One of the most fun things about TV is spotting all of the various pop culture references that seem to come up on a regular basis with a wide variety of series.
I was watching "Chuck" last night and my brother e-mailed me that the character Ned Ryerson, the guy who crashed into the Buy More, was the same name as a character on "Groundhog Day." I pointed out to him that Reginald VelJohnson was playing the same character he played in "Die Hard," and the producers had even more fun at the end when his cop, Al, ran up to his cousin, Big Mike, to the strains of "Ode To Joy," the same bit of music at the end of "Die Hard."
It's hardly the first time "Chuck" has mined pop culture for character names and such, and it's hardly the first show to do so.
On "House" last week, House, a character based on Sherlock Holmes, is given a Christmas present of a first-edition book by Dr. Joseph Bell, who was the real-life inspiration for Holmes. Later in the episode, Wilson spins a tale about House to his assistants about a woman named Irene Adler, whom Wilson describes as the woman who got away. In the Holmes books, Irene Adler was Holmes' great love.
Perhaps no series has more allusions to anything than "Lost," which routinely does a pop-up video style of reruns in order to tip the viewer off to all of them, since it's almost impossible to catch them all. It can be something as major as the naming of Terry O'Quinn's character, John Locke, based upon the British philosopher, to that character's new identity of Jeremy Bentham, a different British philosopher. Ben Linus took the name "Henry Gale" when he was first captured by the castaways, a reference to "The Wizard of Oz." There are whole discussion boards out there on all of the various "Lost" references.
Part of the reason the writers of these shows put in the references is to reward sharp-eyed and sharp-eared viewers for paying attention, and to make things more fun. I think writers these days are more aware of a series' popularity on a discussion board and are providing some fodder for those viewers who like to chat online about a series.
"Family Guy" pretty much writes its entire episodes around a series of pop-culture references, and even "Pushing Daisies" had a character from creator Bryan Fuller's series, "Wonderfalls," appear in an episode a couple of weeks ago, with the same actress reprising her role.
What are some of your favorite allusions?
TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: If you missed the first two episodes of the new TNT series "Leverage," (TNT, 10 p.m.) well, you missed out, because this stylish and clever show is easily the best original series the network has done, way better than the likes of "The Closer."
Much in the vein of the British series, "Hustle," it follows a crew of thieves who punish rich corporate sharks who hurt the little guy. (How's that for being timely?) Though Timothy Hutton is the series' star, it's his supporting cast that makes the show so fun. "Leverage" is easy to pick up, so now's as good a time to jump on the bandwagon.
CBS offers its final original Tuesday lineup for 2008, with new episodes of "NCIS," "The Mentalist" and "Without A Trace."
Meanwhile, ABC offers one of its last "Eli Stone" episodes at 10 p.m., following two new installments of "According To Jim." Yup — ABC has kept around "According To Jim" and is axing "Eli Stone." Go figure.
Finally, after the winner to "The Biggest Loser" (NBC, 8 p.m.) is announced, the first episode of the reality series "Momma's Boys" airs at 10 p.m. It's a "Bachelor"-style reality show with the twist that the women have to pass muster with the guys' mothers. How far has NBC fallen these days?