Helen Slater visits “Smallville” and other reasons to love TV

I never apologize for watching a lot of TV. Sure, sometimes I catch myself confusing real people with sitcom characters. Or thinking of a scene from The L Word when a friend asks for relationship advice. But everybody does that, right? Of course you do.

So last night, I mentioned to a friend that Helen Slater, whose career break came when she played Supergirl, will appear on Smallville next season as Supergirl’s aunt.

In exchange for this tidbit, I got a blank stare. I went on to explain how masterful Smallville is at shouting out to past incarnations of Supeman, like having guest stars Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder from the Superman movies.

Or using Terence Stamp, who played General Zod in Superman and Superman II, as the voice of Clark’s father Jor-El. And how cool is it that Annette O’Toole, Clark’s mom on Smallville, played Lana Lang in Superman III?

Not to mention the show’s little gifts to fans of the cast, like when Jonathan Kent (John Schneider) played the theme to The Dukes of Hazzard on his car radio.

My friend perked up a little. “Will and Grace did that a lot.” I patiently explained the difference between stunt casting and what I call “meta-casting.” Celebrity guest stars are fine, but the real fun is in connections. Alexis Denisof on How I Met Your Mother is meta-casting at its finest. Or an example we’d just seen — Ricki Lake in the remade Hairspray.

Another blank stare. Then I had a stroke of genius. (Or maybe just a stroke.) I thought of a possibility I knew she’d relate to: casting Nicole Ari Parker as a love interest for Tina on The L Word.

That one made her smile wistfully, but she still didn’t grasp the concept. Thankfully, our chicken-fried steak arrived and the subject shifted to an article she’d read about conjoined twins. Like on that episode of Side Order of Life.

I have no doubt that such an important subject will come up again, and I want to be ready. So I need your help. Have you seen casting that alludes to previous incarnations of your favorite shows? Or references to past roles of series stars? Even better, what meta-casting can you imagine that would make you smile wistfully? The future of pop culture education is in your hands.

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