Shortly before the sixth season of The Sopranos (finally! blessedly!) debuted a few weeks back, I indulged myself with a weekend spent watching the great and arguably best second season. For casual Sopranos fans, that’s the one where Big Pussy buys it on the boat, a big shocker that forced viewers to realize for all time that a) these fellers don’t play nice b) in fact, really aren’t very nice when it comes down to it and c) big characters – even big loveable H-dealing under-the-thumb of the feds ratting Big Pussy – are just as disposable as last night’s Satriales trash.
This led me to think about great second seasons of great shows. There’s a magic to first seasons, of course. It’s like a new love, a new magic, a new spark that’s exciting and blood pumpage-promoting. There’s nothing like being on the front lines of such a new discovery, a new creation that’s been brought into the world. I’ll never forget that rush of adrenaline I felt, for instance, when I watched Rescue Me or The Wire for the first time.
Then there’s that feeling of being in the know and being able to Spread the Word to all who would hear. The Internet is perfect for this kind of sharing and kibitzing, of course.
You mean you haven’t checked out The Shield?
No, dude, I just haven’t had the time.
Well, you better make time then, my friend!
The second season, however, is telling. Of course, it means that the show was enough of a popular draw to get renewed! Some dearly beloved and obscenely promising shows were never awarded that opportunity: Firefly, Wonderfalls, Life As We Know It, how we do miss thee and thine … sniff. But it’s also the time where we see if the whole operation is a fluke or if it has the wings and stamina to fly off into true and lasting kingdoms of greatness.
Here are some of the great second seasons in television history. I’ll go nowhere near claiming that they’re The Best, and I encourage you to contribute your own thoughts and ideas in the comments.
We must start by circling back to north Jersey, of course. It’s been said that each episode of The Sopranos works as a one-hour film. That can’t be truer than in the second season, where every scene crackles and bristles with intensity and life. What I really love, and tend to dwell upon when thinking back, are the “smaller” moments of the show: the uproarious dark humor, the scenes where the fellas are sitting around not doing much of anything. There’s a scene where the goodfellas are sitting around the back of the Bada Bing polishing shoes, playing cards, watching television. A perfect scene closes out another episode with a pull-away shot: Agent Harris stops by Satriales for a sandwich as a minor traffic accident takes place right in front of the store.
That’s one of the true elements of genius about the show: it’s allowed to breathe with many of the rhythms and cadences of real life. Then when tragedy or excitement strikes (like Tony taking one in the gut from a demented Uncle Junior in the first episode of Season Six) — Blam! — nothing is ever the same again.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The second season is when Joss Whedon and crew really find their sea legs and a loyal and devoted cult fan base in the process. Moving definitively toward a season-long story arc plot structure (a bold move that required an attentive and returning audience) allowed this unique genre-blend of a show (who the hell would ever imagine a drama/comedy/horror show about a teenage girl with superpowers battling vampires and demons at her high school could work?) to blossom and then soar.
The Angel-Buffy storyline perfectly encapsulated young love that could never be. The shocker twist – “evil Angel” emerging after the hottie couple make love for the first time – was both brutal and deliciously effective. Joss Whedon’s ability to suck (sucker?) an audience in with likeable characters and witty pop culture-laced dialogue and then literally claw us all underneath to the dark side is fully operational at this early stage in his television career. David Boreanaz displays a wonderful acting range that later is rewarded with a spin-off (Angel) that had its own five-season run. The Dru and Spike subplot allowed for wonderful and cathartic comedy, gallows humor delivered with high British charm by the lowly undead.
And, come on, let’s face it: all middle-class kids would gladly throw their real-life friends under the bus to hang with the Scooby Gang – Xander and Willow and Cordie and Giles.
The second season is the time in which this fun, sassy, action-packed, spy romp of a roller coaster ride hits its creative peak. Between the slick mystery of Rambaldi (some kind of genius/Nostradamus-like inventor of several centuries back) artifacts, SD-6, Sydney’s back-story with her father and family, and ongoing spy missions far flung across the globe (featuring Jennifer Garner in over-the-top and not the least bit unsexy disguises), super-creator JJ Abrams (need more proof? Get Lost) doesn’t give you a split second to breathe, let alone realize that this show is really, at its heart, a wonderful spoof on the spy genre.
The Vaughn-Sydney romance is also a magnet-draw to the tube up until the moment that they kiss, which really does signal the beginning of the gradual but steady decline of the show. But for Season Two, the gals get to drool over Michael Vartan, Bradley Cooper and company while the guys get to feast eyes on, well, Garner.
Very promising in its first season, the American-version of the BBC’s miserably awkwardly hilarious classic really hits massive heights in its second run, in some ways surpassing its gem of a predecessor. The key has been the steady character development of the large, immensely talented ensemble cast. In the lead, of course, is Steve Carell as boss man Michael Scott. Wisely tuning and tweaking the show for its American audience, Scott has softened his nearly painfully mean tendencies and shown a warmer side that better suits Carell’s talents. Meanwhile the Jim-Pam relationship remains as reason alone to tune into the show. With Pam (the wonderful Jenna Fischer, who does more with facial expressions than nearly any actor out there, period) safely kept away from Jim (John Krasinski, who gets better every week) due to an engagement with a good natured lout of a fiancée, the prospects for office-centric greatness and hilarity both seem very strong indeed.