If all shows were animated like “The Simpsons,” networks wouldn’t need to strain to keep them alive. Yet live-action dramas come with shelf lives, which explains the CW’s twin attempts to extend two of its franchises with prequels: “Walker Independence,” a back-to-the-Old-West adjunct to its Texas Ranger reboot; and “The Winchesters,” a one-generation-back rekindling of the “Supernatural” flame.
Of the two, “Independence” feels a bit more intriguing, if hardly original, inasmuch as “Yellowstone” already blazed the same trail into cowboy territory with “1883.” As for “The Winchesters,” after “Supernatural’s” impressive 15-year run you’d have to miss the guys an awful lot in order to thrill to this “How I Met Your Mother/Father”-esque origin story about their parents teaming up to foil demonic evil.
The main problem with “Walker” is the events that set the show in motion feel much better tailored to a limited series than an open-ended run. Specifically, Abby Walker (Katherine McNamara) comes west from Boston in the late 1800s, only to see her husband – who has come to take the job as sheriff – promptly murdered by Tom Davidson (Greg Hovanessian), who quickly steps in to replace him.
Having witnessed the murder, Abby is determined to exact revenge. From there, though, the series essentially becomes a slow-rolling western soap opera, one boasting an admirably diverse cast, but a frustrating sense that the whole vengeance thing is going to take a lot longer than it should.
Until then, Matt Barr, as low-life outlaw Hoyt Rawlins, and Justin Johnson Cortez as Calian, an Apache tracker who befriends Abby, aren’t bad company, and the show has a fairly polished look. Yet watching Abby settle into the town and getting to know the other personalities – some of whom harbor their own secrets – has a decided been-to-this-rodeo-before quality.
Then again, compared to “The Winchesters,” “Walker” feels minty fresh, as the former goes back to reenact when Mary (“Zombies’” Meg Donnelly) met John (Drake Rodger) – although their version of meet-cute involves teaming up to dispatch a demonically possessed foe.
“This a normal night for you?” John asks, only to be told by Mary, “You don’t want any part of this life, I promise you.”
Of course, there’d be no series if he didn’t, and John turns out to be pretty handy in a pinch, with Vietnam flashbacks indicating some of the action that he’s seen. In addition, the two share a quest related to their respective families, providing a foundation for what’s to come.
The durability of the format can be seen in “Supernatural’s” inordinate longevity, and there are references and callbacks to that show for those who celebrate. The principals here, though, are building a different kind of chemistry than that brotherly banter, and at least initially, it all comes across as pretty flat.
Having relied so heavily on its superhero shows, the CW – preparing to enter a new phase under new ownership – is exhibiting an understandable impulse to cash in on its other successful titles, even if the links appear a tad tenuous.
For now, “Walker Independence” (which, yes, will follow “Walker”) and “The Winchesters” come blessed with name recognition, but creatively speaking, first impressions say that the network has dipped into the prequel well twice too often.
“Walker Independence” premieres October 6 at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.
“The Winchesters” premieres October 11 at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.