Overview of Postmodern Television

Postmodern Television

Television and movies represent the pinnacle of mass-produced American culture and exhibit many of the Postmodern motifs shared by other art forms. Below you will find a description of the most significant themes and examples of related television shows.

Pastiche Tongue-in-cheek rehashes and tributes to classic pop culture
Spectacle In the ever competitive battle for viewers, television caters to the basest and shallowest impulses to get attention
Faux TV Self-referential mockumentaries, shows about shows, and fake news
Mystery Bizarre, eclectic searches for the unknown involving spirituality, philosophy and technology
The Anti-Hero Postmodern realities blur the lines between good and evil, black and white, for both characters and viewers

Postmodern Television by Category


The Simpsons - TV's longest running sitcom follows a dysfunctional cartoon family attempting to live the American Dream

Futurama - Simpsons creator brings classic plots and foibles into the next millenium (including an alcoholic robot named Bender)

Family Guy - Satiric cartoon that is interrupted with more obscure pop culture references than a Dennis Miller show

Charmed - Three beautiful witches save the world daily in postmodern rehashes of classic fairy tales

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Tongue-in-cheek horror/comedy that follows a suburban high school student and vampire hunter

Xena: Warrior Princess - Campy fantasy adventure that mixes multiple mythologies, time periods, and a touch of postmodern feminism

Dark Angel - Jessica Alba's leather clad body is a genetically engineered weapon in another spin on postmodern feminist superheroes

Drawn Together - Reality TV parody with an eclectic mix of characters (from an overweight Betty Boop to a sexed-up Superman)

Reno 911 - Pastiche of the reality show Cops, that doesn't have to stray too far from the original for absurd plots and big laughs

Glee - "Gleeful" homage to a mashup of music, videos and pop culture, both old and new

Community - Diverse community college study group makes meta, self-aware parodies of TV tropes and pop culture



The Real World - Voyeuristic "Reality" TV original where producers hand pick a diverse/volatile group to live in a house full of booze

The Jerry Springer Show - Granddaddy of TV trainwrecks sets up hapless guests to fight and embarass themselves in trashy situations

Cops - Low culture spectacle follows America's finest as they chase half-naked addicts through a trailer park (see also Reno 911)

Survivor - Postmodern gameshow mixes reality TV with the novel Lord of the Flies as malnourished contestants plot and scheme

Married with Children - America's first family of dysfunction that spawned several sitcom clones

The Tom Green Show - Watch the master of shock humor as he plays pranks, suckles from a cow, and humps dead animals

South Park - Low-tech animation provides raunchy parables on the state of current mass culture

MTV Jackass - MTV pranksters and "extreme" sportsmen perform dangerous stunts, pranks, and body mutilation

The Girls Next Door - Sneak a peek into the Playboy mansion to experience the everyday lives of Heff's "girlfriends"

Celebrity Apprentice - What's better than job-seekers making a fool of themselves for Donald Trump? Using B-list celebrities!

Real Housewives - Middle-aged "Mean Girls" from your favorite city feud and flip tables in this popular TV trainwreck

Keeping up with the Kardashians - Family of ex-OJ lawyer grab the spotlight with outrageous situations, relationships, and sex tapes


Faux TV

Seinfeld - Pseudo-reality sit-com about "nothing" features a comedian, offbeat friends, rampant inside jokes, and a show within a show

The Office - Original British mockumentary on workplace psychology follows an incompetent boss and awkward reality TV moments

The Office (US) - American spin on a painfully unfunny boss and his attempts to make a dysfunctional office love and respect him

Da Ali G Show - Borat and other Sacha Baron Cohen characters dupe unsuspecting interviewees to reveal their prejudices

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - Pinnacle of "fake" news has ironically gone from comedy pastiche to legitimate political powerhouse

Colbert Report - Daily show spinoff features Steven Colbert's alternate right wing persona and political punditry

Modern Family - Mockumentary of a (post-)modern family made up of a wide range of stereo-typical characters

Arrested Development - Absurdly quirky, inept, and dysfunctional, the Bluth family makes self-referential and recurring jokes ("there's always money in the banana stand")

30 Rock - SNL alum heavy cast pokes fun of themselves and their corporate overlords on this show within a show



Twin Peaks - Mind-bending mystery full of twisted plots, self-reference, and bizarre events from the director David Lynch

Lost - Drama of philosophy and signs, where a group of cast-aways battle "The Others" amidst flashbacks and a web of connections

The X-Files - Paranoid and paranormal search through the mysteries of the FBI's unsolved cases involving aliens, myths, and legends

Harsh Realm - X-Files meets the Matrix in this cyberspace thriller about a hero trapped in a hyperrealistic simulation run by the military


The Anti-Hero

Breaking Bad - Chemistry teacher Walt's evolution into drug lord is driven by terminal cancer and a wish to cement his legacy

House of Cards - Kevin Spacey's character does "bad for the greater good" in political drama about manipulation, power, and revenge

Dexter - Serial killer who kills serial killers, works for the Miami police and follows a strict moral code

Game of Thrones - Story of survival features flawed heross who, neither wholly good or evil, must make compromises to stay alive