With the recent boom in TV anthologies and limited duration “event series,” one can’t help but think of past TV shows that might have been better served producing only one season.
Often, when a series goes past one season, it runs into trouble. Sometimes a concept just doesn’t support a longer run. Other times it’s possible that someone might have been able to make a decent show beyond one season, but the writers didn’t have ideas that worked.
What are some shows that might have been better off as One Season Wonders?
That FOX is working on reviving Prison Break is a head-scratcher. The first season of this high concept series was quite fascinating. A brilliant young man deliberately got himself sent to prison in order to execute an elaborate scheme to break out his wrongfully convicted brother. The first season was full of tension, action and twists. It ended with the brothers, along with a few other prisoners, breaking out.
And then the problems set in. Prison Break was really a one season show. After the break, it lost a lot of momentum. The second season spent 22 episodes detailing what happened after the breakout. The few interesting moments could have comprised one additional episode. After that, the characters wound up in South America where they… had to break out of another prison. And then the show got even more bizarre from there. One season would have been more than enough.
This soap opera based on The Count of Monte Cristo produced an excellent, highly entertaining first season. Watching a rich young woman get revenge on the people responsible for her father’s downfall packed in a lot of juicy drama. But after that first season, the show had trouble keeping focus. The writers started exploring other characters wanting revenge, which diluted the thematic purity of the concept.
Worse, once the show was a hit, the writers kept finding new ways to delay the completion of the central mission. Along the way, its anti-heroine became less and less sympathetic as she wreaked more havoc. The main story reached a logical conclusion by the end of season 3. And then kept going. A Revenge that lasted one season would have been a TV classic. At four seasons, not so much.
This was another case where a high concept produced a lot of fun over the course of one season. Problems set in when the creators tried to find a way to keep things going beyond that. The supernatural goings on produced a lot of inspired lunacy in season one. But once season two rolled around, the writers veered wildly off course in an attempt to “broaden” the series. And season three has felt almost pointless.
The issue for Sleepy Hollow was that it was structured as a quest. The longer a TV series stretches out a quest, the less interesting it generally becomes. Season two had plenty of other narrative missteps, to boot. Had the writers wrapped up Abbie and Ichabod’s story after one season, fans would regard it a lot more warmly.
Heroes arrived on TV before the current superhero boom had really taken off. It was a breath of fresh air, original and involving. “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World” was a mission statement that was the right blend of cryptic, intriguing and outrageous. Building up to the showdown with villain Sylar in the season one finale kept momentum going strong. Even if the final battle itself was somewhat anti-climactic.
The problem Heroes faced was not knowing what to do with its concept after the season one story that united its cast in a logical way. After that, characters scattered to a lot of different narrative corners without obvious connections. A raft of newcomers, many of them not that interesting, swarmed the show. And putting the focus on Sylar and the complicated mythology the writers concocted did the series no favors. Another season of Heroes could have worked, but its creators didn’t have the ideas to pull it off. One season would have been preferable.
The problem that Boardwalk Empire faced was how far afield it went from its central premise of telling the story of Nucky Thompson, the central gangster of Atlantic City during Prohibition. The series wandered further off-track the longer it went on. In retrospect, instead of five seasons, Boardwalk Empire would have been more effective as one season that covered several years of Nucky’s life, from his rise to his downfall. Frequent digressions, such as following Al Capone’s career in Chicago, could easily have been cut. The boozy adventures of promiscuous moll Lucy Danzinger? Not needed. A tighter focus on Nucky could have produced one truly compelling narrative.
Masters of Sex
Season one of this Showtime drama depicting highly fictionalized versions of pioneering researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson was daring and unpredictable. And pretty quickly, season two became repetitive and far-fetched. Especially the further from the real lives of its subjects the show went. By the time the series added a fictitious child for the duo on the advice of Showtime’s legal department, you had to wonder what the point really was. Like Boardwalk Empire, one season that covered the relevant career of Masters and Johnson over several years, cutting out the imaginary relationships, characters and story beats that have clogged up the show, would have been a much more logical fit for the concept.
When it debuted, this mash-up of mystery, comedy and biting commentary on the hypocrisy of suburbia was rather striking. It boasted a killer cast and a central mystery that was truly compelling. Even with its frequent detours into silliness, season one overall was a winner.
And that’s pretty much where the winning stopped. After season one, the writers struggled to concoct new mysteries to entice viewers, but they frequently sputtered out to disappointing conclusions. New characters came and went with little impact. Certain stories and relationships progressed in jerky fashion, often abandoned for weeks with little attention to continuity. Nothing the show did later ever compared to its first season. Wrapping after that one compelling season would have saved everyone involved a lot of heartache.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on February 23, 2016.