When Nikita got renewed, I died of happiness. This high-octane spy thriller is filled with Alias-like twists and turns and movie-quality combat, and the characters are layered and nuanced. I love the first and second season with obsessive tendencies. However, gun to my head I would still say that the first season has stronger storytelling.
You can find more examples of this phenomenon in a slew of other shows. The first season of Damages with the non-linear murder-mystery is indisputably the best season of the show. Despite the ambitious directions Damages has taken, it’s premise was at it’s strongest when our main character was in peril. House has an impressive track record, but the last two seasons were the weakest. Chuck‘s best season was its second.
So why do shows get weaker the longer they stay on the air?
- Clunky Season Two Premieres. Shows like Nikita and Damages have to set up all of the show’s dynamics (arcs, relationships, conflicts, the premise) at the beginning of each season in order to lure in new viewers and refresh the memory of old viewers, while at the same time being entertaining and teasing new mysteries. Procedurals can (usually) cut back on the amount of ground they have to cover because the plot ends up in pretty much the same spot each episode. We all know the typical Castle will feature a crime with a perp and a victim. But shows like Nikita? The first episode of the second season had to set up: who’s running Division, what happened to Alex’s parents, who she’s after, why she’s working with Division, Nikita and Michael’s relationship, who Birkhoff is and whose side he is on and why, why Nikita and Alex are at odds… There’s so much that needs to be set up that the entire first episode of the second season is overburdened with information. Each line of dialog reminds us of what happened last season, and unfortunately it’s not as seamless as it could be.
- The Newness Factor.First seasons are the product of a Showrunner’s true vision. He or she has come up with a premise, and then enthusiastically created a world and characters that are brought to life by this person’s zest and excitement for the job, and this energy shines through in each episode. But as seasons drag on, the premise is further cemented and those who want to rock the boat and test the premise are discouraged– why change something that’s working?
- No More Story Left to Tell. Sometimes, shows just run out of fuel. They’ve explored every possible plot twist the premise allows, and everything they try now seems stale and been-there-done-that. Housegot that way during its final seasons. There’s only so many things Gregory House, M.D. can do to shock us, and after his mental institution bout, the show seemed to go downhill. (That episode — Broken — was the best two hours of television I’ve seen. Period. Everything up to that couldn’t live up to the episode’s greatness.) Same thing happened with Damages. The premise of the show had to be altered from the first season, going from “a lawyer tries to solve a murder mystery in reverse” to “lawyers do shady stuff.” [Read more…]