Saturday, February 5, 2011

Making pop culture references count.

If there's one thing that really separates bad writers from good ones, it is the way one deals with pop culture references.

In short, pop culture references aren't supposed to be empty, pointless, random or forced.

Instead they are supposed to have a context, sound natural and have a point. A good writer also knows that sometimes you need to hide your references.

Because it's not really about the reference. It's about the situation itself.

Doesn't seem that hard, right?

Depends really on who's writing the reference. It can be really good. It can be really bad.

Family Guy has made a virtue out of making empty, random and totally pointless references. The show is basically nothing more than flashbacks and cutaways to some 80's incident or person. No need to respect a show like that.

Nevertheless, one of the worst, if not actually the worst reference ever, was the reference in one of Community's episodes. An empty, random, pointless, out of the blue reference of one character saying "I love you" and the other one saying "I know". (Star Wars)

The fans of the show say that Community is about some clever meta-level stuff. But you don't have to go further than that to understand that there really is no there there.

No cleverness, no point, random, no context. It's just there in the open. Empty and tired.

But "I love you" - "I know" isn't necessarily a bad reference itself. You just have to know how to use it.

For example, how would 30 Rock reference it? Well, I would think that it would involve an exchange of thoughts between Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy. Perhaps they would be drunk... and the following lines would be said:

Liz Lemon: "Oh Mr. Donaghy, you are such a wonderful person" (beat)

Jack Donaghy: "I love you too, Lemon" (beat) "I'm sorry, I meant to say I know".

Or you could switch and first say "I know" and then "I'm sorry, Lemon, I meant to say I love you too". Depending on which one would give it a better flow.

In any case, notice how the reference is consistent with Alec Baldwin's character. It's natural, it has a point and it's not completely obvious.

You didn't notice it? That's why it's a good reference.

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