Tuesday, January 30, 2007

When Worlds Collide...

This is the story of an elaborate inside joke, one I hope I can do justice to in the retelling. It is nothing I had a hand in; I was just one of many who enjoyed it in all of its complexity. I am still stunned -- and grinning from ear to ear -- now, almost two weeks after the gag was revealed.

Our -- and by "our" I mean the general public's -- first exposure to the joke began with an episode of NBC's clever Thursday night sitcom My Name is Earl. If you've not seen it before, I recommend it. It's the story of a man who has a past of stealing and mistreating people, but who decides to set things right and make up for his past misdeeds. He's well-intentioned, but he and his friends (the best description of them I've been able to come up with is "usually-lovable white trash") often mess things up further in the process.

On the January 18th episode, Earl tries to help a man his ex-wife once unintentionally kidnapped, but finds that the man is dead, accidentally folded up into a Murphy bed while he slept. (The show's humor is a bit twisted!) Earl feels compelled to give him a funeral, but can't find that the man had any friends. Eventually Earl discovers that the man had lots of friends, but all through his computer -- playing war games, chatting with friends, and commenting on TV shows he's seen. In the end, the man's friends are invited by email and a quality funeral is held. Also, Earl's brother rents the dead man's apartment -- with the Murphy bed now chained to the floor for safety.

In the segment of the show where Earl is narrating his discovery of the man's online life while flashbacks show the guy at his computer, one of the items is that the man debates TV shows online "using the name 'WhoJackie'." The guy is then heard in the flashback speaking as he types, saying this: "No, I don’t think shows should do more meta jokes that cater to the online bloggers and I’m sure everyone at Television Without Pity Dot Com agrees with me."

When I heard that, I was thunderstruck. You see, TelevisionWithoutPity.com (sometimes abbreviated as TWOP) is a real website devoted to discussion of TV shows, and I've hung out there for years (since before it gained its current title, back when it was MightyBigTV.com), although mostly as a lurker. I really enjoy the snarky recaps of various shows, especially of reality TV. I actually read recaps of shows I don't even watch, because the recaps can be much funnier and more entertaining than the shows themselves! So, just to have the name of the website mentioned was a hoot.

But this joke goes deeper than that, if you'll notice. The context of the remark is another layer of humor itself -- the speaker takes the position that TV shows should not insert meta jokes (self-referential humor, winking at the audience) to cater to online bloggers, and yet the line itself is a meta joke, winking at the TWOP readers! Too funny.

It goes deeper.

I got on TelevisionWithoutPity the next morning to see how people responded, and quickly learned that on the night before the show aired, a poster named "WhoJackie" had left a comment on the My Name is Earl forum that included the line said on the show ("No, I don’t think shows should do more meta jokes that cater to the online bloggers and I’m sure everyone at Television Without Pity Dot Com agrees with me.")!!!! Yes, they not only put the reference to TWOP in the show, someone went to the trouble of setting up an account as "WhoJackie" and putting the show's comment on TWOP!!

Even more humorously, the full post started with this sentence: "First, I have to admit that I’ve noticed something weird about myself. I talk out loud when I type. Does anyone else do that?" Hilarious.

"WhoJackie's" post that night was actually a response to someone else asking what people thought about meta jokes, so... at least one more person (or at least account) was in on the joke. Whoever was posting as "WhoJackie" was setting up his message to fit in the flow of discussion, making it even funnier when people saw the post used on the show. Following this so far?

And deeper we go...

Some of TWOP's Eagle-Eyed Forum Posters did some snooping and found that "WhoJackie" had been a TWOP forum member for a couple of years. They searched for some of his posts and found a post from November of last year where, completely out of the blue, he asked other readers what they thought about Murphy beds. He stated he had just moved into an apartment that had one, and he was worried about accidentally dying by folding up in it while he slept!!!

There was a response by yet another poster -- suggesting that he chain the bed to the floor. Just how deep does this joke go, anyway???

A little bit further, at least.

In the show, Earl's ex-wife Joy posts a message using "WhoJackie's" account and email, informing his online friends of his death, and inviting them to his funeral. A few hours after the show aired, Joy's message appeared on TelevisionWithoutPity, posted -- as on the show -- through WhoJackie's account. Wow. Brilliant. Whoever did this is going all out.

The extent of this meta joke is amazing, all the more because only a tiny fraction of the show's viewers will ever learn about it. You've gotta love a show that respects its viewers enough to do that every now and then.

"Joy's" message included WhoJackie's email address, with an invitation to write her there. So I did. I and many others sent messages expressing our admiration and gratitude for such well-executed humor. A short time later, I received a simple reply thanking me for my comments and for watching the show from Greg Garcia, the creator of My Name is Earl. Hee!

If you'd like to read WhoJackie's posts themselves, start here, then you can continue on and enjoy the responses and further posts.

Thanks again, Greg, or WhoJackie, or whoever else made an already-clever sitcom explode into the real world in such a delightful way. My smile is sure to go beyond two weeks.

Monday, January 01, 2007

My New Year's resolution - 1985

I know many people make resolutions at this time of year, but for some reason the idea of New Year's resolutions has always struck me as a bit arbitrary and unnecessary -- if you want to make a change to your life, why wait until a new year? So, back in my college days, I resolved to never make another New Year's resolution. I'm happy to say that I've been able to keep that resolution perfectly in the 20+ years since.

Happy New Year to all my World of Wombat readers (both of you)!