It’s not like the spin-off was invented yesterday – just think back to the 1970s and how “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” begat “Lou Grant” and “Rhoda,” or “Happy Days” (itself a spin-off) spawned “Mork and Mindy” and “Laverne & Shirley” (among others). But as TV channels scramble to find shows that will stick in viewers’ minds in these entertainment-saturated times, spin-offs are increasingly popular options. Out of three new U.S. spin-offs that have just started airing here, there’s one that’s unmissable, one that’s passable and another that’s risible.
“The Blacklist: Redemption” (HOT Zone, Fridays, 19.30; Yes Stars Action, Saturdays, 22.00) is literally acting as a placeholder in the TV schedule for “The Blacklist” in the United States while the latter takes an eight-week break. I gave up on the original James Spader show after two episodes, unimpressed by a glorified FBI procedural that rides on the kooky mannerisms of its star.
I checked back in on the show before watching “Redemption,” but it’s still the same dreary series that mistakes labyrinthine plotting for depth. Amazingly, four seasons in, it still hasn’t revealed what the relationship is between Spader’s Red Reddington and his FBI protégé, Liz (Megan Boone). But the biggest mystery is why people are still watching.
I can’t see any signs of redemption for the spin-off, either. Liz’s husband, Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold), signs up to work for a covert mercenary firm run by Susan “Scottie” Hargrave (Famke Janssen). But like his wife on the original show, he’s got unresolved family issues that would keep Dr. Phil busy for an entire season. I’ll spare you the details; suffice it to say that Scottie doesn’t know Tom is her long-lost missing son, but he knows who she is. Then there’s Tom’s dad (Terry O’Quinn), who faked his own death and is now getting his son to spy on his mom. I’ve seen more engrossing bus timetables.
The espionage crew assisting with the weekly escapades are straight out of central casting, and the show seemingly exists to showcase lots of silly tech gizmos and how suspiciously well Janssen has aged for 52. Do yourself a favor and add the show to your own blacklist.
A high-tech ‘24’
I’ve long imagined a version of “24” written by Samuel Beckett, in which the show’s most dramatic moments occur during the 17 minutes of ad breaks and when the show returns, the characters are sitting around talking about what just happened.
The ironic thing about the pompously titled “24: Legacy” (Yes Stars Action, Thursdays, 22.45) is that the original show’s legacy can be seen on TV every night in race-against-the-clock thrillers such as “Homeland,” “Blindspot” and “Quantico.” The question is, did we really need another “24”?
The answer turns out to be yes, and no. “24: Legacy” retains all the flaws of the original, and some of its strengths. Yet again there’s a presidential candidate up to his neck in intrigue; family kidnappings (but no cougars!); terror cells operating in the United States; and let’s just assume there are rogue agents within the Counter Terrorism Unit (David Attenborough is the only person on TV who’s worked with more moles than the creators of “24”).
But there are also forceful action sequences, tension-filled moments and a compelling lead: 28-year-old Corey Hawkins, last seen as the dreadlocked, chill Heath in “The Walking Dead.” He’s a far leaner, meaner fighting machine than paunchy Kiefer Sutherland ever was – even if he looks like he’s constantly agonizing over a particularly fiendish cryptic crossword clue.
I rewatched the first couple of episodes of “24” after viewing “24: Legacy,” and there were two striking changes: pacing and technology. In “Legacy,” 24 is probably the body count racked up in the first 15 minutes; in the 2001 original, the most dramatic discovery in the first 30 minutes was Teri Bauer finding three joints in daughter Kim’s bedroom.
It’s the use of high-tech that’s changed the most, though. While in “Legacy,” CTU headquarters looks like NASA’s Mission Control Center (“Adding drone coverage and generating a 4-D environment”), the most advanced it ever got in season one of “24” was “Putting you on loudspeaker now.”
Some things don’t change, of course. Events still occur in real time, but no one ever takes a bathroom break and no journey ever takes more than five minutes. But the most annoying thing is the plotlines involving Muslim terrorists. These are so lame and ill-conceived, the only surprise is that Sean Spicer hasn’t been seen defending them.
In fighting form
My estrogen levels needed a boost after all the explosions and killings in “Redemption” and “Legacy,” so thank God for “The Good Fight” (Yes Stars Drama, Tuesdays, 22.00).
I always had a soft spot for its predecessor, “The Good Wife” – partly because it was the televisual equivalent of comfort food; and partly because it inspired my eldest daughter to want to study law (although if she’s that easily swayed, I should probably be grateful she didn’t see “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” first).
Five episodes into “Fight,” I’m actually preferring the spin-off to the last few seasons of “Wife.” The new show’s greatest achievement is that you never actually feel the absence of Alicia Florrick, Julianna Margulies’ character. I miss Eli Gold (Alan Cumming), but otherwise there are a lot of familiar faces present and (politically) correct: Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) takes center stage this time, along with Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo). And two of the original show’s biggest scene-stealers are also along for the ride – Marissa (Sarah Steele) and, my own personal favorite, Elsbeth Tascioni (Carrie Preston). The most intriguing of the newcomers is Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie, who, like Jumbo, is another Brit depriving American actors of work), a newly qualified lawyer whose father is embroiled in a Bernie Madoff-esque scandal. Delroy Lindo is also a welcome addition as one of the partners in the small black firm that Diane joins as their “diversity hire,” as Lindo’s character jokes.
Ripped-from-the-headlines issues were the staple of “The Good Wife,” and the new show’s timing couldn’t be better for rich material. Topical storylines include a U.S. doctor helping to treat a Syrian terrorist, embryo rights, Twitter bots and fake news. Indeed, the biggest presence looming over the show isn’t Alicia Florrick but President Donald Trump. The very first scene is a simple but incredibly effective message to the new president, while episode five – the best so far – is inspired by NBC’s decision last October to bump an episode of “Law & Order: SVU” that dealt with a Trump-esque politician caught up in sexual assault allegations.
The great irony here is that when “Good Fight” co-creators Robert and Michelle King actively took on Washington last year with their political black comedy “BrainDead,” the show was a commercial and critical failure. But back on familiar ground, they’re able to proclaim their liberal agenda within the format of a legal drama. A second, 10-episode season of this irresistible show has already been commissioned, but we can assume that the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will not be watching.
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