Very rarely on TV are there shows that cross over to other shows, unless it happens to be between spin offs. When they do, it tends to be a special event across whatever network hosts the two shows, establishing a common universe shared between the shows on CBS, for example. But there are a handful of cult shows out there that make a point of referencing each other, sharing cast and in-jokes. If you’re a fan of one, it’s more than likely you’re a fan of at least one of the others, and you may have noticed a certain tendency toward the meta. Here is a guide to six shows that share an unofficial meta universe.
6. Frisky Dingo
Frisky Dingo is an animated series about a playboy millionaire named Xander Crews and his superhero alter ego Awesome X. He would rather fight crime awesomely than run his multimillion dollar business, but there aren’t any more super villains to fight, so he becomes a secret investor to a new villain named Killface. Creator and writer Adam Reed has a very unique sense of humor that can be recognized throughout his shows, and here we see Xander Crews as a sort of prototype Sterling Archer. Reed likes shows about ineffectual or inappropriate characters with important jobs, and that certainly describes both Xander Crews and Killface.
5. Sealab 2021
Adam Reed also created this underwater adventure series about a group of scientists who run an underwater lab. If you want to know what kind of show it is and what the characters are like, perhaps the only thing you need to know is that the episodes typically end with Sealab blowing up. Sealab is populated by absolutely useless and petty people, led by the most ridiculous and ineffectual member of all, Captain Hank Murphy. Murphy would later show up as a guest character in a two part episode of Archer, another Adam Reed series.
4. Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law
This show about ex-superheroes and super villains finding a second career at a law firm was created by a couple of writers for Space Ghost Coast to Coast, a show for which Adam Reed also wrote. The show centers around a character named Harvey Birdman (Gary Cole) and the various famous cartoon and comic book characters he finds himself representing in court (The Jetsons, Scooby Doo, Yogi Bear, etc). There is a strange sort of continuity to this mostly episodic series, with the odd throwaway details and the absurd events the things that carry through from one episode to another. Gary Cole would later guest star on Archer as Special Agent Hawley and also as Sergeant Bosco on Bob’s Burgers.
3. Bob’s Burgers
Popular voice actor H. Jon Benjamin plays the main character, fry cook and restauranteur Bob Belcher. The show is about Bob and his family – his wife Linda (John Roberts), and his children Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) – trying to get their restaurant off the ground while learning life lessons through bizarre circumstances. H. Jon Benjamin also voices secret agent Sterling Archer, which makes for a pretty epic crossover in the season four opener of Archer. Mirman and Schaal also make guest appearances on Archer in the same episodes with Captain Murphy.
Adam Reed’s Archer follows a company of misfit, squabbling, and petty secret agents who work for an independent contractor formerly known as ISIS. H. Jon Benjamin leads the group as super spy Sterling Archer. In the season four opener, Archer has amnesia, grows a mustache, and has spent the last few months running a restaurant under the name of Bob, with his wife Linda (John Roberts) and his three (non-speaking) step-children, Tina, Louise, and Gene. In another episode, Captain Murphy (John Hamm) hatches an evil plot from his Sealab while Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal also guest star. In yet another episode, Gary Cole plays Special Agent Hawley and makes an elaborate joke referencing his role as Harvey Birdman. The show also features four cast members from Arrested Development as strikingly similar characters, if not immediately familiar roles. Not only does this show reference other Adam Reed shows, but it happily references the works of the rest of their cast and acknowledges industry connections and the cult television community.
1. Arrested Development
Perhaps one of the greatest cult television comedies of all time, Arrested Development didn’t only have a big impact on the evolution of sitcoms, but also on adult animation. As you may have noticed, every other show on this list is an animated series. Not only does Arrested Development share a good deal of its main cast with Archer, but the style, tone, and humor of the two shows are strikingly similar. Just like Arrested Development is about a dysfunctional family, so in a sense is every other show on this list. And the deeper you get into these shows, the more you recognize the nods and hints and in-jokes shared between them, almost like they’re all part of the same unique, subtle, and surprising universe.