The world is becoming a strange place for those of us who don’t watch Duck Dynasty and are only vaguely aware of its mere existence; when this viewer first heard the title, I presumed it was some new variation on the Looney Tunes universe, maybe with Daffy and some nephews? (Why not, it worked for Disney.) Anyhoo, I’m now not only fully aware of what Duck Dynasty is, but of the “secret conservative message” of its protagonists’ unruly beards, thanks to a weekend post over at Salon. Yes, we’ve now seen the true sign of the show’s cultural ubiquity: the inevitable conspiracy theories. Many shows have them (some more than others), and since we know how much you love a good pop culture fan theory, here’s a few of the kookier ones that have attached themselves to popular TV shows.
The Saved by the Bell Fantasy Theory
This one was put into the world by Logan Trent at Cracked, and it springs from the disparity between everyone’s favorite long-running TBS mainstay and the little-known show that it sprung from. You see, Zack, Screech, Lisa, and Mr. Belding began as characters on the Disney Channel show Good Morning, Miss Bliss. On that series, set in a suburban Indiana middle school, Zack is, well, kind of a loser. He can’t get girls, his friends Mikey and Nikki frequently humiliate him, and none of his schemes get past his wise teacher, Miss Bliss. But when the show vanished after 13 episodes and reappeared as Saved by the Bell, Zack was suddenly a mega-popular stud at a California high school, where his every scheme goes off without a hitch, the ladies are his for the asking, and Mikey and Nikki no longer exist. But what looks like a mere “retooling” is, in fact, something more complicated, Trent insists: “It’s nothing more than the escapist fantasy of a disillusioned young man named Zack Morris.” And the best proof is the theme song itself, a description of real-Zack’s terrible life, until he’s “saved by the bell,” and thus, “the song ends with Zack being released from the harsh realities of life by escaping to the one place where everything is all right for him.”
The Fresh Prince Is Dead Theory
So here’s a morbid little number, courtesy (unsurprisingly) of Reddit: that Will Smith’s beloved six-season sitcom was, in fact, entirely a dramatization of young Will’s afterlife. The story goes that Will was actually killed in (or, in some versions, committed suicide after) that basketball court bum-rush in the theme song — mean streets there in West Philadelphia! At any rate, Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil’s spacious Bel Air mansion was his heaven, and his parents’ occasional visits were merely trips to his grave. It’s a stretch, yes, but there’s one credible element: that the cabbie in the title song was God himself, which is about the only way you could fathom a cab willing to take a fare from Philly to Bel Air.
The “The Man Couldn’t Handle Jericho” Theory
Though critically acclaimed and beloved by a fervid cult of vans, the CBS drama Jericho was always a dicey proposition; its poor ratings got it canceled at the end of its first full season, and though fans mounted a successful resurrection campaign, it came to an end after an abbreviated second season. But that second season provided fodder for the conspiracy theorists; the show, set during the aftermath of an America devastated by a nuclear attack, spent much of its second season on a reformed American government, the ASA (Allied States of America), and how the residents of Jericho rise up against this repressive, corrupt police state, possibly instigating a Second American Civil War. The show’s creators must be kicking themselves for the rotten timing of this Tea Party-friendly narrative — and sure enough, conspiracy-minded fans began to insist that the government was behind the cancellation of Jericho. “The stories are a little bit too true, too close to home,” wrote one fan. “That our GOV. don’t want its people to be like the town great of JERICHO and fight back, stand for what they believe in.” Which might have been true, if it was a show that anyone was actually watching.
The “The Man Couldn’t Handle Firefly” Theory
Everybody loves Joss Whedon’s wisecracking space opera now. But it couldn’t buy viewers during its initial 13-episode run, through writer David Mark Brown smells something more sinister: “You see, the plot line for Firefly is about a browncoat independent who fights for civil liberties in order to stick it to the man by encouraging a free-trade economy based on bartering and simple living and implemented by a diverse, bipartisan crew of federation outsiders… The last thing either Democrats or Republicans on the hill wanted in the go-go 2000s was fiscal responsibility and some libertarian nonsense bundled up and marketed with the attractive face of Nathan Fillion.” Could be! Or it could be that Fox sunk the show with the mere incompetence of its bad marketing, on-again-off-again scheduling, and insistence on airing episodes out of order. Then again, maybe the network sunk it on purpose. After all, we all know how plugged in Fox is to the world’s more nefarious goings-on…
The “Fox Predicted 9/11” Theory
This thread at IGN includes images from episodes of The Simpsons, along with a rundown of mighty silly “clues” in films made before 9/11, as “proof” that ideas and imagery relating to September 11th had been subconsciously planted throughout popular culture. It’s all pretty silly — but there is something admittedly unnerving about the pilot episode of the short-lived X-Files spin-off The Lone Gunmen, in which a passenger airliner is nearly flown into the World Trade Center as part of a government conspiracy to drum up a war. But that bizarre and creepy bit of “predictive programming” doesn’t give Alex Jones and his wacky Family Guy theories any credibility.
The “SNL Got Too Close” Theory
The animated Lorne Michaels’s protestation to “Come back here with my show!” that opened each animated “TV Funhouse” segment of Saturday Night Live wasn’t entirely a joke; writer/producer Robert Smigel made the short bits somewhat independently of the program they aired during, and one can’t help but wonder how aware Michaels was of the rather incendiary content of “Conspiracy Theory Rock,” which aired on the show in March of 1998. Its joke contention that GE was behind the JFK assassination has become the go-to screen shot, but the short’s scathing (and accurate) portrait of corrupt media and political collusion presumably got the show quite a bit of blowback from GE, then NBC’s corporate overlords. The segment never aired again in repeats or syndication, and though Michaels claimed it disappeared because it “wasn’t funny,” that’s not a claim that holds much water if you’ve watched too many SNL reruns.
The Blue’s Clues Heroin Theory
Outlandish rumors about children’s show hosts have always been part of the television landscape: we’ve heard that Mister Rogers was a child molester or a sniper in Vietnam, or the old story of the radio host growling, “That oughta hold the little bastards” into an open microphone. But poor Steve, the original host of the popular Nickelodeon show Blue’s Clues, got more than his fair share: we heard that he was dead in a car crash, was a former porn star, and most famously that he had been arrested for heroin possession and/or had died of a heroin overdose. The drug rumors were given some fuel by the 1995 appearance of Blue’s star Steve Burns on an episode of Law & Order, where he played an apparently drug-addicted suspect. But eagle-eyed viewers knew the irrefutable proof of Steve’s horse habit: the fact that he always wore that long-sleeved polo shirt, so we wouldn’t see the track marks on his arms.
The “Walking Dead Is Toy Story” Theory
Redditor John Wray posted (and Buzzfeed shared) this persuasive theory about the many, many, many similarities between AMC’s zombie smash and the Pixar trilogy, from the protagonist sheriff to the macho best friend to their gang of misfits to the second-season characters to the third installment’s “idyllic, gated community” and subsequent escape plot.
The Gilligan’s Island Drug Runner Theory
It seemed like every hack comic in the 1980s had a bit about Gilligan’s Island and the incongruity between the contents (voluminous amounts of clothing and supplies) of the S.S. Minnow and its stated mission (“a three-hour tour”). And writer Adam-Troy Castro has more questions about that: “Since the snobbish Howell can presumably afford to buy his own yachts, why would he be interested in a ‘three-hour tour’ aboard a dinky little charter vessel owned by two ex-navy men? And why would he take along a briefcase filled with thousand dollar bills, when one of the perks associated with great wealth is unlimited credit?” Castro’s conclusion? “Howell chartered the Minnow to make a multi-million-dollar drug buy. He’d paid off Gilligan, and the Skipper too. He’d brought along the necessary cash. He even brought along an extensive wardrobe, just in case the coast guard showed up and he had to leave U.S. territory in a hurry.” He also brought along a mysterious “Professor” and his supply of Bunsen burners, and a coked-up Hollywood starlet. But they kept up their “cover stories” for the benefit of the one innocent bystander: Mary Ann, who Castro says was a Fed, keeping tabs on the whole operation.
The Gilligan’s Island Hell Theory
Only a show as dopey as Gilligan’s Island could spark so many loopy conspiracy theories. Here’s our other favorite: that the “uncharted desert isle” is, in fact, Hell itself, with each of its inhabitants representing the seven deadly sins: lusty Ginger; Mary Ann, envious of Ginger’s beauty; greedy Mr. Howell and his slothful wife; the prideful Professor, who can’t admit that he doesn’t know how to just fix a damn boat; and the gluttonous, wrathful Skipper. Which just leaves Gilligan, who put them there and makes sure they never leave. Good ol’ Gilligan, always clad in red. You know, like Satan.