Better Call Saul and TV second life

Better Call Saul:

Saul Goodman has got his own series now, but is ever a good idea for a TV character to spin-off solo

Whenever a TV viewer is mourning the loss of their favourite show, news that a spin-off series is being planned results in mixed emotions. Of course it’s great that one of your characters is being afforded some extra life. But, and this is a huge but, is it even possible to consider that a spin-off will be remotely as good as the ensemble piece that you fell for in the first place?

Had there been a solo series with Fawlty Towers’ Spanish waiter (Manuel Behaving Badly, perhaps?), it would probably only have served to prove that the only reason the character worked so well was by fitting into a strong cast as a crucial, yet subsidiary cog.

Opinions will no doubt vary, but there have arguably been a mere handful of spin-off shows that have been in any way successful. It seems hard to consider that Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier Crane once frequented a bar where everybody knew his name, as we now associate him with a Seattle talk radio show. Having merely been the figment of Richie Cunningham’s imagination in Happy Days, there was no reason why the late Robin Williams’ Mork couldn’t go on to have a second chance elsewhere. And he did, every week, with Mindy.

Clearly, Angel couldn’t hold a stake to Buffy while the fact that Joey only separated from his Friends for two ratings-unfriendly series pretty much tells its own story. And who would really prefer Torchwood, Holby City or The Cleveland Show to their forebears? As for the Brookside offshoot, Damon and Debbie: well, it was impossible to calm down after watching just a single moment of that no-budget atrocity.

It’s rare that anyone would say this, but perhaps soapland gets the balance right by simply devoting a full episode to a character or two; after all, these experiments have tended to be among the most memorable episodes in a show’s history. For those who saw them, who can forget Stan and Hilda Ogden escaping Coronation Street after winning a luxury night in a five-star hotel, while in EastEnders, Dot Cotton was given an entire episode to herself delivering a monologue into a tape recorder.

Occasionally, even the finest dramas will veer out of their comfort zone to show us how secondary characters relate to each other: the ‘Pine Barrens’ episode in The Sopranos’ third season focussed largely on Christopher Moltisanti and Paulie Walnuts getting lost in the Jersey snow after a hit on a burly Russian went wrong. There was more revealed about their personalities in those 50 minutes than in the previous two seasons put together.

It’s too early to tell if Bob Odenkirk can breathe new life into Saul Goodman without the likes of Jesse Pinkman and Walter White to annoy him, but presumably creator Vince Gilligan will concoct a few snakeoil tricks to stick up Saul’s sleeve.

Better Call Saul starts on Netflix in Feb.

Better Call Saul - Trailer - Netflix [HD]

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