This past weekend, Spike TV re-ran a marathon of first season of The Joe Schmo Show, their 2003 sendup of reality television that took an average dude and placed him at the center of a totally staged reality competition called Lap of Luxury, then documented his hapless unawareness, Truman Show-style. Watching it a second time after several years, I’d forgotten exactly how good it was; though the show did get a second season, it was hard to top that first outing for sheer parody excellence. (Coupled with clueless, affable likeability of Matt Kennedy Gould, the eponymous schmo. And lest we forget, it was our first peek at the manic stylings of Kristen Wiig, who played the resident quack-doctor contestant. That talent show bit where she worked out her “issues” with dolls? Genius.)
You could probably make the argument that The Joe Schmo Show, in its entirety, is one of the most thorough parodies of television that has ever been filmed, especially now that reality TV in all its… um… glory has long since become a lampoon of itself. But satire of television, though rarely stretched out over an entire season, is a tradition that has long standing roots in the sketch-comedy format. Whether skewering straight dramas, golden-era TV classics or other brain-free reality entertainment, TV is rarely as funny as when it’s poking fun at itself. That got me to thinking about the best of the best; here are a few personal favorites over the years:
“The Merv Griffith Show” (SCTV): It’s hard to pick just one TV sendup from SCTV’s pantheon of sketch brilliance. The show had dozens, being based in the realm of TV as it was; in the end, it was a horse race between this one and the amazing “Benny Hill Street Blues”. But I spent enough time in my childhood watching both Andy Griffith and Merv Griffin’s talk show for this one to slay me every time. Plus, Eugene Levy’s impression of Floyd the Barber? Dead. On.
“The Grungies” (The Ben Stiller Show): Again, tough to choose one TV parody from Stiller’s all-too-brief run of sketch comedy on Fox. “Melrose Heights” was a corker, too. But for time capsule perfection, this mash-up of the popularity of grunge rock in the early 90’s with a perfectly-pitched satire of The Monkees is hard to beat. Stiller should have rocked the hairy Chris Cornell look a little more in real life. It kinda suits him.
“Halle Berry 911” (The Chris Rock Show): Take Chris Rock doing his own spin on Shatner’s po-faced Rescue 911 schtick and combine it with the tabloid headlines of Halle Berry’s 2000 hit-and-run accident, and what do you get? Comedy platinum, that’s what. The stock footage edited in here to give it the urgency of that re-enactment show aesthetic is superb. So is Wanda Sykes. (“I seen you, Halle Berry!”)
“The A-Team” (Shooting Stars): Chances are good that if you live outside of the UK, you haven’t seen Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s hilarious comedy quiz show, which frequently integrated parody sketches in between the question rounds. For the uninitiated, here’s all you need to know: A short but razor-sharp takeoff on the total ineptitude of every A-Team villain ever. Plus, pre-Little Britain Matt Lucas as Mr. T. With a tiny Burberry “wash bag.” Classic.
“Twin Peaks” (Saturday Night Live): Because NBC Universal are pretty Gestapo-like about their material being freely available on the ‘net, a lot of SNL’s amazing TV parodies over the decades are harder to find and embed than other shows. The chat show sendups are particularly dear, from Dan Aykroyd’s Tom Snyder through Dana Carvey’s John McLaughlin. (“Wrrrong! You all had Special K with bananas!”) But because I’m a Twin Peaks fanatic – and because it features a cornucopia of early-90’s SNL talent, from Hartman to Nealon to Farley to Hooks, and even a wordless Conan O’Brien – the Peaks parody from Kyle MacLachlan’s hosting gig in 1990 is my all-time favorite. Thankfully, even though I can’t embed it here, you can watch it in quality Quicktime on MacLachlan’s official website. Oh, Agent Cooper… don’t ever stop making me love you. *sigh*
As stated, these are just personal preferences – what are your favorite TV parodies, Nerdist readers?