Breaking down summer TV tropes

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Shannon Ramos/Creative Commons

Summertime is an ideal time to plop down in front of the TV and take in all sorts of series that might’ve slipped past during the year. Although most TV series are on hiatus during the summer (particularly sitcoms), summer on TV is a well-documented subject.

Here are a few classic summertime TV tropes, broken down for some thematic summer viewing.

HEAT WAVE

The summer heat wave is a quintessential television and cinematic trope. The heat wave often brings on some sort of drama that has been boiling at the surface of the characters’ lives, putting them in a new state of mind — one of desperation, discomfort and tension. This can often be the impetus for hijinks or extended drama, and usually, a lot of sweat. Often, in the midst of a heat wave, characters seek out a mythical solution, a holy grail to the hot and humid summer — a pool, an air conditioner or even someone with an air conditioner. This presents both a quest-like element to the plot as well as a grass-is-always greener dynamic: what will the characters give up to achieve coolness, and will it be worth it?

Broad City S2/E1, In Heat: In the season 2 premiere, we find Abbi and Ilana on a Snowpiercer-esque trip through the cars of a Subway train, setting the scene for a surreal take on the heat wave. On a mission to find an air conditioner, the pair trek through the wilds of Bed Bath & Beyond to NYU, and ultimately, working to fill a moving truck at the whims of a dude on a GoPro for some quick cash (with a cameo by Kumail Nanjiani). Wild times in the heat wave.

Quote: “Well, I’m on the edge of, like, swamp ass right now. I need some A/C.”

New Girl S5/E10, Heat Wave: This episode, during a heat wave that causes the group to hole up in their impossibly large apartment, represents the culmination of about four episodes worth of pent-up, will-they-won’t-they “tension” between Nick and Reagan, Jess’ midseason replacement played by Megan Fox. As often happens, the high heat is an excuse for high drama, escalating the sparks between Nick and Reagan and ultimately leading to a heatwave-induced-blackout-make-out.

Quote: “I look like a ‘70s divorce lawyer (in this heat).”

Sex and the City S6/E10, Boy, Interrupted: In peak mid-to-late SATC, in the midst of post-Aiden, pre-The Russian vapidness, this is a classic take on the pool-going quest. Samantha’s mission to get into an exclusive pool club emerges as the humorous C-plot, and what ensues is typical ridiculousness, including multiple characters wearing heels on pool floaties and the worst British accent uttered on HBO.

Quote: “I mean what else can you possibly do in this heat except sit by the pool and drink cocktails when they mist you with Evian — isn’t it the best?”

FOURTH OF JULY

While summer lacks any major annual episodic milestones (see: Thanksgiving, December-January holidays, spring break), the Fourth of July provides a respite for a series to anchor itself in the summer months. Barbecues, relapsed patriotism and fireworks fill in the blanks for a midsummer slump, leaving plenty of room for shenanigans.

Traveling The Stars: Action Bronson & Friends Watch Ancient Aliens: S1/E11, Founding Fathers: Eric Andre guest stars, along with Earl Sweatshirt, Too $hort, Simon Rex and others, on a Fourth of July special of the series, which features the “Baby Blue” rapper watching and commentating on the History channel series “Ancient Aliens.” Andre brings his trademark whimsy as the men get high and debate possible celestial interactions with the Founding Fathers.

Quote: “We already came to the conclusion, fuck George Washington.”

Portlandia S5/E5, 4th of July: In a typical melee of wonkiness on the sketch show, this episode follows series regulars Kath and Dave on a manic quest to host the perfect Fourth of July party. With the help of a barbeque-party-planner (Jane Lynch), the duo sets on a punk-theme, replete with stale beer and barking dogs. Meanwhile, the Portland mayor (Kyle MacLachlan) scours the deep web for “sky pyrotechnics,” and Fred and Carrie try to balance their many party invites.

Quote: “They don’t need napkins. This is the USA.”

Liberty’s Kids E13, The First Fourth of July: For a take on the actual historical events, look no further than the early-2000s educational PBS show Liberty’s Kids. Although this show is fairly dated and very much simplified, it features an unusually stacked cast, with Walter Cronkite as Benjamin Franklin, Billy Crystal as John Adams and Ben Stiller as Thomas Jefferson (and a theme song by Aaron Carter). A fun and easy take on the Fourth to rekindle your trivia knowledge about the national holiday.

Quote: “Mark my words, this day, July 2, will be remembered as the most revered day in American history. An occasion for games, sport, bells, bonfires and illumination.”

NEW SUMMER, NEW ME

While the last day of school set-up may be the most optimal time to feel the potential for change and reinvention, the new year-new-me is a consistent trope on television, particularly with the finality also brought upon with the end of a TV’s season. Summer is a classic time to (possibly) make change, rejuvenate, start anew and reflect on What It All Means.

Freaks and Geeks S1/E18, Discos and Dragons: Although this episode takes place right before the start of summer, it encapsulates the vast potential the changing of seasons can hold. As Lindsay faces a divide between choosing the clear-cut path and attending an academic convention throughout the summer, and the unknown, all of the series’ previous explorations of growth and change come to a head. In the final, iconic scene of Judd Apatow’s too-quickly-gone series, Lindsay fully embodies the possibilities that come with the year ending and summer beginning.

Quote: “I can’t wait to get the new yearbook. I’m only gonna let girls sign it, ‘cause that way, when I have kids, they’ll think I’m a big stud.”

30 Rock S5/E22, Respawn: In the season 5 finale, Liz Lemon looks to get away from the TGS staff during a solo summer Hamptons getaway (featuring an excellent, brief dream sequence with the Barefoot Contessa). Once she arrives, however, she finds that her peaceful summer will not be a time to relax, as Tracy Jordan is her next-door neighbor. Meanwhile, the TGS staff refuses to leave the office while engrossed in a never-ending videogame in which their characters can continually respawn. The episode uses summer as a time to explore whether things really can change, basically coming to the conclusion that although summer provides an illusion of redefinition, things often come back to where they start.

Quote: “There’s just four things I want to do this summer: be outdoors, wear shapeless clothing, do some mindless activity like gardening and learn Spanish.”

Bob’s Burgers, S3/E3 Bob Fires the Kids: In the midst of summer, Bob decides to fire his three kids in an attempt to give his them the summer he never had. Even with this change of heart, as the burger restaurant is the cornerstone of the show, Gene, Louise and Tina soon get bored and start working at what is, unbeknownst to them, a marijuana farm. Even though Bob’s good-hearted efforts to gives his kids a normal summer fail, summer becomes a time for the family to reflect and appreciate one another.

Quote: “Gene, what are you doing?” “Tanning! It’s the middle of summer and I look like a British lady.”

Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected].