Good news! The little show that could, the continually endangered and habitually drama-bogged NBC comedy Community, has found a second life through Yahoo! (also, Yahoo! does television?). And thanks to creator and show runner Dan Harmon and fan favorite character Abed Nadir, the show is also one of the most meta things in existence, constantly referencing other shows and genres, or referencing itself as a television show, and comparing themes and situations to those commonly found in film and television. This is how Abed connects to the world around him. And its a very modern way of connecting with the audience, very subtly breaking the fourth wall in an industry that constantly thrives to keep it intact. In a generation that increasingly relies on pop culture to understand the world and those around us, Community and its meta style resound with audiences more than the common sitcom. And to celebrate its return, here are some more meta movies and TV shows to pass the time until season six.
6. Stay Tuned (1992)
This is a pretty obscure and quirky comedy featuring John Ritter as a couch potato husband and Pam Dawber (Mork & Mindy) as his long suffering wife. When a mysterious man comes to the door and offers Ritter the greatest cable subscription of all time, he doesn’t hesitate to sign up. Unfortunately, the satellite dish sucks husband and wife into a hellish parody of the various genres and TV classics they had previously enjoyed, including the sitcom that made Ritter famous, Three’s Company – to which he reacts with horror. If that’s not meta, I don’t know what is. The movie is a collection of styles, genres, and references to real life movies and TV but with a hellish twist. It’s a lot of fun, and you really can’t go wrong with John Ritter.
5. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
This is one of the first and best movies in Robert Downey Jr.’s initial comeback period. The movie is about an accidental actor who gets wrapped up in a film noir style mystery while navigating the ins an outs of Hollywood and wooing the girl of his dreams. The movie is narrated by Downey Jr. who constantly makes reference to the fact that he is the narrator and has complete control over the course of the narrative and how its presented. The characters in the narrative live and work in Hollywood, so their situations and the people around them are often compared to movie stars or movies. At the same time, its a very intimate movie that revolves around three people who interact in a very real and endearing way with each other. It’s really a very witty and fun movie with a lot of heart and an awful lot of self-awareness.
4. Arrested Development (2003)
This is the mother of all modern sitcoms and Community owes a lot to it for planting the seeds of subtle self-awareness, meta references, and running in-jokes for modern comedy audiences. Much of what makes Arrested Development such a milestone of comedy television is also what doomed it to cancellation in its third season and alienated more conservative audiences. Funnily enough, the same can be said of Community, which probably would have been cancelled in its third season as well if not for the persistence of its loyal cult following. Arrested Development is extremely self-aware, poking fun at the things audiences disliked about the show, or doing entire episodes that centered around veiled references to the show’s cancellation, or talking about product placement while spending half the episode in a Burger King. The fourth season sadly lacks a lot of this charming self-awareness, but the first three seasons smack of it.
3. Galaxy Quest (1999)
Imagine that William Shatner and the cast of Star Trek made a movie about themselves going to Comic Conventions and then suddenly finding themselves on a real life Enterprise and expected to perform the tasks of their television selves. That’s pretty much what Galaxy Quest is like, except with a fictional show called Galaxy Quest and a different cast playing the Star Trek cast personality types. Galaxy Quest is basically an honorary Star Trek movie as it is, which makes it pretty meta, but add to that the Comic Con references and the allusions to the science fiction conventions of television and you have a pretty meta movie. The movie itself is pretty delightful, especially if you’re a Star Trek fan or know anything about the genre conventions surrounding it. Plus, Tony Shalhoub just kills it as Fred Kwan, the man who can get on board with anything. He just goes with the flow while everyone else freaks out, and it is amazing.
2. Blazing Saddles (1974)
I probably could have picked just about any Mel Brooks movie – Spaceballs, for example, has that scene where they watch Spaceballs the movie to get a sneak peek at what will happen next, and then references Spaceballs II: The Search for More Cash – so Blazing Saddles is honestly a pretty arbitrary choice on my part. Not only is it actually a pretty good western and a damn funny movie, but you have that crazy chase near the end where they burst through sound stage after sound stage on a Hollywood film lot, interrupting the filming of various genre movies. Its a rare move in film to completely take your movie out of its setting and drop it into the “real world”, completely transporting your audience and disrupting the flow of the narrative. But it works beautifully and is one of the best, most surreal moments of the movie.
1. Cabin in the Woods (2012)
This Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard production is the most meta of meta movies. Whedon and Goddard are both big fans of horror movies and took this opportunity to examine and deconstruct the conventions of the horror genre. The whole premise of the movie is that a group of college students go on a trip to a cabin in the woods, and while the students themselves defy the horror genre archetypes, there is someone behind the curtain pulling the strings and turning their innocent camping trip into a predictable horror romp. As the poster suggests, the cabin is a rubix cube of horror conventions, basically putting into play a random combination of cliches to form the basis of the horror narrative. Meanwhile, the guys pulling the strings drink coffee in their little control room and take bets on the turn of events, just another group of spectators among the horror audience. It really is one of my favorite movies of all time and such a clever and intelligent look at an often overtired and predictable genre.