Right now is one of the best times ever to be a fan of big-budget TV shows. The streaming wars have pushed many media companies to pour millions of dollars into massive shows full of spectacle and fan-pleasing cameos, and that makes it hard to choose what to watch. Sometimes, you just want to sink into a fun story with familiar characters.
That being said, many of our favorite TV shows don’t really get sequels–it’s tough to tell more of a story after the main characters have all completed their journeys. Every now and then you’ll get a series like Boruto that can pick up with the children of the protagonists from the original series, but those are far less common than prequels.
A prequel series gives fans a chance to jump back into the worlds they’ve grown to love and see some returning characters in a brand-new light. But the art of making a prequel as engaging as (if not better than) its predecessor is a tough one to master. Here are a handful of the best prequel TV shows of all time, ranging from nearly completely detached narratives that take place centuries before the shows we love to series that lead perfectly into the shows that spawned them.
Yellowstone is one of the most popular shows on TV right now, but it’s not for everyone. It’s full of melodrama, which can be fun if you’re in the mood for a heightened, soap opera-like atmosphere. But if you love the setting of the American West and the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, you might really enjoy the show’s fantastic prequel series, 1883.
The prequel only ran for a single season, but not due to poor ratings or a lack of interest from the writers–it’s a short, contained story that helps introduce audiences to the Yellowstone ranch and introduces some classic Western thrills. A large part of the draw of the original series is the gorgeous Western landscape, so it’s extremely fun to see the classic Yellowstone ethos applied to a genre show being played straight.
If you really love 1883 and want to see more of showrunner Tyler Sheridan’s version of the Old West, you’re in luck–it’s getting two sequel shows. The first, 1923, advances the narrative by 50 years and follows the Dutton family into the 20th Century. The other sequel, 1883: The Bass Reeves Story follows the tale of the actual historical figure Bass Reeves, a US marshall who famously brought justice to the lawless American West.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a die-hard comic book fan or just a person who has ever seen a Batman movie, you know Bruce Wayne’s origin story. The wealthy son of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Bruce accompanies his parents to a late-night screening of The Mark of Zorro. After exiting the theater, Bruce watches on in horror as a mugger claims his parents’ lives. The traumatized young boy swears to never let another criminal take a life and reinvents himself as the costumed vigilante Batman.
The main comic book narrative usually jumps straight from this inciting incident to scenes of Bruce clad in full Bat-gear beating criminals to a pulp. Gotham is a bit more measured than that, giving audiences a chance to luxuriate in the sheer weirdness that is the titular city without its famous defender. Since Bruce is just a child throughout the show’s narrative, the only people who can stop the numerous supervillains gallivanting through the city are the Gotham City Police Department and officer Jim Gordon.
While Gotham isn’t a prequel to any particular Batman story, it serves as something of a standalone prequel that can help inform fans’ understanding of the era between the Waynes’ death and Batman’s first year in the cowl. It deserves attention simply for being a great crime drama series that believably integrates classic Batman villains into a satisfying narrative arc that works just fine without the Caped Crusader swinging through the streets.
Star Trek: Stange New Worlds
Star Trek fans know that the original pilot for the classic 60s version of the series is a bit of an odd fit, canonically. William Shatner’s James T. Kirk is nowhere to be found in the pilot, and, instead, the ship is helmed by Captain Christopher Pike. The Original Series would later retcon this oddity by confirming that the pilot took place before the events of the main series, with Captain Pike serving as the captain of the Enterprise for some time before Captain Kirk was assigned his post.
Paramount knows that fans have been itching for a “classic” style of Star Trek show, and Strange New Worlds takes full advantage of that narrative oddity caused by a recasting decision made in the 1960s. Strange New World casts Anson Mount as Captain Pike and sets a reimagined version of the original Enterprise crew on a new galaxy-spanning adventure to go where no one has gone before.
Fans have noted that Strange New Worlds captures the best of both the modern era of Trek, with the spectacle of the Abrams films and Discovery while marrying that bombastic action to the more cerebral, thought-provoking scripts fans came to love from The Original Series and The Next Generation.
House of the Dragon
To say that Game of Thrones fumbled its narrative in its final two seasons is to be a bit generous. The show was once the crown jewel of American pop culture, but Seasons 7 and 8 botched things so badly that they effectively ejected Thrones from modern fan discussions. HBO seems to have known this when it set about creating House of the Dragon, a prequel series that takes place nearly 200 years before the events of Thrones’ first season.
House of the Dragon follows the Targaryen Dynasty during its heyday, showing fans the mighty dragons and glimmering armies that made them the undisputed rulers of Westeros for hundreds of years. The show has all the spectacle and big-budget visuals you’d expect from Thrones, now with a brand-new cast of appealing actors doing cool high-fantasy things like swinging swords and riding dragons.
The show is among the best prequels ever made because it does so much to build out the world of the series it spun off from. When you hear names like “Stark” or “Lannister” in this series, it makes you sit up and pay attention–returning fans want to know how their favorite families from the original show ended up where they are in the “present day”. Moreover, the show features the same tight, politically-driven plotting that made Thrones’ early seasons such a treat.
No franchise has received more prequels than Star Wars. An entire trilogy of prequels, a pair of spin-off movies, and countless TV shows all take place before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. Among them, though, one stands out as a vital part of the narrative that fans of the original trilogy have to see: Andor. While that might sound strange when there are shows like Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Clone Wars that actively tell stories about some of the main characters from the original films, Andor brings something new to the table.
In Andor, audiences get to learn more about the title character, Cassian, one of the protagonists of Rogue One. However, he’s not really the main appeal here: the series gives audiences such an intimate look at the minutiae and mundane evils of the Empire that it makes the most compelling case yet that Luke Skywalker did something unimaginably important in A New Hope.
In Andor, the Empire is unstoppable. It’s a monolithic authoritarian force that will roll over anyone stupid enough to challenge it. Rebels like Cassian and his friends have to use every trick in the book to even survive after going against the Empire. And then, a few years later, a Force-sensitive kid from Tattooine came out of nowhere and blew up the Death Star.
Better Call Saul
No prequel series has done as much to flesh out its progenitor as Better Call Saul. A prequel to the astonishingly good Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul takes a side character and makes him into the most sympathetic and likable guy in the entire series. Saul Goodman, who is really named Jimmy McGill, is one of the most engaging and complex characters from any TV show, period.
Better Call Saul goes out of its way to build up the world that Walter White will eventually bumble into and destroy with reckless abandon. Seeing big-name characters like Gustavo Fring and Lalo Salamanca do everything they can to set up their sprawling illegal operations is just as satisfying as eventually watching “Heisenberg” turn them into smoldering rubble.
Every actor in Better Call Saul brings their A-game, too. The numerous cameos and returning characters from the original series are enough to make any long-time fan cheer. Just be warned: don’t start with Better Call Saul if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad yet. The prequel is absolutely full of references and callbacks you might miss if you’ve never seen the original.