THE FIRST SEASON WAS GREAT. NOW WHAT?
How do TV shows with popular first seasons continue to live up to the expectations they’ve created?
By Avery Hellberg
Does every show need a second season? How do you replicate the experience of the first? How does the crew know to quit before production hits a dead end?
These questions swim around the heads of showrunners of the most popular TV shows. Whether it be Riverdale, Stranger Things, or more recently, Euphoria, there is often a struggle to create a follow-up season that's as good as the first.
It's challenging to know what direction to take a second season, especially if the ending of the first tied up major loose ends. Stranger Things is an excellent example of this; simply put, there was no need to expand the story further than the first season. There were a few loose ends; however, that's when the audience's imagination can take over. There will always be unanswered questions with a story as layered as Stranger Things, constantly leaving it up to the audience to finish the narrative.
It's tough to plan for a second season if you're unsure whether the first season will be a success. It's crucial to leave the audience with some feeling of conclusion at the end of a show, so they don't feel like they've wasted their time. However, it becomes difficult to determine how much of a conclusion is necessary.
For example, there was no way to predict that Squid Game would become so popular globally. Netflix has created dozens of Korean dramas that have garnered some international popularity, but none as famous as Squid Game. Logically, it'd be a mistake not to capitalize on that demand.
Creator Hwang Dong-hyuk told Associated Press, "So there's been so much pressure, so much demand and so much love for a second season. So I almost feel like you leave us no choice! But I will say there will indeed be a second season. It's in my head right now. I'm in the planning process currently." While the second season of Squid Game won't be released anytime soon, it will be interesting to see if it can live up to the world's expectations.
Certain shows crumble under the pressure of sustaining the quality of their first seasons, leading to lackluster second seasons. Riverdale is a prime example of this, going from one of the most popular teen dramas to becoming an internet meme. Like Stranger Things, Riverdale had a clear primary conflict in the first season that was solved by the last episode, leaving little room for expansion. In terms of ridiculous entertainment, Riverdale can supply that and more. However, when it comes to serious plotlines and meaningful television, the seasons following the first of Riverdale fall incredibly short.
With a show like Euphoria, there was no doubt that it'd gain as much popularity as it did. After all, Zendaya is the central star, and Drake produced the show on HBO Max's generous budget. The first season was a show-stopper, redefining how people dress, do their makeup, and how society discusses youth drug addiction. Because the showrunners foresaw the show's success, they could plan for a second season before the first even aired.
While the showrunners of Euphoria flawlessly executed a detailed first season, they didn't resolve the central conflict. The first season ended on a cliffhanger, leaving audiences wondering whether the main character would make it to the second. And, with the suspense that viewers had while waiting for the COVID delayed second season, Euphoria producers and actors had even more pressure to deliver an astounding follow-up performance.
Usually, one primary rule determines whether a show should continue with a second season: a central conflict that connects the characters and acts as a leeway to more minor plotlines within the story. If the conflict of the first season is resolved, there's little to no reason to continue with a second season.
However, when money is on the line, this is a difficult rule to follow. With shows as popular as Stranger Things, Riverdale, Squid Game, and Euphoria, it's hard to imagine a world where they don't get a second season. That aside, we should strive to create an entertainment industry where production companies don't feel the need to create another season purely for financial reasons.