After wrapping up the fourth season last weekend and confirming season 5, it was revealed that Stranger Things will get a spin-off series and stage play. This seems to have divided our office into two sects, some think it’s a good idea, and the others (me included) disagree.
Before you get your pitchforks out, hear me out. Yes, I do love the show and want to see more of the horrors of the upside-down. But I am also equally sceptical about spin-offs, in general. I remember marathoning through all the 10 seasons of F.R.I.E.N.D.S and then, being excited about watching the spin-off, Joey. You can guess what happened after.
I had a string of similar experiences with Scrubs: Med School, then Heroes Reborn, and the Lone Gunmen (which was an X-Files spinoff). See the pattern here? Stranger Things itself tried its hand at a backdoor pilot of a spinoff series in the second season with an episode titled, The Lost Sister. Not only did it not work, but also, somewhat destabilised the Duffer Brothers’ reputation.
Does that mean spinoffs are a bad idea in general? Well, not necessarily. I do see where my colleagues come from. There have been extremely successful spin-offs through the years. For instance, Star Trek: Next Generation is considered to be a more superior show than the original Star Trek. Similarly, some argue that Better Call Saul edges out Breaking Bad, which is considered to be one of the best TV shows of all time. In fact, the long-running The Simpsons is a spinoff of The Tracey Ullman Show.
Which brings us to the central question: what makes a spinoff work? Yes, the writing, acting and producing have a major part to play in it. But essentially, it comes down to how interesting your character or premise was in the original show. When you really think about it, the characters on F.R.I.E.N.D.S are interesting within the context of the show, with many character graphs being written together. Phoebe, perhaps, is the only one who stands as a riveting character by herself, according to me.
It was obvious then, that viewers didn’t care much for what Joey was doing in LA, if Chandler wasn’t there to make fun of it. On the opposite end, Saul Goodman is probably one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever seen on TV — something I felt deeply even during the course of watching Breaking Bad.
So, the “universe” the show is set in plays a major and defining role in determining its success. The Mandalorian works because the Star-Wars-universe is vast and consists of endless possibilities. Angel (Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s spin-off) managed to appeal to audiences because the character was complex, multi-dimensional and mostly, because there was a story there to tell.
I haven’t seen Stranger Things laying out this foundation, yet. With four seasons down and one more to go, we’ll have to wait and see if that changes. Even so, I bet that it’ll feel rushed and shoehorned. But sometimes, the allure of a brand new piece of filmmaking is so intriguing that you want to be wronged. In that case, I guess, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.
(Image credits: Netflix, AMC, Warner Media, CBS)