The 12 best movies-within-TV-shows
The big screen on the small screen
TV shows have featured fictional, in-universe movies for decades now, but that tradition has taken on new dimensions in our postmodern, ever-more-self-reflexive era. From Seinfeld's Rochelle, Rochelle to Schitt's Creek's The Crows Have Eyes 3, here are a dozen of the best movies-within-TV-shows ever made (or not made?).
Related: The 10 best TV shows-within-shows
Cleaver (The Sopranos)
Cleaver's journey to the screen spanned virtually the entirety of The Sopranos, as Christopher (Michael Imperioli) chased his Hollywood dreams across six seasons. Those dreams finally came to fruition with this slasher-mob movie ("Saw meets The Godfather II"), which hit a bit too close to home for Tony (James Gandolfini).
The Wedding Bride (How I Met Your Mother)
But Cleaver didn't hit as close to home as How I Met Your Mother's The Wedding Bride, which bore some not-so-coincidental similarities to the time Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) got left at the altar. (The man his fiancée left him for wrote the screenplay.) Thus, Ted became the callous "Jed Moseley" (Chris Kattan), his romantic gestures were twisted into boorish ones, and The Wedding Bride became the HIMYM universe's fifth highest-grossing movie ever.
Entourage was naturally replete with fictional movies, owing to its entertainment industry milieu. Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) climbed the Hollywood ladder with Sundance hit Queens Boulevard and went on to star in the Pablo Escobar biopic (and catastrophic flop) Medellin, and Martin Scorsese's Great Gatsby adaptation. But he made the biggest splash (sorry) with Aquaman, directed by James Cameron and co-starring a pre-This Is Us Mandy Moore. And yes, we've also noticed that the show seemed to uncannily anticipate real-life Hollywood projects.
Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie (The Simpsons)
Itchy & Scratchy has provided so much depravedly-violent humor (and opportunity to poke fun at TV production) on The Simpsons over the years, that it just wouldn't feel right to leave the duo's big-screen adventure off this list. Still, we'll always have a special place in our hearts for McBain, "another splatterfest from the Hollywood cookie-cutter" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger doppelgänger Rainier Wolfcastle.
Rochelle, Rochelle (Seinfeld)
This "strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk" became a running gag on Seinfeld after the gang walked out of the movie, unable to bear it for more than a few minutes. (George later rented it on video anyway. As Elaine notes, "Men will sit through the most boring, pointless movie if there's the slightest chance a woman will take her top off.") Of course, Seinfeld mined fictional movies for story lines many times over the course of its run, from Sack Lunch (the comedy Elaine wanted to see instead of The English Patient) to Firestorm, which sounds like the best Harrison Ford action vehicle ever made. ("He jumped out of the plane and was shooting back up at them while he was falling!")
The Rural Juror (30 Rock)
30 Rock pulled no punches when it came to lampooning Hollywood. Some of its best titles included Hard to Watch (which helped earn Tracy his EGOT), Garfield 3: Feline Groovy ("It's a pun, because cats' paws have grooves"), and Leap Dave Williams (a riff on The Santa Clause starring Jim Carrey). But the top honors have to go to The Rural Juror, Jenna's (Jane Krakowski) famously unpronounceable star vehicle that also provided the series finale's heartfelt closing song.
Too Big to Nail: The Story of the Pawnee Bailout (Parks & Recreation)
When Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) saved a local video store through a government bailout, her plans backfired yet again as the store became a pornography establishment to boost business. At least they were courteous enough to pay tribute(?) to Leslie with Too Big to Nail, a dramatization of the bailout, starring Pawnee's resident porn star Brandi Maxxxx (Mara Marini) as Councilwoman Knope and featuring the immortal "Dong Swanson."
Secretariat (BoJack Horseman)
Like 30 Rock, its fellow merciless showbiz satire, Netflix's newly-concluded BoJack Horseman featured countless parodic movies and TV shows. (A small sample: antihero-cop-show lampoon Philbert, ultimate Oscar bait The Nazi Who Played Yahtzee, the inimitable game show Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let's Find Out!) But biopic Secretariat's troubled production, and the Oscar campaign that followed, formed the backbone of the series' first half, and the film's tagline ("He's tired of running in circles") is an equally apt descriptor of Will Arnett's equine antihero.
Threat Level Midnight (The Office)
It took "three years of writing, one year of shooting, four years of re-shooting, and two years of editing," but Michael Scott (Steve Carell) finally completed his action film Threat Level Midnight, starring himself as secret agent Michael Scarn, Dwight (Rainn Wilson) as his robot butler, and Jim (John Krasinski) as villain "Goldenface." The end result may not have been as well-received as Michael hoped, but you can judge it for yourself; the full film is newly available on YouTube.
Party Monster: Scratching the Surface (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt devoted a full episode to this mockumentary (directed IRL by Documentary Now! vet Rhys Thomas), which follows "DJ Fingablast" (Derek Klena) on a quest to find his childhood hero, DJ Slizzard. As it happened, Slizzard turned out to be Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm), who imprisoned Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) in that underground bunker.
The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders (Saturday Night Live)
"From the twisted mind of Wes Anderson" (actually the twisted minds at Saturday Night Live) comes this horror movie festooned with the Grand Budapest Hotel director's signature tics: captioned montages, a narrow range of careful camera moves, stop-motion animation, and a cast including Owen Wilson (played in the sketch by another recurring Anderson player, Edward Norton). As The New York Times says, you had us at "Wes Anderson."
The Crows Have Eyes 3: The Crowening (Schitt's Creek)
After five seasons of Schitt's Creek, we've finally gotten our first look at The Crows Have Eyes 3, the long-shelved apocalyptic horror film starring Moira Rose (Catherine O'Hara) as ornithologist Dr. Clara Mandrake, who might be a mutant crow. We won't know for sure until the movie is officially released, but until then, remember: The crows have eyes, and you better not look them in it.