Television has a long history of producing spin-off series for popular shows. Buffy led into Angel. The Flash was born out of Arrow. There are more CSI‘s and NCIS’s now than anyone can be bothered to count. The newest addition to this ranks comes courtesy of AMC, launching into their second foray at spinning off one of their wildly popular series. It worked like gangbusters with the Breaking Bad prequel series, Better Call Saul, and now we’re getting Fear the Walking Dead as a complement to The Walking Dead.
Spin-offs have worked to varying degrees of success throughout TV. Angel and The Flash both managed to set themselves apart from their parent series, while still sharing just the right amount of thematic feel. On the other end the spectrum, we have shows like Caprica (from Battlestar Galactica) and Joey (from Friends), neither of which ever really got far before audiences got bored. It’s a tough line to walk for any spinoff: You have to simultaneously do lip service to the original show, and be an entirely self-sustaining property that feels different. That’s the long road ahead of Fear the Walking Dead.
Along that road, FTWD will need to avoid the roadblocks that plagued its parent show. In recent seasons, The Walking Dead became less about intriguing character drama and more about a series of intense one-on-one conversations that never quite escalate the way we want them to. It’s an easy trap to fall into when the world has ended and survival is the only thing that matters. Fear the Walking Dead could potentially swerve around this problem, set at the inception of the zombie apocalypse we never got to witness. But that in turn leads us into another key problem the show could encounter.
We’ve all see the zombie apocalypse before. In just the last two decades, we’ve have movies like 28 Days/Weeks Later, Zombieland, Diary of the Dead, World War Z, and tons more all tell this story. The saving grace of FTWD is that it gets to do all that in an episodic TV format. Instead of having just 90 minutes to describe an undead takeover, AMC will have a full 15-episode season to give us a broad, expansive look at what exactly would happen from the second the virus begins, to the moment the world falls. With the network operating on either side of the timeline with this and The Walking Dead, they have a golden opportunity to provide two shows that fill in the gaps of their respective universes.
The real test will be whether or not audiences are ready for 30 total episodes of zombie drama. Better Call Saul worked as a spinoff set in the same world as Breaking Bad, but featuring a different sort of drama. FTWD will have to do the same, giving us new characters facing new problems in a new region (Los Angeles instead of Georgia). If they stumble on the same issues as TWD, we could see a quick spiral into cancelation. But given the way Better Call Saul was handled, there’s no better network to take a universally beloved property into a successful spin-off series.
Fear the Walking Dead will more than anything be a proving ground for AMC’s future of programming. In the wake of Mad Men and Breaking Bad wrapping up, they’ve struggled to find new ideas that measure up to the high standards of their predecessors. If the network can’t make a new idea work, then perhaps well-done spin-offs are the compromise we need.
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More from Entertainment Cheat Sheet:
- ‘Fear the Walking Dead’: What We Know So Far
- The CW is Specializing in Stories That Don’t Need to Be Told
- 10 TV Spinoffs That Were Better Than the Original
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