The successful television spin-off has a high wire act to maintain. It has to differentiate itself from its source material while maintaining enough of what fans love so they’ll come along with it in the first place. But for every Better Call Saul there are a dozen Joeys – spin-offs that fail right from the start. With the former returning for its third season, let’s take a look at ten spin-offs that were just as good (if not better) than their parent series.
Better Call Saul
Spun-Off From: Breaking Bad
The New Cast: Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) as Saul’s hopeless, way smarter half. Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), Saul’s foil. Charles “Chuck” McGill, Jr. (Michael McKean,) Saul’s older and disapproving brother.
Why It’s the Same: It’s all about someone getting far in over their head, becoming better at their chosen profession and suffering because of it.
Why It’s Different: Thanks to Bob Odenkirk, this show is a lot funnier than Breaking Bad…but it’s certainly no comedy. The show plays with your expectations nearly every episode, changing genres from noir to procedural at will.
The Moment It Came Into Its Own: Season 1, episode 2 – “Mijo.”
Ending the first episode of Better Call Saul with the entrance of Tuco, the cartoonish gangster villain who gave Walter White his first taste of what his new life was going to be like, was a bit disconcerting. Would the show be nothing more fan service, cameos of characters from Breaking Bad with nothing to offer those who weren’t obsessed with the original show?
Thankfully not, as the second episode showed the world that it was truly going to be its own thing. (AMC apparently knew this, as they aired the first two episodes on back-to-back nights.) “Mijo” is where we see Saul open up and reveal his magic, as he talks down Tuco from killing two of his dumb clients who tried to scam Tuco’s poor abuelita out of her money.
He does so with his hands tied together in the middle of a desert, where he’s about to be shot and left for dead. We see him realize his situation, switch his tactics, and use his silver tongue to talk himself out of being murdered. He is cut loose and allowed to go free…but his conscience cuts in, and he realizes he has to save his two skateboard-riding idiot clients as well. He starts by telling Tuco about their mother, their sweet little widow mother, who works day and night for her ungrateful sons. He manages to talk Tuco down from killing them, to amputating their legs, to breaking their legs, to just breaking a measly one leg each. Saul is horrified and rattled afterwards, but he’s proud of his work.
“You’re the worst lawyer.” the skater screams as Saul helps his broken leg into a wheelchair after their adventures. ”The worst lawyer ever!”
“Hey, I just talked you down from a death sentence to six months’ probation,” Saul quips. “I’m the best lawyer ever.”
And it’s just gotten better from there.
Spun-Off From: Cheers
The New Cast: Niles (David Hyde Pierce,) Dad (John Mahoney,) Roz (Peri Gilpin,) Daphne (Jane Leeves) – the entire main cast is completely new, and almost never before mentioned in Cheers. In fact, Frasier had once told his drinking buddies that his dad was dead.
Why It’s the Same: It’s still a sitcom.
Why It’s Different: Dr. Frasier Crane never seemed to particularly care about his patients at the bar, but in the radio station, he cares perhaps even less. It’s still a snappy, incredibly witty show, but by moving away from an ensemble of bar regulars, the show is allowed to delve a lot deeper into what makes these characters tick.
The Moment It Came Into Its Own: Season one, episode 11 – “Death Becomes Him”
Nothing proved how deep the show would delve into its the characters than this episode, where Frasier confronts his own mortality. He does so after his father’s doctor dies from a heart attack, sending Frasier on a spiralling quest to figure out what, if anything, the man was doing that caused his death. He decides to divvy up his belongings among his father and brother, and has a deep discussion with his dad about how to deal with a fear of death. But there is no reason for the doctor’s death – he was Frasier’s age, in perfect physical fitness, and didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Frasier deals with this in his own panicky way, eventually crashing the family’s shiva to figure out more about his health history. It’s to the show’s credit that they manage to make an episode with this subject matter as hilarious and smart as any of the others, showing how it wasn’t going to be content living in Cheers’ shadow – it wanted to tackle bigger, weirder issues.
Spun-Off From: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The New Cast: The half-demon seer Doyle (Glenn Quinn), the vampire hunting Charles Gunn (J. August Richards), demonic dimension escapee Winifred Burkle (Amy Acker), and supernatural karaoke bar owner Lorne (Andy Hallett).
Why It’s the Same: A lot of the same characters, a lot of vampire fighting, and a lot of goofy Joss Whedon humor.
Why It’s Different: Like most spin-offs, the series saw the main character changing cities, but it didn’t end there. Befitting the subject matter, the show was a lot darker, and managed to delve a lot deeper into the whole backstory of the vampire underworld.
The Moment It Came Into Its Own: Seaons 1, episode 9 – “Hero.”
While it started off as a monster-of-the-week supernatural procedural, this is the episode that proved Angel wasn’t messing around. This episode deals with tormented half-human/half-demon Doyle, who is struggling with revealing his feelings for the decidedly non-demon Cordelia. It ends as a bomb is about to go off that will kill anyone with human blood, and the title of the episode comes into play as Doyle knocks down Angel so that he can disarm it and save everyone by sacrificing himself. A show killing off one of its main characters so early into its run was shocking, to say the least, and Angel started finding its footing after that as a more serious alternative to the campy Buffy.