After a stellar first installment/season, a series has a second installment/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 from live concerts to help the band determine what does or doesn't work), the record company wants a second album produced within a year. The second album is therefore very likely to consist mainly of the songs that were cut from the first album because they were considered inferior. 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.
This term as used in sports refers to players who become breakout stars during their rookie seasons, only to follow up with underwhelming second years, whether because of injury, changes within the team, heightened expectations and publicity leading to faltering on-field performance, etc. Some of them are able to figure out how to get back on track for their third years and beyond, while others end up skidding for a few years and then disappear, with varying levels of infamy based on how highly-touted they were before or during their freshmen seasons.
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.
This may happen when your first season is widely considered a Tough Act to Follow, but it's not a rule.
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.
Has nothing to do with what comes after the freshman fifteen.
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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. Of course, the Orange Islands arc itself has its own problems as well.
While Iron Man 2 was successful with both audiences and critics, many felt it was not as exciting as the first film.
The second Mission: Impossible is the most reviled one while the third and the fourth are the best reviewed in the series.
This isn't exactly a rare phenomenon with films planned as a trilogy, thanks to the simple mechanics of doing them. Since the first installment has to grab your attention and the third is often a rock-em, sock-em Torch the Franchise and Run finale, they tend to hog all the good bits and the second often ends up just kind of sitting there treading water and holding your attention. Adding to that, audiences can be painfully aware that some characters pretty much have to survive to the finale, and dramatic tension can be lost that way. It doesn't help that most films are made as Two Part Trilogies. While the first film has to to be reasonably self-contained, the next two films are often made as a single unified story, resulting in the second film being little more than the first half of a proper story, and spending more time setting things up for the third film than standing on its own merits.
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, though many admit that the writing quality, if not the story as well, improves at the third arc.
Desperate Housewives had a decline in quality after season one. Some people say it return to its premises in season three.
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 second season of Once Upon a Time was considered a major step-down from the first, particularly in the second half.
The second season wasn't bad, but it was one of the most uneven. It gave us a few wonderful episodes like "The Girl in the Fireplace," and "School Reunion" but also had some of the show's bigger clunkers, like "Fear Her" and "Love & Monsters". There was also a story arc that didn't give as great a reveal as other Series, and which many fans felt was there for Russell T Davies to set up his own show. Also despite many fans loving the Doctor/Rose romance, there is quite a group that felt it was becoming a Romantic Plot Tumour, even those who liked Rose in the first Series felt she became unlikeable here.
The sixth season is this, being the second season of Steven Moffat's tenure as show runner (with a new Doctor, new companion, and a lot of new people behind the scenes,) after an outstanding first season. Again, some of the show's best ("The Girl Who Waited," "The Doctor's Wife,) were alongside some of the show's biggest misfires ("The Curse of the Black Spot," "Let's Kill Hitler.") Additionally, many felt like Moffat was trying to do a little too much and the plot got tangled, and the characterization of River Song took a big hit. In a season review from the Nerdist (one of Doctor Who's biggest cheerleaders,) the writer even uses the term Sophomore Slump to describe it.
The second season of Game of Thrones was, while still good, generally more uneven than the first season, since while the first book was mostly linear (with basically three main plotlines- the Wall, the East and Kings' Landing/related subplots) with a strong focus character (Ned Stark) and Driving Question (Why was Jon Arryn murdered?), the second book A Clash of Kings suddenly had an explosion in the number of plotlines which were increasingly divorced from each other, and many which were not TV-friendly, which led to the TV writers making deviations that didn't quite work (Jon and Dany's plotlines were big offenders). These problems were mostly solved in the third and especially fourth seasons, as splitting the third book A Storm of Swords allowed the show to breathe, the writers became more confident with reducing the number of plotlines per episode, and the quality of TV original material improved massively.
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.
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.
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.
Razorblade Suitcase by Bush. A highly commercial grunge band cashing in on the state of popular music at the time probably shouldn't have chosen Steve Albini as a producer (a man who, given his history with unconventional acts, probably shouldn't have chosen Bush as a client).
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. Then again, it does happen to be the highest-selling debut album of all time.
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. In their defense, the band had to hastily re-record many of the songs because the original tapes were either lost or damaged.
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 on of the best-selling debut albums 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 Music/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. The "commercial" production touches of Sandy Pearlman (best known for his work with Blue Oyster Cult) also pissed off a lot of punk purists. 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".
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).
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.) They even made an album of the two stars themselves singing under the name Rob and Fab. It didn't do so well.
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.
According to an article in the LA Times, Draketried hard to avoid this with his second studio album, Take Care (hence the title). It was successful, as Take Care is his most commercially successful album.
Pink Floyd's first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, is often regarded as a masterpiece of psychedelic rock. However, their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, was at the time generally dismissed as an inferior imitation at best, partially due to the departure of Syd Barrett.note After the success of The Dark Side of the Moon, ASOS was re-released as double album together with the first album and turned out to be more successful the second time around. While it's easy to tell that the band were struggling to cope without Barrett, the musical ideas that eventually made Pink Floyd great are clearly present. Should someone discover Pink Floyd today, the Sophomore Slump is barely noticeable as both albums are far inferior compared to their later ones.
Jennifer Lopez narrowly averted this with her second album, J.Lo. While the album and lead single "Love Don't Cost a Thing" started off strong, her follow up singles, "Play" and "I'm Real," both underperformed. It was only after her now-famous remix of "I'm Real" with Ja Rule that things got back on track.
The Jam's second album This is the Modern World is generally regarded as a rushed and very much inferior gap-filler between their pretty good debut In the City and the widely-hailed classic third album All Mod Cons.
Deep Purple Mark II(a) released two classic albums, Deep Purple In Rock and Machine Head. Sandwiched between them is a little lost album called Fireballnote Fireball actually charted higher than In Rock at the time, but posterity thinks otherwise, which has a couple of great songs and a lot of failed ones that attempt to get out of the formula established by In Rock but end up nowhere. Interestingly, one of their greatest hits, "Strange Kind of Woman", was recorded during the same sessions but not included on the UK album (on the US or Japanese versions of the album, SKOW is included, making it somewhat stronger).
Suffocation's Breeding the Spawn, which is almost entirely down to the production - and hoo boy, is it a mess. The reason is that the band got a pittance from Roadrunner Records, who were too busy chasing mainstream success to give a crap about Suffo or any of their other death metal bands. As a result, not only could they not get down to Florida to do another session at Morrisound (where they recorded Effigy of the Forgotten), they apparently didn't have enough money to get a half-decent production job. This led to other complaints, namely that they failed to evolve in any meaningful way from Effigy (although either a really good ear or a listen to any of the re-records placed on later albums pretty much debunks this and reveals the album as being one of the most technically complex albums not only of their catalog, but in the genre as a whole). Mercifully, they came back with a vengeance on Pierced from Within, which paired the complexity of its predecessor with far better production, courtesy of a return trip to Morrisound.
Jason Aldean's second album, Relentless, was his only one not to produce a Top 5 country hit (although "Johnny Cash" and "Laughed Until We Cried" both just missed, at #6). It's also his weakest-selling album to date. However, he bounced back nicely starting with the third album and ascended to A-lister.
Jerrod Niemann had a strong start with his first major-label album, Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury, which produced a #1 hit in "Lover, Lover" and a Top 5 hit in "What Do You Want". His next album, Free the Music, performed dismally — its lead single barely made Top 20, and the followup barely made Top 40, and the album only sold eight thousand copies. However, he seems to have bounced back quickly with the third album, High Noon, whose lead single "Drink to That All Night" quickly became his second #1 in April 2014.
Rick Trevino, a minor country music singer in The Nineties. His self-titled first official albumnote he had a mostly Spanish-language album out before it, but no singles were released was certified gold and had two Top 5 hits. His next album had three singles, but two of them failed to make the Top 40. The third album, Learning as You Go, brought him back to form, with three straight Top 10 hits, one of which ("Running Out of Reasons to Run") was his only #1.
Randy Houser. His first album had a big hit in "Boots On", but his second album was delayed repeatedly due to its singles underperforming, with its second single ("I'm All About It") not even making the final cut of the album. The album was released to little fanfare and nothing else from it went anywhere. He was prepared for a third album, but when its lead single ("In God's Time") went nowhere, he left the label. Then he signed to Stoney Creek Records, where he promptly scored his first two #1 hits in "How Country Feels" and "Runnin' Outta Moonlight", followed by the #2 "Goodnight Kiss", all off his third album.
Cat Stevens' second album, New Masters, fared so poorly that he wouldn't release his third album, Mona Bone Jakon, until 1970 (although Stevens' three-year absence was due mainly to contracting tuberculosis). Then again, New Masters has one of his most famous songs, "The First Cut Is the Deepest."
SHeDAISY's first album, The Whole SHeBANG, was certified platinum and produced three straight Top 10 hits on the country charts. They followed it up with Knock on the Sky, which underperformed and had only two singles, both of which barely made Top 30. Their third album, Sweet Right Here, brought them back up to speed with gold sales and the hit singles "Passenger Seat", "Come Home Soon", and "Don't Worry 'Bout a Thing". The last of these mocks their sophomore slump twice with the lines "Ever knocked on the sky and had it fall on your head?" and "Ever found your last record in the bargain bin?"
The Byrds did this with their second single, "All I Really Want to Do." Beaten by Sonny and Cher's cover of the song, The Byrds' own version peaked at #40, just barely qualifying it as a hit.
Canadian country music group Emerson Drive. Their self-titled American debut albumnote they had two albums in the late 90's under the name 12 Gauge, but neither one had a hit on it, for DreamWorks Records, produced two big hits in "I Should Be Sleeping" and "Fall into Me". What If? completely tanked stateside, with none of its singles doing anything on the U.S. country charts, although "Waitin' on Me" was a minor hit in Canada and Lonestar later Covered Up the album cut "You're Like Comin' Home" to Top 10 success in 2005. Due to the underperformance, they were dropped by the label. Two years later, they signed with the small independent Midas Records and released Countrified, which brought the semi-hit "A Good Man" and their only American #1 hit to date, "Moments". Although their momentum dropped off again with the next album, they have continued to be successful in Canada.
For the First Class, whose self-titled debut album featured the #4 hit "Beach Baby," their second album, SST, doubled as both a Sophomore Slump and a Creator Killer.
The Times They Are a-Changin' by Bob Dylan, released as his third album, did not really please critics and listeners for the Darker and Edgier feel it had compared to his first two albums. The title track is the only highlight of the album and the only track from it that normally appears on his "best of" compilations.
While still a good album, Led Zeppelin II is often considered the weakest of Zeppelin's Atlantic Records period.
Devil May Cry 2 was the video game equivalent of being booted in the crotch by a large angry golfer. Devil May Cry 3 was aces. These days, Capcom has taken to pretending the second game never happened; 3 was a prequel, 4 is set between the first and second, and the characters frequently comment on having no memory of the second game when they appear in other media (such as Viewtiful Joe or Marvel vs. Capcom 3), the only exception being Dante's guest appearance in Shin Megami Tensei: NocturneManiax (based off of his DMC2 appearance, as it was the most recent release at the time of the game).
A great deal of this most likely stems from the fact that neither Hideki Kamiya (the creator of DMC) nor Team Little Devils (Kamiya's personal dev team for DMC) were involved with 2, the project instead going to a different team under the direction of Hideki Itsuno (director) and Tsuyoshi Tanaka (producer). That being said, this same group of developers was responsible for the third game, which handily proceeded to Win Back the Crowd (critically, at least; sales were hurt somewhat by consumer wariness due to the second game's poor reception).
Turned Up to Eleven with Unreal II: The Awakening, which Epic outsourced to a third-party developer, and ended up being so badly received that it was an outright Franchise Killer for the single-player Unreal games.
On the NES, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Castlevania II Simons Quest and Final Fantasy II get heck for being radical departures from the rest of the series. A reason was because the usual conventions and mechanics of the franchise weren't fully defined yet, hence why the developers had tried to expand the gameplay features. Though later games returned to more classical formats, these second entries did leave a legacy (The Adventure of Link, for example, introduced elements to the Zelda games like Dark Link, towns, magic and character names like Saria or Nabooru).
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is considered a bit of a slump for the Prime trilogy. While it's generally agreed to be a good game, the brutal difficulty, key collection, and ammo system tend to draw ire. It's also criticized for having many of the same upgrades and weapons as the original, with the only really new upgrades being the Seeker Launcher, Screw Attack, and the Echo Visor. Another point of debate is the multiplayer mode.
Ace Attorney: Justice For All didn't quite match up to the first game, mostly due to its universally despised third case, and the new health system being rather punishing at times. Fortunately, the next game, Trials and Tribulations got the series on track, mostly thanks to having a better overall storyline (Justice For All is the only game without an over-arching storyline.) On the other hand, Justice For All has chapter 2-4, "Farewell, My Turnabout", widely considered to be one of the best cases in the series.
Echo Bazaar has a quasi-example, once you start the story line to become a Person Of Some Importance. All the POSI content requires either huge amounts of time and in-game resources or Fate (bought with actual money) to achieve, and are mainly cosmetic awards. Contrast to the earlier game, where things were much more reasonably priced.
Megaman Star Force 2 was poorly received, probably due to discarding most of the first game's stellar themes. It also had much less nuanced Villains of the Week (From sympathetic individuals possessed by manipulative beings in the first game to already evil villains who fuse with almost mindless Blood Knight entities in the second}. The easily broken battle system probably didn't help either. The third game was better-received, but doesn't seem to have been enough to save the series.
The second Nancy Drew PC Game, Stay Tuned for Danger, suffered from this, since Her Interactive was still working out the kinks. It had a rather frustrating Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence (namely, you started off the game picking a lock with a credit card; later on, other doors, which are identical and in the same building absolutely have to be opened with keys,) a pretty bad loophole (if you enter a certain room before picking up two necessary tools, you are unable to leave again to get them and Game Over,) a final game that was so frustratingly difficult they had to release a patch to ease the frustration, a pretty clumsy overworld map (where you had to click on a location, listen to Nancy hail a cab, talk to the driver, then arrive, which is frustrating after several repetitions; the other early games all took place in one location, avoiding the problem.) It's telling that, thanks to Technology Marches On, the first two games were discontinued because of issues with newer sound and video cards. The first, Secrets Can Kill was later remastered and re-released in 2010, but there seems to be no indication they plan to do the same with Stay Tuned for Danger.
Whereas Battlefield 1942 was both a commercial and critical hit, its immediate sequel, Battlefield Vietnam got unspectacular reviews and sank without a trace in the sale charts. Nowadays, most people forget that particular Battlefield game ever existed, and those that do remember it generally rank it as the worst game in the franchise. However, the series' third entry, Battlefield 2 was a return to form, and an even bigger hit than the first game.
Kaos Studios was formed out of the core developers for the "Desert Combat" mod of Battlefield 1942. They went onto create Front Lines Fuel Of War, which was an extremely mediocre effort that didn't rise to any great heights, certainly not anything close to the love their Desert Combat mod inspired.
Drakengard was hit with this for it's second game but not from the usual stuff. In fact the gameplay was vastly improved over it's predecessor. What happened was that the first games director, Yoko Taro, was not part of development of the second game leading it to have a fairly standard idealistic JRPG plot as a result in stark contrast with the first games Crapsack World setting and nihilistic tone.
Season two of South Park is loathed by series creators Matt and Trey to the point that they have called it their Sophomore Slump. It is the only season they have never done commentary for.
Book Two: Spirits of The Legend of Korra received polarized reception from fans and critics. Also responsible for its status was the ratings decline on Nick.
Dan Vs.: Season 2 is disliked by a lot of fans for having less Black Comedy and focusing more on Base Breaker Elise. Season 3 is considered an improvement, but there are still some fans who dislike it.