Sophomore seasons can be make-it-or-break-it efforts for a lot of shows. For the ones that managed critically acclaimed and successful first seasons, it means maintaining the pace and magical things that made the first season a hit.
For shows that struggled a bit more to get the second season order, it is a chance to grow into their world’s and prove they deserve that expanded audience.
It’s a lot of pressure no matter what side a show is on, and some shows knock it out of the park while others fail to make contact in the second effort. Zap2it takes a look at some of fall’s returning shows and rates how they are living up to their first season hype.
‘Jane the Virgin’ (The CW) – Comeback
“Jane the Virgin’s” Season 2 premiere episode shows that the Golden Globe winning darling knows how to expand without losing its soul. The stakes are higher now that Jane is a mom and new telenovela villains come into play and threaten her happiness. However, even as the plot gets crazier the most important thing remains to be Jane’s — and now baby Mateo’s — happiness and the show continues to keep their fans deeply invested in their fates.
Not to mention there’s also the highly anticipated Kesha and Britney Spears cameos.
‘iZombie’ (The CW) – Comeback
“iZombie” had a troublesome first half of a first season as they tried too hard to slam zombie-ness into a cold procedural. By the second half, the show realized that not everything had to be so dark and dreary and found their sweet spot by letting Liz (Rose McIver) have some fun. The Season 2 premiere “Grumpy Old Liz” showed they are continuing in that direction, which gives a much more optimistic feeling for fans and makes them more likely to recommend giving the show a second chance to their friends.
‘How to Get Away with Murder’ (ABC) – Slump
It seems that the key to getting away with murder on Shondaland’s TGIT capper is committing more murder — which won’t be sustainable for long. “HTGAWM’s” Season 2 problem is that they are trying to over-complicate the plot to stop fans from figuring out the new mystery — but it’s getting too crowded to understand what’s actually going on at all.
In one episode they are dealing with Sam’s (Tom Verica) murder trial, Annalise’s (Viola Davis) case of the week, the season-long trial and Rebecca’s (Katie Findlay) disappearance/murder. Throw in Annalise’s affair with Eve (Famke Janssen) and it’s a huge mess that requires a lot of dedication to untangle. The show needs to simplify to gain back its Season 1 intrigue.
'The Affair' (Showtime) - Comeback
On the other hand, making things messier and more complicated has been working well for "The Affair" in Season 2. The Showtime drama that depicts two people cheating on their spouses from each of their perspectives ups the ante this season by adding in those spurned spouses' perspectives of the aftermath as well. Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson) still drive the story, but the added sides of Cole (Joshua Jackson) and Helen (Maura Tierney) fill out the story and even more emotional grit to a show that could cause aneurysms from its constant tension.
'The Flash' (The CW) - Comeback
In "The Flash's" freshman finale, the show opened up the multiverse which allows the show's creative team to pull from any of the many "Flash" comic book storylines and bring them into their Barry Allen's (Grant Gustin) world. It is a genius move that gives the show endless possibilities, but the writers are wisely not opening everything up at once. They've introduced Earth 2 and brought in Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears) to focus on one big bad, Zoom, and several smaller scale villains. Having "Arrow" and the upcoming "DC's Legends of Tomorrow" also helps pace out the show's action so they don't get overwhelmed and risk leaving too many loose ends.
'Empire' (FOX) - Slump
It almost feels unfair to call this a slump, but "Empire's" ratings have slipped since its blockbuster first season. That's to be expected because no one stays at the top forever, but the show is still performing really well. The potential problem, and explanation for the slight slippage in audience, is the show has gone back to shock factor in the early part of Season 2 rather than focusing on family relationships.
There's been a cannibal and rotting corpses in just the first four episodes with twice as many famous guest stars crammed in. Some of those are pleasant treats -- Kelly Rowland and Ludacris -- while others become more of a distraction than addition to the show (Chris Rock). "Empire" needs to hone in more on the thing that made it a success first season -- Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and what this family is willing to do to each other to keep control of the Empire.
'Gotham' (FOX) - Comeback
"Gotham" got off to a rocky start in Season 1 with the critique that the pacing was too slow and fans didn't have the attention span to wait for the show to get deep into "Batman" lore. Now that the show has established its roots -- and made the case that it's Jim Gordon's story, not Bruce Wayne's -- things are rocking and rolling.
That's in large part because The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) has taken over as Gotham City's crime lord, and Jerome (Cameron Monaghan) has created a sick new twist on the most iconic "Batman" villain of all. Let the "Batman" go and "Gotham" has something worth watching.
'The Leftovers' (HBO) - Comeback
In a rare occurrence, "The Leftovers" being tied to their book source material in Season 1 may have been the thing holding it back. There was too much to explain without the screen time to do it. In the sophomore season, the show has diverged from the original material and swung for the fences. It's not always going to make sense, but it has made a more intriguing show to watch with a ton of water cooler moments. Sometimes a change of direction is what a show needs to find its feet and that seems to be what this HBO thriller has figured out.
'CSI: Cyber' (CBS) - Slump
Has the era of "CSI" ended, even for its spinoffs? The original came to a close with a two-hour TV movie, leaving "Cyber" the only piece of the "CSI" brand airing new episodes. D.B. Russell (Ted Danson) has joined the spin-off to hopefully bring some of the original's die-hard fan base over, but the show still seems to be struggling to find its edge. Solving Internet crimes isn't enough to make the show more compelling than the plethora of other procedurals available to whet your crime solving appetite.
The original idea behind "Cyber" was to create a spin-off that wasn't just "CSI" in a different location, but by putting it on the Internet it removes the forensic geek stuff that made the original, and it's subsequent spin-offs, a stand-out.