With all due respect to 30 Rock, no current show on TV uses as many pop culture references as Happy Endings, which merrily returns for its third season tonight (ABC, 9 p.m.). They can be exhausting to keep track of, but they're almost always hilarious, and oftentimes, quite meta. During one episode, Penny (Casey Wilson) and Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) are discussing elaborate hypothetical dating scenarios, when Penny offers, “What if you were like stuck in a trap in the woods, and like a cougar was trying to eat you. Maybe your dad is the head of some elite counter terrorist unit and he only has 24 hours to...I don't know.) Any fan of either 24 or terrible episodes of television (that damn cougar...) would immediately have recognized this as a winking reference to Cuthbert's character on 24, Kim Bauer, Jack's daughter. Happy Endings has also done the same thing for In Living Color and "one of the guys from In Living Color" Damon Wayans Jr.
If a show does it correctly, these inside jokes can be amusing for viewers who know what the hell's being referenced. Here are 15 examples that are right on the nose, without being too side-nudging.
In a second season episode of Sons of Anarchy, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) asks Big Otto's wife Luann, "You think I brought you here to Adriana you?" This was a reference to Adriana La Cerva, as played by Drea de Matteo on The Sopranos. Matteo, of course, is also Jax's ex-wife, Wendy.
Simply put, Will Arnett does his chicken impression on Up All Night.
"Back off, Pink Ranger," Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) warns Kendra Young (Bianca Lawson) during "What's My Life," a second season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This was a reference to Gellar's stunt double, Sophia Crawford, who was also the stunt double for the Pink Ranger on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
In the Futurama direct-to-DVD movie Bender's Big Score, the Chanukah Zombie, voiced by Mark Hamill, owns a ship that looks quite similar to the one flown by the Galactic Empire in Star Wars, which, of course, Hamill stared in as Luke Skywalker.
The entirety of Frank Reynolds plot in the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "Sweet Dee Has a Heart Attack" is one long One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest reference, right down to the Native American in the hospital, who Frank calls "Tonto." Reynolds is played (lived?) by Danny DeVito, who got his big break in 1975 as...Martini in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The quote below has nothing to do with the Miloš Forman film, but I love it too much not to use.
Twelve-year-old girls love Star Trek: Voyager, right? Hopefully. Otherwise, the time when Tim Russ, who played Tuvok on the fourth best Star Trek TV show, said, "Study hard and prosper" on an episode of iCarly would have made no sense.
To quote the only good line from Clerks 2, "If Peter Jackson really wanted to blow me away with those Rings movies, he would have ended the third one on the logical closure point, not the 25 endings that followed...Even the f*ckin' trees walked in those movies." I bring this up because: in a third season episode of Lost, Charlie Pace, played by Dominic Monaghan, a.k.a. Meriadoc Brandybuck in "those Rings movies," tells John Locke (Terry O'Quinn) at one point, "Trees? Yeah, I've heard they're wonderful conversationalists."
This scene from Sports Night, in which Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman) raves about seeing The Lion King on Broadway, takes on a whole different level of meaning when you realize her boss, Isaac Jaffe (Robert Guillaume), is the same guy who voiced Rafiki in the Lion King movie.
In an early episode of Dawson's Creek, "Detention," Joshua Jackson's character, Pacey Witter, and the rest of the gang are chatting about what became of the Brat Pack from the 1980s, when Pacey brings up Emilio Estevez and "those Ducks movies." Jackson played Charlie "Just Getting Started" Conway in The Mighty Ducks, D2: The Mighty Ducks, and D3: The Mighty Ducks.
This has happened a few times, but the most notable instance of Community's Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) being compared to Ryan Seacrest occurred during last season's "Contemporary Impressionists," in which a French Stewart impersonator, who's played by the real French Stewart, tells everyone in the Greendale Seven who they look like. Shirley's Oprah, for instance, and Troy and Britta are black and white Michael Jackson, but it's Jeff who gets the least flattering comparison: Seacrest, McHale's real-life "enemy" on The Soup.
OK, this one's elaborate: Peter Serafinowicz played Duane on Spaced. Duane steals the girlfriend of Tim (Simon Pegg). Tim hates Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Peter Serafinowicz voiced Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Tim leaves his car keys at a bar after a confrontation with Duane. Duane picks up the keys after Tim's left, and says, "At last I will emerge as the victor. At last I will have revenge." Darth Maul said that in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
Before landing the role of the Janitor on Scrubs, Neil Flynn was a respected character actor, drifting from one project to the next. Scrubs had a little fun with this during season three's "My Friend the Doctor," in which JD is watching The Fugitive, and sees not Flynn, who was actually in the film (during the subway shooting scene), but the Janitor.
Despite not being a chubby child anymore, Jerry O'Connell is and will always be Vern Tessio from Stand By Me, so when Corey Feldman, who played Teddy Duchamp in the same film, appeared on a random episode of Sliders, of course they had to do their special handshake. Out of context, it's confusing, but if you've never seen Stand by Me, you probably don't deserve to understand things, anyways.
Even The Wire, quite possibly the greatest show of all-time, wasn't above playing an inside joke that only eagle-eyed viewers would notice. In need of some $$$, Mayor Tommy Carcetti (Aiden Gillen) visits an unseen Republican governor who sounds more than a little familiar to Robert Ehrlich, Maryland's real-life governor at the time. While Carcetti's waiting in an office for a meeting, Ehrlich briefly appears as a state trooper, doing protection duty for the fictional governor.