Some TV shows grip you right from the start. There’s fully formed characters and a high-budget pilot. But, then there are other shows that start off a bit rough. Like, so rough you don’t want to keep watching. But some of these slow-starting shows turn into the best shows on TV! Tons of the classics of “Peak TV” have gotten off to a rocky start, alienating viewers from the jump. While you may have abandoned some of these shows after a poor pilot ep or first season you may want to try again. Here are some shows that get real good after starting real bad!
17. The Orville
You know this one, it’s that Seth MacFarlane Star Trek show. Or, that’s what it seemed like from the start. The sci-fi show began quite derivative of its source material. Sure, it’s basically a love letter to Star Trek but it tried a little too hard to mimic the classic show. Luckily the show, still in its first season, has already come leaps and bounds from its first few eps. It’s found its own groove in the universe, apart from anyone else’s.
16. Bojack Horseman
This Netflix original animated series was alright when it first started, but it was evident that it was playing off of all the other adult animated series out there. There was very little setting it apart from the pack. Then, through the first season, cracks in Bojack began to show and he went from regular ole misanthrope to something more. His struggles with mental illness have brought the show to new heights, making it one of the most realistic portrayals of depression on TV today. The show continues to get better, always surpassing its “meh” first episodes.
This may sound blasphemous but the first season of Friends is just okay. While the chemistry of the cast is there from the start, the characters all feel pretty one-dimensional. The show was full of mid-20s stereotypes, from the “rich girl” to “the weird one,” with little variation in their set personalities. Fortunately for all of us, everyone began to evolve as the show went on. By the middle of the first season, everyone feels so wildly different and multi-dimensional that you barely recognize the people in the pilot. While they still stuck to archetypes (Ross is always gonna be the nerdy one) they rounded out the characters more and made them relatable, not just broad strokes of some idea of what a twentysomething is. And the rest is sitcom TV history.
This Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy has earned her a ton of awards, but you wouldn’t know that by the first few episodes. The comedy started off pretty slow, as the cast worked to find their grooves with one another. But by the end of the first season — and most definitely in the second season — the show is on fire. It goes from hit-or-miss to can’t miss, meaning it’s definitely worth another chance if you were weary before!
Like a lot of Netflix dramas, Mindhunter has some pacing issues. The show dives into the FBI’s work with serial killers and their attempts to find out how they tick. But it starts out really slow. And you may feel like giving up after the first four or five episodes, but don’t! The fascinating drama picks up and draws you in with the compelling psychology plotlines. It’s still very character-driven and not the thrill ride you might expect from a serial killer drama, but it’s definitely worth the hours you put into bingeing it.
12. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Can you believe Danny Devito didn’t join the Always Sunny cast until the second season?! Because of this, the first season is kind of a slog. It’s got the familiar effed up humor fans know and love, but it feels like somethings missing. It’s not until Devito’s Frank joins the gang that it feels like a rounded out show. It also doesn’t hurt that Devito adds a whole new level of comedy to the show that just isn’t there the first season. My recommendation? Skip the first season, it’s seven episodes of “eh” TV that you don’t need to watch.
This CW hit about, well, all-things-supernatural got a pretty standard start. At first, it was a basic by-the-book procedural. There was a monster of the week and the boys tried to take it down. But slowly a mythology began to form and the story got more and more complex. And the chemistry between the two leads improves exponentially. Now the show is in its 13th season, so if you’re turned off by the first few eps think about it this way: it has to get better to last this long!
10. American Dad!
When American Dad! first started it was basically Family Guy Jr. That may have something to do with the fact that Seth MacFarlane helms both series. But as the show evolved into its own identity it slowly became just slightly better than its sister show. While Family Guy relies on shock, awe, and anything for a joke, American Dad! leans into politics and serious issues. It’s as close as MacFarlane can get to making his own South Park basically.
9. The Sopranos
Arguably the greatest drama of all times starts off a little rough. The first season is hardly indicative of what’s to come. The writing is rocky, the stakes are small, and everyone is a tad unlikeable. It’s not until the first season episode “College” that the show really displays what it’s capable of and the scale of violence it’s willing to show. Obviously, it gets worlds better beyond the first season, topping lists of the best show of all time constantly. If you think you’re weird because you can’t get into the prestige drama, try and push through the first season. It’ll be smooth sailing from there.
It’s a great show about nothing, but at first it was just nothing. Test viewings of the show were poorly received and the first episode aired during the summer of 1989 to low viewership (well, for the time. 15 million today would be insane!). The next episode didn’t air until almost a full YEAR later, and at that point, it had a Cheers lead-in that contributed to its success. Talk about a slow start: it took over a year for the entire five-episode first season to air. It still didn’t kill in the ratings the first few seasons, but the network liked it so they kept it around (in the good ole days when that could actually happen). It has since become one of the biggest juggernauts in sitcom history so I guess that slow start didn’t hurt it too much!
7. The Office
Most people know that the US version of The Office is a remake of the UK version. What most people don’t know is the few episode is literally play-by-play of the first episode of its parent series. It’s the definition of derivative. The show slid by the laurels of another show, content with being an exact remake for a time. Eventually, it created its own identity, with much thanks to Steve Carrell‘s crazed portrayal of Michael Scott. They ditched what made the other series tick and made their own way in the sitcom world, and the show was much better for it in the end.
6. The Wire
In general The Wire is a slow-moving TV show, but the first few episodes are really slow moving. The emphasis on characters and all the talking can make it seem like a drag. But stick with the drama about Baltimore’s drug culture. There’s a reason the show is considered one of the best of all time. It’s different from most other shows so it takes a bit to get into a groove where you learn where it’s coming from and how it should be watched. Many say it’s a wait until the third season (if you can make it that long!) for it to start to get really good.
What Community starts as is not what it ends as. Or even what the first season starts as is not what it ends as. The show begins with fraudulent lawyer Jeff (Joel McHale) forming a study group solely to get in classmate Britta’s (Gillian Jacobs) pants. Class, right? Obviously, there is only so far you can stretch that premise and the show slowly started to revolve around the developing friendships in the study group. Eventually, it becomes an insane meta-fest, full of self-aware moments and paintball fights. It declines a bit in later seasons, but those middle seasons? Perfection.
4. 30 Rock
30 Rock is near perfect, don’t get me wrong, but the first few episodes have some issues. Liz (Tina Fey) is more high strung than usual in the first part of the show, making her a bit unlikeable. And the jokes just aren’t there in the beginning — it’s a few chuckles at best. But as the show found its groove and the chemistry of the actors improved everything got better. Now, no exaggeration, it’s one of the greatest comedies of all time. As is the case with a lot of comedies, sometimes they need time to figure out their tone before they can really let loose.
3. Parks and Recreation
Another great TV comedy that took a little time to figure out its characters. When the show began, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) was insufferable. She was her typical type-A self, but it was so extreme that she felt like a caricature. The show as a whole doesn’t quite nail down the tone until the second season, making the first season feel a little disconnected. Luckily, by the second season, the show hones in on its motivational, go-getter themes that we’ve come to love. The first season Leslie let a MAN inform her decisions, but after that, she’s a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a man (besides Ben, because they’re perfect and amazing). It just makes everything that much better.
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Oof, that first season CGI is bad. Show creator Joss Whedon was still figuring out how to make a TV show when he started Buffy and the growing pains show. The first season isn’t bad, per se, it’s just… not the quality we now know BtVS to be. Not horrible, definitely showing hints of greatness, but not fully-formed by any means. The second season is arguably the best of the series, giving one of the all-time-greatest storylines in the show (and maybe, possibly, in the history of TV). It’s really good, and you should probably just go watch it now!
1. Breaking Bad
The first season of this crazy meth drama is sloooooow. It’s a lot of set-up for what’s to come which makes it pretty uninteresting. While there are glimmers of the great drama ahead, it just feels like a lot of place setting. Then season two, and Tuco (Raymond Crus), comes along and the show really ramps into high gear. It’s one of the most engaging dramas EVER, it just takes a little bit of time to get there.