Alternative Reality TV

Illustration by Darrow

The Office

By Daniel Chun, Carolyn Omine, Matt Selman, and Matt Warburton, writers from The Simpsons

Over the past 8 episodes…
The work atmosphere at Dunder Mifflin generally stayed the same (that is, boring), though Michael’s life deteriorated rapidly. He went into debt, almost ate a poisonous mushroom, and was humiliated at a deposition about Jan’s firing. Pam and Jim’s relationship flourished, while Angela broke Dwight’s heart after he purposely froze her cat to death.


EPISODE 9: “Flu Season”
Phyllis shows up on the day of the Mardi Gras party with a runny nose. Dwight becomes paranoid about infection, but Michael insists the party must go on—he has hired a local zydeco band, the Jambalaya Jammers. Meanwhile, Jim and Pam worry that they get along so well that other couples don’t want to hang out with them. Have they become “that couple”?

EPISODE 10: “New Phone System”
During Michael’s rap song introducing the new phone system, Phyllis’s cold worsens. She vomits black blood and dies. A terrifying battalion of CDC troops in hazmat suits quarantines the office to prevent the spread of Bhutan swine flu variant-661, or “the Boot.” Meanwhile, Jim and Pam inadvertently wear matching sweaters. They ponder—are they becoming “that couple”?

EPISODE 11: “Office Idol”
As the quarantine drags on, food supplies in the office snack room have dwindled down to just the left Twix in a Twix packet. Michael decides that his employees must compete for the last remaining food in an “Office Idol” singing competition: Michael is Simon, Kelly is Paula, and Stanley is offended that he has to be Randy. Oscar wins, but Creed has stolen the Twix. Dwight decapitates him and hangs his body from a flagpole.

EPISODE 12: “Provisional Government”
Pam and Kelly are unhappy that they’ve been impregnated under the procreation directives of Brother Peace, Groove-Pope of the Neon Nation (guest star Will Arnett). Jim is mad that he wasn’t allowed to contribute his semen to the Love Pond because his fitness rating was Orange.

And for the SEASON FINALE … “Snack Time”

To lighten the mood, Michael plans a journey to the rumored “clean city” of New Pittsburgh. Despite suffering from mutations triggered by black-market plague medication, the staff is jovial for the first time in months—until events take a dramatic turn (see below). With yet another mouth to feed—and a jealous Jan planting rumors that Ryan has commenced the “Final Harvest”—the trip is canceled and thoughts turn to survival. The Food Committee decides that instead of killing one of their own, they will simply eat one of the cameramen from the rarely acknowledged, logically impossible documentary being made about their office. From now on, there is one camera angle that we never get to see.


A mutated ANDY and KEVIN high-five with tentacles growing out of their foreheads.

ANDY: Gimme some sucker!
MICHAEL’s head sticks in from out of frame, wearing a clearly fake tentacle. He tries to join the high five.
MICHAEL: Yeah! (Singing) My body’s so mutie-licious…

DWIGHT: (to MICHAEL) Fake tentacle! If that were a real tentacle, it would shrink from flame.
He holds a lighter to MICHAEL’s tentacle.

DWIGHT: See, it’s burning, not shrinking. Fake tentacle.
MICHAEL: What?! No, it’s shrinkage. (Under breath) Seinfeld.
KELLY: Oh my God, you guys! Pam’s going into labor!

Next to JIM, PAM is grimacing from labor pains.
JIM: It’s okay, Pam— I’ll take care of your baby.
PAM: Even if it isn’t The Chosen One?
A trademark JIM look to camera.

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

Gossip Girl

By Veronica Becker and Sarah Kuscerka, writers from Ugly Betty

Over the past 13 episodes…
The students of the Upper East Side’s Constance Billard and St. Jude’s schools lied, cheated, slept together, and—against all odds—fell in love. When we left off, Dan and Serena were happy, Vanessa was jealous, Blair was in exile, Chuck was plotting revenge, Jenny’s rise to power was imminent, and Nate was sitting pretty, literally and as always.


EPISODE 14: “The Breakup”
Sure, Serena and Dan were a match made in heaven—too bad Manhattan society’s social scene is hell. After one too many masquerade balls, debutante debuts, and Botox brunches, the differences between this Uptown Girl and her Wrong Side of the Tracks Romeo become too much for the couple to bear. After a disastrous V-Day, a spurned D. leaves his love for good.

EPISODE 15: “Saved?”
Blair’s legging-clad lemmings all officially defect to Jenny’s clique, and Blair’s popularity—like her virginity—can’t be resurrected. When her ex won’t forgive her, B. has to find a new guy, someone even more popular than Nate … Jesus. Looks like the only way for Blair to wipe her slate clean is to be born again—literally. Blair’s newfound religion crucifies her sense of style as she trades Imitation of Christ for the real thing.

EPISODE 16: “Less Than Hero”
Hoping to dull his Waldorf-induced woe, Nate stumbles upon his dad’s pharmacopoeia and tastes a little nose candy himself. Our newly addicted Adonis tries to keep his hobby under wraps, but snoopy Serena sniffs out his hard-partying ways and falls down the rabbit hole herself. So the Original Cheaters are hot and heavy again—this time totally out in the open.

And for the SEASON FINALE … “Prom Night”

When it comes time to pick a prom date, Dan shuns his upper-crust admirers, preferring something more hipster than couture. Who? Friend/stalker Vanessa, who enrolls in his school just in the nick of time. With the old guard fallen from grace, there’s room for a new clique in the halls, and Brooklynites Dan, Vanessa, and Jenny are it. But Dan and Vanessa’s budding romance hits a Sapphic snag at the club Tenjune when Prom King and Queen are announced.


Hey Upper East Siders, Gossip Girl here. All the Park Avenue princesses are packing Bendel, Barneys, and Bergdorf looking for the perfect dress. But one accessory can’t be bought—the Prom Queen Crown!

JENNY: (to the CROWD) And your 2008 Prom King and Queen are … shocker! Dan and Vanessa!

CHUCK presses “send” on his phone.

CHUCK: (to the CROWD) Not for long. Gossip Girl just posted, and it looks like one of you is still in love with … Serena?!

DAN: (pleads with VANESSA) It’s not true, I swear. Look at her—she’s nothing but a crack whore now!

NATE AND SERENA: (to no one in particular) Sniff, sniff.

BLAIR: (CROSS in one hand, she winds up to punch DAN) That crack whore is my best friend!

VANESSA: (to SERENA) It’s not Dan who loves you … It’s me. You’re so hot!

SERENA: (flattered, and totally wasted) Huh. Well, this party sucks anyway. Wanna make out?

VOICE-OVER: Just another boring night in Manhattan. But don’t worry, things will get more interesting at the after-party, when a certain threesome become a little more than just friends. Who am I? That’s one secret I’ll never tell. You know you love me. XOXO, Gossip Girl

Illustrations by Dan Goldman

Friday Night Lights

By Mindy Kaling and Ryan Koh, writers from The Office

Over the past 12 episodes…
The Dillon Panthers hit a rough patch: Smash punched a white guy and got suspended, Riggins fell in with a meth dealer, and Matt had his heart broken. Coach and Tami fought about baby-rearing duties. Lyla was born again, and Tyra continued to be tall.

EPISODE 13: “The Big Game”
It’s the sixth-to-last game of the season and the stakes could not be higher. Unfortunately, three of the best players have gone missing. With four seconds left before the game, they show up, and the Panthers win by a small margin.

EPISODE 14: “Play-offs”
The team prepares for the play-offs. The stakes are unbearably high. Lyla and Tyra run into each other in the supermarket and get into a fight; Lyla is rich and Tyra is poor. As it happens, everyone else is in the supermarket, too and has taken sides on the matter, roughly along class lines. Also, Riggins has gone missing. But Saracen is no longer missing, and he leads the team to victory by a small margin.

EPISODE 15: “Coach, I Can Do This”
With the stakes dangerously high, the mayor cancels the game, but the rivalry between Lyla and Tyra goes on. Lyla is pretty in a pristine way, Tyra in a rough-hewn way, both appealing. Who will win the heart of quarterback Jason Street, or bad boy Riggins (both appealing)? At the Taylors’, Coach and Tami can’t see eye to eye. Coach tries to balance work and family, while Tami wants to balance family and work. The team defies the mayor and plays Odessa, uniting the town again.

EPISODE 16: “The Semis”
Flags are flown at half-mast in a day of mourning for the Panthers’ overtime loss. Coach Taylor’s daughter Julie robs the Dillon Applebee’s. “I love you, Jules,” he says, “but you just don’t rob Applebee’s.”

And for the SEASON FINALE… “The Bowl”

The governor of Texas wagers the state’s electoral votes on the outcome of a Panthers scrimmage. Before the game, an exhausted Coach Taylor simply paraphrases Bill Pullman’s speech from Independence Day. The varsity squad, uninspired, heads into the fourth quarter tied with JV at 14 before the events pictured below. With Riggins’s heroism, the integrity of the presidential election is saved—but meanwhile, Julie has gone missing.


With only seconds remaining, RIGGINS dives over the offensive and defensive lines into the end zone.
ANNOUNCER: (offscreen) …And Riggins’s gutsy dive puts the Panthers ahead 20 to 14! But it looks like he got shaken up on the play. He’s not getting up.

ANNOUNCER: Let’s hope Riggins is all right, because there’s just something about him that is very attractive.
A DOCTOR kneels beside RIGGINS.
DOCTOR: This looks bad. I’ll have to cut off his jersey.

The jersey is cut away to reveal RIGGINS’s abs—instead of a six-pack, it’s a twelve-pack.
DOCTOR: Oh my God.
COACH TAYLOR: What is it, Doctor?
DOCTOR: There are too many abs here!
On the sidelines, LYLA and TYRA burst into tears.

We see RIGGINS, his shirt shredded, waking, then getting …
RIGGINS: I wanna play.
Behind him is a flapping AMERICAN FLAG.
RADIO D.J.: (Playing in the car as COACH drives home) And they went on to win the game. The odds were against them, but they did it. Every single person pulled his own weight, and the weight of his teammates, and the weight of the town, and they did it. By a small margin.

Illustrations by Matthew Woodson

Grey’s Anatomy

By Lauren Gussis, writer from Dexter

Over the past 11 episodes…
The surgical ward of Seattle Grace saw all sorts of scandal. George and Izzie embarked on the most ill-fated relationship in history, while Callie dealt with the fact that George dumped her for someone much prettier (but more annoying). Derek and Meredith continued with their on-again/off-again non-relationship, Alex got it on with Lexie, and Miranda’s husband gave her the boot. Cristina just hung around.

EPISODE 12: “Love and Marriage”
Meredith decides she wants Derek back, but she’s too late—Derek has asked Rose to marry him, even though they’ve never actually had a real date. Meanwhile, Tucker, Miranda’s husband, tries to serve her with divorce papers, but she’s too busy to receive them.

EPISODE 13: “Every Breath You Take”
On the top bunk of the break room, Alex and Lexie have a hot three-way with Rebecca (Jane Doe), who has come back … again. On the bottom bunk, George has sex with Cristina. Ever competitive, she needs to rectify the fact that everyone except her has slept with George. When Izzie finds out, she stalks and (unsuccessfully) tries to kill Cristina.

EPISODE 14: “You Oughtta Know”
Izzie is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and is checked into the psych ward of Seattle Grace. Meanwhile, Cristina finds out she’s pregnant with George’s baby, but decides not to tell George—at least not until he’s really getting along with Callie again.

EPISODE 15: “Hard Sun”
Derek goes on an epic search for Burke (he needs him to be his best man) and finds him in Alaska, living as a professional fly fisherman–slash–mountain man. Back at the hospital, Richard realizes Meredith is as desperate as he is, so he makes a pass at her and they make out in the locker room.

And for the SEASON FINALE… “Our House”

Meredith finds out shocking news: Thatcher’s not her real father … Richard is! Derek stands Rose up at the altar because he’s found out he has only three months to live. Meredith and Richard decide to explore their father-daughter relationship, and he tries not to get turned on when she calls him Daddy. Izzie is institutionalized for good, and Cristina has a(nother) miscarriage.


MEREDITH: Last night was a mistake. Like the biggest, most heinous mistake in the history of mistakes. I don’t know how to say this…
RICHARD: (nervously running a hand through his newly coiffed hair) Is it the hair? I can change the hair.
MEREDITH backs away from him, but they’re in an elevator, so she can’t move far.
MEREDITH: Richard. Listen to me. You’re my father. I found my birth certificate.
RICHARD: But last night we …
RICHARD: Thank God we didn’t—
RICHARD: I need some air.


RICHARD and MEREDITH run into DEREK walking down the hall, pale-faced.
RICHARD: Derek. Are you all right?
DEREK: I have stomach cancer. They gave me three months to live.
MEREDITH: Seriously?
MEREDITH goes to hug DEREK, who forcefully shrugs off her embrace.
DEREK: Meredith, please. I wasted the last three years on you. I don’t want to waste even three seconds of my last three months.
Then … 
DEREK: I need to go kiss some more nurses.
A group of NURSES trails behind him.

Illustration by Christopher SlebodaPhoto: Getty Images [Giraffe]; David M. Russell/Courtesy of Rachel Ray [Ray]; Adam Taylor/Courtesy of NBC [Hiro Nakamura]; Chris Haston/Courtesy of NBC [Claire Bennet, American Gladiator]; Art Streiber/Courtesy of ABC [Locke]

… And 13 other shows

By J. R. Havlan, Steve Bodow, Rob Kutner, Tim Carvell, Jason Ross, Kevin Bleyer, Rachel Axler, Sam Means, Scott Jacobson, and Rich Blomquist, writers from The Daily Show

It turns out the island is actually a peninsula. Boy, are they embarrassed.

The power to keep track of all the new heroes becomes way rarer than invisibility or time travel. Seeking to scrimp on budgets, NBC rolls out an entirely special-effects-free spinoff called Bystanders.

In order to prove a housewife’s flulike symptoms are actually a rare bronchial infection contracted from giraffe dung, House must kill and dissect the housewife. His colleagues protest this grave Hippocratic breach until—guess what? Turns out he was right about the giraffe-crap thing.

How I Met Your Mother
The show takes a dark and unexpected turn when Ted’s children are conceived, but then aborted.

Pushing Daisies
Attempting to revive his strike-threatened show, Ned decides to “touch himself.” Unfortunately, he enjoys it so much he touches himself again, killing the series for good.

Mad Men
Everyone on the show dies, just minutes before the surgeon general warns that a diet of martinis, Lucky Strikes, and hard-boiled eggs might not be the best idea.

In a case designed specifically to take advantage of the CSI unit’s skills, the cops must track down a serial killer who stabs his victims with knives made of frozen bodily fluids.

In a finale directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the Geico-ad spinoff abandons broad comedy; instead, the prehistoric buddies face existential oblivion when a Christian Evangelist denies they ever existed. The final confrontation, in a disused bowling alley, has much to teach us about life in 21st-century America. Eat that, critics!

American Gladiators
In an embarrassing mix-up, Simon, Randy, and Paula tell Militia he will not be going to Hollywood. He kills them.

Discovery Channel Planet Earth
Some crazy fish things eat these weird plankton-y guys. Plus: HD crab fight!

Man vs. Wild
Wild wins. Werner Herzog advises America not to watch the final episode.

Rachael Ray
Rachael wraps a pretzel in a piece of bologna and calls it a “healthy 30-second snack.” TV executives reward her with another multimillion-dollar contract.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, So You Think You Can Dance, and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
The shows end with the answers “Me,” “Not really,” and “Yes.”

Alternative Reality TV