The Telefile
TWoP 10: Spinoffs That Were Better Than Their Original Shows

We're not sure that the world really needs a spinoff to Criminal Minds, but then again, we didn't think sub-divisions of Law & Order were necessary and SVU and Criminal Intent proved us wrong by being far more enjoyable than their mothership. And while spinoffs may not always grab us right off the bat (like NCIS: Los Angeles), sometimes a new series just needs a little time before it starts improving upon its predecessor. Case in point: The City returned this week with new characters and a compelling new focus that made it far more watchable than the now totally contrived LC-less The Hills. But these aren't the only shows that have been better than their originals. Here's our look back at the best spinoffs from the past two decades:

1. The Simpsons (Spun off from The Tracey Ullman Show)
Tracey Ullman's sketch comedy was funny, but the best part of it was the short animated segments with the original rudimentary versions of that strange yellow family known as The Simpsons. Out of those little vignettes blossomed a full half-hour comedy that, while it has had its ups and downs in terms of greatness, has lasted for more than two decades and was turned into a successful feature film. Most people don't even remember that it was spawned from Tracey Ullman -- in fact, most younger fans probably don't even know who she is.

2. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Spun off from Law & Order)
With original L&O captain Don Cragen in charge, SVU quickly established itself as something much edgier than its progenitor, focusing only on the cases that shocked us the most, namely child abuse and sexually based offenses. By teaming an overly protective father with the offspring of a rapist and his victim, the show allowed its detectives to get emotionally involved in all of their cases, not just the occasional close-to-home crime, and created the foundation for one of the great unconsummated relationships on TV. Plus, Richard Belzer!

3. Melrose Place (Spun off from Beverly Hills, 90210)
We're talking about the original Fox versions here, not the pale imitations currently airing on The CW. Like everyone else our age, we liked the campy cheese of the high school drama on 90210, but Melrose Place far surpassed it in terms of addictive, over-the-top storylines and characters. MP had a grown-up soapy appeal that brightly colored sister show just didn't hold a candle to. It's no wonder that Jake couldn't keep Kelly Taylor around for long -- that spoiled rich princess would have been eaten alive by deliciously wicked Amanda Woodward.

4. Angel (Spun off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Now, we're not saying that all five seasons of Angel stand up to all seven seasons of Buffy (that would be crazy talk), but once Angel hit its stride in its second and third seasons, it overshadowed the relatively weak Seasons 5 and 6 of Buffy. While Buffy was dealing with the annoying Dawn, battling evil valley girl Glory and acting mopey over being brought back to life, Angel went through some of his darkest moments, including the return of Darla, the betrayal of Wesley and the kidnapping (and ill-fated return) of his son Connor.

5. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Spun off from Star Trek: The Next Generation)
Don't get us wrong, TNG was a great show, but the often frivolous nature of the series led to a lot of ridiculous and unnecessary one-off episodes, where holodeck creations ran amuck and characters were turned into children. Meanwhile, Deep Space Nine was set on a space station once owned by an occupying alien army with parallels to Nazism, and that sat by a wormhole to an uncharted region of space, thereby making the show a political thriller and a Wild West adventure at the same time. It was much heavier in tone than TNG, and it eventually evolved into a more complex serialized format, as well.

6. Private Practice (Spun off from Grey's Anatomy)
Admittedly, Private Practice got off to a rough start, but while Grey's always tries to pretend that it is a medical drama with soapy qualities, Private Practice just knows its place in the world: it's an over-the-top primetime soap with mostly preposterous plotlines and a good cast that can sell the hell out of whatever their writers give them. Maybe it succeeds only because it aims lower, but so what?

7. Torchwood (Spun off from Doctor Who)
Doctor Who has always been a fun sci-fi series that we've enjoyed watching -- we grew up seeing different Doctors travel through time and face off against Cybermen, Daleks and other assorted beasties. But while we will always love the Doctor, there's just something about Captain Jack and his Torchwood crew that has upped the ante. They've taken this alien-infested world and added a bit of sex appeal, some fabulous new characters and some serious emotional heft. It's dark, and often bleak and definitely not for kids, but that's all part of its charm.

8. Daria (Spun off from Beavis and Butt-head)
The boneheaded Beavis and Butt-head used to relish teasing their neighbor about her funny name (Diarrhea, cha-cha-cha), but she sure showed them by getting her own quality spinoff. While B&B had its idiotic appeal, it had to fill portions of its episodes with music videos, while Daria was a full-on show with a great cast of supporting characters. The bitter teen was always so perfectly annoyed by her pert and peppy sister that their sibling antics and high school struggles brought us endless delight.

9. Xena: Warrior Princess (Spun off from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys)
Starting out as a villain in Hercules, Xena soon changed her evil ways and became a force for good, quickly earning herself her own show. Already outshining Herc with her distinctive outfit, weaponry and bad-girl notoriety, Xena inserted herself into mythology and history, redeemed herself for her misdeeds and became a symbol of female empowerment and, later, a lesbian icon. When the show embraced that interpretation, it cemented her place in pop culture history forever, making Hercules a mere footnote.

10. Frasier (Spun off from Cheers)
Which show is better is debatable, but Frasier is worth noting because it is still the standing go-to example of how to do a spinoff right. It was a series with its own identity and in its own world, but that was still respectful of its predecessor. And it was brilliantly funny for over half its run, which is more than we can say about most shows, spinoff or not. It's really the spinoff to end all spinoffs, Joey be damned.




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