Note: this post will have nothing to do with the various CW superhero crossover shows that are branded as Elseworlds – simply because I’ve never seen them.
I should preface this by saying that I’m a big fan of Elseworlds comics…
…and their predecessors, the ‘imaginary stories’ of the Silver Age…
There’s just something I find really enjoyable and appealing about taking familiar, serialized characters and putting them into completely, or sometimes just slightly, different settings and situations (the past, future, etc.).
And I find that I enjoy this concept when it’s applied to other media, as well. Something I to do, in fact, is look for Elseworlds-type stories in TV shows.
In some cases, it’s not hard to find. This storytelling device was often used in sitcoms, going back to the 1960s at least. Indeed, a whole sub-genre of Gilligan’s Island episodes involved one of the characters having a dream that put the castaways in various situations and settings, like the Old West (twice), the Stone Age, a Latin American banana republic, a soap opera, fairy tales (Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella), a Bondesque spy thriller or horror spoofs (Dracula, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde).
More typical were holiday episodes in which one character told a story and then the scene switches to the entire cast acting it out. Two of these that I recall involved Christmas and Thanksgiving, respectively: a Partridge Family Christmas episode featured Mrs. Partridge telling a Christmas tale set in the Old West, while, similarly, a Happy Days Thanksgiving episode had the whole gang cast as Pilgrims when Marion Cunningham told the story of the first Thanksgiving. (For those of you who need the specifics, these are Partridge Family, season 2, ep 13, “Don’t Bring Your Guns To Town, Santa”; and Happy Days, season 6, ep 12, “The First Thanksgiving”).
These aren’t necessarily what I’m thinking about, though – all of them basically played for laughs, and of course the Gilligan’s Island dream sequences are just a small part of their respective episodes.
Personally, I like it more when it’s played seriously – like it is in most of the Elseworlds comics.
To some extent, the famous Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” comes close to the Elseworlds concept, although it wasn’t an ‘imaginary story,’ but was rather an interaction with a very Elseworldy alternate universe in which all of our favorite characters are evil.
As an aside, I have to say I really didn’t like it when this alternate reality was revisited in DS9 or Enterprise. But speaking of DS9, another Trek episode in this vein that I really liked is “Far Beyond the Stars” (season 6, ep. 13), in which Sisko has vivid visions of himself as a staff writer working for a science fiction magazine in the 1950s, with all of the other cast members playing various characters who are mostly quite different from their regular roles. I was particularly fond of the fiery old-school leftist writer portrayed by Armin Shimerman, in stark contrast to the uber-capitalist Quark.
Another personal favorite is the ‘wild west’ episode of The Prisoner (ep. 14, “Living in Harmony”). In this case, No. 6 is being – yet again – psychologically manipulated by the powers that be in the Village, so he finds himself in the American West in the 1900s, but still experiencing a similar nightmare: this time he’s a sheriff who handed in his badge and gun, and is then accosted and beaten unconscious by a gang of toughs as he leaves town. When he wakes up, he’s a eerie town called Harmony, forced to act out an all-too familiar scenario. An additionally cool aspect of that episode is that they were so fully committed to the idea that they even changed the opening sequence to conform to the story:
One of the first non-sitcom examples of this I recall seeing, back in the early 1980s, is an episode of Magnum P.I. set in the 1930s (season 3, ep. 7: “Flashback”). This one involves Magnum having a dream (shades of Gilligan!) that he’s living in 1936 – still working as a P.I., and trying to solve a case involving a labor union leader apparently framed for killing a wealthy construction mogul. As I recall, after waking up, the dream helped him solve a case he was actually working on in real life. The flashback sequence that dominated the entire episode is done really well, though, with gorgeous costumes.
The most recent one I’ve seen is an episode of Castle from season four (episode 14), called “The Blue Butterfly.” In it, Castle gets a hold of a diary from the 1940s that he tries to use to solve a modern crime. Every time he reads it, the scene flashes back to the 1940s, with all of the regular cast appearing as various characters in the events recounted in the diary.
So, that’s all I can recall at this point. Are there any I’m missing? Let me know in the comments…