In recent years, TV sitcoms from 30 Rock to The Simpsons have excelled at coming up with wild, wacky TV shows that exist within the show's own world, spoofing real TV genres and offering meta-commentary on current pop culture trends. Here, the best shows-within-shows from the five TV comedies that do them best:
It's no surprise that a show centered on a Saturday Night Live-like sketch comedy show was so good at inventing programming slyly modeled on NBC's real lineup. Over the years, 30 Rock offered us snippets of the action drama Bitch Hunter, starring Will Ferrell; Liz Lemon's talk show Dealbreakers; and the CNBC money talk show Hot Box. But 30 Rock really shines when it invents reality TV shows, like the Survivor-type show MILF Island (which eliminates contestants with the line "We no longer want to hit that"), and the Real Housewives spoof Queen of Jordan (catchphrase: "It's my way 'til payday").
Queen of Jordan:
The Simpsons has repeatedly riffed on TV tropes over its 24 seasons, with highlights including alarmist Fox-style docudramas (When Buildings Collapse, When Dinosaurs Get Drunk, When Animals Attack Magicians) and fake British comedies (Do Shut Up, Shut your Gob, Pardon My Zinger). But the most frequent flashes of brilliance come from two of Springfield's most popular programs: The local news show Eye on Springfield, with crack newsman Kent Brockman, and the uber-violent "children's" cartoon, The Itchy and Scratchy Show, which airs as part of Krusty the Clown's show.
Itchy and Scratchy:
Eye on Springfield:
Community thrives on complex, self-referential stories and meta gags. Cougarton Abbey, for instance, is reported to be the British show that real-life TBS series Cougar Town was based on — a British show that lasted only six episodes, and ended with a mass suicide by all the characters. Even more intricate was Community's version of Doctor Who, called Inspector Spacetime, in which the title character and his sidekick Constable Reggie travel around time and space in a phone booth and fight Blorgons. Inspector Spacetime grew so popular with Community fans that it even inspired its own web series, but that's nothing compared to the Troy and Abed's frequent re-enactments on the show:
Troy and Abed reenactment:
How good is Arrested Development at making up TV shows? So good that Netflix made some of them "available" on its streaming site as a way to generate buzz for this spring's new set of episodes. (Sadly, the links just redirect back to the Arrested Development page.) The best examples include George Sr.'s Jewish prison motivational series Caged Wisdom and the barely-disguised Girls Gone Wild knock-off Girls with Low Self-Esteem, which later spun off into Families with Low Self-Esteem. And, of course, there's the Judge Judy-inspired court show Mock Trial with J. Reinhold, hosted by actor Judge Reinhold (with William Hung singing the theme song as part of the "Hung Jury").
Mock Trial with J. Reinhold
How I Met Your Mother
A long-running gag on How I Met Your Mother involves Robin Scherbatsky's checkered past as Canadian teen pop icon Robin Sparkles. With hits like "Let's Go To The Mall" and "Sandcastles in the Sand," Robin Sparkles is a fairly dead-on representation of 80s/90s teen idols. But in addition to her less-than-stellar musical career, the character is also used to spoof pop-star-centric TV shows with Space Teens, in which a hockey-stick-toting Robin Sparkles uses long division to catch a "space burglar." In a more recent episode, HIMYM spoofed the inevitable decline of Robin's pop career with Underneath the Tunes, Canada's answer to Behind The Music, in which a bitter Robin Sparkles reinvents herself as Robin Daggers.
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