by J.D. Rhoades
So I’m looking through my page of bookmarked entertainment sites, scoping out the latest movie news, when what to my wandering eyes should appear but a story about an upcoming project from Judd Apatow. Apatow, in my opinion, is responsible for some of the funniest movies in the last decade, movies like ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY, THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN, SUPERBAD, and KNOCKED UP. (Comedy being as subjective as it is, you may not agree; in fact you may hate Apatow’s work like I hate beets, but but bear with me, this is just the background).
Anyway, KNOCKED UP is one of those movies I’ll watch over and over, and laugh every time. (Which is a good thing, because it seems to be on TV constantly these days). So I was quite tickled to see that Apatow was planning another movie, set in the same fictional world, but this time featuring two supporting characters from KU, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, aka Mrs. Apatow). It was not, Apatow was careful to say, a sequel. It was, instead, a spin-off.
While cogitating over this news, I glanced over to the rapidly diminishing pile of the books I got for Christmas, and saw that the top one was Robert Crais’ THE FIRST RULE, the second in Crais’ books about Joe Pike, the bad-ass sidekick of his franchise hero, Elvis Cole. In other words, another spin-off.
So this is why today, we’re going to be talking about spin-offs. (This has also been your glimpse for today into the lopsided, rusty, sprung Pachinko machine that is my creative process).
A spin-off is a book, series, or movie in which a supporting character from one work gets to take center stage and tell his or her own story in another. It’s an old tradition; in fact, you could argue that THE ODYSSEY is a spin-off, being the tale of Odysseus, who’s basically a supporting player in THE ILIAD.
Some of my favorite books are spin-offs:
- Twain’s THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN is, of course, spun off from THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (and is, to my mind, a much better book).
- HUCKLEBERRY FINN has its own spin-off by another author, Jon Clinch’s FINN, which retells the events of Huck’s story from the perspective of his drunken, brutal father, known only as Pap. Let me tell you, as bad as Pap was in the original, he’s truly horrific in FINN, but Clinch is such a gifted writer, he makes you care about the old monster.
- Speaking of monsters, John Gardner’s GRENDEL tells the Beowulf story from the perspective of the doomed slayer of the Danes, who is himself dismembered and slain by the hero from out of town. Needless to say, Grendel has his own perspective on things, and it’s beautifully written as well as heartbreaking.
- One of my favorite series of all time is the late George MacDonald Fraser’s FLASHMAN series. Harry Flashman was the villain and chief tormentor of the oh-so-good Tom Brown in Thomas Hughes’ book TOM BROWN’S SCHOOLDAYS. In the series, however, Flash Harry ends up becoming a decorated hero, widely regarded as one of the greatest military figures of the Victorian Era, despite being exactly as Hughes described him: cowardly, sneaky, toadying, drunken, and lecherous. Much of the humor of the series comes from the fact that Flashman, who narrates the books, is wickedly honest about his own failings as well as those of the historical figures with whom he comes in contact, from Lord Cardigan (inept commander of the Light Brigade at their famous charge, a man “too stupid to be afraid”) to Abraham Lincoln.
Spinoffs interest me, I think, because they take familiar characters and show them in a new light. I think there should be more of them. I’d like to see, for instance, a story told from the perspective of Sam Spade’s long suffering secretary Effie Perine. Readers of THE MALTESE FALCON may member her as the loyal, almost slavish assistant who clearly has a thing for Sam, but that could be just because the narrator considers Sam the hero. Effie’s got a lot of steel in her, and she’s no mean detective herself; she can tell Iva Archer’s lying about how long she’s been home because she “saw [Iva’s] clothes where she had dumped them on a chair. Her hat and coat were underneath. Her singlette, on top was still warm. She said she’d been asleep, but she hadn’t. She had wrinkled up the bed, but the wrinkles weren’t mashed down.” This girl deserves her own book.
How about a Dennis Lehane book told by Patrick and Angie’s psycho pal Bubba Rogowksi? Ot an Ian Rankin novel telling the story of Rebus’ frequent antagonist Big Ger Cafferty from his perspective? Would these not rock?
So, today’s questions for discussion:
1. Favorite spinoff?
2. Character you’d like to see get their own book?