Test It! Did Your Favorite TV Show Get Better Or Worse?

Type the name of any television show–from True Detective to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers–and quantify whether it really did get better or worse as the seasons progressed.

Breaking Bad. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Community. Quantum Leap. Cheers. Downton Abbey. American Idol. Knight Rider. The Cosby Show. Jon & Kate Plus Eight. I’ve been typing these shows (and more!) into Graph TV all morning. By Kevin Wu, Graph TV is a visualizer that digs through IMDb user ratings on any show you want, then graphs the results. In practice, that means you can see:


1) Whether people thought individual seasons got better or worse (colored lines)
2) Whether people thought an entire series got better or worse (white lines)

There’s so much fodder for TV geekdom, I don’t even know where to begin. (That’s a lie. I’m starting with Buffy.)

Buffy season four, of course!* I knew it: When the gang went to college and Buffy joined the military, it really was the worst season (because who judges the pilot season–even if it was technically rated worse). You can see this fact clear as day on Graph TV. Season four’s trend line sits lower on the page than the others and it crescendos the least into the finale.

But as every fan knows, season four isn’t worthless. Examine the individual episode points, and you’ll see that it has one of the top-rated Buffy episodes of all time–the Emmy-winning, silent episode “Hush”–along with a handful of quirky, beloved episodes. And actually, season four has fewer episodes rated below a 7 than season two!

Study Buffy‘s trend line over the entire seven seasons, and you can make one, last important observation: The show was basically a constant, not trending much better or worse to fans over nearly a decade. However opinionated the IMDb masses may be about their favorite episodes and seasons, they were about equally happy with the show’s run on whole.

Buffy is rare in this case. Most shows appear to have a pretty clear quarter to half-point trend for the better or the worse over time. The biggest gain in ratings that I spotted from first episode to a series finale? Breaking Bad. It started at an 8.75 and finished just shy of a perfect 10.


* Sorry if you got hooked into this story with the True Detective tease. See how its freshman season trended better over time here. And Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is here. You know, for that friend.

Try it yourself here.

[Hat tip: FlowingData]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.