TV episodes that totally changed the rules of TV
Tonight, Modern Family is going to completely
switch things up.
Don’t worry — to our knowledge, this doesn’t mean the demise of any major characters or breaking up of any couples (Mitch and Cam 4eva <3). Rather, Modern Family is ditching its big fancy cameras and picking up the smartphones. That’s right — the entire episode, entitled “Connection Lost,” was filmed using iPhones, iPads, and MacBook Pros to give the impression that all of the characters are communicating through FaceTime.
According to Megan Ganz, the writer behind the episode, “Connection Lost” has a deeper meaning. “We’re sort of in an age now when we have too much information, which can take us down a specific path,” Ganz. told The New York Times. “You’re getting too much information too quickly to be able to slow
it down and parse it out.”
Cool, huh? The anticipation for this episode is strong. It’s also made me think back on other mix-up or highly-styled episodes from different series — you know, the episodes that were totally stand-out, spun the plot upside down, sat isolated from the arc of the show, and completely
changed the way we thought about what that show was capable of. A tall order, but some series have totally done it.
As we plan our viewing party for this very special Modern Family, here are a few episodes (from other shows) that totally turned their series’ upside down.
The Simpsons – Homer3
Why: Because it broke the fourth wall with a 3D Homer (OK, maybe the third wall?)
The Simpsons has been lauded for a ton of things. After all, it is the longest-running American sitcom with 26 seasons, so it’s had plenty of time to try out some wacky stuff. But one really stand-out episode is “Homer3,” when Homer finds a mysterious new 3D world behind a bookcase. He steps through and transforms into a 3D version of himself:
Not only was this episode stand-out from an animation standpoint, but it was trippy: Homer pierces the space-time continuum, and there are various background jokes within the episode (such as including a Utah teapot, which was the very first object to be rendered in 3D!).
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Once More, With Feeling
Why: Because it turned a non-musical series into a freaking musical! We didn’t not see that coming.
If ya’ll haven’t seen seventh episode of the sixth season of the beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you need to check it out, stat. Why? Because they made the most awesome show ever into…a musical. Now, generally, I’m not exactly a fan of musicals. In fact, they actually generally annoy the crap out of me. But this one is fabulous, especially because of the plotline: a demon forces the citizens of Sunnydale to randomly break into song (and dance!) to reveal the truth.
I’m glad that this premise isn’t something that could happen in real life, but in television, this is a brilliant way of turning everything you expect from a show on its head. It showcased how versatile the actors and writers were, and reminded us all that TV is full of surprises. Cue jazz hands!
Friends — The One That Could Have Been (Parts One And Two)
Why: Because it took place in an alternate reality. WHA?!
Ever since Netflix graced us with Friends at the start of the year, I’ve been watching non-stop. I’m not kidding . . . I’m on Season 7 already. (No one spoil it for me!) There are so many gems in this wonderful series, but one of my very fave episodes is the mix-up episode: “The One That Could Have Been.” In this ep. the plot is put on pause, and the gang imagines what their lives would be like had they taken different paths.
What’s fascinating about these two episodes (this is a two-parter) is that the episodes are actually rather existential. They make you wonder, “If I had chosen differently in my life, would I be where I am right now?” These cosmic episodes suggest, yes — there is a destiny for all of us. Monica and Chandler were meant to be together no matter where they work or what they look like. Ross wasn’t meant to stay with Carol, because no matter what, they would never be able to connect sexually. Rachel would never be happy with Barry. And Joey . . . well, Joey will always be Joey, thank goodness for that.
30 Rock – Queen of Jordan
Why: Because for one sweet episode, a brilliant sitcom became a brilliant reality show.
30 Rock was already meta to begin with. It’s a show about the making of a show (loosely based on SNL) and a real network (NBC). But this episode took the whole show within a show idea to new heights. We already knew Tracy Jordan’s wife Angie got her own reality show, Queen of Jordan. But this episode WAS Queen of Jordan—complete with Bravo-style verité camera work and lots of first-person catty interviews. Yep, this episode went where no sitcom had gone before—whispered conversations, unnecessary subtitles, and hilarious character introductions (“Liz, another person”.)
Seinfeld – The Betrayal
Why: Because this episode is BACKWARDS, literally
“Beginning to end” is so 1996. In 1997, Seinfeld tried something totally new: they created a backwards episode. That’s right: reverse chronology. The episode is a bit difficult to comprehend, but that’s the fun of it—it’s like a puzzle (or Memento). For example, check out Kramer’s lollipop:
As he eats it throughout the episode, it actually grows instead of dwindles. Wait, let’s forget about the backwards-episode thing. . .where can I get a growing lollipop?
Adventure Time – Fionna and Cake
Why: Because it swapped the genders of its characters in the best possible way.
In this episode, our friends Jake the Dog and Finn the Human become Cake the Cat and Fionna the Human. That’s right: gender swap! This was the first of Adventure Time‘s gender-swap episodes, and it completely turns the show upside down and makes us think about the characters in terms of gender identity.
Plus, it is all about the lady power: Fionna and Cake save the dude in distress (Prince Gumball instead of Princess Bubblegum) — and he totally digs it. When he asks her out, she rejects him with this awesome, refreshing bit of female empowerment: “I think the reason I’ve got all these guy friends and no boyfriend is because I don’t really wanna date any of them. I don’t need to feel like I’m waiting to be noticed. I know who I am, and I’ll know what I want if and when it ever comes along.” Love you, Adventure Time. Also, love to the shows bold enough to take risks and remind us that TV logic plays by its own rules.