There is nothing I love more than TV shows giving nods to other TV shows and or classic movies. I love the numerous Lost references on Once Upon a Time (Apollo candy bars, MacCutcheon whisky), the Firefly mentions on Castle and the Alias references on Fringe (47, the block puzzle). Sometimes, writers go even further and create entire episodes that pay tribute to pop/geek culture. Here are some of my favorite “tribute” episodes, let the cult-hit-reference-showdown begin:


Psych is one of the shows with the best use of current popular culture [probably second only to Community]. The USA series pays tribute to pop-culture on a weekly basis. Some of my favorite episodes referenced Hitchcock movies, Slumdog Millionaire and Clue. However my absolute favorite is the episode aptly titled: “Dual Spires” and you guessed it; it was a Twin Peaks parody. In my opinion, the greatest episode of the show. The episode wasn't only inspired by Twin Peaks, it was a full on homage. It featured a number of actors from the series including: Sherilyn Fenn, Dana Ashbrook and of course Ray Wise. There were so many references I couldn’t even count them. They covered everything, from the opening credits to Ray Wise’s hair turning white. They weaved the tribute perfectly with the “case of the week” and they even used the music. Best episode ever. What can be greater than a parody/tribute/reunion of Twin Peaks? If you were a Twin Peaks fan you MUST watch this Psych episode.


“Modern Warfare” (S1E23) – A parody of every action/post-apocalyptic movie ever made… and then some

I thought Community struggled to find its tone during the early episodes. When I started watching, I felt they were trying too hard to be quirky and differentiate themselves from the mainstream comedies; however, I always enjoyed the numerous pop-culture references. Season 1 included nods to Ghost, Goodfellas and Sixteen Candles among others. Once the characters were defined and the references became even more obscure, I knew we had something special. The episode that cemented my love for Community was “Modern Warfare”. It was a genius episode. Probably one of my favorite episodes of any TV show ever. The episode had references to Terminator, I am Legend, Resident Evil, The Matrix, Scarface and even Glee. Nothing felt forced and the episode flowed seamlessly from one pop culture reference to the next.  

“A fistful of paintballs” (S2E23) – A tribute to Spaghetti westerns

A year after the first “Paintball episode” Community went back to the classic plot device and created a two hour season finale also centered on paintball. To avoid repetition they completely abandoned the “action movie” connection and concentrated on making a “spaghetti western” episode. It was another classic. It was very different from the first paintball episode but equally fun. The concept alone was great; but to make the episode even better, they had a fresh out of Lost Josh Holloway as a guest-star. Josh was great at playing the mysterious “dark rider” a paintball-lone-ranger if you must; and he was looking as hot as ever [so was Alison Brie, by the way]. I personally believe, Josh Holloway should play every ‘cowboy’ character on TV. I could take Timothy Olyphant if Josh is unavailable. Classic Mexican standoffs, a saloon, a lone ranger… the episode had all you could ask for in a Western… set in a community college.


Georgia Dead Like Me/ Georgia Hannibal
I love it when writers reference their previous work on their shows. I think Bryan Fuller may have taken the prize on this subject by making a multi-sided Dead Like Me reference on Hannibal. For the ones who aren’t familiar with Dead Like Me, Ellen Muth played Georgia Lass, a girl who tragically [yet comically] dies and is recruited to become a grim reaper. Ellen’s stint at Hannibal was an obvious nod to her previous role. Not only the character was named “Georgia”, but she was suffering from a mental disorder and was convinced that she was “dead” [not like me]. The reference alone was enough to get me excited, but she was truly amazing at playing the very disturbing character.  Bryan Fuller is a master of the surreal and having a character almost jump from one show to another felt like a dream [or nightmare in this case] come true. Superb! As if this show didn't have enough amazing things already.


Throughout the history of television, there probably was never a show as representative of “geek culture” as Chuck. Even now, Chuck’s star, Zachary Levi continues to serve as geek ambassador through his website “The Nerd Machine”. Chuck paid tribute to all things geek and pop-culture in general. The references ranged from nods to movies like Trainspotting to mentions of Downton Abbey, Lost and Breaking Bad. Chuck was a show that embraced its “geek status” and one of the coolest ways they showed it was by parodying Comic-con. Since Chuck was a show about nerds and spies, they combined both and created the fake “Weap-Con”:  “The greatest weapon convention in the world”, held in Dubai and a favorite of Colonel Case, of course [they even had pamphlets]. The whole setting of the “convention” was reminiscent of SDCC and the irony of it being a marketing tool to sell weapons to “war-lords” was hilarious. But let’s be honest, pretty much ANY episode of Chuck could be in this “best tributes” list.


I think this was the episode when I realized I was going to be a die-hard 30 Rock fan for life. You can find references of cult-hits like Lost and Firefly or blockbuster movies like Terminator on many many shows, but this was probably the first time I saw anyone parody the Milos Forman movie Amadeus. The parody started with the tone of the episode: they used classical music, slo-mo scenes, grandiose speeches and over the top situations. However, the most direct Amadeus reference was the Tracy/Frank story-line; analogous to Mozart/Salieri; only,  the subject of Frank’s jealousy was not Tracy’s musical talent… it was his unparalleled ability to create the perfect “porn video-game”. The episode’s climax saw Frank tearing apart Tracy’s dressing room in a fit of jealousy, Kenneth holding a candle, Jack & Liz trying to conceal an unconscious body and Dr. Spaceman running around in a cape [with classical music in the background]. It was epic and it was a risk since they were referencing a movie from 2 decades ago instead of the hit movie of the year. Episodes like this are the reason 30 Rock is one of my favorite comedies of all times.

Other tribute/parodies I loved throughout the years include Bones’s Jersey Shore episode “The Maggots in the meathead”, Castle’s fairy tale episode “Once Upon a Time” and Medium’s Red riding Hood themed story “ Night of the Wolf.
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The TV Empress is a Media Management graduate, screenwriter in the making (and financial engineer in the meantime). She has serious plans to take over global television. You can follow the TVEmpress on twitter @TVRepublik

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