TV might be riding along in a long-winded golden age, but that doesn’t mean that ever single thing put in front of us is worth watching. Not everything can be good, but that’s okay when there are a decent amount of good things out there. Even then, the real challenge comes when a good show gets a second season.
Sure, some shows are built for a traditional progression into a new part of their story by virtue of what network they were made for or what they were adapted from or based on. Greys Anatomy might seem tired after 18 seasons, but it’s written to keep going until Ellen Pompeo decides she doesn’t want to be Meredith Grey anymore. Minx’s first season might only be 8 episodes long, but the finale leaves off in a place that means that there has to be more to the story. A lot of shows, good or bad, are able to keep us watching because they know how to keep viewers invested at the end of one story arc, and remain entertained once a new one starts. It’s the most basic part of keeping a multi-season show alive, and even in the age of streaming, plenty of series have been able to keep people captivated. Orange Is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the good seasons of Game of Thrones kept viewers coming back for more because they had more to give their audiences. The same cannot be said for a lot of their contemporaries.
When Big Little Lies premiered on HBO in 2017, the series was loved by critics and general audiences alike, and very quickly garnered a huge following. Though it was originally planned to be a limited series based on the Liane Moriarty book of the same name—and was submitted as such for multiple awards—HBO renewed the show for a second season. Despite the addition of Meryl Streep to the cast, Season 2 of Big Little Lies is generally regarded by fans as a letdown. It was better left as a one-off story that ended when the book it was adapted from did. Ironically, Big Little Lies suffered from a similar problem as the last seasons of Game of Thones. Despite there being wisps of source material to base the story on, both series suffered in quality when there wasn’t any solid story left to adapt. Big Little Lies Season 2 was based off of an unpublished novella written by Liane Moriarty specifically to give HBO more material to adapt, but adding on to a story that is finished isn’t easy. People can tell when the heart of a show is gone, and just because you have something that’s technically another canon addition to the story doesn’t mean that what you make from it will be good.
This isn’t only a flaw in adapted shows, either. Another of HBO’s giants, Euphoria’s second season didn’t receive the same reception that its first did. Unlike Big Little Lies, Euphoria was never advertised as a limited series, but it did manage to feel like one when the Season 1 finale closed out. For all intents and purposes, the series could have cut itself off there. We would have been left to wonder what really happened to Rue after she didn’t get on that train; ambiguous endings aren’t unheard of. The fact that the second season had more and more people wondering if the show was even good (outside of the talent of a select group of actors) is a sign enough that maybe Sam Levinson should have considered leaving things where they were. It’s not like there wasn’t more of a story to tell with Euphoria, it’s just that the story we ended up getting didn’t live up to the expectations that had been rightfully set.
Even shows that do manage to push themselves to make a well-regarded Season 2 aren’t free of issues. The announcement that HBO Max’s hit The Flight Attendant would be getting a Season 2 took me by surprise. I had assumed that it was going to be a limited series simply because that was the vibe it gave off. The little tag at the end of Cassie’s new job felt like a nice note to close on, not something that the writers would use to fuel an entire second season. That’s not to say that The Flight Attendant Season 2 is a letdown like Big Little Lies was, but it did feel disjointed in a way that is similar to Euphoria. It’s a wonderful character study, but it can’t maintain the elements of spy drama that fueled its first season. Those elements are far from gone, but they feel like a second thought when compared to Season 1. Instead of the action and character development collaborating in a balancing act, the two are at a constant tug of war throughout the second season that leads me to ask the same question I have of many of these shows: Was it even worth it?
At the end of the day, more TV needs to take a note from shows that are based off of wild, real life corporate collapses or true-crime. You don’t see people begging for a second season of The Dropout, because the story is finished, and it wouldn’t make any sense. Inventing Anna may have been plagued by infuriatingly long episodes, but at least there won’t be a Season 2 because—despite how successful it was—that just wouldn’t make any sense. Those shows are forced into the limited series box because of the nature of the true events they’re based off of, but that shouldn’t be a requirement for telling a story that would be better left alone when it reaches its natural conclusion. If HBO produced a second season of Sharp Objects jumping off of the shocking revelation of the killer, it would be terrible, because said revelation is supposed to serve as a stopping point for that story. (It’s surprising they didn’t, since HBO is one of the worst offenders of this trend, with limited series Mare of Easttown and The White Lotus renewed for second seasons).
It’s not hard to understand the desire to expand a well-loved show into something larger. Streaming services like Netflix consider subscriber growth as a factor when looking at the fates of their projects. If a show’s first season gets them more users, it’s more likely to get renewed regardless of if a new season is best for the story. The limited series may have become a television staple in the last 5 years, but at the end of the day money is the bottom line that TV distributors care about.
Regardless, trying to squeeze something out of the dried husk of a television show that has done a great job of wrapping itself up is, in the bluntest way possible, a bad idea. Just because something is good doesn’t mean it will stay that way, and letting things die after a season leaves more room for shows that can be just as good or even better. It is generally best to let sleeping dogs lie, especially when they don’t have anything interesting left to say.
Kathryn Porter is a freelance writer who will talk endlessly about anything entertainment given the chance. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter.
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