The first season of The Adventures of Puss in Boots was released in five episode packs, and had a highly episodic bend to it. The second season was released in a larger, all at once batch and features a tighter continuity and ongoing story arc.
Adventure Time began its run as a simple and comedic kids' show with any plot elements being far in the background. It wasn't until "Mortal Folly/Mortal Recoil" at the end of season two that the show began to take a ride on the Cerebus Rollercoaster, balancing out its more bizarre comedic elements with copious amounts of world-building and character development.
While The Amazing World of Gumball was met with positive reception upon its debut, many fans will tell you that season 2 was when the series truly hit its stride — better animation, improved humor, more coherent stories, and a willingness to experiment with its different art styles — turning even the most clichéd of sitcom stories into something worth watching, as seen with "The Job", "The Fridge", "The Remote", and "The Finale". With seasons 3, 4, and 5, the show has only gotten better, giving us episodes like "The Shell", "The Money", "The Origins", "The Fury", "The Copycats", and "The Console", among many others.
Archer started off as good, but Season 2 saw it become great by turning Ray and Kreiger into main characters, having more interesting and unpredictable plots, giving characters real emotional depth without sacrificing the funny, giving the series a proper villain in the form of Barry, and generally having funnier, sharper jokes.
A lot of people were unimpressed with Atomic Puppet when it premiered, which was understandable, as the show was clumsy in its blend of action and comedy and didn't know how to use its premise. However, it managed to score its first big hit with "Sword Sisters" and the show would improve from there, especially after "Erlenmeyer's Revenge". More emphasis was put on the action, the characters were developed, continuity started to creep in, and the writers got more ambitious. But for those who had enjoyed the early episodes, the show still maintained its non-serious demeanor. It all finally paid off in the finale "The Big Shift", in which Joey reveals to his dad that he is Atomic Puppet and Mookie goes from bumbling wannabe superhero to outright villain.
The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! introduced the main characters in a disjointed manner (the first five episodes having premiered online in the form of 20 shorts). The show started improving after the founding of the Avengers, and seemed to really hit a stride in the second half of the first season. By that point, the show started focusing less on finding new Avengers, and more on developing the eight they had, while still expanding their universe.
Avengers, Assemble! is considered to have become marginally better during its second season. Characters grow and develop (particularly Iron Man and Falcon), Black Widow appears much more frequently, the animation isn't as lazy as in season 1 where a common criticism was that much of the action would happen off-screen, the villains become much more competent and deadly with the Squadron Supreme episodes being particularly noted for their competent writing and action.
The Backyardigans from season two onwards; the character designs become cleaner and the animation is much smoother. Even the songs get better.
The Batman does this with its first season finale, when the characters began to gain some depth and it was not so blatantly Merchandise-Driven. Most notably, Joker shows his nasty side for the first time, Batman/Bruce goes through the first real trauma in his career, and one of the show's best villains (Clayface) is created (exceeding his comic and DCAU versions). It grew the beard again in the fourth season, which was not only a marked improvement over a decent third season that was nonetheless probably weaker than the second one, but probably the best for overall storytelling (as well as introducing an excellent version of Dick Grayson).
Beware the Batman started out as a decent show, but with slow pacing and episodic stories. This changes in "Family", where the League of Assassins plot begins to fully emerge and Tatsu finally becomes Katana. This continues throughout the season as more focus is placed on the continuing story arcs, character development, the introduction of some iconic members of the Rogues Gallery, and even improved animation.
For many people, the series started out very slow. Many people specifically say the episodes "Sheesh! Cab, Bob?" and "Art Crawl" to be the point the show finally found its groove and became what it is now. Bob's Burgers is an odd case as many people go on to say that, while they were not thrilled with the previous episodes at first, they were much more enjoyable to rewatch after watching more of the series.
Many fans point to "Burger Wars," which marked the introduction of popular Ensemble Darkhorse members Mr. Fischoeder and the Pesto twins Andy and Ollie.
For many, season 3 was a second Growing the Beard moment, as the show finally got upgraded to a full, 22 episode season by Fox, and has many fan favourites like "Tina-Rannosaurus Wrecks", "Topsy" and "Mother Daughter Laser Razor." The season expanding on what were considered the show's weakest characters, Gene and Linda, was also a part of it.
The first few episodes of BoJack Horseman did little to impress people, looking like a fairly typical animated sitcom with an asshole protagonist and lots of crass humor. By the second half of the first season, however, episodes like "Say Anything" and "The Telescope" came to reveal a surprising amount of dramatic heft, shifting the tone to a nuanced dramedy that became a critical darling in the second season.
In fact, Disney as a whole gradually grew the beard in the 30's, when Disney pushed for higher quality, more naturalistic animation, ditching the crude rubberhose style of the early cartoons for the most part, with the epitome of their beard growing being the first five Disney features: Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi. The studio artists grew from animating rubberhose cartoons to naturalistic, classical, anatomically-correct humans, animals, and scenery... in the span of 3 years!
If you ever find the shorts produced by Walt Disney's first animation studio, Laugh-O-Gram Studio (your best bet would be the Beauty and the Beast Blu-ray), watch them in chronological order. You may notice a gradually reduced reliance on Overly Long Gags, and a stronger desire to actually tell a story, featuring endearing characters. Even then, the visuals have nothing on the shorts and movies later produced at Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Walt Disney Animation Studio has fluctuated in quality throughout the years, but there's have been various definitive starting points for when their studio rebounds in quality. The first instance of this was Cinderella, the first film to come close to capturing the critical and commercial success of their first feature, Snow White. Before that, the studio was finding themselves struggling to find a strong titles. Disney would go on to have another string of successes until Walt Disney's passing signaled a decline in quality after The Jungle Book. Their next stage began with The Little Mermaid, which saw the starting point of the Disney Renaissance. This period led to Michael Eisner's growth in power in the company, which would eventually lead to another Dork Age. The most recent and current period has John Lasseter as the head honcho of the WDAS, with Frozen bringing the studio back to the critical acclaim and commercial success.
While nearly all of Disneytoon StudiosDirect-to-Video sequels remain very divisive among fans of Disney Animated Canon, many note the 2000-onward era as the point they were often at least trying to make sequels that complemented the originals, with some even validated fit to release in theatres in certain regions. Due to high budget animation, scripting and acting, the likes of Bambi II, Cinderella III: A Twist In Time and Return To Neverland, even if not considered on the same level as their predecessors were, are often considered good pieces in their own right.
Code Lyoko starts out pretty formulaic in season 1, but more substantial character development and plots start showing up in season 2. The series later introduced something that wasn't XANA attacking, plot elements that meant the team couldn't always go to Lyoko to deactivate a Tower, and showed just what kind of a threat this Omnicidal Maniac of a virus really was in a truly terrifying manner.
Codename: Kids Next Door: The show was a series of unconnected stories about five kids sticking it to the adults, and a certain bunch of kids who live down the lane. While hints of something greater were present in the season one finale, it wasn't until the season two finale ("Operation: E.N.D.") that the writers started developing the organization more, putting the characters in more danger, and showing that not every operative is a good guy. The sixth and final season was a similar turning point, with a splinter cell that comes into focus, followed by mysterious events happening to Numbuh One. It all leads up to a master plan that comes to play in the Grand Finale, "Operation: I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S.", giving the show a brilliant sendoff, albeit a Tear Jerker.
Although Daria was golden from the first episode, "Cafe Disaffecto" was the episode where the show began to hit its stride creatively with regards to Daria being a force of nature within Lawndale, wreaking havoc against the status quo in her own passive-aggressive manner, via causing a riot with her anti-communist "Melody Powers" spy stories after being pressganged into participating in a coffee house open mic night event by her parents and her school.
Another good example would be the third season's first (production-wise) episode, "Through A Lens Darkly", where the title character diverges from being an Invincible Hero-like protagonist and made her into more of the Broken Ace she would become in later episodes.
"The Misery Chick" is another good candidate, since it's the first episode to show the emotional depth and Character Development seen more in later episodes, as well as the first one to explore whether Daria's pessimistic attitude is necessarily a good thing or not.
Batman: The Animated Series started off action-oriented, with early episodes like "On Leather Wings," "Christmas With The Joker" and "The Last Laugh" being primarily fast paced and minimal plot. "Heart of Ice," though, is generally regarded as one of the best of the entire series and legendary for reinventing Mr. Freeze as a tortured soul who lost his wife.
This trope is expressly discussed in the Season 2 DVD. The producers felt that the first season of Justice League was a competent production, improving as it progressed, but that it was in season two that the show became what they always wanted it to be. Many of the changes came about from their own disapproval and from listening to fan complaints. Bruce Timm explained that much of Season 1 was just trying to get the series started and they ended up rushing things where they should have taken more time. Season Two opened with "Twilight," a Darkseid episode, and the level of quality leaped over the best of the first season. Among the items discussed:
They made a policy decision to avoid "Super-wimp" with Superman, which had a much larger effect on the first season than they had realized. Even the Depending on the Writer issues even in the comics, his primary job in fights was to get thrown into buildings or otherwise knocked around with relative ease (he was beaten up on his own show in a similar way but always came back to win the fight; in the ensemble Justice League, another hero would just step in for him). A noticeable example came from the episode "The Enemy Below" where Superman is incapacitated by Deadshot's electrified manhole cover trap. In season two, he was more likely to tank or quickly recover from any attack that came his way, including Darkseid's Omega Beams and catching thrown vehicles instead of being hit by them.
They wanted to increase the scale of the stories with larger backgrounds, more character models animated in critical scenes, bigger stakes, a visceral sense of physical contact and added emotional conflict even between the heroes. The rationale was "the show doesn't necessarily have to be dark, but it has to be intense" in order to make sure viewers were engrossed. The action became faster, more chaotic, more creative and less repetitive. Green Lantern was even chastised for being too straightforward with his ring.
They reintroduced a lot of the continuity from BTAS and STAS, and some Call Forwards to Batman Beyond, that had not been included in season one. Originally they wanted JL to stand on its own merits, but understood fans are generally watching the show to see their favorite characters.
They began laying the groundwork for many future story arcs, while the first season had episodes largely self-contained. In particular, many hints about Hawkgirl's history would come to a head on "Starcrossed," the season finale. Likewise the flirtation between Green Lantern and Hawkgirl became more obvious until they finally admitted their feelings to each other in the episode "Wild Cards".
Bruce Timm said that he was often spurred on by Mel Brooks's advice to Ring the Bell; if a scene seemed like it might be too much and you were having second thoughts, do it anyway and make it bigger. It was the official mantra of the production team that "Good enough isn't good enough". The animators had specific instructions to work until a scene was good enough and then make it better.
However, there are fans who believe that Season 1's three-part finale "The Savage Time" is where the show hit this point. Besides the badass plot about the Justice League going back in time to World War II to stop Vandal Savage from taking over in the present, for the first time it shows each member of the League being awesome, and Superman being restored to his former glory. It also probably didn't hurt that the set-up saw Batman, the Spotlight-Stealing Squad of the DCAU, benched - this allowed the writers to truly demonstrate what the other characters were capable of in creative ways, as opposed to the Badass NormalStrategist bailing them out/finding the solution (which would still happen thereafter, but not quite as often).
This happened again during the relaunch of the series as Justice League Unlimited. The first season was more shaky with the writers getting used to the new half-hour format, greatest emphasis being put on Characters of the Day instead of the core 7, and the fan-favorites Flash and Hawkgirl being Put On The Bus. The second half of the first season rectified this; Flash and Hawkgirl were back full-time, the series focused on a continuous storyline instead of self-contained episodes, and the writing and characterization got better.
The second season of Dexter's Laboratory boasts the most focused balance between the show itself and the Monkey and Justice Friends spin-offs and even offered the most easily relatable stories in the show which also helped introduce more inventions that Dexter would invent to make his life easier resulting in the most versitile season of the series.
Doc McStuffins has been growing the beard since season 2, where the plots contained more depth and maturity by tackling more complex storylines that are still accessible to everyone.
Drawn Together became more versatile with its characters and storyline in season 2 and didn't put as much emphasis on its reality show theme. While DT's first season continues to be split among those who love it and hate it, its second season not only pushed the limits of taste, but also how good the show could possibly be.
The first couple of seasons of The Dreamstone are entertaining and ripe with good humor, but more or less a Strictly FormulaicVillain Protagonist series for the Urpneys, with core elements undeveloped or broken. Starting from the third season, the show gradually expands. The Noops become more competent and sympathetic, with their Flanderization and Designated Hero status against the Urpneys slowly undone, allowing them to get in on the humour and story more often. There is a much larger focus on world (or galaxy) building, with greater use of new realms and characters to spice up the formula, and the dream process is a more frequent part of the plot (compared to just one or two episodes from the first two seasons). This is also done while barely diluting any of the wonderful Urpney humor.
The Duck Dodgers episode "Of Course You Know, This Means War (and Peace)" provided a very compelling, drama-laden episode that didn't break the tone of the rest of the series, the following episode actually being used for the snapback.
The characters in Ed, Edd n Eddy started to find more of their niche in their personalities and found more solid and witty stories for them to tell after Season 1.
The series started off as rough around the edges with everyone falling into the typical stereotypes (sensible mother, bumbling dad with a good heart, bratty teenage daughter, dimwitted teenage son, talking dog, with a power hungry baby that wants to take over the world being the only character that didn't fit into a mold). Many of the plots were edgy for its time, but nothing so shocking that it would get people riled up. After the show came back on air from cancellation, it dove head first into more risque plots and jokes that aimed to offend as many people as possible. The characters themselves also changed heavily due to Flanderization, but they still retain some parts of the original personalities. While fans still argue over the quality of the show, most agree that Family Guy is better developed now than it was back then.
"Road to Rhode Island" is considered one of these for the development of the comedy team of Brian and Stewie. At first, Brian was intended to be Peter's sidekick, while Stewie was a loner who aimed to kill his mother and take over the world. This episode established the Brian-Stewie relationship that has become one of the show's hallmarks.
The third season (specifically, "Parasites Lost" and "Time Keeps on Slippin'") is the first real glimpse of what Futurama is most highly regarded for — the ability to mix comedy and melancholy, which leads into its centerpiece plot.
Gargoyles started out as an above-average Action-Adventure cartoon, but it really came into its own with the epic four-part story "City of Stone," which introduced detailed backstories for the major characters Macbeth and Demona (largely earning the show its reputation for multi-layered characters and complex story arcs), but also featured the first official alliance between David Xanatos and the gargoyles—definitively establishing Xanatos as an unpredictable power broker with no firm allegiance to good or evil.
G.I. Joe Extreme grew its metaphorical beard with the two part season 1 finale "Coup de Klaw"/"Rebellion", which had a dramatic high-stakes storyline that completely upset the status-quo by having GI Joe's base destroyed and Iron Klaw's double-identity as Count Von Rani exposed for good. The season that followed had strong serialized writing and jetissoned many of the show's more laughable elements such as the bizarre musical insert sequences, the live-action segments, and the infamous opening sequence.
While well received from its inception, Gravity Falls began with silly, not all too important episodes, but only truly began to take off around during the second half of its first season, when its story arcs began to unfold and soon character development was in almost every episode of its second season. The series also began to undergo much needed Cerebus Syndrome, which may have helped grow its beard.
Hey Arnold!. After the first season, the art and animation improved, the character development was increased, the writing improved, and everything in general improved. Many characters such as Sid, Phoebe, and Rhonda got more defined personalities. Helga, in particular, became more artistic, cool and complex and less emphasis was put on her sadistic, bullying ways. Season 1 was good overallnote Special mention goes to "Pigeon Man" and "Arnold's Christmas"., but the rest of the series was just plain better.
I Am Weasel's focus strayed away from just "I.R. will never be as good as Weasel" to a wider array of storytelling which may have helped latch it off of Cow and Chicken and into its own show. Adding the Red Guy to the show's cast also helped. Later episodes even went as far to show what it feels like to be the God-Mode Sue and Only Sane Man of the universe: not fun.
The final episodes of season 1 started to place a greater emphasis on continuity in comparison to earlier episodes, with the initial episodes of season 2 following up on the trend. Once you get to this point, you can begin to see signs of an overarching story line developing. For example, the season 1 episode "Megadoomer" actually set up a key plot point that would have directly led into the season 2 finale. Unfortunately, season 2 was Cut Short, so we never got to see much of this come to fruition.
Johnny Bravo became wittier, funnier, and easier to relate to in its second season. It also introduced Carl and Pops, which opened the door for more stories besides the standard "Johnny likes women" plot, while Suzy evolved from a just a cute little girl with a crush on Johnny to someone more developed and mature, and Bunny evolved from the standard mother figure into a louder, more actioney-type character.
KaBlam! was less random and fleshed out the characters more in season two.
Kim Possible certainly started out strong, with a Action Girl self aware heroine and plenty of humor, drama and fight scenes not like Disney. However Kim herself was a bit of a problem: she was something of a Mary Sue, a little egotistical and the world seemed to exist to show how awesome she is. From the second season there's a wealth of Character Development and Kim becomes less up herself and more compassionate, and more focus is given to her relationship with Ron, who grows from Butt-Monkey to Let's Get Dangerous! to good effect.
The Legend of Korra had some pacing issues in its first season, as the writers were obviously getting used to the shorter-season format after working on Avatar: The Last Airbender. It also certainly didn't help that Nickelodeon had only ordered a single season at that point with the original intention of Korra being a minseries, so the season finale felt rushed, as every plot thread needed to be hastily wrapped up in a single episode. There was also the major Romantic Plot TumorLove Triangle that took up way too much air time and made several of the involved characters look bad. It wasn't until the two-part Avatar Wan story midway through Season 2 that fans saw signs of improvement that would eventually come out full-force in Season 3.
Legion Of Superheroes started off strong, but also has accusations of being a Teen Titans ripoff. The show gradually gets its own identity as it goes on, especially in season 2.
Looney Tunes: The early shorts started as shallow, musical oriented Disney ripoffs, but in 1935, Tex Avery and Bob Clampett decided to bring back the fun of old rubberhose cartoons (at a time when Disney was becoming a major force in the industry) which slowly led to the creation of beloved stars like Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, and the rest of the Looney Tunes ensemble, while previous Disney-derivative stars like Beans the Cat and Oliver Owl faded into obscurity.
While the Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog cartoons were always funny, it wasn't until the third entry that the wolf and sheepdog were seen to be on friendly terms off the clock, which was the critical component of the series.
Bugs Bunny started off a somewhat undeveloped Screwy Squirrel and fairly unsympathetic. As shorts passed throughout the forties, his personality and design slowly refined and he became the cool headed Karmic Trickster we all know and love.
While fans are still completely divided whether Daffy Duck's own evolution was for the better (from a deranged heckler into a glory seeking Butt-Monkey), many agree his 'transitional' tenure throughout the mid to late forties led to some of his most versatile performances, being a perfect combination of the former's screwiness and the latter's ambition and bombastic wit.
Director, Chuck Jones, arguably grew the beard in 1942. Prior to this, most of his cartoons appeared to be trying to replicate Disney's style: slow paced, and rather cutesy. This changed with two particular cartoons, "The Draft Horse" and "The Dover Boys". They ended up being the first cartoons where he appeared to finally get the irreverent humor of the Warner Bros. animation studio and both cartoons got big laughs at the theaters. Then the following year, he released "Super Rabbit" (Bugs Bunny in a Superman parody). He had done several Bugs Bunny cartoons up to that point, but noted that this was the cartoon where he felt that he began to understand what made Bugs work.
The Loud House was always good, but the during the first season, the show's craziness overshadowed the heart more often than necessary and it wasn't as easy to connect with the emotions of the characters. Since season 2 (Around the time Rita and Lynn Sr.'s faces were revealed), the show has found a far better balance between heart and craziness and the characters became more realistic. The siblings also began to show more dimensions to their personalities than in the first season.
Most fans of MAD would say that the best episodes of the show would come since "Snot Pilgrim vs. the Wonderful World of Disney". The art style for the "Spy vs. Spy" shorts and the traps that they used also improved. Season 2's "Kitchen Nightmares Before Christmas" even got nominated for an Emmy.
The Marvel Action Hour, the 1990s Fantastic Four and Iron Man cartoons both grew their beards in season 2; while not rejecting their first seasons, the shows suddenly took a leap forward in quality. Basically, the entire production crew from the first season was fired and replaced. The animation style changed for both shows and most of the Force Works characters from Iron Man were written out to concentrate on better solo stories. Much like the Trope Namer having Riker grow a beard, the Iron Man show also had its growth symbolized by Tony adopting the mullet he has in the '80s.
Mixels was met with humor, yet was mostly derided as "silly" during its first season, which was made up of shorts. It wasn't until season two, with the release of half-hour specials that it was able to fully expand its personality into what it is. This was the same time that the toyline was breaking through better as well.
My Life as a Teenage Robot started out as a show about a robot girl trying to be normal. The latter 2 seasons put this on the backburner and focused more on important stuff. Plots became more dynamic and less predictable, characters get some much needed development, relationships start forming more, plot arcs become more common, and the Cluster Myth Arc led to an epic season 2 finalle.
The fandom mostly agrees that at some point My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic grew the beard. When exactly is debated, but generally it is believed to be sometime near the middle of season one, though some believe that it didn't fully grow the beard until season two, when the series shifted from a show made just for girls to one made for little girls but also with its Periphery Demographic in mind. However, a third point where the quality vastly improved coincides with the Wham EpisodeMagical Mystery Cure, as thereafter, storytelling took a vastly different turn, the status quo started regularly being upset, and the characters grew even stronger as a result of both of those stimuli.
Ninjago did this in season 2 as the characters matured and more backstory was revealed, leading to some genuinelymoving episodes. As the real plot of defeating the Bigger Bad kicked off, it jumped from a Merchandise-Driven show running mostly on Rule of Cool and Narm Charm to a show with genuinely interesting characters and storylines (although the other two elements were still present to varying degrees).
Most fans consider the episode "Dude, We're Getting the Band Back Together!" the episode that made them love the series. After that, the animation got better, there was more character development on even the minor characters, and the show started adding more Parental Bonus and Continuity Nods.
Some of the rest, consider the episode "It's About Time!" for getting truly savvy in regards to Doof and Perry's dynamics. There is also "I Scream, You Scream", in which the writers show you just how self-aware the show is (plus the fanservice in B.U.S.T.E.D started quite a trend).
The Raccoons when the human characters were dropped in the second season and the setting changed to a fully Funny Animal world. With that new focus, the plots became more original and the characters more complex, such as Cyril Sneer becoming more sympathetic as an Anti-Hero.
ReBoot, mostly a highly episodic children's show in the first two seasons, abruptly became much deeper and somewhat darker in the third season, with a season-wide plot arc that made the show much more entertaining to an older audience. This is likely because they went into syndication in the third season and were no longer subject to ABC's Broadcast Standards and Practices which had constrained them up until that point (including giving Dot a "uniboob" because they didn't want things to be sexual at all).
Near the beginning of season three, Enzo loses a game which ultimately results in him becoming older and literally growing a beard.
A good amount of the Recess fanbase say that while season 1 was good, season 2 is when the show started to get really good, with the characters begining to use their catchphrases and more Character Development to Miss Finster and Ashley A., among others.
Regular Show also began to tone down the focus on its main protagonists. The focus on Mordecai's developing relationship with Margaret gives the show a sense of continuity, and highlights both Mordecai's weaknesses and Rigby's snarkiness. The lowering of the focus on completely absurd plot twists is somewhat refreshing once in a while.
The Ren & Stimpy Show definitely got off to a good start, but the second season is universally considered a significant improvement over season 1's helter-skelter quality, and by many to be the series peak; Ren and Stimpy's personalities and voice work are more fleshed out, the drawings, animation quality and background art are much better (especially the episodes animated by Carbunkle) and the cartoons became much better in story structure, humor and pacing. Even the heavily contested Adult Party revival continued raising the bar higher; it had some of the most ambitious animation ever made in a western made-for-tv cartoon— the drawings and animation blow anything from the original series out of the water, the background art shirted from heavy stylization to a more naturalistic look and more in line with the painters personal styles, and the tone, characterization and acting (especially in episodes like "Ren Seeks Help") go further than even the standard set by the season 2 episodes.
Rocko's Modern Life spent most of its first season focusing on just Rocko himself. Things picked up starting in season 2 when Filburt evolved from a background character to a third friend and the series fleshed out the perspectives of the other characters as well and not just Rocko's. We witness Filburt and Hutchinson get married and have children, Heffer become a cop only to get arrested himself, Mr. Bighead evolves beyond a standard Butt-Monkey to a more easily relatable character and even gains an artist for a son. Heck, Season 3's Wacky Deli is considered the best episode of the show (At least by Murray himself).
Samurai Jack started off as a fun, beautiful show already, but it tended to rely on the Strictly Formula plot of "Jack seemingly finds a way to return to the past, but it doesn't work out for whatever reason." From Season 2 onwards, this plot formula showed up far less, and the plots became far more original and interesting. Season 3 grew the beard further with Art Evolution and more consistent quality. Then there's the Darker and Edgier Season 5, which is in a tier of its own.
The second season of Sanjay and Craig had been better received by those who thought it was a mediocre show during its first season. The grossout moments had been toned down and the show has focused more on character and story.
Shimmer and Shine started out fine, but things really got interesting in season 2. The characters have better developed personalities, the plot lines are more interesting, and there's a healthy amount of action and fantasy incorporated.
While not considered bad, the first season of The Simpsons seems jarringly different than other seasons to more recent viewers, due to the show's slower pace, Homer's voice, the quirks of the animation style, etc. The show really picks up in the second season, and then really hits its stride by the third season. The reason was largely financial: the initial Tracey Ullman shorts were done on the cheap (starting with a two-man animation team, one of whom was Matt Groening), and improved as more funding was added. The first season was a half-length trial - with the second season, they got a full whack of funding and were able to set down a regular writing and production cycle and firm up the designs.
Depending on who you ask many fans will consider Season 20 onwards to be the show Regrowing the Beard after a bad case of Seasonal Rot, or the show succumbing to Seasonal Rot after it Grew the Beard between Season 15 to 20, or the show maintaining its decade long Seasonal Rot.
Sitting Ducks was much better in its second season than it was in its first. The slow atmosphere of the series disappeared and the characterization improved. Bill evolves into a surprisingly braver duck, Ed, Oly and Waddle gain more episodes dedicated to them and they even did better storytelling with Aldo fighting his craving for ducks.
Sofia the First started off strong, but has been steadily growing the beard since season 2, when Michael G. Stern took over as story editor. The conflicts had much more depth to them, the continuity helps up build up multiple arcs, enhances the character development, and even the animation feels more cinematic in scope.
The second season of Sonic Boom has been seen as this by many Sonic Boom supporters due to its more refined animation, nods to the fandom and the fact the writers are making more emphasis when it comes to story and development.
During Season 17, after the change to a single 10-episode run rather than a 14-episode season split into halves, the writers began to experiment more and more with season-long arcs rather than purely episodic adventures. While Seasons 7-16 certainly were not bad, it's generally agreed by most fans that Seasons 17, 18, and ESPECIALLY 19 are the best overall seasons in a decade, owing partly thanks to the use of season-long themes and story arcs and generally improved consistency from episode-to-episode.
The first few episodes of Space Ghost Coast to Coast were boring and awkward. It picked up towards the end of the first season/beginning of the second season, and the third and fourth seasons are where many people think it really started getting hilarious.
In the first season of Spider-Man: The Animated Series, most of the episodes were self-contained and centered around the villain of the week. In other words, it looked just like Batman: The Animated Series except in all the noticeable ways in which it was inferior to Batman (cruder animation, less exciting violence, less complex villains). The second season kicked off with a season long story arc, "Neogenic Nightmare", and the show became a multi-part soap opera that was less about the villains and more about Peter's personal life, the effect his powers had on his personal life, and the supporting cast. It's this format that has helped this show be fondly remembered... and helped it regularly trounce Batman in the ratings.
SpongeBob SquarePants in the second and third season with consistent episode plots, improved humor and art styles, and lots of Character Development of the main cast and characters. Season 4 was received less positively, though. After the infamous Seasonal Rot from Seasons 5 through 8, the show seems to have improved again in the latter half of Season 9, mainly due to having Stephen Hillenburg return to the show.
Although Star was a pretty good - if somewhat lightweight - show from the start, it wasn't until "Mewberty", which was Darker and Edgier and saw an improvement in both its animation and storytelling, that the show has really come into its own. This got cemented by the end of Season 1, which had ironically had its penultimate episode titled "Marco Grows a Beard".
Season 2 improved the quality of the stories by putting focus on the characterization of the cast, being much more continuity-driven and interconnected, as well as becoming more serious without discarding the series' humor.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars started out with some good points of praise alongside a lot of elements that fans did not care for, such as the goofy battle droid humor. The first season episode "Rookies" is generally cited as the moment the show improved because it introduced the coldly efficient commando droids and was an atypical story focusing on a small squad of clone troopers. It also had two uses of the word "hell" as a swear, stunning most of the viewers who believed it was watered down for kids. However, it didn't slip by the radar for long and got removed from the dialogue on-air. The Ryloth arc and the Season 1 finale, "Hostage Crisis" with Cad Bane, were the final pieces needed to show the direction theshow was going.
Although Star Wars Rebels started out well, some viewers were skeptical that the show could deliver the depth and drama of its predecessor series Clone Wars. Fortunately, Rebels won over its skeptics and proved itself as a worthy successor to Clone Wars with the 3rd episode "Rise of the Old Masters", which introduced The Inquisitor and gave additional depth to Kanan and Ezra. For many fans, "Rise of the Old Masters" showed that the production crew aren't willing to shy away from adding drama to Rebels even with its Y7 rating.
The series was already liked from its inception, but many believe the episodes "Mirror Gem" and "Ocean Gem" are where the show got progressively more mature, shifting from a Monster of the Week comedy to a plot-driven Dramedy, and where it started to gain critical acclaim and a larger fanbase. The creators even consider these episodes to be the "true" start of the series, with previous episodes serving as an extended introduction to the world.
There's an in-universe example in "Maximum Capacity", when Amethyst mentions how Li'l Butler really started getting good in season 3 when the uptight neighbors, the Richingtons, moved next-door.
Street Fighter: The first season was mostly stand alone episodes, with a few recuring elements (i.e. Guile's love interest). The second season has several character arcs through its episodes (i.e. Blanka's accidental further mutation, a growing rivalry between Ken and Ryu, Cammy's brainwashing, and Bison's aquisition of an ancient healing statue that, over the course of the season, drives him to world-destroying insanity). All this and Final Fight, too!
Super Friends grew its beard multiple times such as when the combat useless Wendy and Marvin were dropped for the superpowered Wonder Twins, then "Challenge" for bringing in the classic supervillains and finally in the final two incarnations with better written stories taking advantage of well developed comics characters like Firestorm, Cyborg for teen identification and using Darkseid and his New Gods minions as the major recurring enemies.
The 2012 TMNT show started off generally humorous, but with hints of a darker story arc, though the humor and seriousness was a bit unbalanced at times. Episode 9 shows significant improvement in the show's writing style, finally fully introducing The Shredder and how dangerous he is to the Turtles, with most of the episodes afterwards as of current figuring out how to balance the humor and seriousness, and focus on the story arc rather than the Monster of the Week format a majority of the previous episodes had (said monsters becoming more of a Rogues Gallery, though this was likely planned from the start).
The first season of Teen Titans was slow, Anvilicious, and couldn't escape the label of "Justice League lite." Something at the end of season 1 just clicked and showed that yeah, they can do drama. Then season 2 said "Yeah, we can also do superhero comedy!" In particular, "Masks", the episode that kicked off the Robin story arc at the end of the first season, introduced the Not So Different dynamic between Robin and Slade, and started developing Slade's motives and plans beyond the generic evil of his first few appearances really marked the moment of beard growth for many.
The Terry Toons studio greatly benefited from an animation and color upgrade from the late 30's and onward, as well as finding some new star series like Mighty Mouse, Gandy Goose and Sourpuss and Heckle and Jeckle and going in a more wacky, humorous direction than before. And then they got animator Jim Tyer on board, which combined with the talents of other animators like Connie Rasinski and Carlo Vinci turned the studio in a distinct name in the industry. Many animation fans agree that the cartoons also improved drastically after Gene Deitch took over the studio in the late fifties and changed everything (new design style, new characters, brought new artists, etc.), a few even critically acclaimed. Alas he was fired after 2 years and the studio reverted to its old ways, albeit with new characters.
Tex Avery's Looney Tunes shorts are unanimously considered to be hilarious classics, but his tenure at MGM was where the gloves came off and he was really able to push the comedic limits of cartoon animation.
Tom and Jerry began to improve substantially around the mid to late 40's when they abandoned the series Harman-Ising roots in favor of taking pages from Tex's cartoons, including streamlining the designs, and ramping up the comedy, timing and pacing of the cartoons.
Total Drama had a few of these in its first season, such as "Basic Straining" and "Brunch of Disgustingness".
Though a divisive Retool, Season 3 of the original Transformers cartoon (as well as the movie that preceded it) started to feature more sophisticated continuity and backstory for the Transformers mythology, and some surprisingly mature episodes like "Dark Awakening".
Transformers: Beast Wars was very episodic, though still enjoyable in its first season. Bread crumbs to larger story arcs about both Megatron's ultimate agenda for prehistoric Earth, Tarantulas' secret role as a third faction unto himself, and the nature of the aliens who designed the planet started to get laid midseason, starting with the mid-season two-parter "The Trigger." This lead to a slow build to an explosive first season finale. By Season 2, the series had hits is stride and become largely serialized. the plot threads were woven much more tightly and characters gained depth, which continued until the end of the series. It may not be incidental that the first season was also the longest (in fact as long as both of the other two together).
Transformers Animated was fairly disliked early on for its exaggerated animation style, the episodes were merely decent but not spectacular. "Thrill of the Hunt" introduced some of Ratchet's backstory in the original Autobot/Decepticon war and the results were both shocking and mature. It also introduced a popular rivalry between Prowl (Ninja) and Lockdown (Pirate).
"Megatron Rising" is also a possible point for Beard Growth, setting up the more sustained arcs of the second season.
It also features some big development for Megatron, who rapidly became oneofthecharacter's finest incarnations.
Transformers Prime started off fairly strong but some people complained that it was too reminiscent of the Transformers film series in both look and story structure (although with a greater focus on the robots). Once the initial miniseries was over and the series proper got started, fans started to really pick up on the high-tension/horror-themed episodes like "Scrapheap," "Predatory," "Operation: Breakdown" and "Rock Bottom." Those episodes in particular started to show how dedicated the series was towards balancing both story and characters. "Partners" is also where there was a sense of a Myth Arc forming, where Starscream defects from the Decepticons and becomes neutral.
While most of those examples will result in arguments, the "One Shall Fall" and subsequent "One Shall Rise" three parter was almost universally praised for some intense action scenes, powerful characterizations and a story twist that turns the classic mythos on their head.
How about Transformers Rescue Bots ? While the show started off strong, later episodes stayed true to the show's lighthearted tone while not being afraid to branch out with the character development, as well as having more ambitious storylines. No wonder it's the longest running Transformers show.
Ultimate Spider-Man's season one finale has earned a more glowing reception than expected after previous episodes. After it, season 2 got slightly better compared to the previous one, giving more Character Development and bringing Spider-Man villains, though the quality remains highly contested.
The Venture Bros. started off a merciless Jonny Quest spoof/parody with a good deal of crude humor. Towards the end of season one, the show gained some depth into a Deconstruction of the entire "youth adventure" genre. The focus of the show shifted from the Venture boys onto their father, Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture, and the theme of "failure" became the central element of the show. By the end of season two, Character Development and Hidden Depths were abound, and the episode plots became deeper, more dramatic, more complex, and more intertwined. If there is a character you could point to as a prime example for the series as a whole "growing the beard," (similar to Riker from the Trope Namer,) it would be The Monarch, who transformed from a lame joke villain at the start of the series to a truly terrifying supervillain via his quest to win Dr. Girlfriend back from Phantom Limb throughout season two.
Wander over Yonder was well-revived when it debuted, but Season 2 really started drawing in the fans with the addition of a Myth Arc concerning Lord Dominator and more character development. However, the show was cancelled not too long afterwardsnote supposedly something to do with Disney disliking the new serial direction and Cerebus Syndrome.
The first season of W.I.T.C.H. was okay, but then Greg Weisman was called upon to produce its second season, which many consider to be a vast improvement. Sadly, the show was cancelled afterwards.
The early Woody Woodpecker shorts have not aged well, and it's easy to see why: in Walter Lantz's attempt to imitate Tex Avery and Bob Clampett's fast-paced slapstick style of comedy, he missed the point. The gags were very Warner Bros. derivative and presented without much conviction, Woody didn't have much consistent characterization, the timing was slow and mushy, and the animation was some of the sloppiest of any cartoon from The Golden Age of Animation. Fans agree that things got much better when Disney veteran Dick Lundy arrived at the Lantz studio in the mid-1940s and took the director's rein. Lundy improved everything: the timing, the animation, the pacing, the gags, everything, bringing the series to what is considered its peak with classics like "Solid Ivory", "Banquet Busters" and "Wet Blanket Policy". And before Lundy, Shamus Culhane also beefed up the quality and direction of the series over Alex Lovy.