The prevalence and relevance of pop-culture references is a badge of honor for many TV shows; both helping to confirm that the created-reality of fiction is approximate to the real-reality it mirrors, as well as distinguishing the characters who are aware of topics and trends from those who aren’t. I have a special place in my heart for the moments when TV characters talk about actual TV shows, because it can be such a wonderful moment of meta-reality, fiction that incorporates fiction that is really created in the real world.
Sheldon, The Big Bang Theory
The geek-gods of TBBT talk about TV and movies quite a bit, but in last night’s episode (The Large Hadron Collision) Sheldon truly outdid himself. Angry with Leonard for planning to take Penny to Switzerland to see the world-famous super-collider, Sheldon responds to Leonard’s invitation to play a car game with the suggestion that Sheldon will name famous traitors throughout history and Leonard can rank them in order of the heinousness of their crimes. In the second round Sheldon offers Rupert Murdoch, Darth Vader, and Leonard. When Leonard asks Sheldon why Rupert Murdoch is on the list, Sheldon’s answer is simple: “He owns Fox and Fox cancelled Firefly.” In his unbelievably crazy way, Sheldon spoke up for all of us who are still holding a grudge (7 years later) against network buffoonery that deprived the world of more outlaws-in-space glory, and all it takes to make this case is a fictional character commenting on a real person’s treatment of fictional characters.
Dwight, The Office
Near the end of Season 3 Michael assumes that he will be getting a promotion to the corporate office in New York that he, and others, are interviewing for. Therefore, because he is the smartest man ever, he bids farewell to his Scranton-based employees and names Dwight as his successor. Dwight now has a problem, namely, who will be his number 2? But have you forgotten that Dwight is always prepared? He knows whom he wants to do for him what he did for Michael: “My ideal number 2? Jack Bauer. But he is overqualified, … and fictional, … and unavailable.” How brilliant is this? Not only do we find out that Dwight watches 24, but we as an audience get to imagine Kiefer Sutherland in a mustard-yellow short-sleeved button-up shirt, and because the small scene is so well written, with “fictional” as the middle disqualification, it takes us just the barest second to realize that a fictional character is recognizing the fictional nature of a character on another real TV show.
Somewhere in Season 5 (I can’t remember where exactly, but now I will start re-watching from the beginning in order to figure it out), the Scooby-Gang poses a question to their fearless guider: “how bored were you last year?” Giles’ response has become one of the most memorable of Buffy lines: “I watched Passions with Spike.” This is the most un-Giles-like Giles-statement in the entire series, and is an amazing example of using fiction to illuminate other fiction: we know just how lost Giles was without a job (either as librarian or Watcher) because he spent his time watching the ridiculous dregs of daytime television. With one line, anyone who has seen even two seconds of Passions, THE WORST SOAP OPERA EVER, immediately recognizes that Giles was in the depths of one of the scariest existential crises in Buffy.
As a show Chuck is riddled with sly in-jokes, allusion to TV and movies, and tributes to geek-dom. Personally, I love the scene in Season 1 where Morgan and Lester are playing the “name-that-show” game on the TVs at the Buy-More. During the battle-royal, both need only a brief glimpse to correctly identify their target. They name each show so quickly that I missed it the first time I saw the episode, but Lester takes a second to comment on one of his answers: “The O.C. Season 2, highly underrated.” More than a beautifully self-serving defense of another of Chuck producer Josh Shwartz’s shows, Lester’s fandom gives a funny little bit of dimension to the character that up to that point was just kind of creepy.
Abed is obsessed with TV and movies, to the point where he recasts his friends in “roles” from whichever show/movie he is currently fixated on. At first I found the whole conceit a bit off-putting, it seemed like it could be a comedy-version of Dawson Leary’s immensely annoying movie addiction, but I was totally wrong. As a character Abed allows Community to both discuss objectively and participate subjectively in the nature of created reality. A fictional character is told by other fictional characters that he is confusing fiction with reality, but his awareness of the difference of between other-created-reality and his own real-created-reality forces the audience to ponder whether Abed is very confused, or much smarter than the rest of us. And them. See?
On a road trip with Daria to bail Jane, Trent, and the rest of Mystic Spiral out of a small-town jail, Quinn says one of those things that makes us realize that she isn’t all bad: “We can be home in time to watch Buffy.”
The TV Girl
Making the world a better place, one show at a time.
- The TV Girl
- Washington, DC, United States
- I guess you would like to know a little bit about the person making all these proclamations upon good taste and horrid characters. I'm Andrea and when I was 15 I fell in love. An hour after meeting "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" I was forever altered in the way only love can, and I never questioned for one minute afterwards that television offered me an amazing chance to experience lives and moments that I could never imagine. So now, when I'm not getting distracted by my real life, I write about TV. I also read, am finishing a Master's degree in English Literature, travel, am attempting to learn vegan cooking, am the 5th of 6 children, and drive my roommate nuts by constantly cleaning our already clean apartment. Now that we're old friends, time for you to take my opinions as the be all and end all.