Not all great TV shows start off with a bang. Some need time to find their footing and figure out their characters and tone. Unfortunately, in today’s competitive TV landscape, a show has slim chances of survival if it doesn’t rack up millions of fans or positive reviews from the start. Back in the day, though, networks were more willing to give creators some breathing room.
A lot of good shows with bad early episodes were given a second chance and managed to eventually exceed expectations. A few of the best shows with the worst first seasons even became some of the greatest TV shows of the last 20 years, proving that a rough start doesn’t necessarily equal a colossal failure. While there are certain shows that were so bad they just needed to be put out of their misery, in some cases a bit of extra time made a huge difference. It allowed the series to become better or to build a solid following.
Unfortunately, not every promising show gets that second chance. All too many got cancelled after a single season (RIP, Firefly). But when they soldier on, amazing things can happen. There are actually quite a few great TV shows with bad first seasons that really improved, and they're all worth a watch.
Star Trek: The Next Generation was a highly anticipated show, but its first season wasn’t quite the hit everyone expected. The lack of chemistry between the cast, the weird costumes, and the abundance of clichéd storylines made the series awkward out of the gate.
In the show’s defense, however, large casts usually need time to settle in. Once that happens, Stark Trek: The Next Generation successfully outgrows its initial awkwardness.
- Actors: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden
- Premiered: September 28, 1987
When it premiered, American Dad! was clearly overshadowed by its more popular companion series: Family Guy. At first, it offers more of the same vulgar humor to viewers, which makes it feel like a lame rip-off.
Thankfully, the show soon evolves in a more fantastical direction, proving it can more than stand on its own.
- Actors: Seth MacFarlane, Wendy Schaal, Dee Bradley Baker
- Premiered: February 6, 2005
Fringe is rightfully hailed as one of the most complex science fiction series of all time. And yet, Season 1 is a muddled mess. It sticks to a procedural structure and only introduces the serialized elements towards the end. In all, the whole season feels like one long pilot that one critic described as "an uneven, unwieldy piece of work."
Once the series starts to unfold its own mythology, however, it becomes much more compelling.
- Actors: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown
- Premiered: September 9, 2008
It's hard to imagine, but the first season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia didn’t feature Danny DeVito as Frank. The show suffered from low ratings, and FX executives told the show-runners to get a star to bring in viewers, or be cancelled. They called DeVito, who already watched the show and was happy to join the cast.
It’s Always Sunny was interesting from the get-go, but once Frank became part of the team the show really found its footing. On Rotten Tomatoes, Season 1 is the only Sunny installment which isn’t 100% fresh.
- Actors: Danny DeVito, Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, Rob McElhenney, Mary Elizabeth Ellis
- Premiered: August 4, 2005