Fourth wall jokes. Secret references. General tomfoolery. It’s great when shows take a step back and allow us to have a little extra fun with them. Sometimes it’s just a harmless goof—other times it’s actually deepening the story and our relationship to the characters. Here are a few times our favorite television shows let us in on the joke too.
Of course, this isn’t a complete list by any means—TV is so good at poking fun at itself!—these are just some of our favorite self-aware, silly TV episodes. Be sure to let us know some of your personal picks in the comments!
Looney Tunes is the gold standard of self-aware silliness on television. It set the bar for fourth wall breaks, in-jokes, and just about every other hallmark of classic kids TV. This early episode of Hey Arnold paid tribute to the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?” by putting its characters in the middle of their own epic opera. Adding silly, kid-friendly lyrics to classic works like Carmen and Pagliacci, this episode was both educational and entertaining (I wonder if there’s a word for that?). Plus, it’s only 15 minutes long so it’s an easy way to get a chuckle during your afternoon work break.
In this groundbreaking and adorable episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the crew went back in time to the events of Star Trek: The Original Series to stop a Klingon spy from blowing up the Enterprise. Using creative production design and original footage, Deep Space Nine successfully inserted itself into the classic “Trouble With Tribbles” episode—making for some great self-aware humor about the original series, and some unique interplay with the original stars.
3) “Say Uncle” (Steven Universe)
The second season of Steven Universe opened with a giant April Fools’ gag, bringing the worlds of Steven Universe and Uncle Grandpa together for a wacky crossover that put the Crystal Gems way outside of their comfort zone. From talking pizza slices to video game battles and a literal plot hole, everything about this episode was nothing you’d ever expect. But don’t worry: As Uncle Grandpa himself puts it: “None of this is canon.”
A lot of people will cite the paintball episodes when talking about Community’s self-awareness, and those are a lot of fun. But another standout is the holiday special “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” Much like Eureka did before, Community brought its characters into claymation for a holiday extravaganza, this time through Abed’s imagination, which he was using as a coping mechanism against trauma. The most interesting part was that Abed was aware that that’s what he was doing, but chose to believe in the magic anyway.
5) “Roll With It” (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power)
This season two episode of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power had the princesses figuring out a complicated battle strategy the only logical way they could: through a tabletop roleplaying game. As each character went through their plan, we got some fantastic jokes about the best and worst things about our heroes—including a tongue-in-cheek nod to the original She-Ra television series. And come on: Who doesn’t love Sea-Ra?
6) “Quack Pack” (DuckTales)
This episode, which recently debuted on Disney XD, tore through several layers of “meta” by trapping Donald Duck and his nephews inside of a television sitcom. It spoofed everything from modern sitcoms to the Disney Afternoon, and went to great lengths to make the strangeness of their new reality feel as weird (and funny) as possible—actor Don Cheadle even returned to voice Quack Pack reality Donald Duck, which added a whole layer of WTF on top of it.
Supernatural tends to be more serious than silly. That temporarily changed with “ScoobyNatural,” a ridiculous episode that brought Dean and Sam to the animated world of the Mystery Gang to stop a real ghost that had invaded the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You episode “A Night of Fright Is No Delight.” Full of giant sandwiches, eye rolls, and nods to the fact that these guys don’t need to take everything so seriously, it was a fun trip into supernatural nostalgia.
8) “Total Rickall” (Rick and Morty)
Rick and Morty may be one of the most self-aware shows out there: It knows exactly what it’s doing and will always remind you it’s in on the joke too. One of the top examples would be “Total Rickall,” where the house is invaded by a series of parasitic replicating guest stars, each with their own beloved connection to the main characters. It’s only by recognizing that they don’t have a “bad” memory of the person do they realize that it’s not someone they care about. Because Rick and Morty knows its characters all hate each other in one way or another—except for Mr. Poopybutthole. Temporary RIP.
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