I believe I’ve only covered one instance of a fake TV shows in a real one, The Itchy & Scratchy Show in The Simpsons. But it’s a pretty pervasive phenomenon, as I learned from an Entertainment Weekly article by Chancellor Agard and Ernest Macias. They list the ten best uses of the trope (I think they go in reverse order of best-ness):
- Chicago Penthouse (spoof of reality shows) in The Good Fight.
- The Valley (Southern California soap) in (Southern California soap) The O.C.
- Inspector Spacetime (Dr. Who parody) in Community.
- El Amor Prohibido (telenovella) in Arrested Development.
- Terrance and Philip in South Park.
- Due North (Underground spoof) in Insecure.
- Defamation (Scandal spoof) in Dear White People.
- MILF Island in 30 Rock.
- Invitation to Love (daytime soap) in Twin Peaks.
- Darkness at Noon in The Good Wife.
As the list makes clear, this is generally a satire of either specific or generic TV content. (Fake-movies-in-movies are a similar deal.) The spoofs range from blunt to sharp, as spoofs tend to do. (I cracked up at the tagline for MILF Island, a summer reality show: “Twenty-five super-hot moms. Fifty eighth-grade boys. No rules.”) But the more interesting cases are where the fake shows combine satire with a meta-commentary on the “real” program. That’s definitely the case with Itchy & Scratchy, with Invitation to Love, on Twin Peaks, which I plan to cover in a future post, and I imagine (haven’t seen it yet) with The Valley.
And with Terrance and Phillip, which basically takes all the criticisms of South Park, sees them, and raises them two. Is the animation crude? T and P is even cruder, with characters’ heads that are horizontally cut in half and bob up and down to portray talking. And is the humor crude? Again, even cruder, consisting almost entirely of fart jokes and bad ethnic insults. Here’s a South Park fan site on the characters’ origin story:
The two characters have heavy accents, ostensibly to represent stereotypical American views of Canadians. The “aboot” pronunciation has also been used in The Simpsons and Canadian Bacon. The fact their career is based on an accidental fart Terrance made on the The Ed Sullivan Show at the age of six, because that was the only part of their act Americans understood, may be saying something about Canadian perceptions of Americans.
The duo popularized a catchphrase in the show-within-a-show, as they would invariably say “You FAH-ted!” and then giggle to almost any farting sound.
And here’s a clip from a recent episode. Terrance and Phillip are the ages they would be in 2017, given the Ed Sullivan appearance (an implicit commentary on the convention of animation characters never getting older). They’ve got a new show, on Netflix, but their humor is the same old thing.
Next: Darkness at Noon (and Talking at Noon) on The Good Wife.