This was a prompt by endeni
; a comparison which wouldn't have occured to me. Though when I think about it, I can see some parallels. To start with some technical trivia: DS9's key writers - Ira Behr, Ron Moore, Hans Beimler - had all started out and graduated, so to speak, on TNG, but became far more influential in the spin-off. AtS similarly started out with several Buffy writers - David Greenwalt being the most important one for the first three seasons, after which he left, but also David Fury and later Steven DeKnight -, though it's important to note that the writer who in retrospect, taking all five seasons into account, had been the most crucial one, Tim Minear, had never worked on BTVS. (I'm open for a Greenwalt versus Minear debate, of course, as to who was more responsible for sharping AtS.) Both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
and Angel: The Series
were spin-offs, and their "mother shows", so to speak (TNG as well as TOS here for DS9), were more widely watched and popular at the time, while the spin-offs were generally regarded as darker and more serialized.
Mind you: the cliché that TNG was the fluffy reset button show to DS9's serialized and serious storytelling is as wrong as claiming Angel
was darker than Buffy
in general. Point in question: AtS' third season ran in tandem to Buffy's sixth. If you watched both, you know what I'm getting at here. AtS at least until Wesley got his throat cut looked downright frivolous by comparison to season 6 of BtVS. And TNG started to ongoing relationships and actual consequences in a Trek show thing; they didn't do it as consequently as DS9 was to do later, but pioneers rarely do. Still, as with every cliché that in its exaggaration is wrong, there's also a part that's true.
DS9, even in its early seasons where there were far more one shot episodes than later, was by the very nature of its set up different and darker. The Enterprise could come and go and was elsewhere the next week. DS9 was a space station next to a planet which had been suffering through a brutal occupation for 60 years, which was a forming influence to one of the regulars - who'd turn out to be in many way the
key regular of the show, Kira Nerys -, which meant an ongoing situation even before new problems showed up. Its leading character, Benjamin Sisko, started out as a grieving widower and
as a father with his son. (Picard had had tragedies in his life pre show, like the loss of the Stargazer and Jack Crusher's death, but they weren't something as defining the character from the get go as Sisko's losses and his relationship to his son were.) Kira's struggle to reconcile her freedom fighter/terrorist (this pre 9/11 show used both terms) past with her present were as ongoing as her relationships with various Cardassians, her former mortal enemies. Dax was a centuries old symbiotic being. O'Brien's past with Cardassians influences him in the present, even Bashir, the archetypical young freshman type among the regulars, turns out to have had a past and a secret. Among the recurring characeters, there's notably Garak, and Garak's gradually revealed past, the reasons for his exile on DS9 and the ways in which he did and didn't try to end it - you could say DS9, from the outset, had among other themes the way its characters past formed, burdened and even partially broke them in varying degrees, and how this influenced their present. Angel
from the beginning wanted to be something other than BTVS, version II, and succeeded (in season 1 there is still a sense of the writers trying to find their feet, but from the get go, the show does have its own voice), and one of the ways in which it did this was by a similar past/present situation. Of course, it had at its main character a centuries old vampire with an extremely bloody past and not a teenager trying to have a future, but this thematic treatment was true not just for Angel himself. "The past, she doesn't let go, does she?"' asks the short lived Doyle in the first half of the first season, and no, it doesn't. Doyle has something to atone for and does so promptly since he's quickly written out for, forgive the pun, Doylist reasons. But so does his successor, Wesley, who becomes as key to what AtS became as Kira does on DS9. Wesley on BTVS had been primarily used as a comic relief character in season 3 where he was introduced, but what happened to him then - failing his first assignment as a Watcher, falling out with the Council - is what he carries with him into AtS where it has far more long term results. When Wesley first shows up mid s1 he's still prone to comic relief scenes. But before the season is over, he'll have been tortured by Faith and then offered the choice of handing her over and getting his Watcher status back, which he refuses. Which is still but a prologue given that the show overall has in store for Wesley. Even Cordelia, the youngest of the original regulars, has her past as a reigning and very skillfully cruel high school queen as something to make up for. Of the later regular additions, Gunn is forced to stake his sister who has been turned in to a vampire in his introduction, and Fred has spent years in an alternate dimension that caused her to go ever so slightly mad. Again, as with DS9, the very nature of the set up means that dealing with your past (or running away from it, but even then it usually shows up to haunt you) is something ingrained in the regulars.
Another shared trait: while the "mother shows" , TNG and BTVS, do keep their basic set up formula, the spin-offs don't as a shift happens. By which I mean: yes, Buffy & Co. leave high school after season 3, and, say, season 1 and season 6 are very, very different. But Buffy being the Slayer, needing the save the world, struggling to unite this with living in it as a teenager and then young woman, that stays. TNG at the end has put its regulars through some significant changes - Picard and his Borg experience, also Picard's changing relationship to his crew, Worf and fatherhood, plus he's in a new relationship with Deanna Troi as the show ends, the difference between Data in the pilot and Data at the end is highlighted by the three eras nature of the show finale - but the "Enterprise encounters problem, solves problem, moves on" set up did not change. Meanwhile, DS9's last three seasons are about the building and then erupting Dominion War (while there had been wars in the backstory of TOS and TNG characters, present day war for longer than an episode, at the end of which it was successfully stopped, was unheard of and hugely controversial at the time because it touched on a core ST premise, that the Federation Utopia was strong enough to prevent things from escalating this far). As for the original stated goal, Sisko, who in the pilot was charged with bringing Bajor into the Federation, not only ended up outright rejecting this (for prophecy reasons) but ended the dilemma betwen being the Emissary and a Starfleet officer by ending to be the later and becoming a sort of divine entity. (This wasn't Sisko's idea, I hasten to add, there were plot reasons, I know. Still: miles away from what he started out to do.) With AtS, the "redemption through saving people" premise from the start gradually drew in the background; not that the character stopped helping people, but season 4, the most serialized of the AtS seasons where one episode was directly followed by the next, had at its core a father/son tragedy where saving ended up only possible through a massive deception/selling out, while season 5 had altered the original format so radically that the characters started by running the chief antagonist's business and ended up triggering another apocalypse.
Now, none of this means that the spin-offs were Frank Miller style grimdark. They had comedy epsiodes, they had their regulars fond of banter and bickering throughout. (AtS wasn't afraid to put something like The Girl in Question
, which made relentless fun of two of its male regulars, Angel and Spike, and included an affectionate dig at one of the mother show's most famous tragic scenes beside, only three episodes before the apocalyptic finale and after one of the regulars had already died.) (Meanwhile, the less said about DS9's THe Emperor's New Cloak
in season 7, the better. Love s7, but not that episode.) But there was certainly a general darker streak and pessimisim about happy endings at work than the mother shows, by and large, subscribed to. None of this makes one better than the other. That was just the glory of them: that they could coexist in their fictional verses, offering the viewers not an either/or, but a both/and to watch. December Talking Meme: The Other Days