Since Christopher Nolan’s confusing 2010 smash-hit Inception, the whole “blank within a blank” trope has exploded into the mainstream.
Writers like Dan Harmon sprinkle “meta” into their shows like feta onto a scalloped potato. But as far back as the Jacobeans, William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream featured a “play within a play” – “for nothing can be amiss when simpleness and duty tender it”.
Itchy & Scratchy (The Simpsons) is better known to millennials than its real-world inspiration Tom & Jerry. Many don’t even realise that American soap opera Days Of Our Lives – popularized by the 90s sitcom Friends – is actually a REAL television show. Dr Drake Ramoray, however, has never actually made an appearance.
Here are 9 “shows within shows” that we know, in our hearts, we’d binge the f*ck out of:
#1 — When The Whistle Blows (Extras) —
Ricky Gervais’ Extras (Season 2) sees struggling supporting artist Andy Millman thrust into the limelight as the reluctant star of his own committee-butchered sitcom: When The Whistle Blows. Gervais has always be adamant that “the best things are auteured” – citing, in interviews, the old adage that “a camel is a horse deigned by committee”.
“WhenTheWBlows” epitomizes the “lowest common denominator comedy” that Gervais despises. But you can’t deny, with its loveable cast of larger than life characters, that this shit-com (were it to really exist) would be sure to please all the family.
#2 — Ball Fondlers (Rick And Morty) —
It’s fair to say that Rick & Morty’s “Interdimensional Cable” story arc was the inspiration behind this entire article. Imagine a universe where you could sit on the couch and be surfing through the shows mentioned on THIS LIST.
Amidst fan favourites like “the personal space show” and “Two Brothers”, “Ball Fondlers” is by far the most highly recognised. Sporting an A-Team style band of badasses (complete with a suave alligator) the show is fast paced, action-packed and entirely fictional. Rick, Morty and Summer journey to a dimension where the series even has a movie franchise – shame about the fly-filled ice-cream.
#3 — Sheldon Cooper’s Fun With Flags (Big Bang Theory) —
Surrender… to fun! The pet project of the brilliant Dr Sheldon Cooper, “Fun With Flags” takes vexillology (the study of flags) to its limit. Diligently researched facts, a kooky co-host (in the form of the besmitten Amy Farrah Fowler) and the occasional musical interlude from Howard and Raj.
The internet has been crying out for a real-world Fun With Flags hosted by actor Jim Parsons but for now it doesn’t look like it’s on the cards – “You gotta know how to hold em, you gotta know how to fold ‘em”
#4 — Prescription Passion (House) —
It adds amazing depth to an on-screen antagonist for them to possess and obsess over ONE seemingly innocuous “guilty pleasure”. Over the course of 8 award winning seasons, we see Gregory House playing guitar, Metroid Prime on his Gameboy Advance, skateboarding, and even referencing Arceus (The Pokémon God). But it seems his favourite medical soap opera “Prescription Passion” is only outlet vapid and mindless enough to ail his tortured psyche.
In the 4th season episode “Living The Dream”, fact and “fictional-fiction” collide as House’s team treat a cast member from the soap itself. In a show (House) that is built on homage (Holmes and Watson = House and Wilson) Prescription Passion is perhaps the most perfectly toned “show within a show” we’ve ever seen.
#5 — Troy and Abed in The Morning (Community) —
One of two Dan Harmon shows on this list, Community is about as meta as sitcoms get – in no small part because of its quirky subversive double-act: “Troy and Abed” (played by Donald Glover and Danny Pudi). The pair frequently end episodes by addressing the camera in a morning talk show fashion, throwing to imaginary co-presenters and behaving nonchalantly when their fellow community college goers react with perplexity. Ignorance is bliss.
#6 — TGS with Tracy Jordan (30 Rock) —
Centring around a fictional SNL style programme, the award-winning 30 Rock see Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) convincing and coercing troublesome star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) into doing his damn job. The show set a benchmark for “meta” over the course of its critically and commercial acclaimed 7-year run – and still influences writers to this day.
#7 — Horsin’ Around (Bojack Horseman) —
Juxtaposing the gritty melodrama of Bojack’s modern life, his career-defining 90s sitcom Horsin’ Around fills us with a faux nostalgia. Such is the duty of care that went into the show’s (Bojack Horseman) creation: we really feel like Horsin’ Around really was a part of 90s pop culture. Mr Peanut Butter’s House, less so.
Sick of the soulless vacant sensationalism of Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities, What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let’s Find Out? Why not kick back with everybody’s favourite horse-and-three-human-kids family. If only for that one season where Bojack’s character apparently ran for president… and won?
#8 — Numberwang (That Mitchell & Webb Look) —
It’s hard to pick a favourite from the likes of “Quiz Show”, “Get Me Hennimore!” and “The Surprising Adventures of Sir Digby Chicken Caeser” – but can you imagine a better way to wile away your student days than crashed out on the communal couch, chewing on doob and trying to figure out what the F*CK the rules of Numberwang actually are?
#9 — All My Circuits (Futurama) —
Mechanical prima donna Calculon stars as the melodramatic leading man (of the same name) in a fictional parody of All My Children. Juxtaposed against the adventures of the Futurama’s Planet Express crew, the “over the top” dramatics of All My Circuits seem almost blasé. According to the Futurama Wiki, the robot soap opera “involves a great deal of backstabbing, blackmail, infidelity, melodrama and amnesia.” I’m in – particularly if they go live-action.
Keep your peepers peeped for the upcoming “Fictional Videogames from Shows We Love” .
by Jordan Gray | @Talldarkfriend