So, do you subscribe to the theory that when a TV show parodies another TV show it is a sign of desperation or a sign that the show is trying to extend its artistic ambition? Or does it depend on the execution? The fact is that a fair number of popular television shows have gotten mileage by satirizing the conventions of another popular television show. What’s nice about the parody episode concept is that it gives your show a chance to stretch its legs a little and walk in another show’s moccasins which can result in a brand new way of looking at the show doing the parody.
“Psych” has parodies a number of TV shows and movies, but for my money the best yet was “Dual Spires.” Not just because the whole feeling of the fake psychic and the real sidekick visiting a strange little town in the mountains captured the eerie unreality of “Twin Peaks” but also because so many of the actual actors from that cult show appeared on this episode of “Psych.” The actors who originated the roles of Laura Palmer, Bobby Briggs and Audrey Horne all appear on this “Psych” parody of “Twin Peaks.” Even the brilliant Ray Wise–Laura Palmer’s dancing dad–makes one of his occasional appearances on the show.
The episode in which “The X-Files” parodies “Cops” is one of the best examples of how such a concept can be used to allow an existing show to break free from its traditional structure and stretch its aesthetic arms. This episode follows Mulder and Scully on a typical monster of the week investigation, but within the handheld camera structure of “Cops.” Mulder and Scully actually address the camera at various points and the integrity of allowing the audience to only get the same kind access to their conversations that would be allowed by a film crew is never compromised. “The X-Files” itself was parodied to a much lesser degree during episodes of both “Home Improvement” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”
Chicago Hope/Entertainment Tonight
An episode of “Chicago Hope” was not dissimilar to that episode of “The X-Files.” The parody episode of the hospital drama begins with the unexpected death of a popular actor on a TV show not considerably unlike “Touched by an Angel.” So you’ve got a satirical jab at one TV show by another right there. In keeping with the meta-textual component kicked off by that allusion, this entire episode of “Chicago Hope” is then presented within the frame of an episode of “Entertainment Tonight” complete with anchoring duties being done by then-host Bob Goen. Where the parody episode of “Chicago Hope” differs from that of “The X-Files” is the compromise of reality. Audiences gain access to conversations between characters that are highly unlikely to have been actually been taped by a real “Entertainment Tonight” crew.
“The Simpsons” is, of course, the king of parody episodes. An entire episode is structured in the form of a “Behind the Music” feature from VH-1. More subtly ambitious is the episode “24 Minutes” which parodies the show “24.” This episode of “The Simpsons” features split screens with action taking place in different locations and from multiple perspectives.
Community/Law & Order/Animated Christmas Special/Doctor Who/The Civil War
“Community” is to live action parody what “The Simpsons” is to animated parody. This brilliantly uber-meta show pretty much does some kind of parody in at least half its episodes. Then there are the episodes totally devoted to parody. One of the Christmas episodes of “Community” is done completely in Claymation with all the characters intact but in clay form. An investigation into destroyed a science project perfectly satirizes the deadpan nature of “Law & Order.” A pillow fight sets the stage for an episode that parodies Ken Burns’ groundbreaking documentary “The Civil War.” I could go on, but I suggest you check out “Community.”