Callbacks And Running Gags In TV Shows

I’ve watched “Frasier” like a dozen times and am only just noticing this.

There’s nothing like a good callback or long-running gag in a TV show.

I especially like the ones that are subtle or unexpected. (I had personally never noticed that Hopper’s daughter’s blue hair tie had appeared in every season.)

It got me thinking about some other TV callbacks and running gags that took seasons to pay off, including:


The Beetlejuice joke in Community


In the Season 1 episode “Communication Studies,” Michelle Slater pretends not to remember Britta’s name, instead calling her “bitter,” “butter,” and finally, “Beetlejuice.”

Then, in the Season 2 episode “Cooperative Calligraphy,” Britta gets a look at Jeff’s underwear and points out that he’s not wearing his usual “stripey turquoise Beetlejuice numbers.”

Finally, during Season 3’s Halloween episode, “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps,” Annie at one point says that Britta only has the Beetlejuice soundtrack on her computer — at which point someone dressed as Beetlejuice walks by in the background.


The random child who appears in both the Superstore series premiere and finale


In both episodes, Amy is seen walking past an unsupervised child, going potty in one of the toy aisles. It happens to be the same child, just a few years older.


The Schrute family’s wedding tradition in The Office


In the episode “Phyllis’ Wedding,” Dwight explains that the Schrutes get married while standing in their own graves. 

Later, in the series finale, Dwight and Angela indeed get married while standing in their own graves, though it ends up being a not-so-bleak affair.


Saul Goodman’s cross-series career goals


In “Granite State,” the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad, Saul tells Walt that he’s no longer his lawyer and that, “if [he’s] lucky, a month from now, best-case scenario, [he’s] managing a Cinnabon in Omaha.”

During Better Call Saul‘s opening scene, which takes place after the events of Breaking Bad, we see Saul (aka Gene) running a Cinnabon in Omaha.


And this Nathan Fillion one in Castle

Universal Pictures / ABC

In Castle‘s Season 2 episode, “Vampire Weekend,” Castle’s Halloween costume is a “space cowboy” who looks an awful lot like his Firefly character, Mal. When his daughter catches sight of him, she says, “Didn’t you wear that like, five years ago? Don’t you think you should move on?”

The last time Fillion played Mal was in 2005, and the Castle episode aired about four and a half years later.


George and Jerry’s identical conversation in Seinfeld


In both the series premiere and finale of Seinfeld, Jerry and George have a conversation about how the second button of a shirt “literally makes or breaks the shirt,” and if it’s “too high” it’s “in no man’s land.”

In the finale, George even asks Jerry, “Haven’t we had this conversation before?”


The Art (Vandelay) of a good running gag in Seinfeld


The series finale also features the final joke in a long-running gag. Throughout the series, George uses the alter ego name Art Vandelay, and it ends up being the name of the judge who tries the case in the last episode of the show.


The foreshadowing of Buster Bluth’s missing hand in Arrested Development


Buster’s missing hand is hinted at multiple times throughout Arrested Development, including in the Season 1 episode “Best Man for the Gob,” when Buster says, “This party is going to be off the hook,” and in the Season 2 episode “¡Amigos!,” when he says, “I never thought I’d miss a hand so much” after seeing his old hand-shaped chair. Later in the season, during “Out on a Limb,” he sits on a bench in such a way that only the words “ARM OFF” are visible. Moments later his hand is eaten by a seal.


Penny’s shirt in The Big Bang Theory


In the premiere and finale of The Big Bang Theory, Penny wears the same blue and purple shirt. (She also wears it in the 100th episode, “The Recombination Hypothesis.”


And, similarly, Kitty’s outfit in That ’70s Show


Kitty also wears the same outfit at the parties in the That ’70s Show premiere and finale.


The libraries of Parks and Recreation


Leslie Knope and the rest of the Parks department’s distaste for libraries is well-documented throughout the series, which makes the dedication of a library to her in the series finale all the more hilarious.


The familiar mover in Frasier


The delivery guy who takes Martin Crane’s chair out of Frasier’s apartment in the series finale is the same delivery guy who delivers it in the pilot. (Of course, it’s not the exact same chair, as the original one went sailing over the balcony — and was replaced by Frasier — in the Season 9 episode “Bla-Z-Boy.”)


Xander Harris’ betrayal in Buffy the Vampire Slayer


In the Season 2 finale of Buffy, Willow sends Xander to tell Buffy that she’s going to try a spell to give Angel his soul back. Xander instead says that Willow told him to tell Buffy to “kick his ass” — which Buffy does.

In the final season of the series, the moment comes up during an argument the three are having, at which point a confused Willow says, “Hey, I didn’t say that.”


The Slap Bet in How I Met Your Mother

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CBS / Via

In the “Slap Bet” episode of Season 2 of How I Met Your Mother, Barney loses a “slap bet” with Marshall, meaning the latter can slap the former across the face as hard as he can. By the end of the episode, this has become five slaps total, at any time of Marshall’s choosing.

During Season 7 episode “Disaster Averted,” Marshall is given three more slaps in exchange for Barney getting out of a bet that required him to wear a tie covered in cartoon ducks.

The final slap is administered during one of the last episodes of the series, right before Barney’s about to get married to Robin.


The Tom Hanks news in Veep


In the series premiere of Veep, when Selina and her team are under threat of a media scandal, Mike says anything could happen to draw the public’s attention away — such as Tom Hanks dying.

In the series finale, when Mike is on TV covering Selina’s funeral, the report is cut short by the news of Tom Hanks’ death.

What are some callbacks and running gags that you’ve noticed in your favorite shows? Sound off in the comments!