The first season of Blackadder is far different than what the series would become in the following years. Edmund was an oafish prince instead of the clever Englishman intent on power and Baldrick was Blackadder’s wise and loyal companion instead of a dimwitted peasant. While Blackadder’s initial year has some great sets, the episodes were often a bit inconsistent, but by the second season the series found the perfect balance between history and humor that made the show so memorable.
The Office (US)
While I’ll argue that The Office’s first season is underrated, the series didn’t really catch steam until the second season. The major problem was is that the show too often imitated its British predecessor, with Michael Scott initially too similar to David Brent. Fortunately, Michael was made into a more sympathetic character, the supporting and peripheral cast was beefed up, and the Jim and Pam story gave the series its driving force. While I love Rick Gervais’ version, I prefer the American Office more.
Parks and Recreation
Coincidently, Parks and Recreation suffered the same problem The Office did, but in its case it felt far too close to the US version. Leslie Knope often seemed like a Michael Scott clone and many of the characters just felt lost in the mix in an uninteresting story. In the second season, Parks and Rec developed its own voice, with Leslie turning into a devoted, though overly enthusiastic, government worker, and Pawnee becoming the the most inventive city since Springfield. And did I mention Ron f***ing Swanson? It’s bewildering that Nick Offerman’s outstanding performance hasn’t even been nominated for an Emmy.
Watching Seinfeld’s pilot today is a bizarre experience for any of the show’s fans. First of all, there’s no Monk’s Café, the restaurant that was the staple location of the series. Second, Kramer is called Kessler (because Larry David was unsure Kenny Kramer, the character’s inspiration, would allow him to use the name) and has a dog who never appeared in any following episodes. And lastly, Elaine doesn’t show up at all. In a few episodes, these changes would be made, but it’s hard to deny in it’s first season, Seinfeld wasn’t the juggernaut it would become in later years. But by the time David and Jerry Seinfeld wrote the classic episode “The Chinese Resturant,” Seinfeld found its principle that helped made the series the best comedy on television: focus on “nothing.” By mining society’s minor problems and conundrums and putting them into vast scale, David and co. made us laugh at Jerry’s, George’s, Elaine’s, and Kramer’s unease with society and turned Seinfeld into the most popular show of the 90s.
It’s difficult to underscore the cultural impact South Park had when it first hit television back in 1997. The show was at its peak of its popularity in its initial season, but today many of its early moments feel dated compared to the raw and biting edge the show would craft in the 21st century. There are great episodes among the first few seasons for sure like “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride,” but it was only until South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut did the series become the satirical force that gave classic episodes like “Scott Tenorman Must Die” and “Imaginationland.”