What TV Shows Got Better Later in Their Run?

The current thread on Night Court and how it apparently sucked for the first 3 1/2 seasons got me thinking – what other shows took a while to ramp up? Typically, when discussing their favorite seasons of a series, people tend to agree that the best season was relatively early on, with Season 3 usually singled out (see The Simpsons, Buffy, X-Files, etc.).

There are good reasons for this. First, not every show lasts more than three seasons, so for many shows, the best season necessarily has to be an early season. Also, I think many shows follow an arc, where it takes a season or two for the writers, actors, directors to gel and find the unique voice of the series – at which point it plateaus, and then afterwards there’s some struggle to remain fresh.

What are some counterexamples? I’m not talking about shows that maintain their quality in later seasons – I’m looking for shows where, if you look at their entire run, you can definitively say their best season was Season 4 or later.

I’ll offer one – The Shield. I liked the seasons with Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker as much as the next guy, but IMO the final season (Season 6), where Mackay’s various chickens started coming home to roost, was electrifying, and had me anticipating the next episode much more than earlier seasons.


Star Trek: Next Generation. The first season just wasn’t very good overall, and the second season had the execrable Dr. Pulaski replacing Dr. Crusher. Things started improving around the 3rd season, IMO, and continued to get better from there on out.

JAG hit its stride in seasons 3 thru 6 The early seasons focused too much on Harm’s missing daddy.

Similarly, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. We can argue endlessly whether or not the show’s writers and producers intentionally “ripped off” Babylon 5’s arc structure, but I think it’s undeniable that the overall quality of DS9 itself went up dramatically once they adopted season-long storylines and strong character continuity.

DS9 was similar. Once the ongoing story got going it was fantastic,

I’d rather pretend that the first two seasons of Enterprise didn’t exist. The third season was a massive improvement and the fourth was excellent, exactly what the series should have been in the first place. Unfortunately by that time it had already lost its audience.

Why do I even bother posting on these kinds of threads?
My first, second and third choices have already been mentioned.

Harrrumph… damned trekkers!


South Park. The first couple of seasons were pretty puerile and that was the extent of it (don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind puerile humor, but it only goes so far), but it evolved into a really sharp, clever and hilarious series. Now it sort of sucks again, but hey, it was a good run.

The Office’s awkward comedy was almost too hard to watch in the first season, it got better when they dialed it back a notch later on. I wouldn’t have made it through Season 1 if people didn’t tell me to just stick with it.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia was somewhat slow in Season 1. Like the Office, around Season 2 is when they found their niche and ran with it. Now that I think about it, the same thing goes for Arrested Development.

Buffy and Angel. The first seasons of each show are not nearly as good as most of the ones that followed.

Parks and Recreation was awful in its first season. So bad it is amazing it wasn’t canceled quickly. Season 2 is rather sweet.

I don’t think Arrested Development qualifies, unless there is a secret 4th season known to a select few. I don’t think many (any?) sitcoms will qualify, as they hit their stride in seasons 2-4, and then the characters start becoming caricatures of themselves.

The Shield and The Sopranos both closed on high notes, but the latter flopped around for a few seasons. The Shield may have coasted at times, but it never flopped around.

This is an interesting topic, and I wish I had a show to contribute, but I’m finding it hard to think of shows that peaked in season 4 or later.

Don’t most shows improve as they go along? I think a thread asking the opposite question would be more interesting. (The only show I can think of that had a great first season and then got worse is Veronica Mars. The guy who created it had one amazing idea. So sad.)

I think most shows peak in seasons 2-3, which is why the OP is asking what shows peaked in season 4 or later.

Probably a minority view here, but I think MASH*'s best years were its 4th - 7th seasons. The show improved vastly once it moved past its first two slapsticky years, and for me, its best seasons were the last ones with Frank Burns and the first ones with Winchester.

All in the Family is another example. Its first seasons were broader; once it hit its stride in seasons 3, the quality leapt forward tremendously and really didn’t diminish until the last season with Mike/Gloria (which was, what, the 8th or 9th season?).

Roseanne’s best seasons were 3 - 5, I think, with the latter two seasons giving the finest examples of its poignant yet hilarious look at a family in financial crisis.

No, most shows end up canceled. Or they decline in quality so much that they lose all their viewers, and make the ones that stuck around wonder “why am I still watching this? It used to be good*!”

The OP’s question is a bit restraining, insofar as I can think of plenty of shows that got better as they went along, took a while to find their stride, etc. Seinfeld only got better, X-Files got better, the Star Treks got better, etc. Most of the “great” shows had weaker early seasons where they were still experimenting with what would become their winning formula in latter seasons.

That said, those latter seasons are usually seasons 2 and 3. Very few shows stay on the air through 3 or more seasons only to get significantly better in seasons 4 or 5-- again, they either fix their problems by seasons 2 or 3, or get canceled long before then.

“Mary Tyler Moore” when they dropped/spun-offed Rhoda and (sy)Phyllis and concentrated more on Ted Baxter and Sue Ann Nivens.

davekhps hits the nail right on the head, which is why I think this is a fun thread. Once you take away the seasons where a show finds its stride (seasons 2-3), it is much harder to think of ones which kept improving, versus just started treading water. To look at the shows he mentioned, I think Seinfeld and The X-Files plateaued at around season 3, treaded water, then went down. 24 hit rock bottom on Day 6, and has shown improvement in both Day 7 and Day 8, but it still peaked prior to Day 4. That’s why I like the OP’s The Shield example. It was on a high plateau from the beginning, but pulled out all stops for a fantastic final season.

I thought this is exactly what I was asking in the OP (shows that got better AFTER seasons 2-3), although perhaps it wasn’t clear. Maybe it was the title that was misleading.

Actually, The Simpsons might qualify. If you ask people for their favorite seasons, you’ll get not a few people saying 4, 5, 6, or even later. Their “golden age” is commonly considered to be some or all of Seasons 3–8.

I think the general opinion of Seinfeld is that it wasn’t until at least Season 3, and maybe Season 4, that it really became classic.

I don’t remember how long it took Late Night with Conan O’Brien to hit its stride, but it might have been as late as its 4th year. IMHO the show’s peak was late in the Andy Richter years.

Cheers is another example of a show that made significant changes in the 4th-or-later season that resulted in what some, but by no means all, fans consider a better show, like the emergence of Frasier Crane as a major character, the replacement of Coach with Woody, and the replacement of Diane with Rebecca.