Sherlock is the latest in a long line of TV shows to indulge in a bit of online spin-offery, giving all Cumberbabes and Freemasons a chance to see a smidge more of Holmes and Watson before the new series started. Inspired by that tantalising tidbit, here is a compilation of our favourite webisodes and webi-series, from Battlestar Galactica to Breaking Bad (and back again)…
In Season 4 of Parks & Recreation, young lovebirds April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) decide to bunk off work and head to the Grand Canyon. In the TV show itself, you only see the initial drive down the highway; then we cut to everyone’s favourite deliberately-terrible office assistant (April) and part-time FBI agent impersonator (Andy/Burt Macklin) actually at the edge of the grandest of canyons. This eight and a half minute webisode – initially cut into several segments – explains how the clueless twosome made it there. Look forward to scary spiders, four states coming together and a lot of screaming.
Long ago, before every man and his meth-addled dog was into Breaking Bad, AMC’s Little Show That Could™ was chugging away with just a few critics championing it and a tiny but fanatical viewing audience. In an attempt to lighten the show’s darker comedic stylings, Team Bad got together to make five short stories set inbetween the first and second series, all of them distinctly lighter than your average fix. Prepare yourself for Hank (Dean Norris) and Marie (Betsy Brandt) enjoying some police-based roleplay in the bedroom, Walt (Bryan Cranston) breaking into a little old lady’s house with Badger (Matt Jones) as well as Jesse (Aaron Paul) and his band, TwaüghtHammër, bringing the noise.
There are three distinct webisode storylines for The Walking Dead. Released to promote Season 2’s premiere, Torn Apart gives the backstory to 'bicycle zombie’, Hannah, who you may remember from the very first episode. For Season 3, Cold Storage told a separate tale of a group of survivors holing up in a self-storage facility, not connecting with the main storyline of Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and his desperados. Most recently, there was Season 4’s The Oath, which features the same hospital where Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) woke up, and explains the origins of an iconic image from the first season. As you’d expect with online spin-offs from a show about zombies, The Walking Dead doesn’t skimp on the blood and guts with their webisodes, so it’s probably best if you don’t watch these at work, near children, or if you yourself are a zombie, as the results may disturb.
Before it was crippled by the writers’ strike, NBC’s X-Men-a-like superdrama Heroes was a huge hit, and as such, it could blaze a trail in the webisode department. In total, there were six web stories – Going Postal, Heroes: Destiny, The Recruit, Hard Knox, Nowhere Man and Slow Burn – released right up to the show’s cancellation in 2010. They incorporated regular characters such as Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) and Rachel Mills (Taylor Cole), but before you start watching them, be warned: they’re very dense and a little on the long side, so if you can’t remember your cheerleaders from your Japanese space-time manipulators, you may want to rewatch the show from the very beginning.
With 50 years on the clock, more lore than Star Wars and a fanbase as fervent as 100,000 angry Sontarans, Doctor Who has had so many spin-offs it’s hard to tell the difference between a Comic Relief special and a the real multimedia deal. Here is an extensive playlist of assorted webisodes, from Children In Need’s 2007 Doctor-off Time Crash to the Amy Pond prequel series Pond Life, so you can judge for yourself. Be sure to watch the standout episode, The Night Of The Doctor, which finally explained the fate of the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann), previously only seen in the 1996 TV movie. Even incorporating McGann’s work in the Big Finish audio series, it completely blindsided Whovians when it was first announced on Twitter, and even now, we still can’t quite believe it happened. The Eighth Doctor! Back! Unbelievable.
NBC are very strict about their work appearing on YouTube, as their own website hosts all of their online spin-offs alongside quizzes, games and lots of other show-supporting bumph. This means the following video playlist is a patchy one, but if you can dig through it, there are nine different stories to enjoy – The Accountants, Kevin's Loan, The Outburst, Blackmail, Subtle Sexuality, The Mentor, The 3rd Floor, The Podcast and The Girl Next Door – which add to the Office mythology and give lesser characters, such as Erin (Ellie Kemper), more room to be distractingly pretty lark about with paperclips.
Sponsored by Verizon Wireless and originally launched solely on mobiles – hey, it was 2007! – these 13 “mobisodes” feed directly into the fourth season, making them entirely canonical. So if you’re into the whole over-analytical-meaningless-clue-gathering game, fill your polar bearskin boots, but expect some distinctly anticlimactic moments. In particular, be wary of The Watch and The Adventures Of Hurley And Frogurt, which may make you wish for a tiny slither of your life back. But for die-hard Dharma farmers, any extra time on the island is like a day trip to heaven, so who are we to judge?
Like Greendale College has raccoons, NBC.com’s Community website has special webisodes, and there are a lot of Community webisodes out there. Show creator/writer/showrunner Dan Harmon even makes an appearance in one, playing stressed-out maniac Dr. Patrick Isakson in a series of fake adverts encouraging prospective students to sign up for an “experience” (because saying “education” would be illegal). Elsewhere, Abed (Danny Pudi) and Star-Burns (Dino Stamatopoulos) screw up a Spanish assignment for Chang (Ken Jeong), and in a non-canonical special, your favourite study group go to an Emmys party, even though that’s so meta it may make your brain ache. Then there’s Dean Pelton’s Office Hours, which are “so fresh and so dean, dean” as well as cartoon Abed's Master Key, where Abed becomes the “Depu-Dean” (whatever that deans).
Not so much episodes as compilations of off-the-record quips that wouldn’t work in the regular edition – or the extended regular edition, Have I Got Even More News For you – these webisodes are bitty, but funny nonetheless. A lot of what you see is audience-amusing patter from Ian Hislop, Paul Merton and the guests, but if you’ve never been lucky enough to watch the show live at a recording, this is the closest you’re going to get. It’s also good fun to see a large number of people who are totally unaware of what a “webisode” is saying the word “webisode” like it’s from an alien language. We’re looking at you, Tom Baker, you hilarious buffoon.
P.S. The BBC don’t believe in embedding their Have I Got News For You content, so you’ll have to click this way to watch it all on YouTube itself.
Causing an international rumpus amongst non-US Battlestar Galacticans, these entirely canonical webisodes bridged the gap between season 2 and season 3 of the seminal sci-fi reboot, but weren’t available to stream outside of America at the time. Seriously fracked-off fans took to peer-to-peer networks to get their “free” slice of toaster trouble, but now that the dust has settled (and the show has ended), you can watch them all on YouTube without too much of a problem. To tell you anything about the webi-series would ruin it for anyone who hasn’t already watched the end of the second season, but take it from us that this involves Cylons, Cylons that look like humans and regular humans still vying for survival.