TV shows love to make fun of TV shows. After all, there are tons to watch, and always a new obsession to be found. It's a way of connecting with audiences, and it's often an effective in-world joke. When a TV show introduces viewers to a fictional TV show that the characters watch, we connect with those characters. The real-world viewers also watch TV, and so there's a feeling of mutual understanding that's established. These characters watch TV, and so do we.
Often times, these shows within shows are an exaggeration of what actual TV is like. They're more dramatic, often have the stupidity revved up a notch, and can be slightly less realistic. Still, they often speak to the way TV is working in the era they're being created. Plenty of good TV shows come with a bonus show tucked inside them. Here are 17 fictional TV shows we wish we could binge-watch.
30 Rock was the king of fake TV shows, but one of its crowning achievements was MILF Island, a show which stranded 20 hot moms on an island with 50 eighth grade boys and no rules. The show is hilarious in its conception, but it's also close enough to real life that it's possible to imagine it actually existing.
If the show was real, it would almost definitely be an embarrassing disaster. Having said that, that doesn't necessarily mean it wouldn't be incredibly popular. It's basically a riff on Survivor, and that show has lasted for years. MILF Island could easily do the same.
Dear White People's first show within a show, Defamation, is a Scandal parody that works way better than it should. All of the show's incredibly educated black students know the show's writing is less than perfect, but they're way too addicted to the ongoing drama to care very much.
It's a background element in the world of the show, but one that adds texture to one of the best shows that Netflix has produced. The plot turns the show comes up with feel like they could make for the perfect binge. It may not be high art, but not everything on TV needs to be.
Issa Rae's Insecure is one of the few shows on TV that is willing to show people watching TV themselves. As a result, the show has created a number of fictional shows that exist within its universe. One of those shows is Conjugal Visits, a trashy reality TV show that Issa's character is both addicted to and embarrassed that she watches.
Conjugal Visits is meant to be an elaborate troll of all the TV shows that play on our worst instincts and keep us watching in spite of their stupidity. And you know what? That's definitely true, and we'd probably end up watching the show anyway.
Almost all of 30 Rock was built around the idea of a weekly variety show that frequently went way off the rails. Although we know that the show's writers were almost all morons, it seems like the show itself was usually somewhere between genuinely funny and baffling.
Much of the humor of 30 Rock comes from head writer Liz Lemon's attempts to wrangle the show's stars into performing in the way that she wants. Things almost never work out. Even so, it would be hard to deny the draw the show would provide, especially since it closely mirrors Saturday Night Live, which is a show the nation has loved for more than 40 years.
Most of the TV shows on Friends are fake versions of real things, but Bamboozled! is entirely fictional. It's a hugely elaborate game show that Joey makes Ross and Chandler play so that he can prepare for an audition as the show's host.
Although we never get a clear sense of what the show's rule are, exactly, it's clear that the game is both insanely hard and incredibly fun. Although the show never made it to air, it definitely would have been worth watching if it had. It had everything: insane rules, crazy drama, and a thoroughly compelling host in Joey Tribiani.
TV shows about the business of making TV obviously have lots of fictional TV shows in them. In Episodes, the premise involves a pair of British writers who agree to adapt their successful British series for an American audience. The American version of the show is set to star a fictionalized version of Matt LeBlanc, but it also gets noted to such an extreme degree that it doesn't resemble the British series at all.
The show, Pucks!, tells the story of a high school hockey coach and his misadventures with the students that he coaches. It's not original, and it's not particularly good, but it might make for some great TV comfort food.
The Amanda Show was way ahead of its time, and Moody's Point is prime evidence of that. Moody's Point was a parody of Dawson's Creek that The Amanda Show returned to quite frequently. It effectively skewered the melodrama and constantly shifting relationships at the center of Dawson's Creek.
Although The Amanda Show aired on Nickelodeon, some of its jokes were quite sophisticated, as Moody's Point suggested. The show could be incredibly smart about why people liked the maudlin teen shows that were its contemporaries. Still, if Moody's Point actually existed, it would likely produce enough twists and turns to keep all of us coming back for more.
The Good Wife was a network drama that received its fair share of praise, but that doesn't mean it didn't have its fair share of fun. Darkness at Noon was the show's version of every anti-hero drama that was dark just for the sake of being dark. The Florick family watched the show constantly, and although it didn't seem to make much sense, it sure was dark.
The show was rife with meaningless philosophical monologues, plenty of dead bodies, and nothing that seemed to actually make it compelling. The anti-hero drama was incredibly dominant when The Good Wife was one the air, and in Darkness at Noon, the show created a perfect parody of the genre.
Community referenced other movies and TV shows more than almost any other show, and it also made up some shows when it need to. Inspector Spacetime was the show's riff on Doctor Who.
Although there is no official Inspector Spacetime show, the actor behind the character did produce a show with an unnamed character. That show, titled Untitled Web Series About a Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time was produced after the actor was told he couldn't make an Inspector Spacetime show. Still, this is one of the few shows on this list you could actually binge if you wanted to.
Twin Peaks was a strange, totally unique television experience. It was abstract, surreal, and riddled with symbolism. One of the ways the show created its own reality was through a fictional soap opera called Invitation to Love that many of the show's characters watched.
Twin Peaks itself often felt like a soap opera, and the fictional one within its world often commented on the show's stories. Nothing was put in this show by mistake. Watching Invitation to Love could give you valuable insights into Twin Peaks, if the show actually existed and you were interested in devoting that much time to figuring out the mysteries of Twin Peaks.
Los Viajes de Guillermo is a fictional telenovela that is loosely based on Gulliver's Travels, and it's just as ridiculous and addictive as most actual telenovelas. The show's two main characters have both been shrunk, and they fight for the love of the scientist who is working to return them to their regular size.
It's silly, strange, and absolutely perfect. Jane the Virgin is one of the most delightful TV shows ever to be created, and it's because it's willing to let itself be incredibly silly without losing any of its heart. Los Viajes De Guillermo is just one example of that silliness.
Although Futurama is set in the distant future, there's still television, and there are still soap operas. One of those soaps, All My Circuits, is a favorite of the Planet Express crew. The show mostly stars robots, and it seems that, in the millennium since modern soaps, they've gotten even more heightened and dramatic than they once were.
Futurama was one of the funniest animated shows ever created, and All My Circuits was a hilarious parody of the soaps that we so often watch. Most people would balk at the idea of watching a soap opera, but many of us secretly enjoy them. It seems like All My Circuits would be a hoot to binge.
Tom & Jerry is a super cute show, but it's also surprisingly violent. Over the many years that The Simpsons has been on the air, it's parodied a number of shows, but The Itchy and Scratchy Show has to be its best work. On this show, we follow a homicidal mouse who tries to murder a cat in a variety of sadistic ways.
The parody speaks to the casual violence of much of early animation, and also may reflect the developments in the actual episode of The Simpsons that was playing out. In its prime, Itchy and Scratchy was as hilarious as any individual element of The Simpsons, and it would have made for a fun watch all by itself.
CBS All Access
Through its three seasons, The Good Fight has done a remarkably good job of what it feels like to live in the world today, even when it has to come up with fake TV shows to do so. Chicago Penthouse is a spin on shows like Bachelor in Paradise and Are You the One?, but with a much harder edge.
The Good Fight uses its fictional show to remind us about the dark and seedy underbelly to many reality TV shows. Even so, it's hard to deny that if Chicago Penthouse actually existed, it would probably be incredibly popular. Nothing sells like true love on TV.
There are so many shows about baking that it's hard to believe Clash of the Cupcakes isn't real. It is the show that Dev, Aziz Ansari's character on Master of None hosts. It's an amusing parody that also works as the perfect job for Dev, who loves food more than almost anything else.
Is it ridiculous that there are so many shows about people baking various pastries? A little bit, yeah. But Master of None gives the genre the loving parody it deserves. It's not like these shows are hurting anyone, and most of the time, they're way more fun to watch than they probably should be.
Sam and Dean, the brothers at the center of Supernatural, hunt ghosts and demons for a living. The people on Ghostfacers do the same thing, but they're fakers. Because Sam and Dean don't watch much TV, we don't even know that Ghostfacers exists until they come head-to-head with the brothers. From there, the results are fairly disastrous for them.
From there, the Ghostfacers show up a couple more times, but we get the gist of what they're all about. In a world where ghosts actually exist, they play at hunting them, but they're not totally sure what to do when they acutually face the paranormal.
The entirety of UnREAL is set on the production of Everlasting, a show that is a pretty transparent rip-off of The Bachelor. It may not seem possible, but Everlasting actually seems even more compelling, in part because UnREAL makes the drama much more intense than it is on the actual show.
The point is to illuminate just how dark the production of The Bachelor and shows like it are, and that works. Even so, it's hard to deny the fact that Everlasting feels like the kind of reality TV that's too compelling to ignore. We'd watch, even if we hated ourselves for it.