Is a Superior Sequel Possible?


The sequel rarely lives up to the lofty standard set by its predecessor for a number of reasons, two of which stand out more than any others.

Expectations are too high

A sequel presupposes the existence of an original that was great or, at the very least, above average. If something isn’t worthy of a subsequent demand for more, then no more is created.

This being the case, the unenviable task of the sequel is to try and surpass the benchmark set by an original already deemed superior to the vast majority of its peers. If it blew the reader’s mind then, it now has to drive the reader to the brink of madness. If it made the viewer laugh, now it has to force the viewer into convulsions. If it won a national championship then, now it has to win a national championship while simultaneously curing world hunger…or something sport-analogous.

When someone thinks the bar is too high for them to clear by ordinary means, they’ll try strange, unusual and often unnecessary things to try and overcompensate. This is the most obvious reason why sequels fail, but it’s far from the only one.

The sequel fails to distinguish itself enough from the original

People like to categorize things. It’s not enough for a movie trilogy, a series of books, a sports franchise or – in the rarest of instances as far as this example is concerned – a television show to exist as one long, ongoing narrative. We have to break things down into films, editions, seasons and, well, seasons.

In this created world, it’s impossible for the sequel and the original to exist simply as peers or cohorts assisting one another to achieve a shared goal. Instead, the original takes on a parental role. While the sequel will naturally strive for a higher or equal level of success, both its journey and its conclusion have to be unique from that of its creator.

No one wants to read more about Holden Caufield if he isn’t doing anything more interesting than he was during his “Catcher in the Rye” days, and maybe that’s why he doesn’t want to talk much about the present day at the end of the book.

So what does any of this have to do with anything?

Well, the Louisville basketball team is about to begin its postseason run, and for the first time since 1987, they will be doing so as the defending national champions. Basically, this is Coppola staring down “The Godfather Part II.” We all have wild dreams that it could somehow be better than the original, but we’re aware of the tall task at hand.

The formula for a successful sequel is so thorough that it’s one of the rarest breeds of entertainment. But the good news for Cardinal fans is that it does exist.

First, you have to have at least a few of the main protagonists back.

Rick Pitino? Check. Russ Smith? Check. Luke Hancock? Check. You’ve got the leading scorer from a season ago, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and their head coach. Not a bad start.

You need to have some former supporting characters who can seamlessly adapt to larger roles.

Everyone remembers Montrezl Harrell’s dunk in the national championship game against Michigan, but fewer people remember that it was his only basket of the contest. Harrell has been asked to take on a much larger role as a sophomore and he has thrived, so much so that he was named first team All-AAC earlier this week. With Harrell and fellow newcomers like Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, the second requirement is also satisfied.

The third thing is that the subplots have to be more compelling or exciting.

Here’s where things get tough. Regardless of which team cuts down the nets in Dallas this April, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a better storyline than Kevin Ware’s from a season ago. That said, wild things happen in March, and so much of what we remember about an entire season is predicated on what happens in a few short weeks. You just never know.

Fourth, you need a supervillain or conflict to overcome.

Kentucky appears unwilling to help Louisville out in this department, so we’ll have to look in a less obvious place. Perhaps an internal conflict arises; maybe the Cards have to face old rivals Memphis or Cincinnati for a fourth time in the big dance, or maybe the super conflict is simply dealing with the weight of expectations brought on by being the defending national champions. Any of these would suffice.

The final requirement is that the sequel’s conclusion has to be at least equally as satisfying as that of its predecessor. It’s the simplest necessity in theory, but it’s also the most difficult to achieve.

When everything is said and done and you’ve laid out all of the previous elements we’ve talked about, the sum total of the sequel has to be at least equivalent to that of the original in order for it to be viewed as a success. Is that fair? Probably not, but great achievements give birth to even greater expectations.

Anything is possible in this moment of complete uncertainty, and that’s what makes it so great.

Think back to this day a year ago. Everyone knew that Louisville had the potential to win a national championship, but none of us could have known that UofL would be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, that Luke Hancock would become the first non-starter to be named the Most Outstanding Player of a Final Four or that Kevin Ware would morph from someone that even Louisville fans didn’t know all that much about into a national sweetheart in the blink of an eye.

Now think about everything we don’t know right now.

I don’t know if Louisville can make their third straight Final Four and become the first repeat national champions since 2007. I don’t know if this team can capture the attention and the hearts of the sports world in the same way that last year’s did. What I do know is that both of those things are possible, and that’s what makes right now so exciting.

Bring on the encore.