Looking back on my favorite shows over the years, I noticed a trait that many of them had in common: that their first season was their best.
Now, that’s not to say that many of these shows didn’t go on to be pretty great after that, but they never quite matched their initial impression. I’ve compiled a list of shows I feel meet that description below, and I should note that no, I don’t include one season wonders like Firefly or Freaks and Geeks. Also, to answer your question, EVERY season of Arrested Development is perfect.
I think sometimes we all forget that going into Lost, we all though it was just another “castaways on an island adventure.” Season one created new mystery after new mystery, and is perhaps quite literally the most addictive season of television ever created, almost unfairly so.
It’s hard to believe that the greatest mystery on Lost was once “what’s the in hatch?” but it goes to show how far the show has come since then. I think the show as a whole will be legendary for decades to come when it’s all over with, but each season since hasn’t quite lived up to the non-stop genius, suspense and madness that was season one.
Man, look at that picture. I feel like I’m looking at a carphone or a cassette player to see each of those characters look so dated. Premiering mere months after 9/11, 24 captured America’s attention with it’s real-time format and non-stop action. Season one’s straightforward plot (relatively speaking) which had Jack Bauer blackmailed into assassinating the president was one of the most gripping seasons of a show in history, and I will never forget the last ten minutes of the season to this day.
24 has had its ups and downs, but nothing has lived up to season one, eight years later. I blame the show’s format for forcing too many twists and turns and a constant upping of the ante as seasons stacked threats on top of threats in order to remain “exciting.”
I will say with my dying breath that season one of The OC might be some of the best television ever filmed. It was smart, funny and emotionally gripping, and it was something to look forward to each and every week like clockwork.
But from where it started to where it ended, The OC is something of a tragedy. As great as season one was, that’s how thoroughly awful season four was, and the show consistently sagged in the middle. I don’t really think it should have gone past one season, but good ratings will tend to alter things like that.
When Smallvile first debuted nearly a decade ago, it was a pretty revolutionary pop culture phenomenon. Seeing Clark Kent as an awkward teen put a human face on Superman that we’d never seen before. His adventures in his Kansas high school were funny, endearing and action-packed when the situation called for it, and it was a blast to watch Clark discover his powers one by one.
But ten years later, looking at where the show is now, it’s utterly ridiculous. Nearly every DC comics character ever created has made a cameo on the show, Kryptonite mutation has been beaten like a dead horse, and even show regulars like Lex Luthor don’t want to keep coming back. It’s time to let the boy (now clearly a man) fly, and let the show go.
I maintain that each and every season of Dexter manages to retain some sort of plot brilliance. I was skeptical all throughout season four, that this Trinity Killer plot would be a bore, but it resulted in one of the more satisfying season finales I’ve ever seen.
But the genius of the show has shown no brighter than in the first season where Dexter hunts the ice truck killer, learns his origin and of his relation to the man he’s pursuing. It was a brilliant arc worthy of some sort of Greek tragedy, and it put Dexter on the map, making it into the hit it is today.
I wasn’t as ga-ga over season one of Heroes as everyone else was, but I do have to state the obvious that it was way, way better than all subsequent seasons, which I honestly cannot believe are still going at this point. There was a clear villain (the mysterious Sylar), a clear mission (stop the exploding man) and the show never felt like it didn’t know where it was going.
But as it turned out, the season ended with a whimper, and the whole mantra of “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World” turned out to bullshit, as it later became clear Claire could never actually die at all. Subsequent seasons devolved into absurd plots and random character tangents that could never match the fluidity of season one.
Prison Break has to be the most obvious show to mention on the list here, because it simply was never meant to run for more than one season, hence its goddamn title. The first season of the show was very smart, with Michael Scoffield’s plan to escape riveting to watch at every turn.
But once they escaped and Prison Break became Prison Broke, the show ceased to be anything remotely close to what it was, and it was relegated to shelving Scoffield’s brilliant plotting abilities, only bringing it out on rare occasions to fight some evil corporation that never did end up making any sense.