there was another who didn’t think there was enough substance to justify the film, despite a winning performance from Jolie and a fair amount of visual spectacle. Maleficent ultimately split critics down the middle, earning a 49 percent Tomatometer score. Bonus features include a handful of short making-of docs and five deleted scenes.



Hercules

58%

As long as we’re talking about fantastical tales, we might as well mention Hercules, Brett Ratner’s (After the Sunset, Tower Heist) take on the tale of the legendary demi-god. Dwayne Johnson (The Tooth Fairy) dons the armor here, aided by a misfit gang of mercenaries and his nephew, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), whose job it is to spread (embellished) word of Hercules’s exploits. When Hercules is hired to train the armies of Thrace to defend against the attack of an invading warlord, he finds himself in the middle of a complicated power struggle. Johnson is almost always fun to watch, and surrounded by the likes of Ian McShane, John Hurt, and Rufus Sewell, among others, he gave most critics what they were expecting, especially in a Brett Ratner film. At 59 percent on the Tomatomter, Hercules performed about as well as anyone could have predicted. Special features include featurettes on the characters, the weapons, and special effects, as well as some deleted and extended scenes, plus more.



Planes: Fire and Rescue

44%

In case you missed it, Disney’s direct-to-video studio, Disneytoon, made a Cars spinoff called Planes last year and released it in theaters, and though most grown-ups saw it for what it was — a fairly standard money grab intended to capitalize on the immense kid-popularity of the Pixar property — most kids saw it for what it also was, namely, “Ooh, talking planes!” No surprise, then, that we got a sequel this year, though it is somewhat surprising that it was actually better-received than the original (and only four percentage points below Maleficent on the Tomatometer). Dane Cook reprises his role as the voice of Dusty the ambitious cropduster-turned-racing plane, who inadvertently sets an airport on fire and subsequently decides to take on a new career as a firefighter. This isn’t top notch animated entertainment or particularly inventive storytelling, agree most critics, but it’s a pleasantly agreeable enough diversion for the kids, if you’re in the market for that. Extras include a handful of animated shorts, a look at some of the real vehicles that inspired the characters, and a few other items, all kid-friendly.



A Most Wanted Man

85%

Depending on what you think of the franchise, it’s almost a little disappointing that the final two screen appearances of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman — an extremely gifted, versatile Oscar-winner — will come in the form of a supporting role in a blockbuster YA series, even if it is The Hunger Games. Thankfully, he also recently starred in a smaller thriller that arguably made much better use of his talents. In the John le Carré adaptation A Most Wanted Man, Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann, a German intelligence agent on the trail of a Chechen refugee he suspects is a terrorist with ties to Al Qaeda. Following up on a separate lead, Bachmann teams up with another German official and an American diplomat to infiltrate a local network and analyze the threat. A Most Wanted Man is Certified Fresh at 90 percent on the Tomatometer, with critics calling it a smart, thoughtfully told thriller that builds suspense as it moves along. There are only two bonus features: a standard making-of featurette, and a 9-minute interview with le Carré discussing his personal history in intelligence.

Also available this week:

  • The Dog (94 percent), a Certified Fresh documentary about John Wojtowicz, the man whose fascinating story inspired Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon.
  • The Discoverers (88 percent), starring Griffin Dunne in a road trip comedy about a professor en route to a conference with his kids who takes a detour when he learns his father has gone missing.
  • The One I Love (80 percent), starring Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss in a dramedy about a struggling married couple who retreat to a remote cabin to rekindle their love, only to discover the guest house holds a bizarre, mysterious secret.
  • Frontera (54 percent), starring Ed Harris and Michael Pena in a drama about a Mexican immigrant who is suspected of murdering an Arizona sheriff’s wife.
  • Premature (41 percent), a coming-of-age comedy about a high school senior who discovers he relives the same day over and over again… every time he has an orgasm.
  • Season two of HBO’s The Newsroom (69 percent), starring Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer, is available on DVD and Blu-ray, ahead of its season three premiere this weekend.
  • Universal is releasing a Complete Series set of the popular NBC show Quantum Leap, which stars Scott Bakula as a quantum physicist whose consciousness jumps through time, temporarily inhabiting the bodies of different people.
  • Fans of the BBC’s Sherlock might be interested in the Sherlock Limited Edition Gift Set, which includes all three seasons of the series to date on DVD/Blu-ray combo discs, new bonus features, collectible busts of both Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Watson, and a couple of art cards.

According to fan-favorite Joss Whedon, the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," the all-new trailer for his big-screen "Firefly" adventure (entitled "Serenity") will debut today at the Apple / Quicktime trailers page at approximately 4:00 PM (eastern). Based on the short-lived, yet widely-admired science fiction series, "Serenity" will be a big-screen adventure that mixes sci-fi adventure with a decidedly Western motif.

The entire cast from the Fox series will be returning for the multiplex adaptation, and that includes Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Adam Baldwin, and Alan Tudyk. "Serenity" is scheduled to hit theaters on September 30th, but the legions of fans out there are pretty darn excited to see the trailer today.

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