Top 16 Best TV Shows Within a Show
Americans watch a lot of TV — so much, in fact, that our beloved TV characters also watch TV. Gotta keep the shows realistic and relatable, right?
Unfortunately, a lot of the programs that exist only in our favorite fictional universes would be so much better than the garbage here in the real world. Wouldn’t you rather watch “Mock Trial With J. Reinhold” than “Judge Judy”? Or “Whoopsie Daisy” instead of “The View”? And, for that matter, wouldn’t you rather watch “The Murder of Gonzago” than “The Vagina Monologues”?
The trope has existed in some form since the days of Shakespeare, but it was with the advent of television that it became a common narrative device in storytelling — as well a vehicle to deliver hilarious characters, side plots, and cultural commentary. Here are some of our favorites:
“Sick Sad World” (“Daria”)
If you were a cynical person with a wry sense of humor and a slight superiority complex who came of age in the ’90s, chances are you loved “Daria.” And there wasn’t a fan of the series out there who didn’t wish that Jane and Daria’s show of choice, “Sick Sad World,” were actually real. Covering topics ranging from psychic Nazi hunters to ghost hookers, “Sick Sad World” is like “Coast to Coast AM” on your TV screen at prime time, instead of on your car radio at 2:45 am.
“All My Circuits” (“Futurama”)
The trite story lines and overacting of real soap operas meet an all-robot cast in “All My Circuits.” Technology may improve by the year 3000, but low-brow entertainment will always be in demand.
“The Itchy & Scratchy Show” (“The Simpsons”)
“The Itchy & Scratchy Show” is actually a “show within a show within a show,” given that it’s part of the fictional “The Krusty the Clown Show” that Bart and Lisa watch on “The Simpsons.” Based on violent cat-and-mouse cartoons such as “Tom and Jerry” and “Herman and Katnip,” the satirical duo of Itchy and Scratchy have set an even higher bar for ultra-violence. Is it possible to watch the point of the Seattle Space Needle land in Scratchy’s pupil without flinching?
“Vermont Today” (“Newhart”)
In a season two episode of “Newhart,” Bob Newhart’s character Dick Loudon is offered a slot on a local television channel to host his own show. The low-rated talk show, “Vermont Today,” gently pokes fun at those in rural areas, tackling topics such as “the world’s smallest horse.” And yes, if such a show were to actually be broadcast live in Vermont, there is no doubt that a number of people would indeed call in to contest the claim.
“Muddy Mudskipper Show” (“The Ren & Stimpy Show”)
With a theme song that parodies old Donald Duck cartoons and a titular character that lampoons Woody Woodpecker in name and jaded vaudevillian comedians in personality, “The Muddy Mudskipper Show” is a brilliant piece of satire in every facet. Even though the show was created by John Kricfalusi as a comment on the lack of originality and low quality of the bulk of children’s programming, it would have made a pretty solid series even outside the realm of Ren and Stimpy.
“The Terrance and Phillip Show” (“South Park”)
Another comment on low-brow children’s programming, “The Terrance and Phillip Show” also manages to take swipes at Canadians and overprotective parents. Like many shows within shows, it uses hyperbole to make its point, and ends up being hilarious.
“Queen of Jordan” (“30 Rock”)
Acting as social commentary of our housewife-obsessed reality TV landscape, “Queen of Jordan” did its best to completely shred all of the foul tropes that have become a hallmark of the genre, only to emerge 1,000 times more watchable than the real thing. The show was headlined by Sheri Shepherd and showcased everything from infighting and backstabbing, to cheating and catchphrases. It excelled both as a cultural indictment and as a celebration of ignorance.
“MILF Island” (“30 Rock”)
Another send up of reality TV, “MILF Island” pretty much delivered what it promised: “25 Super-hot moms, 50 eighth grade boys, no rules.” Of course, the allure of this premise proved to be too much for the characters of “30 Rock,” delaying any progress until the fictional writing team could watch the season finale.