As my children have aged, their relationship with media has evolved. When they were younger they used to enjoy television shows Little Bill, Dora and Backyardigans. Now they watch shows like Victorious, Ultimate Spider-man and iCarly (SpongeBob, Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry have remained constants throughout). I try to watch a few episodes of every show they watch so that I understand the narratives contained in their media and can respond accordingly. Watching their programs taught me something unexpected: the people writing these shows don’t just want to entertain my kids, they also want to reach me.
iCarly provides a perfect example of this. The episode titled “iSaved Your Life” revolves around a significant development in Carly’s relationship with Freddy. Why do I know this? Because of The Wire of course.
The episode opens with Sam and Carly discussing an ongoing game of assassin, a variation on paintball. While Carly has already been eliminated, Sam promises to win the game—which she describes as “serious chizz”—declaring “Spencer gonna get got!” This language is…unusual…for both the character and the show, and it forced me to pay (slightly more) attention to what was unfolding on the screen. Sam eliminates the rest of her rivals throughout the episode, and when she corners her last challenger, a character named Gibby, the two of them recreate an iconic scene from season five of the Wire (profanity at that link, plus major Wire spoilage!).
At this point I grabbed the remote from my daughter and rewound the scene so that I could be certain that I indeed saw what I thought I just saw because I love the Wire. But later I was puzzled. The Wire is a cult show with a tiny audience. The number of parents watching iCarly with their kids who also watched every episode of the Wire might number in the hundreds. But this, I realized upon reflection, was the point. There might only be a few hundred people who would make the connection between the two shows, but that group would appreciate deeply the cleverness of the allusion. This is the same appeal that Chuck Jones made when he devoted an entire episode of Looney Tunes to The Barber of Seville. The people working on iCarly, like Chuck Jones, wanted credit for their cultural sophistication and made gestures that allowed them to get it. In fact, attracting parents with cool cultural allusions seems to be the raison d’etre for some children’s shows, Yo Gabba Gabba for example. Whatever the case, “iSaved Your Life” is my favorite episode of iCarly, and it’s got nothing to do with the fact that Carly and Freddy finally kiss.