The Legacy: another victim of second series syndrome

Alison Graham wishes practice always made perfect - but sometimes a drama should stop at one run

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I was so minutely obsessed with the Danish family saga The Legacy – which returns tonight on Sky Arts – that I bought a pair of earrings a little bit like the ones worn by its chic heroine, art dealer/gallery curator Gro Gronnegaard.

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Not that I am anyone’s chic heroine, of course, but heavens if I could have changed my name to Gro Gronnegaard and become a Danish art dealer/gallery curator, I would have done so. But a pair of cheap earrings was as close as I was going to get to the greatness of Gro. I know little of worth about art and my idea of curating would involve shouting at people for being pretentious in a public space. And banning the eating of houmous, too, of course. Everywhere, not just in art galleries.

The first series of The Legacy was wonderful: a big, bold family saga that was small and intimate at the same time, about the emotional bomb detonated among a group of siblings after their mother on her deathbed left her fabulous house/gallery to the daughter she’d given away as a baby.

The brothers and sisters fought among themselves and tiny flecks of ill-feeling became fully blown and magnified
as they ripped themselves to 
bits. It was brilliant, something I looked forward to every week because it was layered and nuanced and everyone was just a tiny bit horrible. Or if they weren’t actually horrible they had the capacity to behave appallingly towards those they were supposed to love.

And so we come to series two. I’ve been crossing off the days on my special How Long to Series Two of The Legacy calendar since the end of last year. Episode one arrived and, inevitably, it’s disappointing. It’s not awful; it just suffers from the handicap of not being Series One. 

Oh, what is it about second series? Why are they not as good as the first? Remember how the country collectively rent its garments because everyone was so disappointed by Broadchurch 2 that it was clear that the skies would fall in and the world would end? How the second series of Homeland was an abomination that stank up the planet?

Blimey, imagine the sky-high expectations of Happy Valley 2 and Poldark 2. It’s a wonder anyone ever makes television dramas.

Being disappointed in a second series is a terrible inevitability, but in its way is also a tribute to the power of television when it’s really, really good. Some things are perfect, just as they are. A story is told, it’s a brief history of a time, and then it closes and we all move on.

Hugo Blick did this beautifully with The Honourable Woman and Russell T Davies, a guest at RT’s Festival in September (see here to book your tickets soon), ended his masterpiece Cucumber after one series. This, dear reader, was my fault. My views on this page about the rankness of Homeland 2 convinced him to go to one series with Cucumber, but no further. The right decision, but then I would say that. 

There have been some triumphs – the second Line of Duty was even better than the brilliant, flawed first, and Blackadder picked itself up after a limp first outing and reinvented itself to become a comedy classic. And The Good Wife just gets better. But the exceptions are few. 

People are cross when second series don’t measure up, as they get cross when endings disappoint. But maybe this is a reaction to the messiness of real life, something over which most of us have no control. We like our fiction to be neat and perfect, and we like great stories to be preserved, perfectly, in our memories. 

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The Legacy returns on Sky Arts tonight at 9.00pm