The year is still young and while there have been some bitter pills to swallow- the down & dirty fall of Brian Williams, Jon Stewart’s announcement about leaving The Daily Show, the rumors of a return engagement by the Polar Vortex, easily the best news we’ve gotten so far is Better Call Saul doesn’t disappoint. I don’t even know what would be in second. We need to embrace the victories, folks. And Better Call Saul is most definitely a victory.
If you don’t know, if you’ve been living under a wi-fi less rock, Better Call Saul is the Breaking Bad spin-off that devotees of the show have been anxiously and skeptically awaiting for almost a year now. It tracks the pre-Walter White days of White’s lawyer, Saul Goodman. Now I’ve only watched one episode, the first one, but I’m hooked. I didn’t have many skeptical, prohibitive thoughts going in. I had trust in Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. You don’t make something as amazing, as tightly constructed, as earth-shattering as Breaking Bad without some skills. But from the first few minutes of Better Call Saul I could tell I was watching something different, and most importantly, something good. It was a feeling that only grew stronger throughout the episode.
A spin-off that actually works- what a concept. The spin-off seems like an artifact of a lost time. All in the Family produced at least four spin-offs in the 70’s, including The Jeffersons. Beverly Hills 90210 gave us Melrose Place, The Cosby Show spawned A Different World, Cheers gave us Frasier. All of those happened before 1995. In the past decade, the only spin-offs have seemingly come from The Daily Show (The Colbert Report, the Nightly Show, Last Week Tonight,) and reality shows. It really does feel like Better Call Saul is the first legitimate and worthwhile spin-off to come around in a long time. And coming from one of the Pantheon shows, a show like Breaking Bad, is even more remarkable.
And it got me thinking, what if other Pantheon shows, some of Giddy Up America’s best/favorite TV shows, produced spin-offs?
First, let’s look at shows that have been completed and see what spin-offs could possibly come from them.
The Office (U.S. version)
Wait, is the U.S. version itself a spin-off, seeing as how we already had the British version? (thinking) No, I don’t think so. This was an adaptation.
With that settled, they tried a Dwight-centric spin-off called The Farm, but NBC passed. It would have focused on life on Dwight’s farm and the Schrute family. You can see why they chose Dwight, but only in the sense that he was probably the second most popular character. But they missed the point, they biffed on the secret to Dwight’s popularity- he was the perfect second fiddle. And you can’t build a show around a second fiddle. Minor character, fringe character, supporting character? All yes. Second fiddle? No. Surprising, NBC is usually so sound in their decision making.
Instead of going in Dwight’s direction, The Office should have played it safe instead of trying to play it smart and built a show are Jim and Pam’s post-Scranton life in Austin, Texas. They were an adorable couple and there is no way a company with such a ridiculous name as Athlead would ever succeed- thus creating tension and drama. They could have even kept the documentary style. You blew this one, NBC.
You have to dig a bit to find a character on The Sopranos worth spinning off, especially if you don’t want to just make another mob show. So why not make a show about an older Anthony Jr., where he’s a cop in say, San Diego, looking to put his past and family behind him? Only neither does stay behind him, because a past and a family never stay behind you. Especially on television. He keeps his past secret, but can he keep it a secret forever? Oooooohhh, that sounds juicy.
Here’s a fun fact: David Simon, creator of The Wire, actually brought up the idea of a spin-off, one based on Baltimore mayor Thomas Carcetti. HBO politely told him to go suck a duck. There is also the whispering that a sixth season of The Wire would have centered around immigration and Baltimore’s Hispanic population. But this isn’t about a sixth season, it’s about a spin-off. Although, couldn’t you kind of argue that The Wire was a show comprised almost entirely of mini spin-offs? Season two was a spin-off of season one, focusing on the docks. Seasons four and five were spin-offs of seasons one and three. Actually, season three was kind of the Bunny Colvin spin-off. Damn, The Wire. What can’t you do?
However, what would a spin-off of the entire series be like? I was torn. You could do one focusing on the education system, as seen through the eyes of Prezbo the teacher. Or you could keep it a cop show, basing something around Carver, as he works his way through the ranks of the Baltimore Police. What about a prequel of sorts- either the early days of Stringer and Avon (my sister’s favorite idea) or Lt. Daniels’ early (and allegedly dirty) days in the Western? There is also the question of what McNulty does now that he’s not a cop. Leave it to The Wire to have too many options to chose from and leave it The Wire for all of them to be promising.
Friday Night Lights
The one is easy- Riggins Rigs, the story of Tim and Billy Riggins and the garage they run. That shit writes itself.
Apparently a fifth season of this show might happen. But the fourth season was trash, so I refuse to acknowledge the existence of it, as well as the rumors of a fifth. This show ended after season three for me and it should for you.
Like The Wire, you could go in a lot of different directions here, especially if you focused on prequels. There’s the George Sr. prequel, telling the story of how he made his money or there’s the Tobias prequel reminding us that he was the country’s first analrapist. I’m sure there are a few other potential ideas out there in the O.C., but I’m sticking with those two.
Another easy one- the story of Hurley and Ben on the island, tending to it after everyone else is gone. Although a Sawyer prequel could be kind of interesting.
If 30 Rock was the story of Liz Lemon, the 30 Rock spin-off would be the story of Jack Donaghy, specifically, Jack’s early years. I think his college years at Princeton and the few years following, as he made it through the world as a young liberal, would be the best. If a good show is based on a question centered on someone’s transition- i.e. how did a character get from here to there, the Jack Donaghy spin-off would be built around how Jack went from a East Coast liberal to a fire-breathing conservative. Also, based on his work history, couldn’t it be called Jack of All Trades, or is that too cheesy?
While not necessarily a Pantheon show, Boardwalk Empire was still a really good show and it left behind at least one or two fictional characters who could possibly carry their own show. One idea would be a show built around Eli Thompson, who would be forced to adjust to an Atlantic City where he has no family, no job, no Nucky. Does he stay in Atlantic City or venture out into the world, maybe even head west? Another idea would be a show about Tommy Darmody, who somehow escaped a life sentence for killing his uncle. Jimmy Darmody was always deserving of his own show.
Maybe now he gets one, just in the form of a show for his son.
There’s also three shows either nearing the end of their run or an end is possibly in sight that could have decent spin-offs.
Question for you- after Don and Peggy, who is probably the most interesting character of Mad Men? The answer is easy. It’s Roger Sterling. And it’s Roger Sterling who should be the focus of a Mad Men spin-off. Not knowing how the show will end and in turn, how it will end for Roger, I think a story about a young Roger, a young, rich and entitled Navy man running through New York City in the twenties and thirties would be awesome. Especially if Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, did it. Because then it would have some kind of twist and/or bend to it that would separate it from other historical, period pieces.
Two more possible prequels here- one focused on a pre-Downton Mr. Carson and one focused on a pre-Downton Mr. Bates. I suppose one about Mrs. Hughes could be interesting too, although possibly not as interesting as Carson’s vaudeville past and Bates’ hoodlum past.
Although you could go the route of Branson and tell the story of his life before becoming the mechanic and driver at Downton or the story of his adventures in America, where he moves to after finally giving up on life at the Abbey (which I totally don’t know will happen, just making a guess.)
Parks and Recreation
One last easy one- the story of April and Andy and the future in Washington D.C. I mean, it’s not like Chris Pratt is busy or anything.
Photos: AMC, NBC, HBO