What’s the only thing better than a great television show? A television show within a television show of course! It’s always fun to see the characters on TV doing the same thing you are: lounging about on the couch watching mindless entertainment. And if the program you’re watching is outlandish and crazy, then the show they’re watching is always even crazier.
Throughout the years, there have been a number of fantastic fictionalized TV shows which have picked up massive fan bases. In order to be part of this list however, the show within a show must be recognizable all on their own. They should be original and still containing an essence of the program they are a part of, while generally appearing within more than one episode.
So with that in mind, here are 15 Fake TV Shows We Wish Were Real.
15 The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy - Spongebob Squarepants
“Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy, UNITE!”
Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy are the equivalent of Batman and Robin if they wasted away in a home and then decided to squeeze back into their spandex to fight crime once more. The aquatic duo were once the powerful real life heroes of an underwater justice league, their adventures being the focus of their own TV show The Adventures of Mermaid and Barnacle Boy. Unfortunately, the heroes were not averse to aging. After growing too old to fight villains like the Atomic Flounder, they wound up in a retirement home, spending their days eating meatloaf and falling asleep watching daytime television.
That is until their biggest fan, Spongebob, irritates them enough to strike back and return to a life of crime fighting in their old age. The two are absolute scenes-stealers in every Spongebob episode they appear in. Everything from their feeble water balls, to the corny “POWs” and “BOOMS” that appear during fight sequences, to Mermaid Man frequently forgetting where he is, keeps the viewer in stitches. We’d love to see a real Adventures of Mermaid and Barnacle Boy where the two senile sea dwellers fight crime armed with the orb of confusion, conch signal, and their invisible boatmobile.
14 Inspector Spacetime (Community)
“The question isn’t where . . . but when.”
Okay, stop me when this sounds familiar. This “fake” show is about an otherworldly time traveler who is the last of his race. He uses his Dimensioniser Time Booth to travel to distant places and times across the galaxy. The alien, who is known as the Inspector, often gathers human helpers to assist him with his voyages. Together they unravel various mysteries and battle evil aliens whilst exploring the universe.
Have you guessed the show? If you answered Doctor Who you’d be wrong, as the description above is for the fictional Inspector Spacetime from Community. Obviously the “Inspector” is a direct reference to the Doctor, the star of a series which has been on the BBC airwaves since the early '60s. The writers of Community obviously have a lot of love for the British star explorer, basing this entire parody show on the Doctor Who series while lightly making fun of some of its campier elements.
In case you were wondering, Troy and Abed in the Mooooooorning was a near miss for this list.
13 Jerry (Seinfeld)
“Gentlemen, it’s a show about nothing.”
The show about nothing pitching the show about nothing. That was the premise behind the season 8 arc of Seinfeld in which Jerry and George pitched their own version of the show to NBC. Once Jerry finds out that the broadcasting company wants to work with him on something big, George comes up with the idea to write a show about absolutely nothing. Smitten with the idea, George and Jerry explain the concept to a board of NBC executives, who needless to say are a bit hesitant.
While Jerry never gets off the ground and into production, the storyline features a number of great gags like Kramer being denied the opportunity to play himself, and George getting into miniscule confrontations with his doppelganger. It would have been interesting to see a full episode of Jerry with the characters we’ve come to love being played by totally different actors. Perhaps in the never-actually-going-to-happen reunion episode?
12 Fightin’ Around the World with Russell Crowe (South Park)
“Making movies, making songs, and fightin’ around the world!”
The absolute king of lampooning celebrities who deserve their comeuppance, South Park knows no bounds. This was never more evident than in season 6 when they created a fictionalized program entitled Fightin’ Around the World with Russell Crowe. The fake television show featured a very muscular and very irritated Russell Crowe travelling all over the world on his tugboat as he searched for random people to beat up. Crowe goes to Tiananmen Square to punch “chinamen,” he travels to Brooklyn to fight "minorities," and he even beats up cancer patients as his interpretation of proactively “fighting cancer.”
The snippets of Fightin’ Around the World featured in South Park are so outrageous you can’t help but burst out laughing. The episode is mainly comprised of the cartoon Crowe spouting off horrendous insults at people, in a terrible Australian accent, as he proceeds to kick the snot out of them. The premise in itself is hilarious and it would be a blast if creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker decided to make it a couple full length episodes.
11 Ball Fondlers (Rick and Morty)
“Yeah, I could go for some Ball Fondlers.”
In a season 1 episode of sci-fi cartoon Rick and Morty, scientist Rick sets up an interdimensional cable box for his family, allowing them to watch unlimited shows from alternate universes. One of these shows is called Ball Fondlers, and if it isn’t already, it should probably be on your list of favorite fake TV shows of all time.
The program is an animated A-Team on action junkie steroids. The Ball Fondlers team is made up of mercenaries comprised of wacky creatures including a Mr. T clone with ball shaped ponytails, an Amazonian woman sporting a machine gun, a crocodile with human clothing, and a crudely drawn man wearing headphones. Together they shoot bad guys, blow stuff up, and crash helicopters all set to the score of heavy metal music. Ball Fondlers is a parody of over-the-top action shows of the '80s, but at the same time so bizarre you’re left wishing it was real.
10 Johnny’s Bananas (Entourage)
“And then Johnny. Goes. Bananas.”
Although he doesn’t like it, Johnny Drama is the obvious comedic relief on HBO’s Entourage. The struggling actor is loud, crude, and often rude, with anger issues that cause him to hit cars with golf clubs. Johnny is the forgotten star of fake sci-fi television show Viking Quest, another program that could have easily gotten a spot on this list. However, we decided to go with his animated series, Johnny’s Bananas, a foul mouthed cartoon starring Johnny as pretty much himself, just as a monkey.
When initially pitched with the show, Johnny becomes insulted, as he thinks he’s above doing voiceover work for a cartoon. Eventually he warms up to the idea and the show gets pitched to a major network. Johnny’s Bananas is an urban, over-the-top cartoon with monkeys and apes throwing feces and curse words all over the place. Needless to say, this fake cartoon has massive potential if HBO wanted to pick it up for a season. Who wouldn’t want to watch a show starring Johnny Drama as a hot-headed ape?
9 All My Circuits (Futurama)
“Don’t tell me how to do humble, my humble ranks among the greatest in the history of the universe!”
All My Circuits is Futurama’s take on sappy, overly dramatic soap operas, and it might feature our favorite show title on this list. We’ve all seen how bad these hammed up daytime shows can be. They usually feature unconvincing acting, bad production design, ridiculous plot twists, and reek of melodramatic human conflict. Obviously Matt Groening, the creator of Futurama, has no love for soap operas either, as he continuously pokes fun at them in the sci-fi cartoon’s fake drama All My Circuits.
Although the characters of Futurama are enthralled by the program, Circuits is basically a bad soap opera that stars robots, except for one human character whose name is “Human Friend.” It takes all the tired tropes and cheesiness of soaps like amnesia, evil twins and comas, throws them into a blender and hits puree. The satire is clever, surprisingly spot on, and could even work as a standalone parody.
8 Tool Time (Home Improvement)
“Does everybody know what time it is?”
One of the highest rated shows of the '90s, Home Improvement is credited with launching the careers of both Tim Allen and Richard Karn. Their characters Tim Taylor and Al Borland were a joy to watch, thanks to their onscreen buddy-buddy chemistry. This was never more apparent than when the duo were doing their show within a show, Tool Time.
The show has Tim and his assistant Al attempt to explain the uses of various tools, but they often wind up destroying things or bickering amongst each other. Tim is especially accident prone and frequently winds up making a mess on the show, which is always fun to watch. The storylines of Home Improvement were great, but most of us really tuned in to watch what chaotic thing Tim and Al were going to do next on Tool Time. Revivals of '90s series are all the rage nowadays; perhaps a return to the air could be in the cards for Tim and Al?
7 Gumbel 2 Gumbel: Beach Justice (Family Guy)
“Taste that? That’s the taste of beach justice!”
In one of Family Guy’s more risky episodes, Peter tells a production company that his son Chris is dying of cancer. Of course Chris isn’t dying; the whole thing is one big stunt to get recently cancelled buddy cop show Gumbel 2 Gumbel: Beach Justice back on the air. Peter’s favorite show is of course awful, but serves as a terrific satire to cheesy '80s cop shows and the Gumbel brothers.
The fake program stars Greg and Bryant Gumbel, real life sportscasters who are inexplicably now beach cops. The two serve up what they call “beach justice” to any thug that disturbs the peace. If by some otherworldly chance the actual Gumbels got on board with this, and that is a stretch, it could make for a far better spinoff than The Cleveland Show ever did.
6 Pawnee Today (Parks & Rec)
“Oh God, not the gotcha’ dancers.”
A wonderfully constructed spoof of political daytime talk shows that clearly have no idea what they’re talking about, Pawnee Today was always a highlight of the hit NBC series, Parks and Rec. Hosted by the clueless, and sometimes sociopathic, Joan Callamezzo — who often jumped to the most horrendous conclusions without a second thought — the talk show would do almost anything to induce a political scandal, just as long as it boosted their ratings.
Although the show ridicules daytime talk shows, it’s a satire that could actually work as a real program. There’s plenty of funny moments to be had on the show, including the “Answers from Ron Swanson” segment. Although Parks & Rec is now off the air, a Pawnee Today spinoff could be just what we need to fill the gap.
5 Invitation to Love (Twin Peaks)
“Every hour holds the promise to an invitation to love.”
Like Futurama’s All My Circuits, Invitation to Love also serves as a knock on soap operas. The fictionalized drama is featured in Twin Peaks and is glimpsed briefly in all 7 episodes of season 1. The unique thing about the Invitation to Love is that it not only parodies soap opera, but that it frequently mirrors the events happening in Twin Peaks.
One of the more obvious examples of the Invitation to Love as a commentary of Twin Peaks is the episode where it is revealed that twin characters on the soap are played by the same actress. In the same episode of Twin Peaks, character Maddy Ferguson first appears. Maddy is the identical cousin of Laura Palmer, and both characters are played by actress Sheryl Lee. Twin Peaks creator David Lynch is constantly winking at the audience, with Invitation to Love serving as a humorous twinkle of self-awareness.
4 Wheels and the Legman (American Dad!)
“You’re on a roll, Wheels!”
American Dad! has featured its fair share of great fake TV shows, so many in fact that a list could be made based around their potential spinoffs alone. Among the best are the absurd Shoe Police and Mind Quad, but the greatest of all is undoubtedly Wheels and the Legman. While not technically a TV show, but a reenactment of one, Steve and Roger become detectives based on their favorite campy mystery shows. Together, the two solve crimes, usually ending with the clueless Roger being the culprit.
Steve and Roger have great chemistry on the show, and when they’re suited up to playing Wheels and the Legman they’re at their absolute wackiest. A whole spinoff show with them bickering about who's the bad cop and the good cop, or which one gets to say the puns, would be a dream come true for American Dad! fans.
3 The Terrance and Phillip Show (South Park)
“Terrance, pull my finger!”
When South Park first aired in 1997, the show was relentlessly attacked by critics for a being nothing more than a crudely drawn cartoon with fart jokes. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone fired back by creating The Terrance and Phillip Show; taking the criticism and multiplying it to the extreme. Terrance and Phillip are a Canadian comedic duo that do nothing but fart jokes. The animation compared to South Park is even worse, with half of the characters heads moving up and down whenever they talk.
The show wasn’t just a hit with the boys of South Park, but with real life viewers as well. All the show does is a bunch of fart jokes, but isn’t that really the purest form of comedy? Terrance and Phillip are displayed in such a cockamamie manner you can’t help but giggle when they blow gas in each other’s direction. Terrance and Phillip proved that South Park is not afraid to poke fun at anybody, especially themselves.
2 The Girly Show with Tracy Jordan (30 Rock)
“My incompetence knows no bounds.”
Most shows within shows are parodies of other programs themselves. Mermaid Man is a spoof of DC's Dynamic Duo, Ball Fondlers riffs on the A-Team, and Inspector Spacetime is an obvious homage to Doctor Who. Usually the comedy from these fake television shows derives off of the fact that we’re familiar with the source material. While 30 Rock’s The Girly Show with Tracy Jordan is a clear parody of SNL, it gets the #2 spot on this list for not only being a spoof, but for being funny within itself.
The fictional sketch comedy series had a bunch of terrific original skits. Gay-braham Lincoln was hilarious, as was the song about muffin tops. Tracy Morgan, uh, we mean Tracy Jordan, is an absolute blast to watch on the program with whatever he does. This is one fake sketch show that could truly stand on its own thanks to its clever writing and brilliant performances.
1 The Itchy and Scratchy Show (The Simpsons)
“They fight, they fight, they fight and fight and fight. Fight, fight, fight. Fight, fight, fight.”
To be perfectly clear, in case anyone missed the reference, The Itchy and Scratchy Show is a blatant ripoff of the Tom and Jerry Show. That is if Tom and Jerry featured gruesome violence like cutting limbs off with a chainsaw or sticking dynamite into eye sockets. This animated show within the animated show, The Simpsons, is one which kids should not be allowed to watch, which makes them want to watch it all the more. It certainly doesn’t stop Bart and Lisa from plopping down in front of the TV every week to watch their favorite cat and mouse cleave each other in half with machetes.
Over the years, Itchy and Scratchy has picked up an enormous cult following from Simpsons fans. The over-the-top violence is gratuitous, but so creative and clever that you find yourself glued to the screen laughing. No doubt if Matt Groening ever decided to do a spinoff of the cartoon (which would be a smart way to freshen things up) there would a drove of fans lining up to watch. It’s sadistic, clever, violent, and most of all funny, making it our top pick of fake TV shows we wish were real.
Did we miss any of your favorite shows within a show? Be sure to let us know in the comments!