Why An ‘X-Men’ TV Spin-Off Should Look to the ‘Star Trek’ Franchise For Inspiration

By  · Published on October 7th, 2014

Twentieth Century Fox

Marvel didn’t create the first expanded universe. That very term was earlier most associated with Star Wars, for instance, although now that stuff is no longer canon so it barely counts. Way before that were the Universal Monsters, which were initially independent of one another but then wound up mashed into a shared continuity with various team-ups in the 1940s (which is why it’s strange the new Universal Monsters mega-franchise is often talked about as if it’s copying the MCU).

And there was (and still is) the Star Trek franchise. There have been no simultaneous parallel series going on in movie form the way Marvel has, but like the MCU, Star Trek has had continuity between movies and TV series. The original series begat the first movies, then The Next Generation spun off and eventually begat more movies that were linked to the prior movies, and now there are the rebooted movies, which also link back to the original series and movies.

Now rumor has it that the X-Men franchise is expanding out further than its spin-offs and uncanny looping prequel/sequel/sidequel installments to include a new TV series for Fox. One would be quick to compare the move to what Marvel has done with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and other forthcoming titles on ABC and Netflix), but that would be a huge shame if the idea was similarly to just follow lesser (maybe non-super) characters in the franchise universe – though it would be neat to see a Morlocks series, or better yet a Mojoverse show.

X-Men’s expanded universe on the big screen might not have come ahead of Marvel’s, despite talk of Origins spin-offs (prequels, but also sort of on-the-side-quels, giving them a less straight-shot linear relationship) being before Marvel got its Avengers initiative going. So, why should its continued expansions be thought of in relation to what Kevin Feige and company have done with the cross-media strategy of the MCU? If Fox should be looking at any other franchise for influence, it should be Star Trek.

First of all, X-Men’s movie series already has something in common with Star Trek’s, and I’m not talking about them both starring Patrick Stewart. Rather, the way X-Men looped back and sort of ate itself with First Class and Days of Future Past is akin to what Star Trek has been doing by letting original series cast and continuity into the new rebooted run. We may as well have Star Trek 3 feature William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy sending someone back in time to encounter their younger selves and help them change the future.

Where X-Men should follow Star Trek in terms of this potential TV series plan is to basically do X-Men: The Next Generation. It might sound boring on paper (especially to anyone who remembers the Generation X TV movie/failed pilot), but a “New Mutants” type series is the best way to go. For one thing, there’s always money in teen-based television. Second of all, if the studio plays it right, the cast literally could be the next generation for the franchise. Just like how Stewart and the rest of the Enterprise new blood got to take over the movie series from Shatner and his crew, the X-Men new class could do the same.

Paramount Pictures

By playing it right, Fox would need to really invest in the series and not allow it to be a dismissible by-product the way Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. came across for a while (and maybe still does for many). The next generation of mutants should be permitted to exist mostly on their own without too many teases of cameos or insignificant crossovers with the movies. The show should be treated like an independent product that could win its own fans while also appealing to those already on board with the X-Men franchise.

What that can do is give the show a distinction where, like so many other hit series, the audience is so invested and intrigued about where it could continue that they’ll be begging for a movie spin-off. The only difference between what Fox would do here compared with movies spun from X-Files, 24, Sex and the City and Entourage is that it would also be a sequel to the X-Men movies, rebooting the series with these other characters the way Star Trek did.

There are definitely some great challenges to this idea, one being a trust that the show’s actors will catch on as big enough stars to carry the property onto the big screen. Well, few of the original X-Men movie’s leads were known before its release, Hugh Jackman being one of those who wasn’t. And a show like this could go a number of seasons through which it sort of tests the waters with various actors and characters. Drop the ones who aren’t working, add new faces as needed, develop a perfect team as the series goes along. Compare to what Marvel is going to trust (and probably rightly can) by introducing its new generation of Avengers via new parallel movie series (Dr. Strange, Ant-Man, Black Panther, etc.) that may not (but probably will) be as popular as the first wave.

Another challenge lies in the fact that a lot of X-Men Universe comic book characters, particularly the favorites and the familiars, have already been used for the big screen. But there are a bunch that we have seen in the movies that could be reused for the show. Continuity has been so wonky, especially now that The Last Stand is apparently moot, that we could see reboots of Jubilee, Psylocke, Colossus, Multiple Man and definitely Days of Future Past’s Blink, Sunspot and Warpath. I’m also waiting to see Polaris, Cannonball, Husk, Mirage, Boomer, Dazzler, Phoenix (Rachel Summers version), Sunfire, Warlock, Cypher, X-23 (the teen girl Wolverine clone) and many, many more.

According to an update to the rumor, there is already a specific comic series being eyed for Fox’s TV series, and that’s the noir-ish Peter David-scripted 2005 reboot of “X-Factor,” which focuses on a detective agency run by Jamie Madrox (Multiple Man) and initially featuring members Strong Guy, Wolfsbane, Butterfly, Siryn, M and Rictor. That could be a cool kind of procedural show, but it also sounds like the beginnings of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in that regard. Even more so if they really mean David’s more recent 2014 “X-Factor” reboot, which has the team as a government agency again.

If there is any truth to the rumor (if not, it’s merely inevitable) and if that is what Fox is interested in (David himself is already denying it), that’s unfortunately going to look like the franchise is trying to ape the MCU. But whether it’s a success or not, there is room for other options later, and I still think the Next Generation idea could be the future for the X-Men movie/TV universe. That is, if I must give up on my plea for superheroes not to take over television.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.