Published on March 13th, 2013 | by PJ Montgomery4
It’s Tommy’s World, We Just Watch It
I’ve recently been made aware of the Tommy Westphall Hypothesis, and it has blown my mind. Maybe you’re already aware of it, but for those not in the know, read on and prepare to have the bottom drop out of your TV viewing world. The hypothesis posits that roughly 90% of TV shows are actually all taking place in the imagination of one person. Doubt that? Lets delve a little deeper.
The hypothesis begins with St. Elsewhere, the seminal eighties hospital show. Watching St. Elsewhere now (which you can do with every single episode from the six season run available on 4OD), it’s clearly not aged well, and it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking it really was. It successfully mixed drama with black comedy, it launched the careers of actors such as Helen Hunt, Ed Begley Jr and Denzel Washington, it was one of the first shows on TV to really deal with HIV and aids, and none of it actually happened. Yep, the final episode revealed that all of St. Elsewhere had actually happened in the imagination of one of its characters, the autistic child, Tommy Westphall.
Now, this is nothing unique on its own. Other shows have gone down the “it was all a dream” route, including Roseanne and The Brittas Empire. But where St. Elsewhere differs is that if it’s part of Tommy’s imagination, then so are many other shows. St. Elsewhere crossed over with a number of other TV shows, most prominently Homicide: Life on the Street (characters from St. Elsewhere appeared in Homicide) and Cheers (in one episode of St. Elsewhere, the characters visited the bar where everybody knows your name). This is where things get problematic, as it means that both Homicide and Cheers must also take place inside the mind of Tommy Westphall.
And if Cheers takes place in Tommy’s head, then so, of course, does Frasier. Frasier then connects to a few more shows, though not in as overt ways as the previous crossovers. In one episode of Frasier, Niles and Daphne are shown reading the comic strip created by Caroline in the sitcom, Caroline in the City. A show which once featured Matthew Perry in an appearance as Chandler Bing, his character from Friends. Friends would crossover with sitcom Mad About You (also starring Helen Hunt) on more than one occasion too. So, Caroline in the City, Friends and Mad About You are also all taking part in Tommy Westphall’s head.
Now, let’s get a little weirder. John Hemingway, a character from the John Laroquette Show, once called into the Frasier Crane Show on Frasier. The John Laroquette Show referenced a company called Yoyodyne, who were not only a client of the law firm Wolfram and Hart from Angel, but were also the group who built some of the Federation starships featured on Star Trek: The Next Generation. This, of course, also brings all the other Star Trek shows, as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, into the equation. Through Star Trek we also get to Knight Rider. No, really. The Knight Rider spin-off, Team Knight Rider, featured an episode where the team had to stop an earthquake machine created by Doctor Jackson Roykirk. The same Doctor Jackson Roykirk who build the Nomad device which almost destroyed the Enterprise in Star Trek until Captain Kirk was able to defeat it.
Want to get to some British shows? Easy. In the first episode of the sixth series of Red Dwarf, the Dwarfers come across a space ship graveyard, which contains a Klingon Bird of Prey (Star Trek), an Eagle ship (Space: 1999) AND a Weyland-Utani ship (we’ll come to that). Incidentally, Weyland-Utani were another client of Wolfram and Hart in Angel. Sticking with Red Dwarf, one episode features a shot where a blue police box is visible in the Dwarf’s hangar as Starbug takes off. What else could this be but the TARDIS from Doctor Who? And if Doctor Who takes place in Tommy Westphall’s head, then so do K9 and Company, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. And not just them, either. The Sylvester McCoy storyline, Remembrance of the Daleks, features numerous references to British Rocket Group. The same British Rocket Group which Professor Bernard Quatermass worked for in the numerous serials he featured in, including Quatermass and the Pit. The tenth Doctor also once mentioned knowing Arthur Dent, connecting Doctor Who to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as well.
Phew. Want to go further on this crazy journey? Fine. Going back to Homicide, John Munch once questioned the Lone Gunmen. From The X-Files. This also means Chris Carter’s other show, Millennium, is a part of Tommy’s massive world, since Frank Black and Jose Chung both appeared on both shows. The X-Files also connects to other shows through the Cigarette-Smoking Man, who smoked a fictional brand of cigarettes called Morleys. These cigarettes would also be smoked by characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Malcolm in the Middle and CSI. X-Files also connects to Pickets Fences, with a character mentioning a case of strange goings on involving cows being investigated by Mulder and Scully. Characters from Picket Fences were also treated by doctors from Chicago Hope, which itself also crossed over with both Homicide (a victim from Homicide has his organs donated to a character on Chicago Hope) and St. Elsewhere (the same fictional medical prize is featured on both shows).
Chicago Hope also crossed over with its then current medical drama rival/colleage, E.R, with doctors from both hospitals being accepted into the space programme, and acknowledging it on each others shows. Finally, sticking with Chicago Hope, Gary and Marissa from Early Edition once went to the titular hospital for treatment. Early Edition isn’t a show many people talk about these days, but we’re sticking with this route for a reason. So, Early Edition’s Gary was once asked to locate someone for Sammo from Martial Law. Sammo himself would, at one point, chase a suspect to Texas, where he was aided by the one and only Walker, Texas Ranger.
Got that so far? It means that St. Elsewhere, Homicide: Life on the Street, Cheers, Frasier, Caroline in the City, Friends, Mad About You, The John Laroquette Show, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Knight Rider, Team Knight Rider, Red Dwarf, Doctor Who, K9 and Company, Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Quatermass and the Pit, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The X-Files, Millennium, Malcolm In the Middle, CSI, Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, E.R, Early Edition, Martial Law and Walker, Texas Ranger, are all taking place in one world, which is all in the head of one autistic child. That’s a lot of shows.
And it’s only the tip of the iceberg. You can connect to shows as wildly different in tone, style and content as Veronica Mars, The Munsters, Batman (the sixties show), Bones, Happy Days, I Love Lucy, MASH, Hill Street Blues… It goes on and on and on, stretching back to the fifties, and going all the way to a number of shows which are still running today.
But what about films? After all, Weyland-Utani play a huge part in the Aliens franchise, which also brings in the Predator franchise, and there are, of course, plenty more connections you can make. And how about animated series? For example, Mulder and Scully from The X-Files, and most of the characters from Cheers, have all appeared on The Simpsons, among many others. We bring in The Simpsons, then Family Guy and King of the Hill both join the Tommy Westphall universe, as well every single Toho Kaiju film going, thanks to Godzilla also appearing in The Simpsons. There are those who say that animated series and films have to be discounted, but, at the end of the day, why? Throw them in, and suddenly, it seems that around 90% of all screen fiction takes place in Tommy Westphall’s head. And that’s mind boggling.
This piece barely skims the surface of all the connections. If you want to study this in depth (and believe me, people have. I’m glad they did so I could research without having to do the heavy lifting myself), then simply type “Tommy Westhall Hypothesis” into google. The results are a little staggering. And a lot of fun.