Back to the beginning: These are the best TV prequel series

TV prequels are a growing trend as showrunners look to find ways to capitalize on popular series beyond the typical spinoff. They offer an interesting perspective on how a story came to be, what led characters to become who we know them as, and the pivotal moments that shaped or influenced the core series.

Along with recent, highly acclaimed prequels like Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and the ongoing Star Trek: Discovery, both The Lord of The Rings and Game of Thrones sagas will be getting prequel series soon, too — the former on Amazon Prime Video and the latter on HBO. Both are highly anticipated and expected to be major hits among viewers and fans of the original movies, books, and series. The decision to take a story back in time doesn’t always pay off, but fortunately, there have been plenty of good prequel series that proved the concept can be a roaring success.

Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul

AMC’s Breaking Bad remains one of the best dramas to have ever graced the small screen. And one of the most popular characters was Saul Goodman, a sleazy lawyer who worked with criminals and wasn’t afraid to bend the law. It sounded like a great idea when the network confirmed that it would be launching a prequel series that focused on how Jimmy McGill became Saul Goodman, and the events that led up to him meeting with and eventually working for Walter White in Breaking Bad. The series, which will air its fifth season in 2020, has lived up to its potential, presenting a story that is compelling on its own, but with plenty of Easter eggs and hidden details to get Breaking Bad fans excited.

Bates Motel

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Everyone is familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic 1960 horror film Psycho, about serial killer Norman Bates and his mother, Norma. This psychological horror drama serves as a prequel to that story, showing a younger Norman (played by Freddie Highmore) living with his mother (Vera Farmiga) before the murderous happenings of the movie. It’s also set in the present day, making it more modern and relatable to a new crop of viewers. It provides a glimpse into the early signs of Norman’s mental illness, and his progression into downright madness. It ran for five seasons from 2013 to 2017.

Caprica

Almost a year after military sci-fi drama Battlestar Galactica ended its celebrated four-season run in 2009, Caprica, set 58 years prior to the cataclysmic destruction of the 12 colonies of Kobol, emerged as a spinoff and prequel to that saga. Rather than focus on the aftermath, it told the story of how the Cylon androids were first created by humanity, and how they eventually turned against their masters. It only lasted for a single season due to low ratings, with the Space network airing the final five episodes after Syfy pulled the show its lineup (they later aired in a marathon). Despite the abysmal ratings, the show was well-reviewed by critics, who lauded the dark overtones, richness of characters, and infused elements of The Matrix and Terminator.

Fargo (Season 2)

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A little different from others on this list, it is actually the second season of anthology series Fargo that interestingly served as a prequel to the first. Airing on FX in 2015, it stayed true to the definition of an anthology series with its own self-contained narrative. But for those who had already tuned in to season 1, it told the story of what happened prior to those events as a young couple try to cover up the hit-and-run and murder of the son of a crime family’s matriarch. With a 100% Certified Fresh rating for the second season, it’s clear that viewers were on board with the concept.

Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

The newest series on this list, this dark fantasy/adventure series starring puppets started streaming its first season on Netflix on August 30, but it has already received universal praise. As a prequel to the 1982 Jim Henson film The Dark Crystal, it takes place on the fictional planet of Thra, where a trio of elf-like Gelflings discover a dark and terrible secret behind the power of their Skeksis overlords and set out to start a rebellion. A joint production of Netflix and The Jim Henson Company, the series blends extensive use of puppetry and CGI to tell a breathtakingly beautiful story.

Star Trek Discovery

Premiering in 2017, this series developed exclusively for CBS All Access predates the original Star Trek series, and is set between the events of Star Trek: Enterprise and the original, franchise-starting series. With a cast led by Sonequa Martin-Green (The Walking Dead), Discovery chronicles her experiences as a female science specialist aboard the USS Discovery. The series was so successful, it led to record subscriptions for the streaming service following its 15-episode first season. A third season is in the works, but an official release date has not yet been confirmed.

Stargate Origins

Known simply as “SGO” among fans, this sci-fi adventure series is based on the 1994 film Stargate and served as a spinoff to the Stargate SG-1 series. Consisting of just 10 episodes that each ran 10 minutes long, the show debuted in 2018 on MGM’s Stargate Command subscription service. In the series, a young version of Catherine Langford (Ellie Gall) undertakes a journey to unlock the mystery of Stargate but is taken hostage, alongside her father (Connor Trinneer), by Nazis. The episodes were later stitched together to create a feature-length film, which viewers could stream in all its 4K glory.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

After being released in 2001, the satirical comedy film Wet Hot American Summer, which parodies teen summer-camp comedies, developed a cult following. In 2015, this follow-up was released as an eight-episode series on Netflix and framed as a prequel. The original film’s star-studded cast — including Bradley Cooper, Janeane Garofalo, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Elizabeth Banks, and Molly Shannon — returned to reprise their roles, hilariously playing younger versions of their previous roles. Fans loved it, giving the film a score of 93% on review aggregator RottenTomatoes.com and lauding the goofy hijinks that were expected, but welcome.

Gotham

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Telling the story of a young James Gordon from DC Comics’ Batman mythology, this crime drama series aired for five seasons on Fox from 2014 to 2019. Ben McKenzie starred as Gordon during his early days with the Gotham City Police Department. Along with Gordon, the series brought in popular characters like Bruce Wayne (aka Batman), as well as some of the most iconic villains from the DC Comics universe, including Penguin, Riddler, and Solomon Grundy. While the show was praised for its performances, production value, and writing, ratings eventually dipped and it was time for the show to come to an end. Still, it was a solid prequel to a massive franchise.

Fear the Walking Dead

Running concurrently with its sister series, Fear the Walking Dead provides a perspective on the zombie apocalypse that The Walking Dead didn’t explore by starting its run from just before the disease had taken over and people were starting to turn. Now airing its fifth season, the post-apocalyptic horror drama is still technically a prequel since the timeline has jumped by five years in The Walking Dead. While the cast has changed dramatically from the first season, with only a few originals remaining (and a few crossovers from the original series now joining the prequel’s cast), the series continues to enthrall viewers with a fresh perspective, different characters encountering unique challenges, and new locations.

Hannibal

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This psychological horror-thriller aired for three seasons on NBC from 2013 through to 2015 and was based on the characters from the Thomas Harris novels Red Dragon, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising. It focuses on FBI special investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), a forensic psychiatrist who turns out to be the very serial killer Graham is trying to hunt down. As they discuss the mind-set of the serial killer, Dr. Lecter attempts to twist, turn, and manipulate Graham, unbeknownst to the profiler. The story is based on five pages of the book Red Dragon, which itself served as a prequel to Silence of the Lambs.

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