TV | Sloppy seconds?


The spin-off series can be painfully nostalgic, like returning to the scene of a previous holiday without the people that made it memorable in the first place, writes Andrew Clarke.


Spin-off series can often struggle to leave the shadow of the original. An excellent example of a point-in-case being the follow-on from famous British sit-com Only Fools and Horses; Green Green Grass. Boycie and Marlene never felt as familiar without the running joke of Del Boy’s affair with the latter.

The austere and stiff-upper-lipped Boycie was an excellent comic device when contrasted with the capers of the roguish Trotters, but alone the characters which once fitted their purpose so well became slightly alien and impersonalised. Indeed, the tempestuous relationship between the pair underwent something of a change in dynamic and lost much of its original charm and chemistry.

Similarly in Joey, the flop spin-off from the massive Friends, the character of Joey Tribbiani lacked depth. This was something he never needed in Friends as a stereotypical, promiscuous Italian-American who, along with Pheobe tended to provide comic relief from the more serious story lines surrounding the rest of the cast.

An interesting premise and some strong support roles made this a reasonable success

So what then are the vital ingredients that makes a successful sit-com spin-off? Perhaps we should take a look at Cheers off-shoot Frasier, which ran for eleven seasons and having also won a record 36 Emmy awards is arguably the most successful sitcom spin-off of all time.

What sets Frasier apart from the likes of Joey and Green Green Grass is that we find a wide range of deep and well developed characters to support the common character from the original series; from the eccentric and quintessentially British Daphne to the down-to-earth and insightful Martin and anal, elitist yet sensitive Niles.

These characters provide a much better backdrop to the character of Frasier than the Cheers clique, who showed him up as snobbish and cripplingly academic.

However Fraiser is not the only success story. Cast your eyes back to the bad dress sense and even worse teeth of the 1970s in hit sitcom Man About the House, which spawned two successful spin-offs. George and Mildred focused on the landlord and landlady of the original series; George and Mildred Roper, in their own set of adventures.

The dynamic of their relationship was a hit on screen and was one of the possible reasons for the series’ popularity. Robin’s Nest followed the life of the protagonist, his relationship and attempts to set up a bistro. An interesting premise and some strong support roles made this a reasonable success.

In short, the spin-off series can be like returning to a holiday destination without old friends, but once the new company is good you may well enjoy it as much as the last time!