25th Sep2013

In Defence Of The Reboot #1 – Spin-Off Central

by Mark Allen


Some of you remember my short-lived, irregular column ‘In Defence Of The Reboot’ from those halcyon days when this fair site went by the name of Blogomatic 3000. In it I would dicuss sequels, remakes, reimaginings of beloved franchises and generally things that were apt to raise fanboy ire. No? Doesn’t ring a bell? Well, good (I guess), because the column’s getting a reboot of its own and I’m bringing my geek-baiting, trouble-causing prose out of retirement.

That’s right – a brand new #1. A volume 2 to rank alongside all those other confused comic book revamps that go so well for a couple of years until they switch back to the original numbering whenever the next arbitrary milestone pops up. Incidentally, I can’t wait until issue #28 of this column.

In the past week, spin-offs for both Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead have been announced (things aren’t quite 100% with BB, but come on) – both AMC shows, both hugely popular. As Charlie Collier says in the AMC press release for the Walking Dead ‘companion series’ set to debut in 2015, “it’s a no-brainer.” (Whether intentional or not, we here at Reboot Central salute such a well-placed pun.)

Personally, I’m thrilled. Saul Goodman is one of the most shamelessly enjoyable parts of Breaking Bad and any time Bob Odenkirk gets more screen time is fine by me, and setting up a new group of survivors in the Walking Dead-verse seems like a brilliant way to rectify the mistakes made in earlier seasons without having to perform a full-blown reboot and creates new storytelling opportunities that aren’t beholden to Robert Kirkman’s sometimes middling source material.

But not everyone agrees. Obviously. More than once I’ve seen a cynical tweet or overheard a snippet of conversation bemoaning the death of imagination in Hollywood and the insidious franchise-milking that’s now travelling from movies to television.

Frankly, that’s a goddamn ridiculous assertion. Not that networks aren’t cynically draining every last penny out of every property it can – that’s a given – but it’s been going on since long before people went zombie-crazy and demanded more horrifying apocalyptic visions of the future (or, in Breaking Bad‘s case, apocalyptic visions of the present).

Let’s keep it in the television family for now. Sitcoms were probably the first to truly capitalise on the spin-off dollar – and I mean capitalise in the most literal term. Happy Days spawned no fewer than five(!) other shows – Joanie Loves ChachiLaverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy among them – and was itself kind of a spin-off from LoveAmerican StyleCheers spawned the incredibly successful and well- loved Frasier, which actually ran an equal number of seasons to its predecessor, and made everyone involved rather a lot of money. I’m not saying that’s an indicator of quality by any means, but we all love Frasier, right?

I could go on, but the list really is staggering.

The term ‘spin-off’ seems to be a bad word to some people akin to ‘prequel’ or ‘retcon’, but none of these things are inherently bad (though I can’t quite think of a decent prequel of the top of my head, it doesn’t mean it can’t exist). In fact, if we were to ban spin-offs altogether the entertainment landscape would undoubtedly be poorer for it: no I’m Alan Partridge (originated on The Day Today), no Daria (Beavis and Butthead), not even The Muppet Show (Sesame Street). Can you imagine a life without The Muppets? Me either. It’s not a life worth imagining. Oh, and did I mention The Simpsons is a spin-off too? Yeah.

And it’s not just comedies that have a go at expanding their universes, which is one of the reasons I’m all for spin-offs in the first place – so that I get to live in a world I’ve fallen in love with a little bit more. Plenty of genre shows have attempted a spin-off or two, though few have been as successful as sitcoms and replicating the success of the original series, most likely due to the more serialised nature of dramas. The X-Files had a pair of spin-offs – The Lone Gunmen and Millennium – that had decidedly mixed results (Millennium lasted a respectable three seasons, The Lone Gunmen only one) and seemed to warn creators off for a while, but the memory of their failures seems to have since faded and networks are getting brave again. Once Upon a Time is launching its first spin-off Once Upon a Time in Wonderland next month, and I reckon it’s got a pretty good chance of success that’s got nothing to do with whether or not you liked the first show.

Giving a character a new lease of life in a different setting/with a different tone can have varying results, but when it works we can see them in a whole different light and enjoy them in ways we never would have thought possible in their preceding form. Sure, they’re not all going to be winners, but the vast majority of television in general falls flat on its ass anyway, so everyone’s got about the same chance of a hit.

Well, unless you’ve got genius creators and a proven name behind you, that is. But even then there’s no 100% guarantee of success. Vince Gilligan worked on The Lone Gunmen, remember.

I guess the question you’ve really got to ask yourself, rather than issuing blanket statements over the state of originality in the creative arts, is this: do I care that either of these new shows exist?

In my case, the answer’s a resounding Yes. I’m nervous as hell, don’t get me wrong; both that Better Call Saul won’t match up to the dizzying heights of Breaking Bad, and that The Walking Dead‘s ‘companion’ might have all of the infuriating flaws and none of the compelling qualities of its predecessor.

But I’m pretty stoked that these shows get to exist at all, so anything’s a win.

[Sources: /Film, Comic Book Resources]

4 Responses to “In Defence Of The Reboot #1 – Spin-Off Central”

  • Rasto23

    I want to believe you will not mind a small correction: it is mentioned in the article that The X-Files “had a pair of ill-fated single-season shows, The Lone Gunmen and Millennium”. However, only The Lone Gunmen was a direct spin-off, Millennium was a separate show taking place in the same universe (and ultimately being concluded in the X-Files’ seventh season) and it lasted full three seasons, not one. Both show were excellent, in my opinion (I even know people who prefer Millennium to The X-Files for its darker tone and there were even talks of bringing Frank Black back for a feature film last year).

    • Well, this is embarrassing. Yes, I may have made a small flub in fact-checking, so thanks for calling me out. I still think the loose definition of ‘spin-off’ that I’ve used here still applies to Millennium – that is, a show taking place in the same universe as its predecessor – in the same way the The Walking Dead’s new series will.

      Unfortunately my ignorance of the show’s three seasons and genuine reception is harder to defend, not actually having all that much experience with the later years of X-Files and associated media. I was more recalling an episode of the Nerdist Writers Panel in which Vince Gilligan seemed to remember the reaction to Millennium being unfavourable because of its dark tone, but I certainly shouldn’t have relied solely on that flimsy bit of knowledge. Corrections will be made, and thanks again!

      • Rasto23

        I appreciate you acknowledged a comment from a fan of such obscure shows! And you are right, after re-reading your article I realized the loose definition of spin-off fits Millennium as well. Have a great day!
        P.S.: It has been a while since I have last seen a mention of both The Lone Gunmen (which is probably my favorite show to watch as a whole in one weekend every now and then with its mere 13 episodes – and I even own a yo-yo that was released as promotional item when the series originally aired!) and Frasier in any article, so it was great to find one in yours!

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