Pet Please #142: Consistent TV Show Callbacks

My filler show right now is Parks & Rec.

I watched Parks & Rec when it was new, but it’s been long enough that it’s mostly fresh to me now. It’s a great show for when I want to smile while cooking dinner or eating lunch if I don’t have anything else to watch.

Since I’m watching entire seasons in condensed form, I’ve noticed something that makes me respect the show even more than before: There are a ton of consistent callbacks.

A callback is when the audience learns something that is referenced in the future. Most shows only do this within each episode. Parks & Rec has callbacks that span entire seasons.

For example, in the first season, Ron Swanson has a punchline where he mentions that he keeps all of his savings in gold, and they’re buried somewhere. The gold is referenced in several other episodes in future seasons, culminating with it becoming a major discussion point when he writes his will near the end of the show.

Similarly, I watched an episode tonight where Jeremy Jamm brings a gong to a council meeting, saying that he likes Asian things. Several seasons later, Leslie goes into Jamm’s home and sees that it’s filled with random Asian stuff.

What I love about this is that the writers and producers built these characters consistently over time. They must have had databases of information about each character that they referenced when looking for jokes and subplots. But they’re always using that information to build the characters, not just make a one-time joke.

Compare this to, say, Friends. Every Thanksgiving on Friends they reference a tradition they do “every year” even though it’s completely different than the previous year. Friends got some callbacks right, but I think if you watched it now, you’d see a ton of inconsistencies over time.

I don’t think I’ve seen a show do it as well–or as subtly–as Parks & Rec except maybe for How I Met Your Mother. Though that’s an entire show built on flashbacks.

Have you noticed this in shows you love? Which shows do it well and which are inconsistent?

7 thoughts on “Pet Please #142: Consistent TV Show Callbacks”

  1. Parks and Recs definitely does it consistently, From what I’ve read they made various decisions on characters based on their actors. An example would be Ron and woodworking. Also apparently they didn’t know he actually played the saxophone before they decided to make his character play one, but because he did, they worked it into the show even more.

  2. Jamey,

    One of the most interwoven series of shows, spanning across entire seasons is Arrested Development. I’m impressed on many levels, not least of which is how The writers managed to seamlessly tied multiple subplots together.


    • Great call, Joe! It’s been a while since I rewatched Arrested Development, and you’re right–it has so many interwoven elements.

  3. So glad you enjoy this, I miss this show on a daily basis. It’s SO good. My favorite line ever is also the show creator’s favorite line ever, which is one of the rare improvised lines from the show:

    Totally unrelated to your post but I enjoy evangelizing that moment to others 🙂

    One of my other favorite callback elements in this show is Treat Yoself day!

    Also Joe is 100% right about Arrested Development. There’s a moment in Season 4 (the newer Netflix one) where they reveal that one of the main characters doesn’t know another main character, that they’ve never met. Then your whole mind is blown and you instantly want to re-watch the entire series to fact check (this spans YEARS). Amazing attention to detail!


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