Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » October 2004 » The Pop Culture Universe (almost) Completely Explained... Part Deux

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10/04/2004: The Pop Culture Universe (almost) Completely Explained... Part Deux

I'm moving this to the top o'the blog, because I can....

Tommy Westphall's Mind--A Multiverse Explored

Apparently (I've not had a chance to completely explore the premise yet), the entire run of the medical drama St. Elsewhere was explained in the last episode as being all a dream in the mind of an autistic child, Tommy Westphall. However, St. Elsewhere directly crossed over with Homicide: Life on the Streets in one episode (a character in St. E. was investigated for murder by some characters in H:LotS). Thus, you are constrained to conclude that the "universe" of H:LotS is also a figment of Tommy Westphall's autistic imagination. But St. E. also crossed over with more shows, which crossed over with more shows..... and H:LotS crossed over with the Law and Order franchise... and both of them crossed over with other shows....

When the dust settles, it appears that over 164 (!) series spanning six decades (!--from 1951 to the present) are all figments of Tommy Westphall's overactive imagination.

Actually, that explains quite a bit....

Go check it out. Amazing.

UPDATE: I've had a chance to study the crossover grid (Excel spreadsheet: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~kwgow/crossovers.xls) and the "crossover key" (MS Word format: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~kwgow/cross_key.doc or UNIX text format: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~kwgow/cross_key.txt) in detail, and I'm a little less impressed than I was originally. Basically, the main problem I have with this crossover analysis is the large number of shows--by my count 61 in total, and I may have missed a couple--that are linked to St. Elsewhere/Homicide: Life on the Streets via an obscure 1991 Nickelodeon/Nick at Night/ABC sitcom titled Hi Honey I'm Home. I never paid much attention to this show when it played in its original run (apparently about one year or less), but the premise of the show was that a 1950's sitcom family ("the Nielsons"--get it?) were settled in contemporary (i.e., 1991 vintage) suburbia by "The Sitcom Relocation Program". Apparently, via the magic of film clips, a lot of characters from classic sitcoms (including, but not limited to: Hazel, Get Smart (the '60's version), The Munsters, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Flying Nun, The Cosby Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Leave it To Beaver, The Lucy Show, The Honeymooners, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and Mr. Ed) would appear in the show and interact with the Neilsons or their neighbors, the Duffs. (A number of user comments at the IMDB entry for Hi Honey I'm Home note the essential similarity of Hi Honey I'm Home to, and speculate that the show may have been the inspiration for, the movie Pleasantville).

The problem I have with this is that to my mind, Hi Honey I'm Home doesn't seem to me to qualify as being a real part of "the television universe"--it's clearly a (possibly brilliant) spoof of the world of classic sitcoms, but I have trouble taking it seriously as a "real" show within the concept of a "television universe". Maybe my problem is that I don't think that "reality" should ridicule itself so blatantly, so I suppose my objection could be classified as aesthetic (that principle, that "reality" shouldn't blatantly spoof itself, is my nutshell critique of most of the Roger Moore incarnation of the James Bond movie canon--it's hard to take the Bond universe seriously when it's busy spoofing itself). However, another, more telling, objection to me is that the interactions of the classic sitcom characters in Hi Honey I'm Home are not interactions which naturally occurred in the context of those original, classic sitcoms, nor are they true crossovers (in the sense that the classic sitcom actors did real guest appearances on Hi Honey I'm Home); it's all video (or film) artistry, nothing more. And that strikes me as being fake--not even having the "artist's perfected vision" justification behind George Lucas's championship of the "Special Editions" of The Star Wars Trilogy to the exclusion of the original theatrical release versions. The more I think of it, the more I think the entire branch of the crossover tree that stems from Hi Honey I'm Home should be disallowed in this analysis.

Another thing that "bothers" me about the chain of crossovers here (though this doesn't bother me nearly as much as the inclusion of Hi Honey I'm Home in the linkage chain) is that it appears that a number of the crossovers listed here were done by one or more networks (my impression is that NBC is the offender here, though other networks may have done this too) as part of one or more "crossover night" promotion(s) where every show on the network's lineup that night would have at least one character from it appear on every other show on the network's lineup that evening. That has a tendency to (IMHO) artificially inflate the number of connections between shows, but it doesn't seem as artificial as the tenuous connections through an obvious genre spoof, so I won't complain about it too much.

I also have a few minor quibbles concerning shows that changed title through their runs. For example, the author here counts The Danny Thomas Show and Make Room For Daddy as two separate shows, when I'd classify it as one show that changed title (the show originally aired as Make Room For Daddy (in 1951), and changed title to The Danny Thomas Show later in its run (in 1957--the name change appears to have occurred when the show jumped networks from ABC to CBS in '57)). For what it's worth, the Internet Movie Database agrees with me in this analysis, showing only one entry under Make Room For Daddy with The Danny Thomas Show as an alternate title (see: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045410/). Less tenuous but arguable: the author counts repackaged shows as two separate shows, e.g. Love That Bob was a repackaged and syndicated version of The Bob Cummings Show (note that, like Make Room For Daddy, the IMDB has only one entry for The Bob Cummings Show, listing Love That Bob as an alternate title, see: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047752/).

However, except for the matter of Hi Honey I'm Home (the inclusion of which in the analysis bothers me more and more the longer I think about it), the rest of these criticisms are minor. Even removing the 61 shows linked to St. Elsewhere/Homicide: Life on the Streets via Hi Honey I'm Home, that still leaves 103 shows (ok, 101 if, like me, you don't count the retitled versions of Make Room For Daddy and The Bob Cummings Show as separate shows) linked via crossovers (and they still span six decades; I Love Lucy dates all the way to 1951, while several of the shows listed are still on the air in their original runs). One hell of an accomplishment!

SOURCE: No I didn't pick this up via Atrios (I hate to confess this, but Atrios isn't a "primary" blog for me; in other words I don't regularly read Atrios, but I only read selected posts from there that either email correspondents or one of the blogs I do read regularly refer to. Sorry; so many blogs, so little time). I actually picked this up via Cornell philosopher Brian Weatherson's blog, where Weatherson offers six objections to the "Tommy Westphall hypothesis"; that is, the initial position that, since all of St. Elsewhere was a figment of Tommy Westphall's autistic imagination, then every other television show that can be linked (via common characters, i.e., "crossovers") to St. Elsewhere is also a figment of Tommy Westphall's imagination.

But to end this already overly long post, I'll go ahead and quote Atrios since I mention him:

If only the Bush administration were a figment of Tommy Westphall's imagination...

Len on 10.04.04 @ 09:45 PM CST


Replies: 1 comment

on Wednesday, October 6th, 2004 at 6:44 AM CST, Keith said

Well, the "Hi Honey, I'm Home" thing is problematic, I agree. But as best we can tell, some of the actors did appear as their characters in the series - so while it's a metafictional nightmare (we're glad it only lasted two short seasons), it seems reasonable to suggest that at least those characters that appeared exist in that same universe - or only one step removed from it.

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