Sam Parish looks at the good, the bad, and the ugly of spin-offs to some of our favourite shows.
Did everybody watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last night? I sure did! And I bet you did too! Unless of course you were one of the naughty ones who watched in other ways…or one of the lucky ones who watched it at Comic-Con (I hate you).
In any case, continuing the theme from last week’s piece on Harry Potter & Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it seems that spin-offs are very much in vogue in the glorious circles of nerd. Naturally this means that I’ve been thinking about spin-offs a lot recently, so, for your enjoyment I feel that I must utilise the power of the internet to express my opinions on the subject in the purest and most effective form known to mankind – the list article!
I present for your pleasure, education (and maybe even rampant disagreement) ten spin-offs from the worlds of film, television and videogames that proved to be either wonderful additions to their respective canons, or lessons that the makers of Beasts, SHIELD and all others blazing the brave and sometimes foolhardy trail of the spin-off would do well to learn from.
Xena: Warrior Princess
Spawned from the hit early 90s action/adventure series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and featuring Lucy Lawless as recurring villain-turned-antihero Xena (the Warrior Princess don’t you know) in the leading role, Xena became the archetype of pulpy, camp and oh so nineties action adventure television. With a cast of lovable misfits, ridiculous fantasy action and the occasional foray into darker thematic territory, this classic of afternoon TV inspired an age of classic adventure programming. It was one of the original cult sci-fi/fantasy shows aired during primetime and brought the idea of “girl power” into living rooms in a way that was far more fun than anything The Spice Girls did. (Boob daggers. I mean come on people!) Let’s face it, without this Sam Raimi helmed romp we would never have had Stargate SG-1, Relic Hunter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, basically every show that a generation of nerds grew up with. For that, we can only ever sing its praises. Even if now some of the wrinkles are starting to show.
The darker, edgier and broodier sibling of Joss Whedon’s seminal Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel followed the exploits of everybody’s (at the time) favourite vampire with a soul. Alongside David Boreanaz fellow Buffy alums Charisma Carpenter and Alexis Denisof made the jump, giving audiences the chance to see some fan favourite characters in all new lights. One of Angel’s greatest strengths was its ability to bring new depths to familiar faces, be it delving deep into Angel’s murderous past or seeing perpetually flustered and very “British” former Watcher Wesley Wyndham-Price as a leather-clad, motorcycle riding “Rogue Demon Hunter”. Angel made the time and effort to make formerly one-dimensional characters fully realised people with hopes, dreams and moments of real humanity, funny considering how inhuman many of them turned out to be.
Despite receiving similar comic continuation treatment as its parent show, Angel sadly took some time to really hit its stride off the screen. Saddled with mountains of continuity baggage IDW’s Angel After the Fall failed to inspire much interest, although recent work such as Angel and Faith under the Buffy Season Nine banner have breathed new life into this fan-favourite undead.
Frasier is probably the poster boy for how to do a spin-off right. Lasting for eleven seasons, and considered one of the most well-known and beloved sitcoms in television history, Frasier was a spin-off of existing smash hit Cheers, that transplanted the titular doctor from the infamous bar to a new life in Seattle. What made this show such a success was a complete understanding of who its characters were and what kind of identity it should have. Skewering genres from bawdy farce to Greek tragedy, Frasier was considered one of the smartest comedies on television, and behind the long words, literary references and fancy wine names it really was a labour of love and intelligence. It catapulted Kelsey Grammar, David Hyde-Pierce and company into becoming household names. Frasier helped to establish a whole new generation of comedies and it still stands up as consistently charming, witty and full of heart.
In the name of full disclosure I should say that this one very nearly made it into the Bad list by sheer dint of its catastrophic inability to settle on a tone throughout its various incarnations. From camp and embarrassingly daft creature-of-the-week sci-fi drama to ponderous and uninteresting American “event” television, Torchwood had a rough run, with only a few truly stand-out episodes in its entire run. Known more for its fervent fans’ willingness to trade in all sorts of fanservice and the sheer monument of personality that is John Barrowman rather than being a consistently stand-out addition to the Doctor Who family, Torchwood many times tried simply too-hard to prove that it was grown-up and mature.
Yet, despite these faults, I have to admit that when it hit it hit. A second series that brought a sense of fun and vastly improved character dynamics to the first, and an utterly compelling miniseries in the form of Children of Earth meant that for all of its problems I certainly have more time for adventures with the guys and gals of Torchwood Three.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Dropping the classic Tomb Raider moniker, the inaugural entry into the Lara Croft side-series decided to shake things up in a franchise that, despite a successful reboot, was starting to show its age once again. This year’s blockbuster origin story Guardian of Light gave players a fresh take on the beloved character. Emphasising puzzles and treasure hunting over combat and introducing co-operative play for the first time, this downloadable title made a fantastic palette-cleanser readying fans for the upcoming reboot. Plus, it featured some of the most fun and engaging puzzle action that the old girl has seen in a long time, as well as being the final outing for Keeley Hawes as the voice of Lara. Despite the Lara Croft series seemingly being put on infinite hiatus, this is a game that any fan who craves more Raiding would do well to check out.
What can be said about this one? A movie so bland and uninteresting its own sequel has chosen to sweep it under the rug, needs little in the way of introduction. The first of a proposed Origins spin-off series, Wolverine whilst doing good box office failed to engage audiences or say anything interesting about one of the most well-known and overexposed characters in modern popular culture. Instead it trades in a weak “round trip guide to various lesser known mutants” plot and action sequences that, despite a long and rumour-plagued re-shoot, failed to break free of the shackles of the studios desired PG-13 rating, leaving this killer thoroughly de-clawed.
The Cleveland Show
This show suffered from a fundamental lack of identity. Before airing it was branded the “Black Family Guy” and for most of its run it was unable to shrug off that reputation. Failing to match the comedic clout of its predecessor or the sheer inventiveness of its sister-show American Dad! It was unable to assume much of an identity of its own, meaning that it limped into cancellation after falling ratings and lack of a dedicated following.
What can be said about Joey? The archetypical example of why the “funny one” in a group should never ever receive solo top billing. Clichéd and unfunny, Joey died as audiences and creators alike realised that what makes Joey Joey is when he plays the comedic foil to the antics of his fellow Friends.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon (series)
Starting from a great (well, interesting at least) idea -you can be a Pokémon! Take the test and find out which!- this series only went downhill from their. Re-hashing the popular Mystery Dungeon series with a Pokémon paint job did little to fix the core problems of dull repetitive gameplay and uninteresting story that plagues each of these games. And there have been a fair few of them. Maybe not as bad as the more exploitative Pokémon Rumble games have proven to be, but their sheer inability to address a single problem across the entire series makes these titles the worst kind of dud.
Shadow the Hedgehog
Dragged straight out of the playbook of how not to fix an ailing franchise this addition to the Sonic series featured some of the silliest decisions made in the handling of Sonic and chums. Ironic considering how dark and serious it wanted to be. From PG-13 swearing to the titular hedgehog dual wielding SMGs (seriously) everything about this “dark” and “mature” take on the beloved Blue Blur’s amnesiac rival screamed trying to hard.