The second season of popular and historic television shows is often the very best that series has to offer.
There’s a sense of refinement in the second season compared to the first, yet there’s also a rawness which later seasons can’t seem to perfect.
In the second season, the show has been renewed. It is building on its success and momentum, and the show runners (and everyone really) feels the confidence necessary to take daring chances.
This confidence, mixed with slight hesitation (or rather just no overwhelming hubris) because no one has made it rich yet, results in some of the very best television the world has ever seen.
Here are some shows where the second season is a model for how television ought to be produced. These seasons deserve to be binged, re-binged, and studied carefully.
“Not as crazy as I used to be, still crazy enough to take an eye out,” Richie Aprile stoically tells Beansie in season 2 of the Sopranos, before he takes a coffee pitcher and smacks him across the head with it.
Season 2 of the prestigious and historic mob drama introduced us to several new characters, Tony’s sister Janice being one of them. None however are as memorable or downright terrifying as Richie Aprile.
The older brother of recently-deceased Jackie Aprile, Richie was in prison for years before getting out and seeing what the new world looked like. The actor who played Richie, David Proval, delivered a performance of a lifetime. It’s one that puts him smack dab in the fishbowl for best TV villains ever.
The beauty of season 2 of The Sopranos is that it gathered the success from season 1 and took off running. The show did not try to emulate the structure of season 1, nor did it lay motionless in fear of disrupting the popular status quo.
Season 2 gave us a new enemy: a terrifying, albeit small, dead-eyed goon in Richie, and it added flares of tension amidst the set-in-stone comedic nature the show would continue until its finale in ’07.
With season 1, we had Tony and Junior jockeying for power. We had the feds hot on Tony’s tail, and his own mother conspiring to have him whacked. In the end, Tony emerged victorious, by the skin of his teeth.
But in the mafia, just like well-made TV dramas, the tension and violence does not subside for long. Season 2 reminded us that much like life, circumstances change, new people enter your life, and even with new developments, life is gritty and grim below the surface.
Another crime drama where new characters enter the mix and old ones show more of their character. While the second season often shows us more of the world these characters are living in, they also show us more about the characters we thought we knew.
There is no better case of this than Wendy Byrde.
While we saw some of Wendy’s cunning and ruthlessness in season 1, we didn’t see enough. It was Marty involved with criminals, leading his family to the Ozarks, and answering to the Mexican drug cartel.
In season 2, Wendy gets to shine as a cunning and sly politician-of-sorts. Unlike Carmela Soprano and Skyler White (through no fault of their own), Wendy is not merely a product of her environment. She dictates much of keeping her family and the cartel’s business interests safe, and in many ways is stronger than Marty.
Add in the cartel’s suave and scary lawyer Helen Pierce, and Ruth Langmore’s dad Cade, and season 2 brimmed with tension and new energy.
Ozark took what season 1 did well and doubled down and expounded upon it. Brilliant chemistry between the two leads (Jason Bateman and Laura Linney); rising and resilient characters in Ruth, Wyatt, Darlene, and more; and a mixture of small-town tension and hawking eyes of the cartel.
While Ozark’s fourth and final season is on its way, we will always look back at season 2 with nostalgic eyes.
Much like The Sopranos, I don’t believe the second season of Breaking Bad is the best in the series. In fact, I believe season 5 is in both of them.
That may seem antithetical to part of my premise, but it is just that: part. While it is not my favorite season of the drug-crime drama, it is certainly when Breaking Bad starts to ramp up momentum.
During season 1, the showrunners weren’t sure if it was going to be renewed, so the season did not wrap up neatly. Season 2 thence came and had to pick up the pieces.
We were introduced to Jane and Jane’s father in a string of coincidences that became clear in the final episode.
Albuquerque, after all, isn’t that big of a city. It is perfectly possible Walt and Jane’s dad could have been at the same bar, talking about their daughters, having no understanding of who the other is and what part they play in their lives.
After the Krazy-8 scene in season 1, we knew Br Ba was savage. But the following season took it to a whole other level. Sleek and unique cinematic shots, witty and goofy intros, and fabulous writing; season 2 was an absolute work of art.
Season 2 was a hallmark of the uber-popular show in that it took the success (and doubt) of season 1 and never looked back. Each season got better from the last, but it really took season 2 to lay the groundwork for that to be possible.
There are a plethora of shows where season 2 takes the series to new heights. Where the show takes the lessons it learned from its first season and perfects what it wants to accomplish. I’m talking about Boardwalk Empire, Seinfeld, Orange is the New Black, even Formula 1: Drive to Survive.
Second seasons are often more than just the best season of a series. They are indicative of the success of that show and how it will be remembered. A sort of test-run for how did this show fare overall (yes, The Wire is an anomaly.)
If you see success at first, how do you react to it?
Do you let it get to your head and falter? Or do you use the confidence to work harder.