Hypothesis: Season Two Is the Best or Worst Season of Every Show

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Friday Night Lights, Scandal, and The Office. Photo: NBC/ABC

After seven seasons on the air, Scandal finishes its run next week, which might be news if, like me, you are one of the legions of once-devoted Scandal fans who’ve since gotten show-divorced with the Shondaland drama. (Once it turned into 24: But Like, Sexy, I was out.) But whether you jumped ship in season four or stuck it out to the very end, we’ll always have Scandal’s second season, which was just about as perfect a season of broadcast television you could want. The twists were captivating, and the ridiculousness was balanced on the knife edge between fun and stupid. There were stolen elections! Remote-controlled sniper rifles! A love quadrangle! And not too much B613.

That kind of balancing act can be almost impossible for a show to pull off more than a few seasons in a row, but when they get into a groove, season two is often when they do it. Dramas expand their scale and raise the stakes. Comedies figure out who their characters actually are. Dramedies … do both, I guess. By season seven, a show has usually become a parody of its former self, and the former self it’s trying to be is often what it was in season two.

Of course, it’s not the golden age for every show. Some shows burst out of the gate strong, only to fall flat in season two. (Just like in the music business, you have your whole life to plan your show’s first season, and a few months to plan its second.) Other shows, maybe having slightly underperformed in the ratings, overcorrect based on network notes. Sometimes they manage to get back on track, sometimes they just keep getting worse, but either way, season two is where the trouble started.

With both Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale coming back for their second seasons soon, I’ve been thinking a lot about second seasons lately. And when I get thinking, I tend to come up with grand pronouncements that may or may not hold up under any sort of scrutiny. Thus, I present to you my hypothesis: Season Two Is the Best Or Worst Season of Every Show.

Wow! That’s an impressive take, if I do say so myself. Could it be true? Let’s run down some examples and see.

Friday Night Lights
Season two is the worst. This is uncontroversial.

The Office
With all due respect to season five’s Michael Scott Paper Company arc, season two is the greatest Office season. You’ve got “Office Olympics,” the one-two punch of “Christmas Party” and “Booze Cruise,” freaking “Casino Night.” It’s the best.

Twin Peaks
Another fairly unanimous pick for “worst.”

How I Met Your Mother
Best!

Homeland
Worst!

Parks & Rec
I see the case for season three as the best, but as the rare Parks fan who actually kind of enjoys Mark Brendanawicz, I prefer season two. Late Parks could get a little too sugary with the romances for me, and season two has a little less fascination with finding every character’s OTP.

Arrested Development
There are like three episodes of Arrested Development I haven’t seen and they’re all in season two. For some reason, these are the only episodes anybody ever quotes to me. The most logical conclusion is that season two is the best.

Grey’s Anatomy
Izzie and Denny! Exploding Kyle Chandler! It’s the best.

Chuck
Chuck hasn’t quite had the internet afterlife some of its contemporaries did, but I’m here to tell you, season two of Chuck is the best.

Veronica Mars
Remember the Fitzpatricks? Blech. It’s the worst.

30 Rock
Only 15 episodes, so it’s all killer, no filler, baby! It’s the best.

The Wire
Depending on who you ask, the best Wire season is either season two or season four. “Tie goes to the earlier season” is a rule I just made up. It’s the best!

The Good Place
Only two seasons so far, so by definition season two is either the best or the worst. Unless they’re tied, which would make it both the best and the worst. Loopholes are very Good Place.

The Leftovers
I haven’t made it to season two, but my co-workers inform me that it’s the best.

UnREAL and Mr. Robot
I have not seen season two of these shows either, but as a person who has to spend ten hours on the internet every day, I know that people don’t like them.

Looking good so far! However, you will note that the above list does not include every television show ever made. Turns out there are plenty of second seasons that are neither the best nor the worst. Sometimes the shows hadn’t quite figured themselves out yet (Seinfeld, Sex and the City), or the seasons were good but not the obvious high point (Friends, The Sopranos), or they weren’t great but also were not the worst (Girls, Game of Thrones).

So, it turns out this was just one of those hot takes that doesn’t really hold up, but still, it’s a fun thing to talk about. You might say it’s provocative, it gets the people going. Please let me know if you’ve found other second seasons that fit the hypothesis. Or even if you haven’t! If, like, LilAldaFan69 wants to pop up in the comments to say that season two of M*A*S*H was just okay, go for it.

Hypothesis: Season Two Is Every Show’s Best or Worst Season