Fanfiction started in the 1970s, when fans looked at TV shows and said, "I can do better."And then, it took to the internet, and grew massively — until some TV writers noticed, and said, "No, you can't." Here are seven TV shows that took pot-shots at fanfic, in descending order of meanness.
Star Trek: The Next Generation invites nerd rage
The by-far meanest smack dealt out to fanfic writers came from Star Trek:TNG, in the unsubtly-titled "Hollow Pursuits." An awkward, nerdish lieutenant, Reginald Barclay, uses the holodeck on the Enterprise to simulate a world in which he is the star. He's discovered and humiliated by the rest of the crew. Some people would consider the most mortifying part of the episode the implied sex scenes between Barclay and an uninhibited simulacrum of Deanna Troi, but I think the real swipe was at fanfiction writers' tendency to vilify characters they don't like.
Riker — not a fan favorite character — appears as a pompous, aggressive bully who alternates between menacing Barclay and cringing from him. It seems even the writers thought the character went a bit far, because Barclay became an unexpected recurring character, slowly gaining respect and expertise. Once, his tendency to simulate real situations comes in handy when he helps to set up communication with the long-lost Voyager space ship.
Star Trek: The Next Generation mocks setting-switches
Riker got his turn as a sex object in a brief fanficcer shout-out in an episode of "True Q." When a young woman gets the powers of the Q, she acts out her fantasies. One of which includes both her and Riker in weirdly anachronistic dress outside a gently lit gazebo. This is a skewer to writers who pick up characters from a space ship in 2360 and set them down in Edwardian England for no understandable reason, except the writer's own notions of romance.
Futurama scorns bad writing
Futurama, a show so packed with references that some episodes seem like fanfiction themselves, acknowledges that fanfiction is fun, while also arguing that some people are amateur writers for a reason. "Where No Fan Has Gone Before," involves the Planet Express crew meeting up with the actors from Star Trek on a planet dominated by an evil entity, Melllvar, who happens to be the ultimate Star Trek nerd. The miserable actors have to sit through game shows about Trek trivia, pose for pictures, and, in the final indignity, are forced to act out a script that Melllvar wrote. Again, the nerd plays the star and saves the day, but the real horror is the clunky lines. Some characters spout lines that are more catchphrases than contributions. And then there are the ones that invoke involuntary shudders in the viewer, like, "Alas, my ship, whom I love like a woman, is disabled."
Futurama also scorns paid writers
Which isn't to say getting paid to write automatically makes people better. "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid" involves an invasion of flying space brains that can enter and control the stories in books. The crew follows it to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, where they find it tricked into whitewashing the fence. The brain screams, "Let this corny slice of Americana be your tomb for all eternity," making Tom plead, "Please, no!" My feelings exactly, Tom. The episode ends with Fry trapping the brain by writing a story of his own. Badly spelled and worded - "The Big brain am winning again! I am the greetest! Now, I am leaving Earth for no raisin!" - the story still gets the job done. What more can be asked from fanfiction?
Supernatural takes a bite out of fangirls
"The Monster at the End of this Book," is not so much a critical look at fanfiction as a look at fanfiction fans. The writer in this episode is actually a prophet named Chuck, who had visions of the exploits of the main characters, wrote them down in a trance, and chalked it up to artistic imagination. The real chuckle is at the expense of fangirl culture. Supernatural has voracious fangirls, and the high points of the episode are when they come into contact with the "characters."
From talking about how much they love the characters'pain ("the best parts are when they cry") to angry responses to sub-par plots ("screw you, we lived it"), to romantically linking two main characters ("they do know we're brothers, right?"), fan culture is skewered and roasted. The joke was so rich that it keeps popping up in later episodes, with fangirls acting as enthusiastic messengers from the prophet to the characters. While some fangirls were angry at the episode, which, to be fair, doesn't paint them in a flattering light, most of the fangirls portrayed don't know that what they're reading is real life. They think they're being overenthusiastic about a book series, and the comedy comes from them reacting to real life as if it were a constructed plot with made-up characters.
Buffy: The Vampire Slayer makes a stand against Mary Sues
In "Superstar," Buffy writers hold up fanfiction as an attack, not on intellectual property rights but on plot logic. The episode begins with a recurring ultranerd character, Jonathan, saving the day, and even re-cuts its main titles to a sequence featuring Jonathan instead of Buffy. Unlike the Star Trek episode, Jonathan doesn't make an antagonist out of an established character. Instead the nerd is what's known as a "Mary Sue." Mary Sues are perfect. They are liked by every established character, solve every problem, and live enchanted lives of glamour and adventure while being idolized by everyone. The problem is, this renders every other character a passive member of a fan club, unable to make any contribution, even incidentally. Meanwhile, elsewhere in this perfect world, a hideous, misshapen monster mauls people. It's explained later that, in order for a paragon to exist, its opposite also has to exist. If there's just a Mary Sue, solving everyone's problems, there's no plot.
The X-Files tears out tender fanboy hearts
Gillian Anderson hit the TV universe like a bomb - a sexy, petite, redheaded bomb who said things like, "What I find fantastic is any notion that there are answers beyond the realm of science." Just like that, nerds loved her forever. And they wrote about her. And eventually, all that writing made it to the ears of the shows writers, who responded with "Milagro." In the episode, a tormented writer writes about serial killings and the comely FBI agent who investigates them. She and the writer are drawn ever closer together, and soon fall into bed with one another. Except not actually. What actually happens in the episode is the writer realizes that he could never be loved back by the "character" and that he was killing the thing he loved, and literally tears his own heart out. But at least he did it to save the person he loved. Plus, he was a decent writer.
Daria acknowledges that even the smart can write badly
"Write Where it Hurts," is a story of inadvertent fanfiction. After being given a creative writing assignment, Daria finds herself blocked and, in desperation, writes the people she knows into parodies of The Graduate and Sense and Sensibility. When her mother hurts her feelings, unfavorably comparing her to her sister, she writes her own Mary Sue story — with her sister running out into traffic at the end of it. Eventually, she gets better advice from her mom and writes a calm little story about her family coming together as a contented whole after she and her sister reach adulthood. Overall, the theme is that it takes practice and guts to write something both hopeful and honest, and that until then you just have to produce a lot of crap.
Roseanne endorses fanfiction
Roseanne ended before the age of digital fanfiction really kicked in, which might be why it's so kind to the concept. The entire series of Roseanne is about a family making ends meet in a small town. Sometimes they're relatively flush — like when Roseanne has a steady factory job and her husband, Dan, has a construction contract — while sometimes they're really struggling. In the final season, things take a turn for the weird. The family wins the lotto, Dan has an affair, and Roseanne goes on madcap adventures. The entire tone and content of the show is ripped to shreds. The series finale explains why. A sudden voiceover has Roseanne explaining that what we see isn't actually how things worked out. Roseanne's two daughters married two brothers — but actually Roseanne switched which sister was married to which brother because she didn't think her real daughters made the "right" choice. They didn't win the lottery. Dan died, and she felt so betrayed by his loss that she made up a story about him having an affair.
Roseanne had long been established, on the series, as a frustrated writer. The entire show is revealed as her writing the story of her life. The sudden change to fantasy at the end came when her life got awful after her husband's death, and she had to make up an alternate world to cope with the trauma. This twist ending, as strange and depressing as it was, heartily endorses everything the other shows condemned. What, it asks, is so wrong with writing a fun, escapist fantasy? It doesn't have to be great art to be a pursuit that gives the writer a creative outlet which sparks their imagination and gives them a lot of pleasure. So take that, Star Trek.