By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist April 16, 2014 at 12:04PM
Last night saw the arrival of "Fargo" on FX, the second attempt (after a very short-lived late-'90s version starring Edie Falco in the role that won Frances McDormand an Oscar) to bring the Coen Brothers' beloved comedy-drama to the small screen. Unlike that version, this is something "inspired" by, rather than spinning-off the original. And by most accounts, it seems to have worked, with critics warmly receiving the series executive produced by the Coens and which stars Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Kate Walsh, Adam Goldberg, Oliver Platt, Glenn Howerton, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key.
It's hardly the first to attempt the transition—barely a TV season goes by without at least one big-screen spin-off, and indeed another one arrives shortly, with the Ari Graynor-starring adaptation of "Bad Teacher" debuting on CBS next week. But there's a very spotty rate of success—for everything that spawns a multi-season smash, there's another that proves to be a complete disaster that barely makes it to air.
We're hopeful that "Fargo" will fall into the former camp, and to encourage it along, we've picked out ten movies that spawned notable TV series. Not all were total successes, but it's a brace of examples that show that not every small-screen spin-off is to be necessarily feared. Take a look below (we excluded Saturday morning cartoons, because obviously) and let us know your own favorites in the comments section.
"Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" (1974)
Martin Scorsese's follow-up to his incendiary calling-card "Mean Streets," and still a severe outlier in his filmography in its focus on a central female character (everything since has been far more testosterone-heavy), this Robert Getchell-penned drama won Ellen Burstyn the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the titular Alice, who aims to pick up her singing career after the death of her husband, only to become stranded in Arizona where a local rancher (Kris Kristofferson) woos her. The unlikely choice of Scorsese works nicely here, giving proceedings a grit that balances the slight paperback-romance feel of the story, and his work with actors is already strong here: Burstyn and Kristofferson are both terrific, and there are lovely turns from Alfred Lutter as Alice's son Tommy, and a young Jodie Foster as his pal. Fans of Scorsese's bloodsoaked crime sagas will likely be bored, but this is an underrated part of the director's canon that makes us wish he'd try something similar again.
Two years after its release, Scorsese's film spawned (somewhat surprisingly, in retrospect) a hit CBS sitcom, set around the diner at which Alice works in the film, that ran for nine seasons and over 200 episodes, as well as spawning a short-lived spin-off, "Flo" (about the character played by Diane Ladd in the movie). Broadway star Linda Lavin took over for Burstyn in the title role, and while Alfred Lutter reprised the part of Tommy in the pilot, he was later replaced by young actor Philip McKeon. Someone did make the transition: Vic Tayback, who played Mel, the owner of the diner, reprised his role, while Ladd joined the series briefly mid-run, though as a new character (and was swiftly replaced, allegedly after clashing with other castmembers). The series is fondly remembered by '70s sitcom heads, and has charms of a sort, but feels a bit creaky, not least when it comes to the shoehorned-in celebrity cameos (including George Burns, Art Carney, Joel Grey and Telly Savalas as themselves). And it's still somewhat baffling that a TV executive could take a look at the movie and turn it into something as frothy and gag-happy as this—it's like seeing Christina Applegate topline a multi-camera sitcom based on "Blue Jasmine" or something.
"Buffy The Vampire Slayer" (1992)
Something of a forerunner of the one-joke title like "Snakes On A Plane" or "Hot Tub Time Machine" (she's called Buffy! But she kills vampires!), the original "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" is probably most notable as the script that launched the career (after brief TV work on "Roseanne" and "Parenthood," see below) of Joss Whedon, of late the mastermind behind the third biggest film in history, "The Avengers." The movie, directed by "Tokyo Pop" helmer Fran Rubel Kuzui, sees shallow cheerleader Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson) have her life turned upside down when she's told by the mysterious Merrick (Donald Sutherland) that she's a Slayer, a powerful being destined to battle vampires and other such creatures, and takes on the powerful Lothos (Rutger Hauer) with the help of love interest Oliver (Luke Perry). The movie isn't quite what we'd call terrible—the glimpses of the idea, and of Whedon's trademark dialogue, are in there, and Hauer and Paul Reubens are good value as the villains. But it's generic both as a teen movie and as an action/horror, and there seems to be a nervousness to really embrace the feminist subtext that set the series apart. Whedon disowned the film for the most part (and, indeed, moved it to TV in an attempt to do the concept justice), and it mostly serves as a curious footnote to the series, rather than the jumping-off point.
"Buffy The Vampire Slayer" (1997-2003)
We've long said that movie remakes are worth doing the most when the original was something that didn't quite work, and "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" is the clearest example that a similar maxim could be applied to the TV spin-off: it took a mostly forgotten film, and turned it into a bold, funny, inventive, rich show that changed TV forever, and remains one of the very best of the 1990s. Whedon's genius was to turn familiar genre tropes into metaphors for growing up, and though that's obviously been a part of the horror genre since its inception, it's rarely been done as wittily or well as here. And Whedon and his writing staff (including future "Cabin In The Woods" cohort Drew Goddard) built up a coherent and satisfying mythology, the influence of which can be seen on most subsequent genre shows, none of which have such a strong and complex female lead. Sure, some of the acting could sometimes be patchy, and like most series, it lost its way a bit towards the end (the golden era ends after season three when the Scooby Gang graduate high school, though series highs like "Once More With Feeling" and the astonishing "The Body" came later), but this is legendary stuff nonetheless.