For the last few days, the Internet has been gleefully horrified by Too Many Cooks, an Adult Swim parody of anodyne ‘80s and ‘90s TV themes. First airing in a 4 a.m. infomercial spot, Too Many Cooks is as incomprehensible as a fever dream; viewing it at any hour is like looking out at the world through a thin veil of insomniac eye sweat. Naturally, countless tortuous interpretations have already begun unspooling around it, and show no sign of letting up. It seems only a matter of time until a Too Many Cooks seminar makes it into the course catalogue at Stanford.
Whether or not you see deep meaning in Too Many Cooks, one thing seems clear: it wouldn’t be nearly as effective, as captivating, or as unsettling as it is if it weren’t such a pitch-perfect pastiche of TV shows past—right down to the wavering band of VHS feedback occasionally visible at the bottom of the screen. Revisit any primetime TV opening of yore, and you’ll probably realize that Too Many Cooks didn’t have to exaggerate much of anything. TV themes of the ‘80s and ‘90s are just as crammed with dissonantly cheery music, go-nowhere sequences, unbelievable names, and crowded couches as Too Many Cooks’ reconstruction. (And some of them at least seem a lot longer—remember how someone once though it was a good idea for Quantum Leap to have not one but two openings sequences?)
Yet of all the real qualities Too Many Cooks recalls, it’s the somewhat eerie emptiness of some of these real TV themes, which sell a show that appears to be about both anything and nothing at all, that it really nails. Still, you can never quite top the originals, as these strange, inexplicable, and wholly real TV themes prove. On second glance, they also seem to contain just as much potential for murderous characters as Too Many Cooks does—we’re looking at you, George Dzundza.
1. We Got it Made (1983-1988)
Clearly, this is a show about a group of yuppies who lure a woman into their home, hoping to hold her captive indefinitely. What they don’t know is that she’s an ageless wizard who can trap their souls in household appliances!
2. Broken Badges (1990-1991)
The phrase “compulsively violent ventriloquist” is upsetting enough, and that’s before you realize that, based on Don S. Davis’ presence, it’s entirely possible that this show is a secret Twin Peaks spinoff whose events exist only as one of Garland Briggs’ visions.
3. The Fanelli Boys (1990-1991)
Set in a halfway home for recovering Italian stereotypes, this show’s unaired season finale reveals that Christopher Meloni’s character is in fact Detective Elliot Stabler, going deep undercover to investigate a crime ring too upsetting for prime time viewers.
4. Open All Night (1981-1982)
Though the show itself never found an audience, the theme song climbed to #27 in the charts in the then poorly-understood category of “Rap.”
5. Good Sports (1991)
After their glory days and before life destroys them completely, two former sex symbols meet to dance in a completely empty ballroom.