7 of TV's biggest one-season wonders

Steve O'Brien

From Digital Spy

Some TV shows arrive with a bang and become watercooler events before episode two has even screened. Remember when the whole country, it seemed, was asking who killed Danny Latimer?

Or when we all thought True Detective was going to be the series that knocked The Sopranos to the number two slot in the Greatest Shows of All-Time run-down? Happy days for us, happy days for its makers, and happy days for the networks.

But sometimes one good season is all a series has. Not every show has the stamina to keep it up, year after year. So here the series that, at one point, had viewers gripped, only to screw it all up in their second season...

1. Heroes

Photo credit: NBC Universal

When Heroes hit in 2006, reviewers were quick to label it 'the new Lost'. With its dizzyingly humongous cast of characters, this admirably ambitious series told the story of a group of ordinary people who discover they have superhuman powers.

In the years before the MCU and DCEU, telly programmes about superheroes were thin on the ground, but Tim Kring's series throbbed with a love of the genre, and stirred together that comic-book sensibility with some sophisticated long-form storytelling, averaging 14million viewers during its first series.

Sadly, the show's second season coincided with the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, leading to a series that most fans lambasted as being slow and unfocused. The show limped on for two more seasons after that, halving its first series viewing figures by the end. Its 2015 sequel show, Heroes Reborn, died after just one unwatched and unloved season.

2. True Detective

Photo credit: HBO

As prestige television goes, there's been little to better True Detective's first season in the past decade. Nic Pizzolatto's brilliant and brooding script has the feel of a top-tier indie flick spread over eight languorous episodes. Starring two of the business' best – Woody Harrelson and a never-better Matthew McConaughey – it won HBO a lorryload of awards and impressive viewing figures.

Pizzolatto's show was always intended as an anthology series. Unlike American Horror Story, however, True Detective didn't cling on to any of its cast, so Harrelson and McConaughey were out, as was the show's sweaty Louisiana setting. Instead, season two relocated the action to California and brought in Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and – oh dear – Vince Vaughn as a new set of characters.

With its sun-bleached Californian locales, True Detective's second season simply looked like most other shows on TV, while its labyrinthine plotting had most viewers scratching their heads. HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo later claimed responsibility for the season's failure, saying that he'd been too impatient.

"The first season of True Detective was something that Nic Pizzolatto had been thinking about, gestating, for a long period of time," he said. "When we tell somebody to hit an air date as opposed to allowing the writing to find its own natural resting place, when it's ready, when it's baked – we've failed."

A third season of True Detective, starring Mahershala Ali, has been greenlit, but – importantly – there's been no airdate announced. Let's hope HBO has given Pizzolatto enough cooking time for this one.

3. The Killing US

Adapted from the show that kickstarted our love affair with Scandi-noir, Denmark's Forbrydelsen, AMC's The Killing premiered to rapturous write-ups in 2011, with The Hollywood Reporter calling it, "excellent, absorbing and addictive. When each episode ends, you long for the next – a hallmark of great dramas."

But they didn't reveal the killer at the end. Which frustrated viewers, to say the least.

A lacklustre second season saw ratings plunge and AMC killed the show in 2012. It did eventually return as a Netflix series in 2013, lasting two seasons on the streaming giant. Sadly, the shine had come off long before.

4. Dark Angel

Photo credit: Fox

Co-conceived by Terminator maestro James Cameron, Dark Angel arrived on TV screens in 2000 to a deafening fanfare. Headlining Jessica Alba (in her breakthrough role) as a genetically enhanced super-soldier in the near-future, it justified the hype for its first year, winning rave reviews and impressive ratings for the Fox network (its Cameron-directed first episode drew in a whopping 17.4 million viewers).

But it wasn't to last. Not only did the second series suffer struggle with some muddled storytelling but Fox also moved the show to a not-exactly-desirable Friday night slot. Ratings took a dive and, despite a Cameron-helmed final episode, the series was axed in 2002. He hasn't been near another television show since.

5. Broadchurch

Photo credit: ITV

Though you'd be hard pressed to get Chris Chibnall to admit it, everything about Broadchurch's first season points to it being commissioned, written and filmed as a one-off, only to be given an unexpected second series when its ratings blew ITV's roof off.

It was a perfect season, with a perfect full stop at its end. Broadchurch's story had been told. So with season two, it wasn't so much a new story, but an unwanted coda to the first series.

Focusing on the murder trial of Danny Latimer's killer and also the return of an old case for Alec Hardy, it simply couldn't compete plot-wise.

Some of the damage, it must be said, was undone by the moderately improved third season, but Broadchurch is still a series that, like The Matrix, works best if you pretend the first is the only one that exists.

6. Top of the Lake

Photo credit: BBC

TV networks can usually guarantee themselves column inches galore if they manage to coax a marquee-name movie director over to the small screen. That's what the BBC got when they hooked up with The Piano's Oscar-winner Jane Campion for the 2013 murder mystery Top of the Lake with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss headlining as a Sydney-based policewoman investigating a murder in her hometown of Laketop, New Zealand.

Like True Detective, New Zealand was such a key element in the success of the first series that the second season's move to the streets of Sydney robbed it of its haunting, misty uniqueness. Not to totally denigrate that second season, it was still pretty decent, but it just didn't feel special anymore.

7. Nighty Night

Photo credit: BBC

Julia Davis' bruise-black comedy was one of the fledgling BBC Three's earliest bullseyes. A gleefully taboo-busting and brilliantly layered sitcom about a narcissistic sociopath's (Davis) attempts to break up the marriage of her neighbours, it boasted juicy supporting roles for Angus Deayton, Mark Gatiss and even a pre-Gavin and Stacey Ruth Jones. It even won Davis a Royal Television Society Award for Best Comedy Actress.

Then the second season happened. Jettisoning the naturalism of the first series, Nighty Night's sophomore season went too far in every direction.

Whereas the first series had a poignant, melancholic quality to it, helped by its meticulous realism, there was too much black farce and gross-out indulgence in the second. Thankfully, Davis managed to reign it back in again for her next self-penned series, the period-com Hunderby.

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