5 Perfect Homage TV Episodes

homage episodes

The homage episode is a tricky thing to pull off. If a show picks a target that’s been done too many times before the whole exercise could come off as lazy (see 95% of all It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol themed Christmas episodes), but if they pick one that’s too obscure they risk confusing their audience. Homage episodes also require a high level of commitment from everyone involved. Their enthusiasm for the subject matter needs to be downright blatant, otherwise as a viewer I’m going to end up wondering if the writers decided to devote an entire episode to Casablanca because it was on TV the night before the script was due.

But when an homage episode works? It’s a thing of geeky beauty. It pulls back the curtain and reveals that the people who make the shows we love are at heart fans themselves. This in turn creates a sense of community between the viewers and the people responsible for making the show. Homage episodes also tend to be format-busting affairs that completely upend our expectations. To put it simply: they’re fun.

I’ve put together a list of the five homage episodes that I feel are perfect on every level: they express love for the subject they’re emulating, bring something new to the table and are entertaining in their own right.

The X-Files– “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (Season 5, Episode 5)
 

x files

Perhaps the greatest stand-alone monster of the week episode of The X-Files is “The Post-Modern Prometheus.” (I’ll take opposing arguments in the comments.) It’s a send-up to all things Frankenstein, but it is most overtly an homage to the 1931 film version, with nods to Mary Shelley’s novel thrown in for good measure. Here the monster is The Great-Mutato (Chris Owens), a gentle-hearted Cher fan who is the result of a genetic experiment conducted by the episode’s answer to Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Pollidari (John O’Hurley).

In addition to being filmed in black and white, a sky backdrop was used to create an authentic classic monster movie aesthetic. As written and directed by Chris Carter, the episode is wryly funny. The action is all heightened just enough to allow the viewer to revel in the throw-back style, but it never devolves into pure camp. It never forgets that at its heart is a Cher loving, lonely “monster” that just wants to be loved. After an hour of pitchfork-wielding locals, Jerry Springer cameos and horror movie references, Carter happily deviates from the standard tale to allow Mulder and Scully to give their monster a happy ending. Then there’s dancing.

Psych– “Dual Spires” (Season 5, Episode 12)
 

PSYCH Dual Spires (11)

I have never seen more than half of an episode of Twin Peaks, but even I could tell how much love and energy the Psych team poured into “Dual Spires.” In addition to locking down seven cast members from the original series as guest stars, they also had a Twin Peaks-style version of their theme song recorded by Julee Cruise, the composer of the Twin Peaks theme. That was on top of the dozens of references sprinkled throughout the super-sized episode which began with the discovery of a Laura Palmer-esque figure dead by a lake.

Even though I couldn’t appreciate every reference, the giddiness of the cast and the strength of the story carried me through the more obscure hat tips. That’s the mark of a great homage episode–it doesn’t alienate viewers who aren’t obsessed with the source material themselves, but can still wow those who are.

Felicity– “Help for the Lovelorn” (Season 2, Episode 11)
 

felicity

Back before J.J. Abrams was making shows about spies and plane crash survivors, he made Felicity, a show about a normal college student. “Help for the Lovelorn” made it clear that Abrams was doing us all a huge disservice by telling stories about normal things. The episode was an homage to The Twilight Zone, particularly “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.” Abrams even landed the director of that iconic episode, Lamont Johnson, to direct “Help for the Lovelorn.”

The purely standalone episode followed Felicity as she went to a mysterious clinic in hopes of having her broken heart mended before twisting to reveal the contents of Felicity’s roommate Meghan’s secret box. Shot in black and white, the episode is creepy and cool–the perfect tribute to The Twilight Zone and a brief glimpse at all of the epic Abrams work that was still to come.

Community– “Basic Lupine Urology” (Season 3, Episode 17)
 

Community

Community is basically one long homage to all things pop culture, but if forced to single out one episode, I have to go with “Basic Lupine Urology” for the sheer amount of focus it exhibits. Where other theme episodes cram in references to dozens of films and shows, “Basic Lupine Urology” was all Law and Order, all the time. From the ching-ching sound between scene breaks to Abed and Troy buying a hotdog from a stand at Greendale that looked suspiciously like it was in fake New York, it was a terrific send up to the classic franchise done with the scary amount of attention to detail I’ve come to expect from Community.

Medium– “Bite Me” (Season 6, Episode 6)
 

Medium

Allison’s dreams were always unsettling on Medium, but having her subconscious insert her and her family into the Night of the Living Dead was a whole new layer of terrifying. In addition to having to take on the Barbara role in her nightmares, she also had to contend with her zombie-sustained injuries following her into the waking world. Unlike the other episodes on the list, “Bite Me” wasn’t a complete departure from form, but the eerie, black and white dream segments were so spot on it was impossible to leave it out.

 

Do you have a favorite homage episode? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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