After seven seasons, TNT’s police drama ‘The Closer’ will end its run this coming Monday, and will be immediately followed by the premiere of its new spin-off series ‘Major Crimes’. While I’ve personally never watched more than five minutes of ‘The Closer’ and have no particular expectations for the new show, this nonetheless put me in mind of other notable spin-off series throughout television history. In this week’s Roundtable, we’ll offer up our picks for some of the best and worst.
M. Enois Duarte
Best: For sure, the best spin-off show is ‘The Simpsons‘. By far the most memorable parts of ‘The Tracey Ullman Show’ were those one-minute animated skits featuring the dysfunctional shenanigans of the Simpson family. Adapted into a cartoon series that’s still thriving today, the show is now one of the best things to ever air on television.
Worst: For worst, ‘Top of the Heap‘ takes the cake, especially because it featured Matt LeBlanc in first television series as a womanizer with a thick New York accent. You’ve never heard of it? That’s okay; hardly anyone knew of it when it was on. I’m embarrassed to say that I only watched it because it was a ‘Married… with Children’ spin-off. Only seven episodes aired, and it’s probably most memorable for introducing Joey Lauren Adams as the sexy next door neighbor.
Best: The best of the best for spin-offs was and always will be ‘Frasier‘. The series took Dr. Frasier Crane, an OK background character from ‘Cheers’, and developed him into one of the best characters of all time on a show that surpassed even ‘Cheers’.
Worst: The year that both ‘Frasier’ and ‘Friends’ wrapped up, NBC tried to use the spin-off technique again by taking Joey Tribbiani and giving him his own series, ‘Joey‘. To call this show bad would be insulting to all bad things. This was a dreadful mistake that somehow stretched into two horribly unfunny seasons.
Best: In a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero… And she was ‘Xena: Warrior Princess‘, the spin-off action/adventure from ‘Hercules: The Legendary Journeys’ (which starred a well-greased Kevin Sorbo). For me, the show that made Lucy Lawless a household name and international sex-symbol is clever and hilarious. It’s also packed with fun recurring characters, such as the bumbling fighter Joxer the Mighty (Ted Raimi) and of course Autolycus, a.k.a. the “King of Thieves,” played by cult favorite Bruce Campbell. Sure, the series is corny as hell, but I don’t care. Let it be known that I’d be first in line on Day One if ‘Xena’ was ever released on Blu-ray. “Yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi!”
Worst: ‘Happy Days’ gave birth to a few successful shows, including ‘Laverne & Shirley’ and ‘Mork & Mindy’, but it’s also responsible for the nadir of all TV spin-offs: ‘Joanie Loves Chachi‘. Nobody loved Erin Moran as Ritchie Cunningham’s whiny younger sibling to begin with, so giving her a starring role on her own sitcom with Scott Baio was quite puzzling indeed. Making matters worse, the show was part musical – and the music wasn’t all that good either. Needless to say, the series didn’t even make it past seventeen episodes. If you ask me, that was still seventeen episodes too many.
Best: I’m a huge fan of ‘The Cosby Show’, and I marvel at the way that the series attempted to handle Lisa Bonet’s character, Denise Huxtable, as it went on. Denise’s unlikely choice to attend Hillman College became the basis for ‘A Different World‘. Like most spin-offs, the first season was anchored around guest appearances from several of parent show’s cast. After the departure of Lisa Bonet, ‘A Different World’ managed to retool for its second season into something that was actually more thematically in line with the original ‘Cosby Show’, despite lacking any resident Huxtables. Both shows were funny and entertaining. At the same time, they were able to approach cultural topics in an informative way while preventing the characters and situations from becoming too ridiculous.
Best: As ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ entered its fourth season, many fans were apprehensive about its spin-off series ‘Angel‘. Was Buffy’s swoon-worthy vampire boyfriend really a strong enough character to carry his own show? Like most Joss Whedon series, ‘Angel’ took a little while to find its footing. Fortunately, once it did, it developed its own unique vibe and put an interesting spin on the original show’s mythology. ‘Angel’ even managed to take two of the weaker supporting characters from ‘Buffy’ (Cordelia and Wesley) and flesh them out into much more complex, three-dimensional human beings.
Honorable mentions to ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’,’Baywatch Nights’ (just kidding on that one!) and ‘The Jeffersons’. R.I.P. Sherman Hemsley.
Worst: Anything with ‘CSI‘ in the title. One of these is already one too many.
What are some of your favorite or least favorite TV spin-offs? Tell us in the Comments. If you have trouble thinking of any, you can find a pretty extensive list on Wikipedia.