Last week news broke that CBS is in talks to green light a How I Met Your Mother spinoff series. The name of said series is How I Met Your Father. This is without question a stupid name, but it’s an even stupider idea. Hollywood has a problem with success—specifically, trying to replicate it. Whether it’s Pirates of the Caribbean 11 or 9Fast9Furious, those in the entertainment business have always sought to capitalize on creative success by serving viewers more of the exact same thing. This has always been a staple of the entertainment industry, but as of late, TV has been pushing the trend too far.
Spinoff shows aren’t quite the same as a money-grabbing film sequel, but they’re just as needless and greedy. For example, when Friends ended a ten-year run in 2004, viewers weren’t ready to let go of their beloved characters, and that’s fine. Such loyalty is the mark of a culturally significant show. Here’s where the powers that be went wrong though: they took that loyalty as a sign that the character with the loudest (not most interesting, loudest) personality deserved his own show: Joey. And how did Joey fare?
It lasted two seasons. Someone on Quora asked a question as to why the show failed, and the short answer is that Joey is a one-joke guy. Friends succeeded thanks to an ability to keep things fresh with nearly countless permutations of its six unique leads. Pick out the character with the least depth, give him a new show, and a failed stint of Joey is what you get. Keep asking people how they’re doing and it doesn’t take long to get crickets.
If the creators of How I Met Your Mother think How I Met Your Father is positioned for success, they’re wrong on a number of levels. First of all, given that HIMYM is basically the same show as Friends, the spinoff is doomed to the same fate as Joey. Simple math. Beyond that, a serious question must be posed: why the FUCK would anyone want to watch the same drawn-out premise take place with a “different” set of characters? Especially when the original show arguably spent twice as long as it should have solving its central mystery? This is like launching a spinoff of Weeds where the main character is a widowed husband with two daughters, eventually marries a Canadian drug lord, and sells Indica instead of Sativa. Don’t insult us, Hollywood.
Granted, there are spinoffs in the past that have worked. Although younger generations scoff at the idea that Frasier was ever a watchable show, the fact of the matter is that it won 37 Emmys over an 11 year run—hardly a fluke. As its parent show, Cheers, is one of the most celebrated sitcoms of all time, this inspires some hope that a great show can lead to another great show. However, as Saved By The Bell: The College Years, Joey, The Cleveland Show, and many others demonstrate, Frasier is much closer to the exception than the rule.
This is what makes the impending debut of Better Call Saul, a spinoff based on Breaking Bad’s crooked New Mexico lawyer, all the more unsettling. BB just ended five seasons of excellence, cementing its status as, if not the best show of all time, easily one the top three. Six weeks later, America is still in a collective hangover from the show’s gut-wrenching final half-season, so the idea that there’s still something to hold onto is comforting. That’s a dangerous feeling, even with BB showrunner Vince Gilligan committed to having a presence in the BCS writers’ room throughout the first season.
Better Call Saul is an enormous risk because it threatens the creative masterpiece achieved with Breaking Bad. Regardless of how stylistically or conceptually different the spinoff becomes, it will always be judged based on the relative greatness to its parent. What’s more, any Breaking Bad conversation down the road will draw upon Better Call Saul as the most recent memory of its universe, however distant that story veers from the original.
What’s the point in risking the legacy of Walter White just to see what shenanigans Saul Goodman got up to in his early years? If it’s already been proven that success in this industry can never be exactly replicated, it’s better not to look back on that success at all and work on something entirely new. The bottom line is that Saul is more compelling than Joey, but he’s certainly no Heisenberg. No one is.
So take it easy, Hollywood. Leave the legacies intact.