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Six of the Best TV Show Episodes About Social Media

It's always interesting to get some kind of commentary on the way society is moving. Somehow trends don't feel as real unless some major TV show or another has tackled them. They can offer a unique perspective on anything from a new culinary obsession to a particularly impacting sporting event, so what about social media?

Often, long running shows have a complicated relationship with tech. It's always interesting to go back and watch episodes of Friends from the early 90s, seeing them all communicating through landlines and voice-mail, then flash forward to the tail end of the series and seeing them all embroiled in flip-phone mania. Social media is much the same, it's such an ever-changing sensation that any attempt to actually keep up will result in failure, better to address it in a single episode and move on. This widely adopted strategy has resulted in some really interesting television. Here's a rundown of the 6 best ones.


Modern Family - 'Connection Lost'

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Modern Family has always done well when the narrative has ventured off the beaten track. 'Connection Lost' was an episode which took place entirely on laptop, tablet and mobile phone screens, using Skype as a a conduit to keep all the characters connected. Facebook, Google Maps and iCloud all enter the fray as Claire tries to get in touch with her daughter after a big fight, but the tangle of online communication only serves to make the situation more complicated. It's gimmicky, but still a clever way of organising all the chaos the show has become famous for.


Community - 'App Development and Condiments'


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Community was always a sucker for a good themed episode, from paintball to film-making to a college-wide game of 'the floor is lava'. In this inspired episode, a pair of app developers use Greendale as a proving ground for their new app - MeowMeowBeenz. It enables people to rate each other using the eponymous point system, and before long everyone is doing their utmost to reach the coveted 5/5 rating. In classic Community fashion, it goes too far and before long the entire college descends into an inspired Logan's Run spoof, with society tiered according to people's ratings. There's also a glorious cameo from Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz as 'The Koogler'. 


Futurama - 'Attack of the Killer App'


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You would think, considering that Futurama is set in the year 3000, that society would have collectively more or less gotten over social media by then, or just transcended it. Evidently not. In this utterly bizarre episode, Fry and Bender both get 'EyePhones' (phones which are installed straight into your eyeball) and begin competing to get the most followers on 'Twitcher', a platform that allows people to put basically every aspect of their lives online. Fry ends up winning by posting a video of a singing boil named Susan (get it?) which was growing on Leela. Ultimately, all the EyePhone owners are infected with a 'Twit-worm', which turns them into zombie-like consumers whose only concern is upgrading to the next model in the range.


It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - 'The Gang Group Dates'


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Some shows toy with the idea that all their characters are fairly socially inept, but It's Always Sunny takes it further than perhaps any other show. By the time you get into the late seasons all the main characters are not only awful people, but borderline psychotic, in their own ways. Seeing how such people would react to real world situations only adds to the fun. So it is with this episode, which sees the gang using a group dating app called 'Bunchers', twinning with 'Raters', which enables people to give each other star ratings after dates. 

Expectedly, it quickly descends into chaos. Frank, Mac and Charlie become uniformly obsessed with making a good impression, Dee begins routinely sleeping with men and giving them poor ratings, regarding it as a means of empowerment and Dennis, who is a full-on sociopath by this stage in the series, becomes so obsessed with whether or not he gets a high rating that he effectively loses his mind. 


The Office - 'WUPHF.com'


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To angle around copyright infringement, a lot of shows make up new websites when they address social media. The results are hit-and-miss, but The Office absolutely nailed it in this classic 2010 episode, which sees one of the characters actually creating their own platform. WUPHF is a cross-channel messaging service which Ryan invents in order to send simultaneous messages to people across Facebook, Twitter and all the other platforms. 

It's a legitimately great idea, even outside the context of the show. The episode then basically develops into a condensed rendition of The Social Network as Ryan gets investor interest, sparking arguments about share ownership between his colleagues. It's a brilliantly pitched commentary on the breakneck speed nature of internet business. WUPHF actually existed for a while, it didn't work but the showrunners made a convincing, amusing dummy site including a business plan and the option to buy a real t-shirt.


South Park - 'You Have 0 Friends'


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There are actually two South Park episodes based around social media. One of them covers Twitter, using a dead ringer platform which I can't repeat the name of here, but think of an obscenity that rhymes with the first part of Twitter, amalgamate the two words and you're there. 'You Have 0 Friends', the better of the two, is directly about Facebook. You can always trust South Park to take the most amusing, informed stance on current events and it's no different here. The whole town has become obsessed with the platform, Kyle is hopelessly hooked on Farmville, Cartman is running a ridiculous podcast about 'friend stock' which beautifully parodies Mad Money and despite his best efforts to avoid the platform, Stan keeps getting more friends requests and is nagged by everyone around him to become more active. 

Meanwhile, a tragic tale unfolds about Kip Drordy, the kid with 0 friends. It all ends in an incredible final act which sees Stan sucked into Facebook's virtual grid, which perfectly homages Tron as glowing cyberpunk avatars meander around 'liking' baby pictures and playing Yahtzee. The episode also includes a brief foray into the world of Chatroulette, as Kyle tries desperately to find new friends amidst a horde of masturbating exhibitionists (as Cartman puts it - 'if you want to find some quality friends, you gotta wade through all the d***s first').


Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Six of the Best TV Show Episodes About Social Media Reviewed by Callum Davies on Wednesday, September 09, 2015 Rating: 5

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