Posted on by Scott Delahunt

(Apologies. The Blade Runner review is coming.)

One item I haven’t touched in Lost in Translation is the nature of spin-off series and movies. The only media tie-in I’ve reviewed was a Nikki Heat novel by Richard Castle, and that was only because the idea of a physical novel by a television character in a series where the character is researching a novel* was a Moebius strip of meta-layers. At the beginning of the review, I mentioned that I treated tie-in novels as merchandising instead of adaptations. That still left spin-offs, projects that take a character from one work and build a new work around that character. Spin-offs are seen mainly with television; a popular character on one series is given a chance to carry his or her own. Successful spin-offs include Frasier (based on the character in Cheers), Rhoda (based on a character from The Mary Tyler Moore Show), and Torchwood (from Doctor Who). Not all spin-offs work, though; sometimes, the Powers That Be overestimate how popular a character is without understanding why he or she is popular. Examples include Enos (from The Dukes of Hazzard), The Tortellis (from Cheers), and Galactica 1980 (from the original Battlestar Galactica).

What makes a spin-off different from a remake, a reboot, or an adaptation? Scope; spin-offs expand the original work, showing more of the setting or allowing a character to develop in a different way. Remakes keep the same scope as the original work; reboots reset the original; adaptations transfer the original to a new medium. Spin-offs keep the original work intact, using it as a base to build from. The definitions get complicated, though. Stargate SG-1 had spin-offs – Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe. At the same time, SG-1 was based on the movie Stargate. Does that make SG-1 a spin-off, a reboot, a continuation, an adaptation, or a combination of all four?

The spin-off is another derived form in entertainment. Many popular series began as a spin-off of another, often without people realizing. The BBC series Comedy Playhouse has had a number of spin-offs, some of which were adapted as other series that then spun off other series. Just a sample of the series below:
Are You Being Served?
Steptoe and Son, which was later adapted as
Sanford and Son in the US
Till Death Us Do Part, which was later adapted as
All in the Family, which spun off
The Jeffersons, and
Maude, which in turn spun off
Good Times.
This is ignoring spin-offs that didn’t last or make as large an impact as the above did. If I were to review, say, Maude, what would I compare it to, All in the Family, Till Death Us Do Part, or Comedy Playhouse?

Ultimately, that is the question. What do I consider the original work for a spin-off, especially in cases like Comedy Playhouse? With shows that have an easy to follow lineage, like The Super Dave Osbourne Show (spun off from the Super Dave sketches on Bizarre), it’s easy; there’s just one source to consider. Now consider Caprica, spun off from the rebooted Battlestar Galactica as a prequel showing just when the Colonies were doomed.** Should I compare Caprica with the original Galactica or the reboot? And, given the Comedy Playhouse geneology above, if I review Good Times, where do I start?

Obviously, I can’t ignore spin-offs. The Stargate franchise deserves a look at some point, and I do have plans to review Ma & Pa Kettle, a spin-off of an adaptation. Spin-offs are as much a factor as adaptations. I just need to figure out how to properly review them.

Next week, hopefully, Blade Runner.
* With the fictional character writing himself into the novel under a different name.
** Pro tip: Never base an artificial intelligence for a war machine on your deceased teenaged daughter when your family makes the Lannisters stop and say, “Dude, that’s messed up.”

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