Yesterday, we read a great article over at NPR entitled “In A Fragmented Cultureverse, Can Pop References Still Pop?,” which ruminates on the way insider references work in our wide-sprawling cultural consciousness. Here at Flavorpill, we’re (obviously) big fans of the pop culture reference, and the article got us thinking about all our favorite cultural inside jokes — in particular, a few of our favorite TV episodes that pay homage to other great cultural artifacts. After the jump, our picks for the greatest pop culture homage TV episodes — but since taste is everything, and we haven’t watched all the television we probably should have, be sure to add to our list in the comments!
Community — “Critical Film Studies” (My Dinner with Andre)
Not only is this episode a wonderful homage to My Dinner with Andre, but it also features a B-plot where all the characters dress up as characters from Pulp Fiction and manages to be a stellar episode in terms of character development and pure fun. My Dinner with Andre is popular homage bait (Frasier did it memorably as well), perhaps because of its simplicity — it’s just two people talking about life over dinner. But Community did it so well that in the end, it turned out to be a bit more than just a gag.
Psych — “Dual Spires” (Twin Peaks)
Oh, man. We don’t normally watch Psych, but this montage is pretty masterful. Of course, there is a mysterious murder (“Who killed Paula Merral?” asks UnderTheNail.com) in a small town filled with bizarre characters. But the episode also features seven original Twin Peaks cast members (and boy has Bobby gone gray!) and a billion references that will make fans chuckle into their apple cider. Required viewing.
The Simpsons — “Cape Feare” (Cape Fear)
Though it may be past its heyday, The Simpsons is still probably the king of pop culture references in the television world. One of our favorites is their full episode spoof of Cape Fear, wherein Sideshow Bob stands in for Max Cady, getting out of jail only to try to kill Bart. There are several wonderful direct scene recreations (that stalk away from the prison!) and a few nods to other horror films that are just icing on the cake.
30 Rock — “Succession” (Amadeus)
Tracy Morgan as Mozart? Sure, if his “classical music” is “pornographic video games,” that does make total sense. Which makes Frank Antonion Salieri and the music for the episode incredible.
The X-Files — “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (Frankenstein)
This episode, one of the best of the fifth season, if not the entire show, tackles the mythos of Frankenstein, with particular emphasis on James Whale’s 1931 film, with bits of Shelley’s novel thrown in. Mulder and Scully investigate stories of a monster, The Great Mutato, who may have forcefully impregnated a middle-aged woman in rural Indiana. In the end, they all go to a Cher concert. The episode was nominated for seven awards at the 1998 Emmys, and won for Outstanding Art Direction.
Dawson’s Creek — “Detention” (The Breakfast Club)
Oh, whatever, don’t pretend you never liked Dawson’s Creek. Or The Breakfast Club, for that matter. Since the show is about a teenage movie-freak, obviously the parody is super aware of itself, but that just adds to the fun. Also, extra points for Joshua Jackson as Pacey on The Mighty Ducks: “Emilio Estevez, he was in those duck movies, remember? God, those were classics.” So meta right now.
Felicity — “Help for the Lovelorn” (The Twilight Zone)
We can’t help it — we love when shows do black and white. And when we heard that voice-over, ending with ”Felicity Porter, making a phone call that will change her life forever,” we were totally sunk on this one. Sure, it doesn’t quite reach the levels of creep that the original does, but it’s amazing how strange things can get in the absence of color.
Scrubs — “My House” (House)
Though “My Screw Up” is a much better episode, maybe the show’s best, and is technically an homage to The Sixth Sense, you wouldn’t necessarily think of it unless you were told. So we’re going with “My House,” in which the already decidedly ornery Dr. Cox hurts his foot and has to walk around with a cane solving the strange mysteries of the day. This one had been coming for a while, so we’re glad they aired it out.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer — “School Hard” (Die Hard)
This isn’t a complete homage by any means, but how could we resist putting Buffy on here? Well, we couldn’t, especially when it’s the episode that introduces Spike and Drusilla. But given the title, and that whole rogue fighter saving civilians trapped in a building by thugs and getting around by climbing through air ducts thing, this homage is good enough for us.
Community – “Basic Lupine Urology” (Law and Order)
Yes, another Community episode, this time excellently spoofing Law and Order — so well that it would pretty much work as a textbook example of the show if it wasn’t, you know, another show.