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Take Five: Ideal Audience Participatory Screenings of Classic TV Episodes

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 18, 2007

Yet another reason to avoid Broadway altogether

Last Saturday I went to a screening of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan-favorite musical episode “Once More, With Feeling” at the IFC Center. These screenings, held monthly I think, are done audience-particpatory style–think Rocky Horror, or Sound of Music, except not quite so awful. There was a live cast acting out the episode’s musical numbers, there were goodie bags handed out to audience members (with bubbles, finger-puppets and smoke bombs, the latter of which accidentally alerted the fire department) and an instruction card directing the appropriate times to use the items within, there was even Buffy trivia and fan videos and such played beforehand. The episode’s not great–though it’s occasionally clever and some of the musical numbers are cute, the plot and musical tie-ins are usually pretty weak–but the participation parts were a lot of fun. It got me thinking on what other TV episodes would work well for this sort of thing. Here’s five I came up with:

  • Show: Seinfeld
  • Episode: “The Strike”
  • General Plot: Though like any Seinfeld episode, subplots are abound–Elaine tries to get her free 10th sandwich at a local deli after enduring nine lousy ones, Kramer goes back to work at H&H Bagels after his 12-year strike ends, Jerry dates a “two-face” (hott in one light, ugly in another)–“The Strike” is remembered first and foremost as the Seinfeld episode that introduced the world to Festivus. Apparently based on a real-life holiday invented by the father of one of the Seinfeld writers, Festivus instantly became an essential part of holiday season pop culture, and still inspires actual Festivus parties across the country.
  • Suggestions for Audience Participation: Audiences would be encouraged to bring their own metal poles, cheer every time Kramer makes a remark about a “Festivus Miracle!” and of course, have post-theatrical wrestling matches to determine their own Feats of Strenght. Oh, and the theater should probably fill up with steam after Kramer sabotages H&H to do similarly (“Can we still make bagels?” “Yeah, it’ll just be a little steamy.”)A surefire holiday windfall for theaters everywhere.
  • Show: “Chappelle’s Show”
  • Episode: Season Two, Episode 1 (No Official Name)
  • General Plot: The second season premiere has four main skits, at least three of which are classics–the first (as pictured above) is Chappelle doing a Sam Adams-like ad for Samuel Jackson beer, the second is the fairly self explanatory “Better in Slow Motion,” and the third, and by far most memorable, is the Racial Draft, either the most or least insightful (and definitely the funniest) analysis of race relations in the U.S. today. Oh, and there’s some fourth skit called “Campaign Advertisements” that I don’t remember at all, I’m sure it was fine.
  • Suggestions for Audience Participation: This is mostly just an episode for the audience yelling along at the screen–“It’ll getcha DRUNK! You’ll be fucking fat bitches in no time!” and “Konichiwa, Bitches!” being the two most notable examples. Oh, and maybe some optional Robotussin for the Slow-Mo skit.
  • Show: The Simpsons
  • Episode: “Last Exit to Springfield”
  • Plot Description: Mr. Burns attempts a moral victory by attempting to revoke the Plant workers’ dental plans, but when Homer realizes that without the dental plan, he’ll have to pay for Lisa’s braces, he decides to fight the boss’s decision, unwittingly becoming the union leader in the process.
  • Suggestions for Audience Participation: Audience sings along to the “Land of Chocolate” music that plays while Mr. Burns imagines running the plant just with him and Smithers, is served non-lethal Salmon Puffs during the opening McBain sequence, and blows bubbles (and perhaps abuses their own anesthetics) for Lisa’s Yellow Submarine-inspired dentist hallucination. Of course, this is all just an excuse for the coup de grace–the theater, divided evenly into two sides, taking on the respective roles of Homer’s subconscious: “Lisa need braces!” “DENTAL PLAN!
  • Show: The Office (US)
  • Episode: “The Dundies”
  • Plot: Described by Pam as “like a car wreck, but you can’t turn away…because your boss is making you watch,” Michael holds his annual Dundies award ceremony at the local Chili’s, where he hands out the titular trophies to his extremely uncomfortable employees. Roy is an asshole to Pam, who gets drunk and semi-unwittingly kisses Jim for the first time.
  • Suggestions for Audience Participation: The Office trivia is held beforehand, with honorary Dundies going to whatver audience members gets questions right (or whoever comes dressed in the most convincing Office costume, though who knows what that would really look like). During the actual show, subtitles are put on so the audience can sing along to Michael’s half-based karaoke, stink bombs are set off when Michael gives Stanley the “Don’t Go in There After Me” award, and everyone makes out with the person next to them while Dwight gives Pam unnecessary CPR.
  • Show: Twin Peaks
  • Episode: “Beyond Life and Death”
  • Plot: In the season two (and unfortunately, series) finale, Dale follows his insane ex-partner Windom Earle into the possibly demonic alternate dimension known as “The Black Lodge,” starting what is paramount to an hour-long journey through hell, or at least some sort of surreal and frightening limbo.
  • Suggestions for Audience Participation: Audience is given the appropriate recording instruments to enable themselves to approximate the backwards-speaking, backwards playing dialogue spoken by nearly all characters in The Black Lodge, and is told to shriek along with Evil Laura Palmer when she does her banshee wail thing. Also, everyone smacks their head into the chair in front of them and cackles maniacally along with the last scene. And there’s probably a strobe light going in the theater the whole time.
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4 Responses to “Take Five: Ideal Audience Participatory Screenings of Classic TV Episodes”

  1. I think a better Simpsons choice would be “A Streetcar Named Marge.” It has a musical aspect with songs far more hilarious than Buffy’s (The Simpsons always did musical parodies right: the Betty Ford Clinic musical, “Stop This Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!”) and the great Maggie subplot featuring Bridge on the River Kwai and The Birds references. Plus, Jon Lovitz’s one-liners as Llewellyn Sinclair are priceless.

    Still, none of those shows will get the same treatment as the Buffy musical, simply because no TV show fans (with the obvious exception of Trekkies) are as devoted to their show as Buffy fans.

  2. Mitchell Stirling said

    The Germans episode of Fawlty Towers would qualify for this in my book.

  3. billy said

    “Abound” is a verb. (How you like your audience participation now??!)

  4. Sonja said

    Um fyi you did not wait for me, and also that episode is way better than you described it and maybe would’ve been even better had you WAITED for me.

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