The Light from the TV Shows: TGS: 30 Great Shows (That Don’t Actually Exist)

With “30 Rock” departing the airwaves after a not-unrespectable seven seasons – a particularly incredible achievement when you consider what an incredibly off-the-wall, insider-y sort of sitcom it was throughout its run – it seemed only appropriate to offer up some sort of tribute to the show in this week’s column. Unfortunately, since everyone else seems to have swiped all of the good angles that are 100% show-specific (indeed, I actually wrote a piece on the 30 best “30 Rock” guest stars for the “Today” blog, The Clicker), I had to think a little bit outside the box, but since a key aspect of the series was its show within a show, “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” it seemed like a perfectly reasonable concept to spotlight 30 of TV’s great fictional TV series. Lord knows these aren’t all of them, of course. Hell, even limiting myself to a one-fake-TV-series-per-real-TV-series rule…with the only exception being “30 Rock,” which seemed only fair, given the reason for the list in the first place…there are still thousands of omissions, so feel free to offer up your personal favorites that didn’t make the cut, “Family Guy” fans. (There’ve been so many on that show, I didn’t even know where to start.)

1. TGS with Tracy Jordan (“30 Rock”)

For those who can remember back to the pilot of “30 Rock,” Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) was originally in charge of a not-terribly-great sketch comedy series called “The Girlie Show,” but when GE’s new Head of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming, Jack Donaghy made an executive decision to add the completely unpredictable Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) to the show, the comedian’s ego necessitated a change in the show’s title to feature his name more prominently. 136 episodes later, we’ve scarcely seen a single “TGS” sketch in its entirety, and what bits we have seen have rarely been funny (at least not intentionally), but the shenanigans surrounding the series have been consistently hysterical.

2. The Alan Brady Show (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”)

Dick Van Dyke has discussed on many occasions how many TV writers have come up to him over the years and told him that the biggest reasons they decided to break into the business in the first place was because Rob Petrie and his cronies on Alan Brady’s variety show made it look like one of the most entertaining occupations in the world. Strangely, he hasn’t spoken nearly as much about how many of those writers finished their comments by yelling, “Thanks for nothing, you big liar!” I’m betting it’s about 50/50.

By the way, although “The Alan Brady Show” wasn’t real, the folks at MeTV talked Carl Reiner into doing a promo for the addition of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to their line-up where he reprised the character. Funny stuff.

3. Invitation to Love (“Twin Peaks”)

If you’re not a David Lynch obsessive, you may not remember this soap opera, but those with keen eyes will recall that it turned up at least once in each of the first seven episodes of “Twin Peaks.” It’s also worth noting that “Invitation to Love” pointedly features identical-twin characters played by the same actress, which – in no way coincidentally – was more or less what Sheryl Lee did as Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson.

4. The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (“Spongebob Squarepants”)

The best bit about this cartoon-with-a-cartoon was the fact that the “Spongebob” show runners reunited former “McHale’s Navy” co-stars Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway to prove the characters’ respective voices. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

5. The Terrence and Phillip Show (“South Park”)

Disproving a longstanding theory that Canadians can’t be funny while cementing the not-really-in-question suspicion that farts are always funny, it need only be said that Terrence and Phillip are a stone-cold gas. Sadly, this clip is from their movie, “Asses of Fire,” rather than their series, but it’s basically the same thing. Y’know, except filthier. Much, much filthier.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Eric Ladin (“The Killing”)

If you’ve been trying to figure out why Eric Ladin, who plays Jamie Wright on AMC’s “The Killing,” looks familiar to you but can’t quite pin down why, maybe this will help: in addition to being one of the cast members of HBO’s critically acclaimed miniseries “Generation Kill,” he’s also turned up in a few episodes of “Mad Men,” playing Betty Draper’s brother. Now, however, he’s back to playing Darren Richmond’s campaign manager on “The Killing,” which – as you may already be aware – returned to AMC for its second season on Sunday night. Unfortunately, the ratings weren’t necessarily what you’d call stellar, but Ladin’s enthusiasm about what viewers can expect during the course of the series’ sophomore year may prove infectious.

Bullz-Eye: So are you psyched that “The Killing” is finally back?

Eric Ladin: I am. It’s about time! I think everybody is.

BE: Of course, you realize that a lot of people are really just desperate at this point to find out definitively who killed Rosie Larson.

EL: I do realize that, yeah. [Laughs.] I’ve been reminded of that quite a lot over the last nine months.

BE: Were you shocked at the outcry about the lack of resolution in the season finale?

EL: I was, a little bit. I knew that there would definitely be some people that were upset, but I didn’t foresee the hatred and…just the pure venom that was spat towards our writers. [Laughs.] Yeah, I was a little shocked by that.

BE: At least there was a small but somewhat vocal group that was reminded people that we didn’t find out who killed Laura Palmer until the second season of “Twin Peaks.”

EL: That’s correct. And if you ask David Lynch, he’ll probably tell you that the biggest mistake he made was telling people who killed her at all. I think he said – this was in an interview I read – that if he was able to do it again, he’d never tell who the killer was. So, yeah, I don’t believe that there was anywhere that said that you were guaranteed to find the killer in Season 1, but by the same token, I think that AMC’s PR probably could’ve handled it a speck differently. With that said, as a TV viewer, I would not have expected to find the killer in Season 1. So I guess there’s that.

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The Light from the TV Shows: “Game of Thrones” begins anew (and so does “The Killing”)

As we enter into the final quarter of the traditional broadcast TV season, where many of the mid-season entries are already beginning to wrap up their runs (“Alcatraz,” for example, aired its two-hour finale on Monday) and most of the series that kicked off way back in the fall are in that depressing twilight period just prior to their last run of new episodes before season’s end, many of your favorite premium cable programs are taking advantage of the semi-lull by coming back with a vengeance.

This past Sunday, of course, AMC brought us the return of “Mad Men,” which you probably already knew, since it managed to pull in 3.5 million viewers, a none-too-shabby increase of 21 percent over the series’ previous season premiere. This Sunday, the network has another series coming back, though it’s probably safe to presume that the numbers won’t be nearly as impressive for this one. But, look, if your excuse for not liking “The Killing” is that they didn’t resolve Rosie Larsen’s murder by the end of the season, go peddle your wares somewhere else, because I’m tired of hearing people whine about that. So what if it hasn’t been resolved yet? A show’s allowed to keep its viewers in suspense, isn’t it? If you didn’t like it because you thought it was boring, that’s one thing. If you’re really complaining because the producers promised “a very, very satisfying ending to Season 1” and reneged on that promise, though, I say that you may be well within your rights to be frustrated, but don’t say, “Ugh, they lied, therefore the show sucks,” because that’s just lame.

I do think AMC must be resigned to the return of “The Killing” being slaughtered both by the critics and in the ratings, however, since even though it’s coming back this Sunday night at 8 PM for a two-hour season premiere, the homepage of the network’s press resource center is still busy trumpeting last week’s return of “Mad Men.” For my part, while I do think the series dragged quite a bit in places and reached the point of ridiculousness with how many times Sarah Linden bailed on her planned departure (if I was Ray McDeere, I probably would’ve broken off my engagement to Sarah somewhere around Episode 1.3), I was perpetually gripped whenever Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton were portraying parental grief, and I am steadfast in my disagreement with anyone who says that Episode 1.11 (“Missing”) was an unnecessary detour away from the case, because that may have been my favorite episode since the pilot. If you didn’t like that episode, you probably also watched “Twin Peaks” and complained about how they spent too much time focusing on Audrey Horne when they could’ve been figuring out who killed Laura Palmer…and I’m here to tell you that you can never spend too much time focusing on Audrey Horne.

Quick sidebar: if you didn’t watch “Twin Peaks,” this is Audrey Horne:

This concludes your moment of Sherilyn Fenn zen. We now return to our regularly scheduled column…provided we can all get our concentration back.

Oh, right, now I remember where I was…

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