Spin Offs

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? ๏ปฟ

31 thoughts on “Spin Offs

  1. David DeLee

    Off the top of my head I'd say Angel, spun off from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, is probably my favorite spin off. It retained the sharp story telling, humor and great dialogue of Buffy, but told deeper, much darker stories

    Not sure who I'd like to see spun off but wanted to say I love the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series(es) and just picked up the latest, The Sentry. Enjoy The First Rule, its a fun read.

  2. Grace

    I was glad to see Sgt. Lewis get his own spin-off from the Morse mystery TV series. I loved how Colin Dexter's wrote about him in his novels, only sorry to see his wife who made him all those fry ups.

    Would love to see Ellie, in Reginald Hill's books featuring Daziel and Pascoe get her own series. She's got smarts and spunk. That's my two cents worth.

  3. Grace

    Oops – to finish my sentence: only to see that his wife was gone – deceased, not even murdered off.

  4. Karen in Ohio

    Knott's Landing was a spinoff from Dallas, and pretty successful in its own right. The spunoff character was Gary Ewing, played by Ted Shackelford, who showed emotions by clenching his jaw, in obliging closeup.

    Can't think of a spinoff I'd like to see, this morning.

  5. Dana King

    I love the idea of spinoffs. What Spenser fan wouldn't have loved a book told from hawk's perspective? Lehane's Bubba has potential, as do Declan Hughes's Tommy Owens and Sean Chercover's Gravedigger Peace. Tim Hallinan's Poke rafferty series has an excellent candidate in Arthit, the Thai cop.

  6. Sarah Shaber

    I love Law and Order: Criminal Intent, a spin-off from Law and Order, even though the main characters of CI weren't anywhere to be found in L&O. Bobby Goren is one of my favorite characters of all time–the mentally challenged person who manages to teeter just on the brink of an effective life.

  7. Rae

    One of my very favorite spinoffs is "Wicked" – the story of Oz told from the Wicked Witch's point of view. I'm liking Law and Order: LA a lot at the moment. Wasn't the original NCIS a spinoff? Love it, and am coming to like NCIS:LA as well (the characters didn't seem to mesh well at first, but it's getting better).

    Can't think of a character I'd like to see star in a spin-off at the moment. Maybe more coffee will help ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Christine McCann

    I love it that someone else knows what a Pachinko machine is, J.D.! Most of the time, if I mention the Pachinko machine I had growing up, people either say, "Gehsundheit!" or think that it was spinoff of the Plinko game on The Price is Right. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Like David DeLee, I was a fan of the Whedon's Buffy and its spinoff, Angel. I'm a huge fan of Crais, so of course, I love that Pike's getting to shine in the lead.

    One of my absolutely favorite authors is Diana Gabaldon. I love so many of her characters that I would and have read any spin-off of her Outlander series.

  9. Rob Gregory Browne

    Connelly does what I guess you could call spin-offs. All of his books take place in the same fictional world, and you'll often see characters from other books popping up in supporting or cameo roles.

    One thing he did that I loved was in a Bosch book. Bosch was staying at an apartment in Vegas and interacted with the woman next door (or across the wayโ€”can't remember), who abruptly moved out after finding out he was a cop.

    I don't think her name is ever mentioned, but readers of Connelly recognize her as cat burglar, Cassie Black, who was the hero of Void Moon, a standalone.

    That moment was only a very small part of the Bosch book, but was a nice little reward for regular Connelly readers.

  10. Christine McCann

    I loved that too, RGB! It did feel like a little reward that I recognized this hidden gem!

  11. JD Rhoades

    David D: Working out way through the first season of Angel right now. When we were doing the Buffy-thons, Angel was always a character we mocked as a mopey emo douchebag but I'm warming up to the series (especially since it has Cordelia).

    Grace: Ellie! Yes!

    "What Spenser fan wouldn't have loved a book told from hawk's perspective?" Dana, I'm surprised we haven't seen one.

  12. Dao

    NCIS is a spin-off of JAG. It has its own spin-off now: NCIS: Los Angeles, which is also a good show. One of my other favorite spin-off is Boston Legal, which is a spin-off of The Practice.

  13. JD Rhoades

    Rae: I really need to read "Wicked." I've seen so many people recommend it.

    Sorry all you L & O fans, I can't watch any TV courtroom scene without risking apoplexy. I did catch Law and Order: UK one time, though. Love the robes and wigs.

  14. david delee

    JD – Lol. I never thought of Angel that way but can understand it. If your are a Spike fan, you're in for a treat in season 5. Best of them all imo.

    Rob – didn't know that. Though I did know he did the same thing with Robert Crais where they had an unamed Bosch appearance in an Elvis Cole book and visa-verse in a Bosch book. Can't remeber the titles of either one off the top of my head. Sorry.

  15. michael

    Favorite spin off: "Rosencrantz & Guiderstern Are Dead"

    Favorite character to get own book: Sally in Tim Maleeny's Cape Weathers series or Inspector Lestrade since I think Watson is a lying toadie and I'd like to read the real truth.

  16. Jake Nantz

    Favorite would have to be Pike's spinoff series, and I too love the idea of Bubba getting his won version of one of the stories. I wouldn't mind seeing a spinoff that stars Dox, the sniper from Eisler's John Rain novels, come to think of it.

    Oh, and could we talk Jim Butcher into creating a separate series, apart from his Calderon books, that stars Doroga? That would rock!

  17. Cornelia Read

    Oh, how I love Flashman!

    in FLASHMAN'S LADY he complains, "if there's one thing I detest more than any other it's these hearty, selfish, muscular Christians who are forever making light of your troubles when all you want to do is lie whimpering."

    How can one not adore the man, ficitonal or not?

    My fave critical response to GM Fraser's brilliant creation was from Andrew Klavan in his article "Flashman and The Tragic Sensibility":

    "He rode, farting with terror, in the charge of the Light Brigade, was the only white man to survive Custer's Last Stand… and fought on both sides of the American Civil War. Along the way, he also managed, through lies, luck, betrayal, and a deceptively manly aspect, not only to cover himself in glory, but also to roger every half-willing piece of tail he met, whether monarch or bint, with the (possible) exception of good queen Vic herself.

    The man is my hero."

    Mine too.

  18. Karen in Ohio

    Frasier was a spinoff of Cheers. But I would have loved to have seen a spinoff of the Jayne Leeves character. She was a ray of light in that show.

  19. Allison Brennan

    I agree with the first commenter about Joe Pike in the Elvis Cole series. I also love what Michael Connelly has done with Mickey Haller/Harry Bosch. I love the Mickey Haller books. Law & Order has so many spin offs they make me dizzy, but I love SVU more than the original, which I didn't watch much.

  20. PK the Bookeemonster

    Michael, I adore Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Love me some Gary Oldman and Tim Roth in the movie.

    Huge fan of Star Trek/Next Generation. Not so much the other spin offs. Wouldn't it be great to have a series set at the Academy?

    I would like to see a Peabody get a book/series in JD Robb's series.

  21. pari noskin taichert

    This isn't a book, but I love the show: The Good Wife and would love to see a spin off show with the political consultant. I'm spacing the actor's name right now, but he's a lot of fun to watch.

    Or, even better, how about a show starring Galinda?

  22. Laura

    Oh I love Frasier, (was never into Cheers though!)

    As for books that I'd love to spin offs – I'd thoroughly enjoy a spin off starring Neville Longbottom from Harry Potter!

  23. Alafair Burke

    Not sure it's a spin off but SJ Rozan does a great job of alternating between Bill Smith and Lydia Chin. And as others have noted, Michael Connelly has created a rich world of entwined characters.
    Spin off wish? I might have to see Harlan Coben's Win.

  24. CarlC

    Pari – I second both of your thoughts. Either or both of them would be great subjects for a spinoff, although Eli Gold might be considered too slimy to stand on his own.

    Alafair – Does Samantha's cameo appearance with Reacher constitute some sort of spinoff? And you're absolutely right about Win being a great spinoff.

    I don't think anyone has mentioned Louis and Angel being spun off from the Charlie Parker books by John Connolly. "The Reapers" was a great read.

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