TV Show Sophomore Slump, Empire, The Flash, How To Get Away with Murder

Fox; CW; ABC

Ah, the dreaded sophomore slump. That wicked beast that comes to lay claim to all of our beloved new series, quickly souring our good vibes on a show that previously burned so bright.

True Detective season two, anyone? How about Sleepy Hollow

We'll admit that the HBO anthology series' torturous fall from grace this summer left us worried that many of the shows we loved so dearly when they debuted last season would return in just as much of a funk this year. The good news? That really hasn't been the case.

Jane the Virgin

Patrick Wymore/The CW

Granted, each of our returning favorites only have a few episodes under their season two belts, leaving plenty of time still for everything to careen off the rails, but last season's biggest delights have each returned on such sure footing that we're breathing several sighs of relief. These shows have, in their new seasons, continued to thrill, delight, and entertain in just as fulfilling a way as they had when we first met them.

For proof of this, look no further than the CW's gems from last season, The Flash and Jane the Virgin. The continued adventures of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) came speeding out of the gate for season two, wasting no time in introducing Jay Garrick and the concept of his world, Earth 2, without sacrificing any of the joyful exuberance and heart that made season one such a pleasure to watch. (We can't have been the only ones crying when Barry let his dad leave town after securing his release from prison in the season premiere!)

Likewise, the opening weeks of Jane the Virgin have proven that the first season of the telenovela-with-a-heart-of-gold was no fluke. After quickly reuniting Jane (Gina Rodriguez) with baby Mateo in the season opener, the show continued its delicate balance of frothy, soapy lunacy and grounded heartfelt moments. There was Jane dealing with delayed milk production (and the greater concern that she couldn't protect and provide for her child) alongside Petra (Yael Grobglas) knocking herself up with Rafael's (Justin Baldoni) last sperm sample and a turkey baster. It shouldn't work, but somehow Jane the Virgin continues to make it look effortless.

How to Get Away WIth Murder

ABC

When it comes to TV's two most talked about new dramas of last season—ABC's How to Get Away With Murder and Fox's Empire—they've managed to remain at the forefront of the watercooler conversation this year, as well. HTGAWM wisely made their flash-forward device even more engaging this season by making Annalise (Viola Davis) the center of the whodunnit. As much as we were on the edge of our seats last season as the show revealed who killed Sam, we all care about Annalise much, much more. By putting her life on the line, there's a greater urgency to each episode and a greater connection with the audience.

Meanwhile, over on Fox, Lee Daniels seems to have one thing in mind with season two of his record-smashing hit series, and that word is more. So far, Empire fans have been given more scheming, more backstabbing, more celeb cameos, more radio-worthy music, and more delicious Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) one-liners. The show always runs the risk of collapsing under its own weight, but it's managed to avoid doing so thus far—instead, it's managed to remain entertaining as hell.

Fresh Off The Boat

ABC

And it's not just our favorite dramas that have managed to steer away from the slump, with a trio of last season's new comedies all at the top of their game this fall. ABC's Black-ish leaned into subject matter that is especially relevant (the N-word, gun control), filtered it through the unique lens of TV's only African-American family sitcom, and delivered a string of episodes that represented its creative peak. Meanwhile, its network sibling Fresh Off the Boat parted ways with its temperamental narrator Eddie Huang, who was vocal about wishing the series was darker, and found solid footing as one of TV's most heartwarming—and hysterical—family comedies. And over on Fox, Last Man on Earth has continued its audacious and experimental storytelling that made it such an unexpected gem when it debuted this spring. What other show would bring in Will Ferrell only to kill him within thirty seconds?

Not to be outdone, a trio of prestige cable dramas sidestepped True Detective's sad legacy and have each delivered second seasons that are firing at all cylinders. FX's Fargo took its anthology structure back to the '70s, but kept the same inventive structure and delightful tone that made the first season a critical success, while stacking the desk with a cast that's almost an embarrassment of riches: Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, and Jean Smart, to name but a few. Over at HBO, The Leftovers took the characters that worked in season one and moved them to an even more intriguing setting, broadening the scope of the show in a way that gives the global event at the crux of the story a greater importance. And on Showtime, The Affair opened its unique structure from season one (one episode told from two distinct points of view) to include two more points of view, those of the people on the losing end of the central affair—and it has helped to shade in characters who were only seen through someone else's perspective when we first met them.

The ratings might not reflect it—even the seemingly unbreakable upwards trajectory of Empire has begun its inevitable descent back down to Earth—it's not because these shows have stumbled in their storytelling. Fall TV's sophomore class has returned on its A-game across the board, making it a very happy autumn for those watching. Very happy, indeed.

What do you think about this crop of shows in their second seasons? Have they beat the sophomore slump for you? Sound off in the comments below!

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