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Most Memorable TV Prequels From 'Better Call Saul' to 'Fear the Walking Dead'

When you fall in love with television characters, don't you want to go back to their beginnings to learn everything about them and their world?

Allison Bowsher
prequels

From left to right: Colman Domingo in 'Fear the Walking Dead' and Bob Odenkirk in 'Better Call Saul'

AMC

The word "epic" has become watered down in recent years due to its massive overuse, but we feel confident saying that TV is about to get a couple of epic additions to the fall lineup. Winter is coming, and so is House of the Dragon, the Game of Thrones prequel. And in other fantasy realms, The Lord of the Rings will make its way from the big to the small screen with Rings of Power, and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) gets an extended origin story in Disney+'s Andor.

The series have a lot in common, including big ensemble casts, big budgets, and big shoes to fill. House of the Dragon, which centers on the Targaryen family, is set 300 years before the events of Game of Thrones. Based on George R.R. Martin's novel Fire & Blood, House of the Dragon follows in the footsteps of a massively successful series that broke ratings and award show records, with the flagship series still holding the title for most Emmy wins (59) to date. 

Rings of Power arrives almost two decades after the final installment in Peter Jackson's film trilogy, adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien's works, which took home 17 Oscars, including Best Picture forThe Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and earned close to $3 billion worldwide

And Andor spans a five year timeline over two seasons in order to tell the story of rebellion and leads directly into the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

But these certainly aren't the first time a TV show has gone back to tell an origin story of an acclaimed film or previous series. From Norman Bates to Saul Goodman and Fargo, N.D. to Gotham City, these are some of the most memorable prequel TV series, ranked by their Metascore. 


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Bob Odenkirk in 'Better Call Saul'

AMC

Better Call Saul

Metascore: 86
Best for: Fans with strong stomachs for intense dramas with flawed characters
Where to watch:

, , , , , Netflix,
Seasons: 6

Breaking Bad set a seemingly impossible bar for a prequel to measure up to (Metascore: 87), but Better Call Saul manages to carry the show's legacy and build one of its own. Created by Breaking Bad's Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, Better Call Saul is centered on troubled lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), whose run-ins with criminals eventually turn him into one, taking on the moniker Saul Goodman. Of course, it's rarely "s'all good, man" for Gilligan's Albuquerque characters, including Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), two Breaking Bad regulars who get even more screen time in this Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated prequel.

"[A] marvelously original and instantly engrossing hybrid of origin story, prequel, and spinoff." — Matt Roush, TV Guide Magazine


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Chris Rock in 'Fargo' Season 4

FX

Fargo 

Metascore: 85 
Best for: Fans of the Coen Brothers and eccentric dramas
Where to watch: 

, , , ,
Seasons: 4 (so far)

The critical and commercial acclaim of the Oscar-winning film Fargo has largely been replicated by the Noah Hawley's series of the same name, though it is not a traditional prequel with the same characters, but rather, one that exists with a similar setting and tone as the 1996 film. A new timeframe and set of characters are introduced each season of the anthology drama, with the titular North Dakota town as the thread that pulls each season together. The Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series deals with crime families, hit-and-runs, murders, and more with a consistently strong cast that includes Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Billy Bob Thornton, Ted Danson, Jean Smart, and Chris Rock.

"Fargo revels in presenting ordinary folk with extraordinary problems, in stripping away their everyday guises and peering long and hard at their dark potential. That it can do this through adaptations of true stories makes it all the more jaw-dropping." — Tom Long, The Detroit News


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'Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp'

Netflix

Wet Hot American Summer First Day of Camp

Metascore: 74
Best for: Fans of irreverent comedies with an A-list cast
Where to watch: Netflix
Seasons: 1

With a Metascore of only 42, Wet Hot American Summer wasn't a hit with critics or at the box office when it was released in 2001. Still, it went on to become a cult classic thanks to its outrageous script and hilarious performances by its massive ensemble, which includes Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, and so, so many more. The original cast returns for the Netflix prequel, set on the first day of camp. You know, when the counselors are 16, not 46. The eight-episode series brings more gags and even more star power, including Jordan Peele, Kristen Wiig, Jason Schwartzman, Jon Hamm, Chris Pine, and Randall Park.

"The clear passage of time for so many others is part of the larger absurd joke that made the movie such a treat, and that makes First Day of Camp a lot of fun, even if stretching out a 97-minute movie concept to around four hours...leads to a more uneven overall comedy." — Alan Sepinwall, Hitfix


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Ewan McGregor in 'Obi-Wan Kenobi'

Disney+

Obi-Wan Kenobi 

Metascore: 73
Best for: Star Wars fans and sci-fi lovers in general
Where to watch:


Seasons: 1

Few franchises have spent as much time on prequels as Lucasfilm, and though installments in the galaxy far, far away aren't always a home run with fans, more prequels mean more time for redemption. Ewan McGregor reprises his film role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Disney+ series which is in the middle of the Star Wars franchise overall, taking place a decade after Revenge of the Sith but almost a decade before the original film, now subtitled A New Hope. Tasked with rescuing Princess Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair), Obi-Wan sets out on a mission that reunites him with several familiar Star Wars actors, including Joel Edgerton, Jimmy Smits, and of course, Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen and James Earl Jones' super cool voice).

"Kenobi feels more like old-school Star Wars than its Disney+ predecessors. ... It also embraces the sci-fi weirdness of strange creatures and odd aliens around while firmly planting the storytelling in a time of haves and have-nots." — Brian Truitt, USA Today


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'Gotham'

Fox

Gotham

Metascore: 70
Best for: Batman fans who prefer the darker side of the caped crusader
Where to watch: 

, , , Netflix,
Seasons: 5

Regardless of who is playing the caped crusader on the big screen, all Batman films largely gloss over Bruce Wayne's childhood beyond the snapshot of a family gunned down in an alleyway with a young boy as the sole survivor. Gotham goes back to the beginning for Bruce (David Mazouz) and those around him, including future police commissioner James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Batman's greatest enemies. This series is a general Batman prequel and one that sets audiences up for Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, also showing the making of the Joker (Cameron Monaghan), Bane (Shane West), Ra's al Ghul (Alexander Siddig), and more. 

"Gotham arrives as its own entity, a wholly realized universe, in a separate time and place, with enough intriguing characters and a stylized visual presence that is immediately intriguing." — Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter


hannibal

From left to right: Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy in 'Hannibal'

NBC

Hannibal

Metascore: 77
Best for: Fans of dark and twisty dramas
Where to watch: 

, , , ,
Seasons: 3

One of film's most famous villains gets his own TV show. Inspired by Thomas Harris' novels and film adaptations, including Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal stars Hugh Dancy as criminal profiler Will Graham, hired by FBI agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) to investigate serial killers alongside forensic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). Spoiler: Hannibal is a secret cannibal. The dramatically dark series isn't a traditional prequel and instead fits inside the world created by Harris while also establishing its own storylines and supporting characters thanks to a cast that includes Gillian Anderson, Raúl Esparza, Eddie Izzard, Anna Chlumsky, and Gina Torres.

"Show creator Bryan Fuller, director David Slade, and their writers have created in Hannibal a satisfying, addictive, and truly disturbing work." — Tirdad Derakhshani, Philadelphia Inquirer


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Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga in 'Bates Motel'

AMC

Bates Motel

Metascore: 69
Best for: Fans of Hitchcockian thrillers
Where to watch: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Seasons: 5

Alfred Hitchcock's terrifyingly brilliant Psycho (Metascore: 97) has earned its spot in film history, and Bates Motel expands on the world of the Bates family by acting as a modern-day prequel. Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga star as a young Norman Bates and his mother Norma, who in the series is still very much alive. Over five seasons, Norman's mental health deteriorates, prompting Norma to protect her son by any means necessary. (Murder; we mean murder.) The prequel is based on Pyscho, so you can assume there is a lot of blood and anxiety-filled pauses. 

"Maybe the most encouraging thing about this intriguing but imperfect Young Norman Bates Adventures show is that, in a time when dramas are determined to hook viewers with rapid-fire twists, it takes its time answering." — James Poniewozik, TIME


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'Fear the Walking Dead'

AMC

Fear The Walking Dead

Metascore: 63
Best for: Zombie fans who can't get enough of the undead and want to see how the outbreak began
Where to watch:

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Seasons: 7 (so far)

The world ofThe Walking Dead began with a graphic novel and exploded with a TV series, an after show, and quite a few spin-offs. The first, Fear the Walking Dead, begins as a prequel, with the first three seasons focusing on a fractured family who is forced to work together when the zombie apocalypse begins. In Season 4, Fear the Walking Dead catches up to its predecessor with the introduction of The Walking Dead's Morgan Jones (Lennie James), a pacifist who tries to help others survive their terrifying new normal with some of their humanity — and limbs — intact.

"Shades of new angles to the zombie genre fleetingly emerge, but too often they're smothered by the writers' slavish devotion to their own established norms." — Ted Pigeon, Slant


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Iain Armitage and Zoe Perry in 'Young Sheldon'

CBS

Young Sheldon 

Metascore: 63
Best for: Fans of feel-good family sitcoms
Where to watch:

, , , , ,
Seasons: 5 (so far)

The characters in Chuck Lorre's uber-popular The Big Bang Theory continue to live on with the prequel Young Sheldon. Set in Texas in the late 1980s, Young Sheldon stars Iain Armitage as the younger version of Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons, who narrates YS). Sheldon's religious, protective, and deeply loving mother Mary is played by Zoe Perry, whose mother Laurie Metcalf played the older version of Sheldon's mother on TBBT. Bazinga! Several Easter eggs and a few crossovers have popped up for TBBT fans, but the family sitcom is still a crowd-pleaser for those new to the fictional world of eternally broken elevators and "Fun With Flags." 

"In many ways this show plays like a cross between The Wonder Years and...Speechless only in this one the mother character is likable." — Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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Austin Butler and AnnaSophia Robb in 'The Carrie Diaries'

The CW

The Carrie Diaries

Metascore: 58
Best for: Fans of YA stories and shows that play with fashion
Where to watch:

, , ,
Seasons: 2

While The Carrie Diaries may not be the most highly rated prequel on our list, it stands out for its willingness to do something different — appeal to a new audience. Most prequels tend to go after the same viewers as their predecessors, but the Sex and the City prequel jumped from adult-centric content on HBO to a more YA-friendly format on The CW. AnnaSophia Robb stars as a teenage version of Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw, who finds herself dealing with complicated friendships, love interests, and choosing her career over school. We couldn't help but wonder if The Carrie Diaries ended before it had the chance to find its Manolo Blahnik footing. 

"Writer Amy B. Harris has crafted a clever, credible script, carefully adding a few veiled life lessons within the witty dialogue: One of the girls will learn that hooking up with a boy you think you love may not always end in happily ever after." — David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle