There’s a trend at the moment of being Meta. TV shows and films about TV and films, it’s all very clever and self aware and I get what you’re doing, but there are ways to do that whilst still remaining part of the fictional narrative.
One of these ways is to do the TV show within the TV show. This is where the cast of characters on the show are featured in a show within their own universe. It’s not a new idea and certainly not limited to TV. In a 1970’s comic Spider-Man teamed up with the cast of Saturday Night Live to battle the Silver Samurai and less than a decade later, David Letterman interviewed the Avengers in their own title. Entire TV shows are now made in a similar meta manner with the Office and Parks & Recreation being set as a TV show filming ‘real’ people. But this is more of a one off thing with characters from one show being involved in a TV show in their particular fictional universe and it can run the gamut of quality between okay and great and I wanted to have a look at some of them.
A Movie in the Making, Season 11 Episode 18, first aired 2 June 2016
This is the most common of this type. The primary plot is as it usually would be, in this case a police procedural with a focus on forensics, but this is intercut with talking heads of the characters fleshing things out. It doesn’t particularly add anything to the story, but it does shake things up for the audience and allow the actors to do something a little different. This episode is here because I needed 5 and beyond that isn’t really worth much beyond that.
These arms of mine, Season 7, Episode 6, first aired 28 October 2010
This is a more emotional episode which looks at Seattle Grace Hospital six months after a mass shooting event. The staff and patients are interviewed about their experiences and how it has changed them and how that isn’t always in the ways you expect. It feeds more into the story than in the Bones episode and as a result fits into a narrative better. It uses the TV show idea as a way of examining the cast in a way the regular format wouldn’t have the chance to.
Ghostfacers, Season 3, Episode 13, first aired 10 February 2003
Another way of doing this is to have the main show’s characters appear in a different show. Here a web/local access series featuring characters called Zedmore and Spengler (yes, we get the joke) who do a Most Haunted style ghost chasing show and Sam and Dean Winchester get involved. Showing the main cast trying to keep this TV crew alive and themselves out of the limelight is interesting enough, but the main draw of Supernatural is that it had a sense of humour and often refused to take things seriously and it’s this trait that injects some fun into this episode.
A Constellation of Doubt, Season 4 episode 17, first aired 10 February 2003
This is also a bit of variation, more than half of this story is the lead character watching a TV show that was picked up by the space ship he is on. Previous to this story, the majority of the crew of Moya spent 3 months on Earth and it seemed to go okay. Problem is though it didn’t. The media of the time (in the first 18 months from 9/11) is full of fear and panic and this TV show that shows new footage of the aliens is used to emphasise how frightening these creatures are and the horror that their existence brings to mind. We get lovely character moments and commentary from talking heads and it mixes with the lead character talking with the rest of the cast and the crew’s searching for one of their own. The sad part of this, is how the show’s tone and themes of fear and distrust aren’t as dated as they should be. Most shows about aliens use the aliens to tell us things about ourselves, but this one shows us ourselves to tell us things about ourselves and honestly, it’s not good things.
And Now for a Word, Season 2, Episode 15, first aired 3 May 1995
It’s not an understatement to say that modern genre TV owes a great debt to Babylon 5. Apart from utilising CGI to great success, to showcasing interesting ideas delivered in amazing performances and more, but it’s main contribution is that instead of being an episodic show, it was a serialised 5 year novel that had a clear beginning, middle and end. As a result it was able to showcase a world that changed and grew and was complex enough to feel lived it. It even showed the media of the time through the TV channel ISN (Interstellar News) being shown from time to time and this episode showed an ISN show about the titular space station.
The episode was shown as a TV special and yet was able to further plot and characterisation and being news based was able to show how the media of Earth views the various races and Earth itself. We saw an advert with the PsiCorp, well I say advert, it’s more propaganda and yet you can buy it being a thing. It lacks any kind of subtlety, but then doesn’t news TV? All in all it was one of the better examples of this kind of television show.
Well that’s the 5, can you think of any?