Don’t know how you feel about them, but we at TVWriter™ love TV shows within TV shows. There’s something about the absolute falsity of such a situation that drives LB wild with delight, and a delighted LB is, well, he’s a much easier boss to work for, if you know what we mean.
Anyway, we don’t know how we missed this article when it came out way back in August, but here’s a look at some great shows that aren’t really shows or are they:
LB’S NOTE: A quick heads-up. The pic we’re using to illustrate this article is of a show within a show that placed 13th with Paste Magazine but has been, from the moment I first saw it on Community, absolutely numero uno with me – Travis Richey’s Inspector Spacetime. So:
by Amy Amatangelo and Paste TV Writers
If you’re reading this, my guess is that you love watching TV. And guess what? Your favorite TV characters love watching TV, too. One of TV’s most delightful inside jokes comes in the form of the show-with-in-a-show: the faux comedy, drama or reality program that plays in the background as the characters continue on with their lives. The show that they just can’t stop talking about and gather around to watch.
These embedded wink-winks—including the most recent, Kev’Yn, a Martin-inspired sitcom revival that appears in the new season of Insecure—are a way for showrunners to slyly communicate with the audience, respond to viewer criticism, or comment on a particular aspect of pop-culture or the television industry. Sometimes they’re just trying to make us laugh.
Here are our 15 favorite shows within a show. Note: This list includes only shows the characters watch, not fictional shows the characters star in—so no TGS from 30 Rock or Seeing Red from The Comeback (sorry, Valerie!) You’ll have to keep an eye out for those on our upcoming list of the best backstage TV shows.
15. Vidas del Fuego
Show: Ugly Betty
The ABC dramedy was itself based on the popular Colombian telenovela Yo Soy Betty La Fea, so it made total sense that Betty (America Ferrera) and the rest of the Suarez clan would be hooked on Vidas del Fuego, which centered on a pregnant maid who is having an affair with her priest and a stepmother seducing her stepson in order to get control of the family fortune. A telenovela inside a telenovela is the TV version of those Russian nesting dolls, and it was perfect. In a forward-thinking move at the time (this was back in 2006), ABC even offered weekly webisodes of Vidas del Fuego. We’re sorry/not sorry we watched. —Amy Amatangelo
14. The Terrence and Phillip Show
Show: South Park
If South Park was knocked for its elementary animation and immature humor, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker doubled down with The Terrence and Phillip Show, which makes South Park seem like something from Studio Ghibli by comparison. The crass Canadian stick figures are to the parents of South Park, Colo., what Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny are to the real-world parents who write off South Park as an obscene waste of time. After 21 seasons, Stone and Parker have explored the world behind the show within the show to the point that Sir Phillip Niles Argyle and Sir Terrance Henry Stoot have gone from two kids yelling “You FAH-ted!” to Buddhist monks and Nobel Peace Prize winners. So there’s hope for Cartman yet. —Josh Jackson
13. Inspector Spacetime
The incredibly British and incredibly fake Doctor Who parody Inspector Spacetime helped strengthen Community’s most affecting friendship. Though Abed (Danny Pudi) learned of the show from Britta (Gillian Jacobs), it’s through Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed’s appreciation of the multi-incarnate (and sometimes very sexy) time-and-space traveling Inspector that the show within the show found its place in the tightknit group of friends. Fighting cybernetic Blorgons with a Quantum Spanner is one thing, but providing a specific interior fandom for a show that spawned a cultish fandom of its own made two of its characters even more relatable to Community viewers. Plus, the “Inspector Spacetime Christmas Special” is a hilarious jab at Star Wars inside of a larger stab at Doctor Who. No geeky sci-fi property is safe. —Jacob Oller