This article contains spoilers for “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.”
Over quarantine, I spent a lot of time binge-watching TV shows on Netflix and Hulu, as did many other people stuck inside for months. Among others, I watched “Veronica Mars,” and it was a relief to know that the end of the third season was not the ending I was left with because we got real closure in the series reboot, released seven years later. But then, I decided to give “Fuller House” a try because I had loved “Full House”, but I was not happy with what I found in the rebirth of that series. This got me thinking about other reboots I had watched, such as “Gilmore Girls”, and the greatly varying success of numerous spin-offs.
In the past few years, many popular TV shows have birthed spin-offs: “Veronica Mars,” “Full House” and “Gilmore Girls.” are just a few examples. One common theme among these three spin-offs is that they were all created by streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. Streaming services have allowed viewers to watch older shows as easily as new ones. This has led to more fans and greater popularity for older series that has spurred actors and creators to make new seasons of shows that ended years ago. While some spin-offs have been wildly popular, others have been letdowns. What then makes some spin-offs more successful than others?
“Gilmore Girls” was a beloved dramedy that ran for seven seasons, originally ending in 2007. In 2016, however, the original show runners and cast reunited for a new season on Netflix called “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.” While fans were excited to see what was in store for their favorite characters, many people, including myself, were not fully satisfied with what they found. The rational and kind Rory Gilmore, who did well in all her classes and extracurriculars, suddenly became an unemployed woman in her thirties with few aspirations and goals. In “Gilmore Girls,” Rory was always trying to do the right thing and was an intense stickler for the rules. In the spin-off, however, she was continually cheating on her boyfriend with her ex who was engaged to someone else. All the aspects of the new Rory felt unnatural and unnecessary for the character. The other main character of the show, however, Lorelai Gilmore, was portrayed quite similarly in the spin-off as she was in the original series — fast-talking, sassy and lovable. Her character was finally given the closure that fans had always hoped she would have — getting married to her coffee-shop-owning, on-again off-again boyfriend, Luke Danes. While the pair were iconic in “Gilmore Girls,” the show had ended with only a suggestion that they would be together.
The original “Gilmore Girls” was created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel Palladino, who wrote and directed the series. However, the couple left the show after the sixth season over a disagreement with the studio about their contracts. As a result, many viewers felt that the last season differed greatly from the previous six and did not live up to the rest of the show. In addition, Amy Sherman-Palladino had been vocal about wanting four specific words to close the series finale of the show, but she did not say what those four words were. Because she was not involved with the production of the last original season, however, her words were not incorporated into the final episode. “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” gave Sherman-Palladino a chance to end the show as she had always hoped. The final four words were revealed in the spin-off to be a jaw-dropping conversation between Lorelai and Rory: “Mom?” “Yeah?” “I’m pregnant.”
While the spin-off did not live up to the expectations of some fans, it was still enjoyable and provided closure for the cast and creators that the Palladino-less original never could. The spin-off may not have been necessary, but it did not ruin the show or the legacy it had created.
“Full House” is another classic sitcom that recently received a spin-off. While “Full House” (1987-1995) focused on single-dad Danny Tanner raising his three daughters with the help of his best friends, its spin-off, “Fuller House” (2016-2020), revolved around the eldest Tanner daughter, DJ Tanner (now DJ Fuller) raising her three sons with help from her best friend and sister. The similarities in the plots of these shows as well as many of the original cast members returning as series regulars or guest stars gave fans great hope for its potential. Unfortunately, the spin-off was not nearly as good as the original show. The acting was much worse, the jokes were not as funny and overall, it felt very forced. While it was nice to see fan-favorite characters return to the screen, the spin-off did not add to the show and, personally, I felt it was an unnecessary addition to an iconic show. I am not the only person who was disappointed by the spin-off, given that the “Rotten Tomatoes Average Audience Score” was 100 percent for the original and only 77 percent for the spin-off. The original series was canceled after its eighth season, so the ending wasn’t as special or complete as it could have been, but it was still a highly influential show that stood the test of time. The creators may have thought that a spin-off would give the original show a better sense of closure, but ultimately, “Fuller House” was nowhere near as well executed as the original.
One final series that has hopped on the revival trend is “Veronica Mars” (2004-2006), a classic TV show that merged the detective and teen-drama genres. The original show was canceled halfway through the third season without a satisfying conclusion. In 2014, the creators of “Veronica Mars” made a movie that was funded on Kickstarter and set nine years after the original show ended. The fact that the movie was completely funded by fans shows how eager the viewers were for a sense of closure. I felt the movie created a perfect continuation of the story, added to character development and had the same mix of personal drama and sense of mystery that the original show had. A few years later, in 2019, Hulu created a fourth season of the show.
The fourth season was very good overall, despite a controversial plot-twist ending. While fans, myself included, were very upset with the ending of the fourth season, the majority of the season was very well done. Veronica retained her spunky attitude, and all the returning characters seemed to have grown and developed immensely. On Rotten Tomatoes, the original series had an average rating of 92 percent, and the fourth season had a rating of 89 percent, such a close score that suggests the spin-off was generally well received (again, despite the ending!).
This brings us back to the original question: what makes a good spin-off? The chances of a spin-off living up to fans’ love and expectations for the original are slim and perhaps not a risk creators should take. If the show’s creators and writers can make sure the spin-off maintains all the aspects that fans loved, maybe a spin-off is worth it — but that’s often easier said than done.
“Veronica Mars” is an example of a successful spin-off that maintained the characters’ personalities and the spirit of the series while still showing how the characters positively grew throughout the years. However, if the spin-off negatively affects viewers' opinions of the original characters and show, it would be better to leave the series as is. “Fuller House” demonstrated how bringing back old characters doesn’t necessarily improve viewers’ opinions of them. The lovable and comedic family from “Full House” did not show positive growth, and the legacy of the series would have held up just as well, if not better, without the spin-off. “Gilmore Girls” falls somewhere in between the other two series, not quite living up to the original but not completely ruining the show either. Lorelai’s development illustrates how characters can show positive growth in spin-offs, whereas Rory’s character shows the opposite — how qualities fans admired in a character can be unfortunately left out.
It is undoubtedly exciting to see fan-favorite shows and characters return with new storylines and better camera quality, but this initial excitement can be easily spoiled by a disappointing result that does not live up to our expectations. While we always hope that our favorite shows will make a comeback, it may be wise to think twice to ensure a spin-off would improve what has already been made.