Slump or Surge?

Sophomore TV Shows: Which Will Surge and Which Will Slump?

Can ‘Arrow’ stay true? Can ‘The Carrie Diaries’ recover? Jason Lynch predicts how shows will fare in their second seasons.

Netflix (2); The CW; FX

Netflix (2); The CW; FX

Netflix (2); The CW; FX

For freshman TV series, surviving that first year and landing a renewal is a Herculean task. (In May, the broadcast networks brought back only one third of last season’s new crop.) But then, the real struggle begins, as a show’s second season is often its make-or-break year. After a season’s worth of growing pains and tweaking under its belt, will the series make the leap and fully realize its potential, as Scandal and New Girl gloriously did last year, or will it hit the dreaded sophomore slump and watch that initial promise implode, as was the case with Revenge, Up All Night, and Smash? We look at 16 returning second-year series and predict which shows will surge this season—and which will slump.

Craig Blankenhorn/FX

‘The Americans’

FX, returns early 2014

 

On the heels of the strongest, most assured debut season since Homeland, this FX drama about Russian spies undercover in ’80s D.C. suburbia seems likely to avoid its Showtime predecessor’s second-year missteps. There are still several seasons worth of meaty material to mine in the thorny, intricate relationship between Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell), which is equally as enthralling as the drama’s spy storylines (unlike Homeland, where the Carrie/Brody romance has already outlived its natural expiration date). This year, the show is elevating three of last year’s standouts—Annet Mahendru (as Russian mole turned double-agent Nina), Alison Wright (as Martha, the FBI secretary secretly “married” to an undercover Philip) and Susan Misner (as Sandra, Stan Beeman’s wife)—to cast regulars, which will help make up for the loss of handler Claudia, as Margo Martindale’s role on the new CBS sitcom The Millers will likely limit her to only a few guest appearances. Given its deep bench of actors and stories, The Americans seems primed for a breakthrough (and, with luck, another wig-tastic) second season. SURGE

Cate Cameron/The CW

‘Arrow’

The CW, returns Oct. 9

 

One of the CW's few legitimate hits, Arrow started strongly and confidently, and only improved as the season progressed, adding key allies to Oliver Queen’s inner circle (sidekick John Diggle and tech guru Felicity) while shoring up the Green Arrow comic mythology by establishing a solid lineup of bad guys (Constantine Drakon, Deadshot and China White). This nimble series should continue to fly straight and true, and even if it falters, Stephen Amell’s abs alone will be a longtime draw for many. SURGE

‘Bates Motel’

A&E, returns early 2014

 

The Psycho prequel’s first season had its rocky moments but was anchored deftly by Vera Farmiga’s captivating (and Emmy-nominated) turn as Norma Bates. The show still has some heavy lifting to do, but Freddie Highmore’s Norman is developing nicely (though the last shot of the finale indicates the show is moving his character’s journey along at a faster clip than earlier indicated). As Farmiga and Highmore continue to take the show in more disturbing areas, I don’t anticipate checking out anytime soon. SURGE

Ben Mark Holzberg/The CW

‘Beauty and the Beast’

The CW, returns Oct. 7

 

Given its anemic ratings, even the cast and crew seemed surprised that The CW renewed this series about the world's least convincing detective and her less-than-hideous Beast (one scar does not a Beast make, people). The show has the least buzz of any second season renewal except maybe The Neighbors, and it’s difficult to see that changing anytime soon. SLUMP

Patrick Harbron/The CW

‘The Carrie Diaries’

The CW, returns Oct. 25

 

Last year’s Sex and the City prequel was low-rated but likely too high-profile to discard so quickly, so The CW has relegated it to Fridays, where second-year growth seems unlikely. AnnaSophia Robb is doing nice work as young Carrie Bradshaw, but the way the network is already promoting the addition of Samantha Jones (to be played by Lindsey Gort) to the Season 2 cast indicates they’ll be fast-tracking Carrie’s story in hopes of trying to snag the many SATC fans who aren’t tuning in (who’s next, Mr. Big?). SLUMP

NBC

‘Chicago Fire’

NBC, returns Sept. 24

 

As Revolution ran out of steam later in the season, Chicago Fire quietly became NBC’s most dependable new series. But the network, desperately in need of new viewers, is moving too quickly in ordering a spinoff (Chicago PD, coming midseason) for a show that is only a year old. Assuming the spinoff won't dilute its audience, Fire should be a nice fit with The Voice’s result show, which will air right before it. And of course, executive producer Dick Wolf (Law & Order) certainly knows his way around nurturing franchises on NBC. This is one of the toughest calls, but I’ll bet on continued momentum. SURGE

Des Willie

‘Elementary’

CBS, returns Sept. 26

 

Scandal got all the Thursday night buzz, but this Sherlock Holmes drama (starring Jonny Lee Miller as the eccentric detective and Lucy Liu as his level-headed assistant) has been a solid performer and one of the most distinctive procedurals on a network overstuffed with them. The show skillfully jumped into the Holmes mythology nicely in its later episodes; with luck, it will continue to flesh out Watson’s backstory just as vibrantly. That said, the show cannot drop the ball on any future big episodes—including its upcoming season premiere, shot in London—as it did with this year’s forgettable post-Super Bowl entry, perhaps its weakest hour of the whole season. SURGE

‘The Following’

FOX, returns January

 

After memorably debuting with last season’s best pilot, The Following soon began chasing its own tail as it recycled plot points weekly—and weakly (Whoa, he's secretly in on the plot! And she's secretly in on it too!). Viewers have stuck around so far, but how much longer can the cat-and-mouse game between Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) really continue? When will Joe run out of disposable disciples? How many more times can poor Ryan be tortured? And how can the FBI remain this incompetent for this long? Unless The Following finds a creative jolt, there doesn't seem to be anything fresh left in the tank for Season 2. SLUMP

NBC

‘Hannibal’

NBC, returns 2014

 

One of last season’s biggest surprises was Bryan Fuller's turning Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon (which introduced the world to a man named Hannibal Lecter) into the creepiest, most visually arresting broadcast show in years. Fuller clearly has a unique, disturbing vision for Hannibal, both short and long-term, and I can't wait to see what’s on the menu for Season 2. While large audiences will never warm to it, Hannibal delivers dark, cable-quality fare (with performances to match from Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy) on a broadcast network in a way that The Following can only dream of.  SURGE

Photographer: Melinda Sue Gordon

‘House of Cards’

Netflix, returns early 2014

 

There's no way to tell whether this D.C. drama was a hit or how many viewers even finished the first season (Netflix refuses to release any ratings info), but it certainly scored with Emmy voters, who gave it nine nominations. Still, Netflix's strategy of releasing the entire season’s episodes at once might not be helping Cards’ long-term prospects, as the buzz has been decidedly muted since shortly after its February debut. While Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are (almost) always a pleasure to watch, Season 2 will also be missing the show's real MVP, Corey Stoll, who played doomed congressman Peter Russo. And given the oddly muted note the season ended on, it’s unclear where the series goes next. Another difficult call, but I don’t see a repeat of the same enthusiasm that greeted its debut. SLUMP

‘The Mindy Project’

FOX, returns Sept. 17

 

No show reinvented itself on the fly more than Mindy, which added and discarded cast members on an almost-weekly basis (I’ll miss you most of all, Anna Camp and Stephen Tobolowsky!). But all that tinkering paid off by season's end with a tightly knit, witty core cast that seems primed for a New Girl-type second-year leap. The show does seem to be going heavy on guest stars in its new season (including James Franco and Timothy Olyphant), but I hope not at the expense of its now-comically-compatible cast. SURGE

Katherine Bomboy-Thornton

‘Nashville’

ABC, returns Sept. 25

 

There was so much to love about the debut season of Nashville: That incredible music! Those moving performances from Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere! That amazing location use of Nashville! But there was also a lot that never worked, most notably the entire political storyline, which has become the show’s albatross. Then the show ended on a truly ludicrous, soapy note, with Rayna (Britton) and Deacon (Charles Esten) in a drunken car crash, and all indications are the show will continue down this sudsy path in Season 2. (At the Television Critics Association press tour in July, ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee called it “a really sweet cliffhanger … that’s very special and very Nashville.”) Plus, music producer extraordinaire T-Bone Burnett has moved on and will no longer be skillfully supervising the soundtrack, which is Nashville’s lifeblood. As much as I love Connie Britton, none of this bodes well for the show’s future. SLUMP

Michael Ansell

‘The Neighbors’

ABC, returns Sept. 20

 

Most critics (this one included) dismissed this sitcom a year ago as one of the worst new shows of the 2012-13 season, but it had the last laugh, as one of only two comedies (along with Mindy Project) to earn a renewal. And while the show improved during the season, its new Friday timeslot (where it is now paired with Last Man Standing) indicates that its future is definitely not out of this world. SLUMP

‘Orange is the New Black’

Netflix, returns 2014

 

Netflix’s best original series yet caught fire this summer (if you haven’t watched it, start binging before the fall season begins), and is already in production for its second season. After introducing such an unexpectedly rich, arresting tapestry of inmates, Season 2 should give us even more backstory (Crazy Eyes flashback episode, please!) and more addictive drama. The only concern is creator Jenji Kohan’s tendency to hit the reset button every couple of seasons, as she did all-too-frequently on Weeds. But we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt until at least Season 3. SURGE

‘Orphan Black’

BBC America, returns 2014

 

The little BBC America show that could has become one of this year's most pleasant surprises, thanks to Tatiana Maslany’s dynamic turn as 10 (at last count) different clones. Assuming the show—and Maslany, who was largely an unknown actress until a few months ago—can handle the increased attention, Season 2 shouldn't disappoint, as the actress has expertly handled every nutty challenge that writers have thrown her way. While the Emmys overlooked Maslany, she’ll likely receive Globes (and possibly SAG) attention in the coming months, which should continue to persuade viewers to tune in. SURGE

NBC

‘Revolution’

NBC, returns Sept. 25

 

This NBC drama started strong, but eventually became little more than a series of decreasingly interesting swordfights while the producers kept promising big fixes that never seemed to materialize. In hindsight, NBC's decision to take Revolution off the schedule for four months (to keep it paired with The Voice) was a mistake that robbed it of its momentum, which faded considerably by season's end. Factor in its new 8 p.m. Wednesday time slot, far away from The Voice and its massive audience, and the show’s most revolutionary days are likely behind it. SLUMP