The Most Mind-F***ing Meta Moments In Comedies
Breaking the fourth wall is always risky: There’s a thin line between a meta moment that blows your mind and one that leaves you saying, “Ugh, pull your head out of your ass and finish the damn intro to the article already” (see what I did there?). In celebration of Adaptation’s 20th anniversary, here’s our humble ranking of the times when comedy movies and shows got more self-aware than a room full of awkward teenagers…
Rick and Morty Get Stuck in a ‘Previously On...’ Loop
Rick and Morty has been lightly tapping the fourth wall via little jokes and comments since Season One, but the recent episode “Full Meta Jackrick” took a sledgehammer to it. When some sort of metafictional parasite called Previous Leon traps our favorite Back to the Future ripoff characters in the little ”Previously on Rick and Morty...” segment at the start of the episode, the only way out is through the opening sequence, which means the show finally acknowledged that moment in the intro when Rick escapes into a portal as those giant olive-shaped creatures are about to pounce on Morty. On the subject of big green monsters…
She-Hulk Smashes the Disney+ Menu
Building on She-Hulk’s decades-long fourth wall-breaking tendencies from the comics, her Disney+ show culminates with the character commenting on how poorly written her season finale seems to be and taking matters into her own hands. This involves Shulkie busting out of the show via the Disney+ menu (or, we guess, a torrent program if you pirated the series) and walking into Marvel Studios to demand a better ending from the writers and K.E.V.I.N. Feige. If only Iron Fist had thought of that...
Ferris Tells You to Go Home
After spending the whole movie talking to the camera and treating you as his confidante, Ferris rather indelicately tells you to leave the theater and go home if you stay after the credits. What do you think this is, a Marvel movie from the future?
Deadpool ALSO Tells You to Go Home
This is a Marvel movie from the future, so Deadpool’s surprise at seeing the audience stick around after the credits is less justified, but at least he tries to make life easier for the ushers by telling you to be a decent person and pick up your damn trash before leaving the cinema.
This is the Theme to Garry’s Show
Does it count as breaking the fourth wall if the show never had a fourth wall to begin with? Even the secondary characters seemed to know they were actors playing sitcom characters (who occasionally played sitcom characters), but I am still duty-bound to include this here because it had what has to be the world’s first fully self-aware theme song. Shandling would even mess with the song at times by having the studio audience sing it or bringing in a Chinese man to perform it in his language. More shows should do stuff like that (“This is the theme to Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story...”).
The Muppets Read the Script
In order to avoid boring the audience with a plot recap, Fozzie catches Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem up with what’s happened thus far by handing them a script, and they just sit there and read it. Later on, the band shows up to save Kermit and the rest at a crucial moment because they peeked ahead in the script and knew what was going to happen. It’s like something out of a Charlie Kaufman movie. Speaking of which…
Nicolas Cage/Charlie Kaufman Writes Adaptation (2002)
This whole movie is one big meta mind-f***, but the center of the maze is the scene when Charlie Kaufman, tasked with adapting a book about flowers into a movie, has a breakthrough and starts writing a script about Charlie Kaufman being tasked with adapting a book about flowers into a movie, before deciding that’s a stupid and pretentious idea.
Eventually, he turns the script over to his hacky Hollywood writer brother (“How would the great Donald end this script?”), and from that point on, the movie has everything Charlie swore he wouldn’t include: sex, guns, car chases and characters overcoming obstacles and succeeding in the end. It’s a shame that Donald never got any other movies produced simply because he’s fictional (and dead).
The Network Dismantles Moonlighting
She-Hulk rests upon the shoulders of giants, and those giants are named Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd — and the people who wrote their dialogue. The fourth wall-breaking in Moonlighting started out by accident: While hurriedly writing one episode as it was being shot, the writers couldn’t figure out how to make the characters solve a mystery, so they ended up having Bruce Willis say he did it “during the commercial.”
Over time, the fourth wall abuse grew from short quips at the camera to cold opens complaining about the need for cold opens to ending a season with the set being dismantled (see above) to ending the show with the characters being told they got canceled. It’s a crime that this show isn’t on streaming (but they're working on it, apparently).
The Cops Break Up Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Just as the opposing armies are about to clash in the film’s climax, the cops show up to arrest King Arthur for the death of a famous historian who was shooting a documentary earlier in the film and then break up the fight and take down the camera. Too bad they never got to Camelot; we don't care if it was a silly place or only a model.
Fast-Forwarding the Spaceballs VHS
Thanks to a breakthrough in home video marketing, the bad guys are able to find the good guys by popping a VHS copy of the movie they’re currently starring in into a VCR and simply fast-forwarding through it. This leads to the moment when Dark Helmet and his cronies watch themselves on screen, watching themselves on screen, watching themselves on screen, watching— and so on.
I’m honestly surprised the universe didn’t collapse when Mel Brooks was shooting this scene (whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you). I’, still waiting for Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money and Spaceballs: The Flamethrower, though.
Thumbnail: Sony Pictures Releasing