By Jo Berry
Fans of Harry Potter and JK Rowling’s Wizarding World were no doubt waving their Gryffindor scarves in the air with joy as news broke on Monday (via The Hollywood Reporter) that a potential Harry Potter live action TV series is in early development.
Having devoured all of Rowling’s novels, cheered through the eight terrific movie adaptations and happily endured a numb posterior during the five-hour Harry Potter And The Cursed Child play, you would think I would be joining them. But I was also disappointed by the forgettable Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them movie that transferred magical beasts and spells to 1920s New York but forgot to add any relatable humans, and almost fell asleep in the dull sequel The Crimes Of Grindelwald.
So rumours of a spin-off TV series don’t exactly fill me with magical anticipation.
But what should we expect if no one listens to me and a Harry Potter series does get made? According to THR, executives at streaming service HBO Max “have engaged in multiple conversations with potential writers exploring various ideas that would bring the beloved property to television,” which is pretty lacking in specific detail. We do know, however, that Rowling would have to be involved at some level, as she contractually has a say in anything to do with her creation.
It’s also safe to assume that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint – who have all gone on to successful TV and film careers post-Potter – sadly wouldn’t be returning as Harry, Hermione and Ron. So a spin-off series would either have to recast new actors in their roles (nope, absolutely not, although Radcliffe himself has said he expects this to happen one day) or would more likely be set in another part (or era) of the Wizarding World entirely, just as Fantastic Beasts is, and, well, we’ll come back to why that doesn’t work in a moment.
With the original eight movies having made more than $7 million worldwide, it is easy to see why HBO Max would want a Harry Potter TV series. And their executives have no doubt noted the success of rival streamer Disney+’s own small screen spin offs from successful movie franchises, such as Marvel’s WandaVision and Star Wars’s The Mandalorian.
But there is a very big difference spinning off from the Avengers or the Star Wars universe and doing the same with the Potter-verse.
As much as we may love them, Star Wars was always about much more than Han, Luke, Leia, Yoda or Darth Vader and survived when (spoiler alert) any of them departed. George Lucas and his fellow Star Wars writers and directors created infinite worlds for viewers to explore, inventive creatures, epic conflicts and a universe wide enough to sustain numerous stories set before or after the original trilogy of movies, from The Mandalorian to the animated Clone Wars as well as the upcoming Boba Fett and Obi-Wan TV series.
The Marvel spin-off WandaVision and the upcoming Loki do the same, branching off from the main Avengers storylines and telling stories that haven’t been covered in the Marvel movies, spending more time on interesting and fun characters who weren’t the focus of the blockbuster films. The Marvel universe is huge, and isn’t defined by any one character (no, not even Iron Man).
But the Harry Potter books and movies that fans hold so dear aren’t like Star Wars or Marvel – they aren’t really part of a huge universe from which multiple stories can be spun off. They are about a boy named Harry Potter.
They are about him finding friends at a new school – it just so happens that the school is the castle-like Hogwarts and these kids study magic rather than computer science. Yes, the beasts are fun and the magic dazzling, but it’s the kids that are the heart of the books and movies – and the reason fans love them.
While a spin-off could focus on the origin story of one of the adult characters from the books, like Sirius Black or Snape, do we really want to know more than Rowling has already told us in the books about them? (recalling Dumbledore’s so-what appearance in The Crimes Of Grindelwald, I’d say no).
No, the joy of Harry Potter is the relationships between Harry and his friends and his teachers and families. This is why the stage version, The Cursed Child, works – it may feature a new generation (Harry and Ginny’s and Ron and Hermione’s kids) but it also continues the stories of the grown-up versions of characters we love in the familiar settings that fans treasure.
A Harry Potter series without Harry would be like an Indiana Jones movie without Indiana Jones. Take Harry and his friends away and all you’re left with is wizard-y special effects and some CGI creatures – in other words, you’ve left with Fantastic Beasts on the small screen. And that’s not the magical formula HBO Max needs to make a series that Harry Potter fans (and me) would tune in to see.