So it’s come to this: A Nashville clip show.
Kinda. On Wednesday, instead of another soapy installment of country-fried drama, ABC will air an hourlong “On the Record Music Special” — during which Nashville cast members will “take the stage to perform show favorites then sit down in the Bluebird Café for acoustic performances and an intimate look at the songwriting process with the songwriters themselves.”
In other words, this is Nashville‘s spin on one of television’s oldest, most reliable hole-pluggers and money-savers: the clip show. Like clip shows of old, this one will be centered on previously-seen material (every song to be performed has already appeared on Nashville); unlike, say, that episode of Friends where Ross and Rachel contemplate their relationship on the even of his wedding to Emily, the Nashville special won’t simply intersperse a few new scenes with a bunch of old ones and call it a day. Which got me thinking: Which other series have found ways to invigorate the clip show formula, adhering to its basic rules while presenting something innovative and exciting? The five best answers I could come up with:
The Simpsons: “138th Episode Spectacular” (season 7, episode 10)
The gold standard of quirky clip shows. There’s old footage here, to be sure — some all the way from the show’s primordial Tracey Ullman days — but it’s also a half-hour filled with never-before-seen outtakes (Robot Richard Simmons!), wry meta-humor, and tantalizing trivia that turns out to be straight-up lies. (No, the cash register in the show’s opening sequence does not read “NRA4EVER” when Maggie is scanned.) It’s all helmed to perfection by the Olivier of Springfield, Troy McClure. Moment of silence for Phil Hartman, please.
Charmed: “Cat House” (season 5, episode 18)
There was more to this supernatural drama than hot witches in skimpy outfits. Case in point: “Cat House,” a nifty hour that finds Phoebe and Paige sent back in time to relive their sister Piper’s memories — a.k.a. to appear in scenes that have already happened on the show. It’s a little awkward when the script has to find ways to explain why Shannen Doherty’s Prue, who left Charmed in season 3, isn’t playing a bigger role — we only ever see the character’s back — but overall, the conceit works.
Frasier: “Daphne Returns” (season 8, episode 19)
A clip show that’s actually important to the series’ larger narrative? Frasier managed that feat late in its run, with an episode that finds Frasier and Niles revisiting scenes from previous episodes — literally standing alongside their past selves — so that Niles can examine his true feelings about Daphne. It’s an appropriately cerebral approach from one of TV’s brainiest sitcoms, and it ends with Niles realizing that he’s unfairly put the object of his affection on a pedestal. Win/win!
iCarly: “iApril Fools” (season 6, episode 1)
Yes, this is the manic Nickelodeon show that birthed that other manic Nickelodeon show, the one that may or may not be torn apart by naked pictures. But! This episode in particular does some pretty cool stuff with the clip show format, as explained by this handy description in the iCarly Wiki: “In this special April Fool’s Day episode, Carly and Spencer are being evicted. They throw a party and the gang reminisces about their time in Bushwell Plaza. They have help from their genie friend T-Bo in case they need a little magic. However, their memories are changed and warped to become silly and nearly nothing like the actual occurrences” — leading the show’s characters to reenact previous scenes from the show, but with a twist. As the page continues: “This is one of the most random iCarly episodes in the series.” So random.
Community: “Paradigms of Human Memory” (season 2, episode 21)
One of the twistiest, kookiest half-hours in the history of Dan Harmon’s meta-comedy — and that’s saying something. “Paradigms” begins like a normal clip show, with the study group gang working on a final project together and reminiscing about some of the crazy adventures they’ve embarked upon that year. The catch: Every flashback we see has been invented for this episode, meaning that “Paradigms” isn’t actually a clip show at all. Which means, I suppose, that it doesn’t really belong on this list. As a parody of the genre, though, this episode really can’t be matched — and unlike some of Community‘s gimmick episodes, the gag never wears thin in this one.