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TV shows that are tapped out after one season don’t know when to stop

The HBO series "Big Little Lies" had an extraordinary first season. It should have stopped there. From left: Laura Dern, Reese Witherspoon, Zoe Kravitz, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley.Merie W. Wallace/HBO

I’ve always suspected that, deep within, I share something with Talking Heads’ titular “Psycho Killer.” Specifically, I relate to the lines, “You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything/When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed/Say something once, why say it again?”

When it comes to the world of series TV, too many shows say it again even though they have nothing to say. For reasons that, as ever, have to do with money and attracting subscriptions, TV outlets bring back titles that would have been best served as one-and-dones, as, essentially, miniseries. There’s infinite room for “content” nowadays, but that doesn’t mean we need to try to fill it, shoveling gravel into a bottomless pit.

We’ve long been liberated from the limitations of broadcast TV, which only has a certain number of slots in primetime. The space afforded by streaming and cable has enabled what has led to Peak TV, the release of 500-600 new scripted series every year, a number that would have been laughably absurd two decades ago. That has made room for a lot of excellent shows, and, since streaming came of age in 2013, we’ve been blessed with the likes of “Catastrophe” and “Fleabag” and “Severence.” But the lack of time restrictions has also inspired a whole lot of waste.

I started thinking about this because in recent weeks, a pair of shows have returned that actually merited a return, that still have more story to tell. How about that! AMC’s “Interview With the Vampire” is as elegantly scripted and acted as it was in the first season, and the tale of Louis, a brooding member of the undead, continues to unfurl with wit, surprise, and human insight. Max’s “Hacks,” too, is still bringing its mix of generational humor and drama in season three, as the story of Jean Smart’s Deborah Vance continues to put forth new ideas as it explores the nature of comedy and its relationship to the moment.


I’m relieved to see these shows back in top form, still with some sense of urgency. Neither one has brought that distinct feeling that it is running on empty. But I’m still burnt about many of the shows that came back with nothing much to say. If they’d refused to squander their reputations on unnecessary second and third seasons, they would have been considered top-notch.

Near the top of the list for me is “Killing Eve,” a series whose first season was cat-and-mouse heaven, with some motivations, notably those of Sandra Oh’s Eve, left only partially said. When it returned, though, it just got sillier and sillier as the writers tried to milk the relationship between Eve and Jodie Comer’s assassin for all it was worth. I sensed that there wasn’t much to explore creatively, but Comer had such a big breakthrough with the show that it was doomed to return. It quickly became a cartoon of its former self.

Jodie Comer as the assassin Villanelle in "Killing Eve."Gareth Gatrell/BBC America

Likewise, I wish “Big Little Lies” had ended after its extraordinary first season. It was a rich whodunit with domestic abuse at its core, and it came to an ending that was just exactly perfect. But it was so celebrated that HBO brought it back for a second season with Meryl Streep that devolved into an absurd trial as it reached beyond the story told in Liane Moriarty’s novel. Sometimes, going beyond the adapted book is a death knell. Now I hear that a third season is in the works with the original group of actors, which is a big little shame.


The first season of the Netflix family drama “Bloodline” was a fantastic showcase for Ben Mendelsohn, who played the black-sheep brother, Danny. His character was broken at his core, and Mendelsohn could make you feel both sorry for Danny and angry at him for his bad decisions. The first season wrapped up neatly, and the character driving everything forward, Danny, was murdered by his brother as a way to, in a sense, cut the cancer from the family body. But, with Mendelsohn catching a lot of buzz and ultimately winning an Emmy, Netflix brought it back. It proceeded to undergo a long, drawn-out creative death — a second and a third season — with Mendelsohn back in flashbacks and as a ghostly presence. It was maddening.

Other never-should-have-returned classics include “13 Reasons Why,” “Dead Like Me,” “Westworld,” and “The Flight Attendant.” Recently, “The Tourist,” an amnesia thriller starring Jamie Dornan, returned for a pointless second season. It’s really too bad. The option to be one and done is very real these days, as miniseries and anthology series are more common than ever. Sometimes, six or eight episodes is plenty. Just because we didn’t want a show to end doesn’t mean it shouldn’t end. More is more, but not always better.


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him @MatthewGilbert.