September 19, 2018

A montage I'd like to see on YouTube: TV characters watching TV and talking about how TV is like or not like real life.

For example, in "Friends," the friends are watching TV, and the character Joey — who is an actor (played, of course, by an actor) — says: "It really hit me last night. I'm gonna be on 'Days of our Lives.' And then I started thinkin' about all of you, and how these are the days of our lives.”

That's from "The One With the Lesbian Wedding" in Season 2. As you may know, I've been given the box set of the complete episodes of "Friends" and I am watching them all. Here's the uncut script of that episode.

There must be a hundred examples of characters on TV watching TV and speaking as if they are real people and saying something about the TV/reality distinction, giving us the joke of seeing them on TV while we're here in reality. For all I know, there's a sitcom where the characters are watching that episode of "Friends" and hearing and commenting on that very line "these are the days of our lives."

Could somebody else collect all those examples and make a montage for me?

By the way, back in the 90s, that line would be called "going meta," and it was a very popular comic device. Maybe it got overused and trite and was largely abandoned, and I'm liking it in a kind of retro-throwback-ironic way. Nostalgic for going meta?! What a concept!

There's other going meta just in that episode. For example, Marlo Thomas is playing Jennifer Aniston's character's mother, and Marlo ("Mrs. Green") keeps enthusing about how she wants to live like her daughter ("Rachel") — single, free, in NYC. This involves getting a divorce from Rachel's father. Rachel says, "Couldn't she have just copied my haircut?" That's funny because in real life, the Rachel haircut was the rage. A photograph of Rachel was probably the most-shown-to-a-hairstylist photograph ever.

If you think too much about "going meta" you'll be ready to close the door on it again too. Go ahead, shut that door. It's over there. In the fourth wall.

45 comments:

JZ said...

Got my coffee. Let's see what Althouse is blogging about. "Friends"? A box set of every "Friends" episode! Extra credit for being different.

Ann Althouse said...

Hang on, JZ. I've got something to say about Judge Kavanaugh in a minute. But first things first!

MayBee said...

It's also funny because it's That Girl saying she wants to be single and free in NY.

MayBee said...

But she had Ted, and as a young girl watching the show I hated Ted.

tcrosse said...

In Sunset Blvd Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson, watches an old Gloria Swanson movie that was directed by Eric von Stroheim, who plays her old Director. How's that for Meta?

rhhardin said...

Lautreamont's Maldodor is a series of metaphorical portrayals of the relation between writer and reader, occasionally at that very moment. Lykiard's translation is best.

wildswan said...

Last night I was thinking about Ben Rhodes and the article in the NYT about him (yesterday blog) which suggests that he saw all his work in the White House as creating a narrative like a fiction writer and then spreading this narrative around the media through various tricks he knew - Twitter people, White House, State department deep backgrounds for reporters, etc. and creating an echo chamber for his narrative. So then we were all in his narrative and also reading or watching it. Then comes the election of 2016 and the characters that he has created get up off the page, so to speak, and stand around where he is writing and argue with him about the motives he attributes to them and the plot he wants them to enact. In the end he goes and sits outside the Hillary Clinton venue at two in the morning realizing his narrative as it has been read up to that moment has been altered by this ending. He reads the story we wrote trying to understand it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmTTMFAm8gM

How's that for meta?

rhhardin said...

Veep seasons 1-6 are worth the money. Buy the first and see.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I once remarked to my husband, as we were watching something on Netfix, that if OUR life was a TV show it would have the worst ratings ever! People watching us go about our normal daily routine: read, eat, work, eat, nap, work, check the internet occasionally, eat dinner, have a couple of drinks, watching us watch TV, and then got to sleep. Rinse and repeat. Other than a few trips or some (ahem) fun stuff, we are extremely ordinary and predictable.

Who would sponsor such a boring repetitive show?

Well....maybe if they did a retro show when we were (separately not married then) younger. Those were pretty exciting times. However, then neither of us could possibly be considered for Supreme Court seats, there is that :-D

Maybe the OUR show is being force fed to prisoners as punishment. That would backfire and not make them turn straight. They would probably want to go out and shoot someone.

khematite said...

In this category, I don't think anything tops George Burns' going up to his den and turning on his tv during the Burns & Allen Show to watch what Gracie Allen and/or his neighbors were up to. That allowed him to stay a step ahead of the show's plot and often to forestall Gracie's wacky schemes. Announcer Harry Von Zell and neighbors Harry and Blanche Morton were frequently baffled by Burns' mysterious knowledge of events in their private lives.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CoYC1QhjgI

Annie C said...

Didn't Archie and Edith watch television at times?

Annie C said...

Oh and on the Dick Van Dyke show they were television writers. They watched sometimes too.

tcrosse said...

The Britcom The Royle Family depicts a working-class family from the point of view of their TV set.

JAORE said...

Friends? Friends!

The show from that horribly racist (none of the lead characters were , [insert echo effect] People of Color-or-or... Where gay references were negative, and hints of male-male attraction were shown to be repulsive. Where sexual stereotyping and casual flings were laughed at?

Oh the horror!

Well thank God we've evolved from those dark days of... Ho Lee Katz... not that long ago in time, but eons in wokiness.

Darrell said...

Could somebody else collect all those examples and make a montage for me?

Unlikely. Too much trouble.

tcrosse said...

Larry Sanders would sit in bed and watch his own show.

Ann Althouse said...

@Dust Bunny Queen

That sounds like Jerry and George talking about their lives in the context of trying to write a TV show, and George exclaiming that should be the show, a "show about nothing." And they were in a sitcom which was the "show about nothing." Within the show, the show they devise turns into a much more conventional sitcom, because how could a show about nothing be popular? Wink. Wink.

Ann Althouse said...

I think "Seinfeld" episode 1 begins with George and Jerry doing their laundry and commenting on dryness and the location of the top button on a shirt.

Ann Althouse said...

"Larry Sanders would sit in bed and watch his own show."

The original was George Burns, who could watch the other characters on his TV.

Ann Althouse said...

He was seeing the scenes he wasn't in, just like we were, on his TV.

Kate said...

"But she had Ted, and as a young girl watching the show I hated Ted."

lolol -- yes! The show could only support one earnest character and Marlo already had that role.

Kate said...

And everyone wanting Rachel's hair, accordioning back in time to everyone wanting Marlo's hair, is obnoxiously meta.

rehajm said...

SEASON 2 SPOILER AHEAD: In high school in New York I heard the urban legend that there was a hermaphrodite cheerleader in another school from a girl who moved from New Jersey. Years later on Friends I learn it was Rachel!

That's about as meta as Friends gets for me...

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Althouse: George exclaiming that should be the show, a "show about nothing." And they were in a sitcom which was the "show about nothing." Within the show, the show they devise turns into a much more conventional sitcom, because how could a show about nothing be popular? Wink. Wink.

That's funny. And endless loop of talking about a possible show while in the show that you are talking about.

Seinfeld was an amusing show, to me, mainly because Jerry Seinfeld "seemed" to be standing apart from the show and characters in the show as more of an observer than participant. Watching the crazy.

SeanF said...

Not exactly what you're talking about, but there's a humorous bit at the end of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Ship in a Bottle".

After trapping the holographic character Moriarty in a small portable holodeck, Picard makes a comment about wondering if their own existence may also be no more than an illusion, running in a box, sitting on someone's desk.

The very last shot in the episode is Barclay ordering the holodeck, "Computer, end program."

Michael said...

Does anyone remember the old George Burns and Gracie Allen show from the '50's? When Gracie was up to something George would go into his den, turn on the TV, and watch the actual episode of GB/GA that he was currently living, as though his life were both happening and being shown on television at the same time. It may have been the beginning of "meta."

robother said...

Never was a fan of Heavy Meta.

Darrell said...

Michael needs to read the thread.

Rick Turley said...

I tried watching Friends a couple of times. The hysterical laughing at EVERY SINGLE LINE caused me to never turn it back on.

MayBee said...

There is a show in the UK called Gogglebox (I think- going from memory) and it is people watching tv and commenting on the show they are watching.

Mr. D said...

I’m paraphrasing, because I haven’t seen the episode in a long time, but I remember in the final episode of Cheers the gang is watching an awards show on the television and you can hear the announcer say, “now to present the next award, here’s Margaret Thatcher and LL Cool J.” And there was often dialogue between the cast members of Gilligan’s Island and the transistor radio they listen to.

Darrell said...

There is a show in the UK called Gogglebox (I think- going from memory) and it is people watching tv and commenting on the show they are watching.

And it's mandatory that the only comment you make about the show is "Brilliant!" Especially at the Guardian website.

Mark said...

There seems to be an echo here, khematite.

khematite said...


Blogger Mark said...
There seems to be an echo here, khematite.

I'd guess that not everyone reads all the previous comments before leaving their own comment--especially as the list of previous comments grows longer and longer. Happily, I can point to this as currently the worst problem in my life.

Christy said...

Wow! Now I know from whence cometh my childhood belief that God was filming everything I did and could show the parents. Some adult played that one well.

Supernatural goes meta on occasion. An angel, to hide them, throws Sam and Dean into an alternate universe where their lives are a TV show. "Who would want to watch OUR lives?"

They discover a Prophet of the Lord has been publishing their adventures in a series of pulp fiction books with rabid, and role playing, fans. In another episode they find a high school student who dramatized their life and the school is mounting the play. In still another episode they get pulled into several TV shows (a Grey's Anatomy clone, a Japanese game show ...) where they "must play their part."

Unknown said...

You want meta?

Tex Avery will give you meta, and it will be a much funnier meta than TV!

Yancey Ward said...

Tcrosse beat me to what I thought would be my unique example from Sunset Boulevard. I was also going to mention Seinfeld's sitcom within a sitcom sequence from "The Pilot".

Matt said...

"TV Characters watching TV and talking about how TV is like or not like real life."

You mean like in Hamlet? "Madam, how do you like this play?" "The Lady protests too much, methinks."

Rory said...

Not certain what you're reaching for, but there's an episode of "Taxi" where the Reverend Jim strives to perfect his cabdriving and earn more in pursuit of an unspoken goal. He finally unveils that he has purchased "Television" - a full bank of TV's playing cable, satellite, discs, news, movies that bring the whole world to him. His friends scoff, but one by one they are each captured by one of the screens, and sit down in the dark to watch.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Fun fact!

The actress who played Courtney Cox's mother in Friends (Judy Geller) is Christina Pickles.
Courtney Cox's first big movie role was as Julie Winston in the awesome/awesomely bad 1987 movie Masters of the Universe (aka "the He-Man movie"). [She'd been in the Bruce Springsteen video for Dancing In the Dark in 1984 and did some TV after that.]
Guess who played the Sorceress in Masters of the Universe? Christina Pickles. I wonder if they remembered each other.

Bonus fact: the Dancing in the Dark music video was directed by Brian De Palma! The guy who directed Scarface, Carrier, The Untouchables...also a Bruce video.

Double bonus: Dancing in the Dark is Springsteen's biggest single to date.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...For all I know, there's a sitcom where the characters are watching that episode of "Friends" and hearing and commenting on that very line "these are the days of our lives."

Licensing is expensive, though, so unless the characters are watching/referencing a show owned by the same company as theirs (both Vaicom, whatever) I bet you won't get to many real shows referenced. Same with real movies, probably.
What you see more are TV characters watching commercials (which can be faked/made easily) and watching fake newscasts/news programs. I like the trope, when used as a joke, of TV (or movie) characters turning on the news JUST as the reporter is stating in an expositional way the exact information the characters need.

Arrested Development did it well: Imagine the impact if...

mikee said...

Friends had an episode where Joey and Chandler get free porn cable channels, and after rather immersive therapy therein, are amazed that when they are out of their apartment, women don't suddenly start having sex with them.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0583608/

But I'd say the Simpsons did it first, and better. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homer_vs._Lisa_and_the_8th_Commandment

Hey, porn is a legit part of cable TV. Or so I am told by other people, who watch it.

Unknown said...

Almost any TV show that has run long enough has an episode like that or the play-in-the-play. StarGate had the Wormhole Extreme episode. Supernatural had one (alternate universe where the "real" Sam and Dean were only actors). Buffy had a couple, I think (but it's been a while).

truth speaker said...

You're gonna watch ALL of 'Freinds'? Are you bingeing a season a day/week/weekend or you gonna watch one or two at a time and stretch it out? Also, are you watching them in order?

I ask because I considered and consider the show terrible with no redeeming values. Don't think I ever saw an entire show EXCEPT for the one where they played a trivia game to decide who gets the apartment. Chandler and Joey were to only two decent characters to me.

Have fun!

Jason Greaves said...

If you are nostalgic for meta in sitcoms, try Community. Practically the entire premise of the show is "how meta can we get?"