Sophomore Slump

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine.

After a stellar first season, a series has a second season that either feels suspiciously like the last or just isn't as good. Tends to be more prevalent in dramas than comedies. A specific form of Seasonal Rot.

Sophomore Slump concerns shows that make it past an awful season 2 and into a decent or fantastic season 3. If the show doesn't survive the second season, it's a Second Season Downfall.

This happens in music with depressing regularity as well. Usually, it's because after the first album (which usually has a couple years of development under its belt and plenty of trial and error in concerts to determine what does or doesn't work), the record company wants a second album produced within a year. Combine this with the fact that most bands popular enough to get a second album will also be constantly on tour and one can see why this happens.

A related term, used in computing, is the "second system effect." This is like the sophomore slump in reverse; freed of the tight schedule and budgetary demands of the first system, the programmers attempt to "correct" everything that "went wrong" the first time, usually with disastrous effects.

Compare Oddball in the Series, Sequelitis, and Seasonal Rot. Could cause a Broken Base if another portion of the fandom disagree with the opinion that the work is going through a Sophomore Slump. If it's inverted, see Growing the Beard, Surprisingly Improved Sequel, or Even Better Sequel.

Examples of Sophomore Slump include:


  • Pokémon, if one counts Kanto/Orange Islands as the first series and Johto as the second. The Johto arc was more or less a total rehash of the first, except with even more Filler and Suspiciously Similar Substitute Pokémon on Ash's team that just didn't live up in power, personality, or appeal to the ones he Put on a Bus after the Orange Islands.
    • The Orange Islands arc itself arguably has its own problems.
  • Sword Art Online had its share of complaints after Episode 14, according to its Hatedom, but the second season was hated even by the fans, both for the Idiot Plot of the first half and for the Jumping the Shark moment of the second half, with its bigger emphasis on the Supporting Harem.

Comic Books

  • Alison Bechdel's praised graphic novel Fun Home is relatively simple, as it tells the story of her relationship with her father and her coming out process. In contrast, Are You My Mother? is very deep in psychiatric terminology and theories (a little too much) as she tries to mend her internal problems related to her mother. As such, some reader have found it to be not as enjoyable as the first one.


  • Temple of Doom was this in the original Indiana Jones trilogy, with many fans finding it less memorable than Raiders, not having the fun or heart of Last Crusade and just being generally mean-spirited, sqicky and not in style with the other films.
  • While Iron Man 2was successful with both audiences and critics, many felt it was not as exciting as the first film.
  • Kevin Smith's much-loved first film, Clerks, was followed up by the much-maligned Mallrats, which remains the weakest entry in his View Askewniverse series.


  • Also works with books. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets doesn't exactly have many new elements. Well, not many non-Chekhov's Gun elements, at least.
  • The Dresden Files was kind of this way with Fool Moon. It wasn't bad per se, it wasn't as good as Storm Front, but the series certainly improves with Grave Peril. Opinions vary, though.
  • Most of the Warrior Cats fandom declares that The New Prophecy, the second arc, just isn't as good as the original series.

Live Action TV

  • Wildly debatable, but Dexter's second season has garnered a fair amount of scorn. Heavy reliance on quickly-resolved cliff hangers, introducing a scrappy and killing a favorite character. Still good television, but not as sharp as the other three seasons. Your Mileage May Vary certainly applies.
  • Desperate Housewives had a decline in quality after season one. Some people say it return to its premises in season three.
  • Veronica Mars - season two made a major error by splitting up the Super Couple and the mystery was paced very poorly after the subtle yet steady clue-building of season one. It was later Vindicated by History and considered to be nearly as good as the first season, but it was too late: the initial negative reaction led to Executive Meddling for season three, leading to short, rather predictable mysteries rather than the season-long epics of the first two, and ultimately causing its cancellation.
  • Friday Night Lights had a number of implausible developments in its second season (including a murder perpetrated by two of the main characters) that did not fit at all with the realistic, muted tone of the show. The move to cable in the third season helped it to return to its previous feel.
    • In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Marshal's boss says he's prepared for the end of the world because he has a mine shaft ready with all five seasons of Friday Night Lights on DVD. Marshal tells him: "Okay, first of all you can skip season 2..."
  • The first season of Glee had a relatively succinct plot arc, which helped make it the runaway hit Fox was banking on. Season 2 suffered some meandering story lines, which alienated many fans.
  • Many fans agree that season 2 of Victorious saw a noticeable decline in quality, mainly due to the massive Flanderization of Ensemble Darkhorses Cat (from a Mood Swinger Cloudcuckoolander to The Ditz) and Jade (from a Jerk with a Heart of Gold Noble Demon to The Sociopath), the Ship Sinking of Cat and Jade's popular Odd Friendship, and the excessive Character Focus on Tori, when in season 1, each of the characters had their own Days In The Limelight.
    • Season 3 is a big Base Breaker-it's either funnier than ever, shows some nice development all around and doesn't just waste characters, or even worse to the point where the show has Jumped the Shark.


  • MGMT tried to avert this by following up the synth-heavy, well-received Oracular Spectacular with a totally unexpected surf-rock inspired album, Congratulations. However, this got slightly more mixed reception precisely because of this.
  • Fist of God by MSTRKRFT, to an enormous degree. Their debut EP was well received for being a harder-edged take on Daft Punk-style vocoder-filled house with some cool rock-style elements. Fist of God was criticised for gratuitous guest rappers and beats that would've been seen as terribly cliche back in 1992.
  • Meat Is Murder by The Smiths is a famous example of this. It's actually pretty good outside of the title track and contains a few of their best known songs, but it received very mixed reviews when it was first released and is frequently regarded as their weakest album.
  • The Stone Roses' Second Coming. Their debut is frequently cited as one of the best albums of the 80s and alternative rock, if not as one of the best ever. Many are surprised there was even a second at all.
  • Starflyer 59's second album, Gold, is an interesting case. Fans initially disliked it enough that they would tell Jason Martin to his face that his new album was terrible. Then the fans started warming up to the album. Nowadays, the old-time fans are the ones most likely to cite Gold as Starflyer's best album ever.
  • Jeff Buckley's unfinished second album Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk is an example of this in its most tragic extreme. Buckley died before he could finish his followup to his debut (and masterpiece) Grace. Whatever material Buckley completed until his untimely death was released as the second album, and the album's lack of completeness certainly shows.
    • This is somewhat arguable, as the material on the first disc was considered to be a finished album by everyone working on it but Buckley, a notorious perfectionist. Then again, this perfectionism was no doubt part of what made Grace so great, so maybe not.
  • The Menace by Elastica.
  • Razorblade Suitcase by Bush.
  • Don't Look Back by Boston. For proof, look at their Greatest Hits album, which essentially contains half their first album, plus a handful of other songs.
  • 9 by Damien Rice.
  • Punk pioneers Bad Religion decided to follow up on their well-received first EP with a prog rock album called Into the Unknown. It may be the ultimate in Old Shame despite the fact that critics loved it (mainly because it's a pretty decent album—if you pretend a different band did it).
  • Van Halen II, while not a bad album and has its share of classic songs, is still essentially a retread of their first album, making it one of the band's more forgettable Diamond Dave-era releases.
  • The concept of sophomore albums essentially being a slapdash retread of a debut album's concepts/styles gets lampshaded with the title of Talking Heads' sophomore album More Songs about Buildings and Food. The album itself is a subversion; it's generally considered to be much better than their debut.
  • Interestingly, the original liner notes to The Beatles' second album With The Beatles have the band's PR guy Tony Barrow not only openly admit that the album is a blatant attempt to recreate the formula of Please Please Me, he uses it as a selling point. Then again, when the band in question is The Beatles...
  • U2's second album October.
  • Franz Ferdinand's second album, You Could Have It So Much Better, while still quite good, is considered to be considerably worse than both their debut Self-Titled Album and their third album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. Most critics attribute this to the fact that they sort of rushed it (releasing it about eighteen months after their debut) in order to prove that they weren't just a flash in the pan, while they could take their sweet time on their debut and the third album (which was released nearly four years later and was something of a New Sound Album).
  • Mogwai's second album, Come On Die Young received lukewarm reviews upon release in opposition to the universally acclaimed Mogwai Young Team.
  • Since Appetite for Destruction is the best-selling debut album of all time, it's only natural Guns N' Roses would have a tough time following up. Their second release, bundling an old EP with some acoustic numbers, did not reach the popularity of their first album. Even the Use Your Illusion albums were following a very tough act.
  • Manic Street Preachers' second album Gold Against The Soul is largely regarded as an awkward album, as it is half commercial songs intended to appeal in America, and half ones with intentionally controversial lyrics and somewhat abrasive melodies.
  • The Clash's Give Em Enough Rope. The album is not bad, it just fails to deliver. This is because it contains a cover version of a well known song ("English Civil War"), a song with the same riff as a previous single ("Guns On The Roof", the single in question being "Clash City Rockers"), and "Drug Stabbing Time", which may be the worst thing (lyrically) the band ever recorded. However, the album's variety did pave the way for London Calling, their most popular album.
  • Puddle Of Mudd's Life On Display, their second major label album was lambasted upon release. Part of the reason for this is that their previous album, the commercially successful Come Clean, consisted of re-recorded versions of what they considered the strongest songs from their first two independent albums, so the material on that album was already what the band considered their best material.
  • Gogol Bordello's second album Multi Contra Kulti Vs. Irony has always seemed like somewhat of a rush job. Before it came out they released a single "When The Trickster Starts A Poking/Occurance On The Border" which attracted some indie attention. Presumably this was intended as a stop gap but they included both songs on the album anyway. A few of the other tracks on the album like "Let's Get Radical", "Punk Rock Paranada", "Through The Roof And Underground" and "Baro Foro" are also loved by fans, but the rest of it has the air of filler and failed experiments. The band rarely play anything from the album these days except "Baro Foro".
  • The Knack's followup to their widely successful debut Get the Knack was ...But the Little Girls Understand. That album was a total commercial disaster and ruined the band's career.
  • Fairweather Johnson by Hootie and the Blowfish sold decently, but it got rather average reviews and quickly fell into obscurity. Granted, their debut album, Cracked Rear View was a Tough Act to Follow, what with it being the best selling debut album of all time at the time.
  • Nick Lowe's above-quoted twin songs were inspired by how his previous band Brinsley Schwarz flamed out due to record label mismanagement. Amusingly enough, both the album with them (Jesus of Cool) and its successor (Labour of Lust) performed more or less equally: they both got acclaimed and spawned a hit single ("I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass" for the former, but only in the UK, and "Cruel to Be Kind" for the latter, in the UK, USA and Canada).
  • Completely inverted by Country Music singer (and Nashville Star winner) Chris Young. His first album was critically acclaimed, but both singles tanked at radio. His second album started off with a mulligan of a first single ("Voices"), but after that, the next two singles went to number one — as did a re-release of "Voices".
  • Chumbawamba attempted to follow up their smash-hit major label debut "Tubthumping" with "WYSIWYG," whose lead-off single ("She's Got All The Friends") was quite obviously an attempt to mimic the shouty-pop of "Tubthumping." No one cared, and Chumbawamba returned to their previous preference of independent releases. (These days, the group would rather pretend that the "Tubthumper" era never occurred.)
  • Milli Vanilli actually attempted a second album, believe it or not. After their twin 'debut' releases ('All or Nothing' outside of the USA, and the far more commercial 'Girl You Know It's True' in the USA) hit it big, they immediately recorded a follow-up album ('Keep On Running') using the same gimmick - middle-aged guys on vocals, dreadlock guys on the cover. Shortly after the title track was released as a single, however, the controversy erupted. The new album was retitled 'The Moment of Truth' and credited to The Real Milli Vanilli, showing the actual singers on the cover. In the end, the retooled album was somewhat of a success in Europe, as the group still held popularity there. America, unfortunately, hated the group at this point, and the album never saw a US release. (At least, not in its original form - the vocals were later re-recorded by other singers, and the album was released under the band name Try 'n' B. This version bombed completely.)
  • Green Day's Insomniac (though their mainstream sophomore, as it's their fourth) was not as well received as Dookie, particularly for being Darker and Edgier.
  • Likewise, after breaking out with Smash, The Offspring failed to deliver the same with Ixnay on the Hombre.
  • According to an article in the LA Times, Drake is trying hard to avoid this with his second studio album, Take Care (hence the title). It is too soon to tell if he was successful.
  • Inverted hard by Adele's 21, as her second album is astronomically more successful than its predecessor 19 ever was.

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