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.
In Season 1, Parks and Recreation is very different from what it eventually becomes. The humor is dry, the jokes don’t land, and Leslie Knope is far less likeable. Plus, secondary characters like Donna and Andy are under-developed (and less funny).
Just like its sibling series The Office, Parks and Rec took some time to establish its own incredibly charming tone. On Rotten Tomatoes, Season 1 isn't rated fresh, but all subsequent seasons are.
Actors: Amy Poehler, Jim O'Heir, Nick Offerman
Number of Seasons: 4
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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, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes
Number of Seasons: 7
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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, Jasika Nicole
Number of Seasons: 5
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Seinfeld was an innovative series, there’s no arguing that. But when it first aired, it wasn’t as well-received as you might expect. The pilot doesn’t even feature Elaine! The entire first season relies too much on Seinfeld’s standup bits, and it received mostly negative feedback from test audiences. As one viewer put it, "If, by chance, there existed some poor soul who had never seen the show and was interested in watching chronologically, it'd be hard to even argue this season as essential viewing."
The team behind the show took note of the criticism, and things gradually improved from Season 2 on.
Actors: Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards
Number of Seasons: 9
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