Guys, I’m worried about Revenge. It was the best new show of last season. Its twists, turns, and frozen-foreheaded bitchery were the things that soap opera dreams were made of. But in Season 2, it seems to have lost a little bit of its bite. I don’t even know whether I love or hate Victoria Grayson anymore, because the plot changes at a moment’s notice. And what about other great Sunday dramas entering into their second year, like Homeland and Once Upon a Time? Should we be worried?
In an abstract sense, yes. Sunday night has long been a home of shows that had famously troubled second seasons. The biggest example is Desperate Housewives, which was a full-blown cultural phenomenon in its first season — a popular and critical smash. Not even Teri Hatcher‘s braying face could mess it up. But then came Season 2. After solving the mystery of their friend’s suicide, the ladies got a new neighbor with a son chained up in the basement (spoiler alert) and the show got dark and heavy with unexpected deaths and Bree’s descent into alcoholism.
The Walking Dead also stumbled (or is that shuffled?) when it came back for its second year. Its second season debut set ratings records for cable… but it also set records for Internet bitching, with everyone complaining that there weren’t enough zombies and everyone was just stuck on a boring farm all the time searching for Sophia and listening to Lori ask where the hell Carl is every five minutes. Dreadful. Both Housewives and Walking Dead rebounded from the Sunday curse, but Housewives never quite had the cache that it did back in the first year, or even the early second year. It was good, but not as, well, important. Is that going to happen to any of our beloved new shows?
Revenge seems to be in the greatest danger. When it started out last year, it was a cross between a soap opera and a procedural. Emily Thorne (born Amanda Clarke) had a picture of all the people that wronged her. Every week she would cross one off, a little bit of vengeance taken out on someone who had done her ill. This was balanced out with her long con of her ruining the Graysons. This year has gotten more, well, complicated. Emily’s mother is kicking around somewhere, and now she’s apparently in cahoots with the Grey-Haired Man who was working against The Initiative the whole time and, oh my god, I can’t keep it all straight. Talking about this show makes you sound like a conspiracy theorist who has gone off her meds. Just last night, Daniel Grayson went from loving his mother to hating his mother to pretending to love his mother in the span of 42 minutes. (You watch on DVR too, right?) Whose side is anyone on? There are so many moving parts, I feel like I’m trapped in a scene in Hugo — I’m running through a clock trying to avoid the cops and could get crushed at any minute.
Then there are the messy details, like Declan (it’s always Declan at the center of all the ridiculousness, isn’t it?) dropping his ID when he broke into a house. How did he do that? Did he lose his whole wallet or just his driver’s license? Was it just falling out of his pocket as he was scaling the fence? Who knows — the series just launch this detail at us and assume we’ll accept it. Now, Revenge has never been about making perfect sense. But slow it down, why don’t you? Give us time to let everything settle in before going to upset the whole scheme all over again. We still have faith and trust your cliffhangers — but we’re not going to if there continues to be a twist before every single commercial break.
Once Upon a Time might also ride into the danger zone. We’ve gone from becoming acquainted with all the characters from key fairy tales in Storybrooke to dipping far down into the well of stock characters and into the Disney catalog. (Mulan and Lancelot — neither of these are, by a strict definition, fairy tales.) Also troubling Season 2 is the lack of any concrete rules for the viewer to follow. In Season 1, there was magic in the Enchanted Forest (as the fairy tale world is known), and none in Storybrooke. And whenever anyone used magic, there was always a price. Now there is some magic in each place and none of it has quite been explained to us yet. We’re all about mystery, but a world with no rules means anything can happen, and that no action really has any consequences. So where’s the intrigue?
Newly minted Emmy winner Homeland, however, is doing the best of the bunch. Yes, there have been some crazy plot twists that strain credulity (who ever thought that we’d see that tailor from Gettysburg again?) and it played the old 24 trick where we worry about something (in this case, Saul’s precious video) being lost only to find out that, like magic, it wasn’t lost after all! But even in an episode where the plot got a little outlandish, it was balanced off with Carrie’s so human reaction to returning from active duty in the CIA and a little cry for help that I don’t want to reveal for the spoiler phobic. Without revealing what it is, I can say that the episode did what it does best, focusing on the characters and their very human reactions to their seemingly impossible lives.
I guess that’s the lesson all these shows need to learn: Stick to your strengths and trust your audience to be smart enough to follow you. Those are probably good rules for any show to follow, but Sunday is a crowded night and if Revenge and Once Upon a Time don’t shape up before the season is over, there are plenty of other shows that could get our attention.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: ABC/Showtime]