TV Spin-offs: The Six Best and Worst

After months of fraught anticipation, Breaking Bad spinquel Better Call Saul, a comedy or drama (no-one’s quite sure) that follows the transformation of James M McGill into his seedy alias, crooked lawyer Saul Goodman (the effervescent Bob Odenkirk) in a time before Heisenberg was even a crystal blue glint in Walter White’s eye, makes its US debut tonight and arrives on Netflix in the UK tomorrow.

Following a popular TV series is tricky business, and BCS has bigger shoes to fill than most, and recent TV history is strewn with evidence of how the quality of spinoff series is invariably hit or miss.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Wisely choosing to ignore the awful Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines by setting itself in an alternate timeline, this FOX-produced spin-off of the Terminator franchise focused on Sarah Connor, who goes on the run with her son after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Praised for its slick action beats and the strong performance of Lena Headley in the title role, the show nevertheless looked like a cheap remake of T2 due to the restrictions of a TV budget and the absence of James Cameron’s creative genius.

FOX cancelled the series after its second season, despite a fan-led campaign on Facebook and Myspace (ah, those were the days), but all 31 episodes can now be found on the SyFy channel. Miss.

Torchwood

After a successful revival of long-running sci-fi serial Doctor Who, showrunner Russell T Davis began channeling all the outrageous energy not being used on Queer as Folk into this sexed-up spin-off.

Set in the Cardiff-based Torchwood institute (Torchwood is an anagram of Doctor Who), the series followed the exploits of a team of vibrant young alien hunters while tackling themes of existentialism, sexuality and moral corruption.

Despite a lukewarm critical reception on its initial release, Torchwood garnered a huge cult following during its first three series. A fourth series, co-produced with US entertainment network Starz, fared less well and the show has been placed on indefinite hiatus since 2012. Hit.

Joey

When ubiquitous sitcom Friends finally vacated their spacious Manhattan apartment on a permanent basis in 2004, network NBC were understandably keen to keep the magic rolling, quickly enlisting Matt LeBlanc to reprise his role as loveable out-of-work-actor Joey Tribiani for his own Hollywood-set spin-off.

It may have opened with impressive ratings, but die-hard fans soon realised the character was not as endearing without his five best friends beside him and the series was cancelled midway through its second season. Miss.

Fraiser

The spin-off against which all other spin-offs must be measured, this acclaimed 90s sitcom is a rarity in that it’s arguably better than the original show.

Set around Kelsey Grammer’s pompous psychiatrist Dr Frasier Crane, a Cheers regular who returns to his hometown of Seattle following the breakdown of his marriage, the show ran for an incredible eleven years thanks to its mix of high and low brow humour and the impeccable comic timing and chemistry of its central cast.

Later seasons inevitably suffered a decline in quality but Grammer’s sitcom will always be remembered, if for nothing else than its iconic theme song: “Tossed salad and scrambled eggs…” Mercy. Hit.

Marvel’s Agents of Shield

Marvel may be all-conquering at the box office, but on the small-screen their efforts are lagging behind its DC rivals, who have a string of excellent series airing across various channels.

Reprising his role from the monolithic film series, Clark Gregg stars as Phil Coulson, a once-dead Shield agent who is resurrected to lead a ragbag batch of covert agents on missions to contain the threat of supernatural phenomena.

After recovering from an uneven (to put it mildly) first season, which suffered from a lightweight tone and narrative restrictions imposed by the movie universe, the show is finally finding its feet and a consistent audience.

It also looks like Marvel have learned from their first season mistakes with their second spin-off series, the Hayley Atwell-starring Agent Carter, and the upcoming Netflix run of interconnected series, receiving a much warmer reception. DC would be wise to keep a look out over their shoulders. Miss.

The Flash

Proving just how ripe with spin-off potential the superhero genre is, the second comic book spinoff on this list is based on the DC Comics character Barry Allen/The Flash, a lightning-fast crime-fighter played by Grant Gustin.

Introduced via a backdoor pilot during Arrow’s second season, The Flash is an excellent companion series to Stephen Amell’s hooded-crusader serial, matching the later in terms of high-octane action and engaging character drama whilst also adding a light-hearted sci-fi tone that sets it apart from Arrow’s gritty crime thrills. Hit.

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