What Just Happened??!: Fred Savage Show Takes on Fandom

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BY September 9, 2019

If you’re like me, then you quickly dismissed What Just Happened, Fred Savage’s summer Fox series. Based on the brief ad glimpses I saw, it seemed like a hybrid of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live mixed with those variety shows that Steve Harvey always seems to host. However, it’s actually something completely different. It is a hybrid, but it’s a hybrid of aftershows like Talking Dead and a meta comedy. Don’t worry–I’ll explain.

It’s An ‘Aftershow’ for A Made-up Series Called The Flare

What Just Happened The Flare Aftershow Imgae via Fox

In the world of the show, there is another show, The Flare. Based on a book series called The Moon is the Sun at Night, The Flare is a look at a small town called Milford, Illinois, after an apocalyptic solar flare. Every episode of What Just Happened begins with the last scene of that week’s The Flare episode. Those scenes are all shocking cliffhangers, leading to the apt title of the aftershow.

The thing is, though, it isn’t real. Although Savage explains in the pilot that he’s loved the book series since he was a boy, the books don’t exist. And so the show based on them doesn’t, either. Instead, Savage’s program is like a parody of the aftershows that have popped up in the wake of the aforementioned Talking Dead.

As such, Savage and cohost Taylor Tomlinson discuss the fictional series with real celebrity guests, like Rob Lowe and Kevin Smith. Sometimes, these guests include the purported stars of The Flare, like Kevin Zegers and Shiri Appleby. It has all the beats of a real aftershow, including the zany contests and obvious product placement. But again, it’s all fake. Fox approached Savage with the idea that he would host a talk show and this is what he delivered.

What Just Happened to Fandom?

What Just Happened The Flare Aftershow Talking Bad Image via screengrab

While the show is intended to be a comedy above anything else, it’s also an interesting look at modern fandom. It captures the way we discuss our favorite works, down to the possessiveness we feel. Many of us get very attached to sources that are later adapted. And we have Strong Opinions™ about how they’re adapted, like the backlash against CW’s Batwoman. (I’ve got my eye on you, His Dark Materials.) It also shows the bald cynicism that a lot of fandom has become. You may know it better, though, as “fan service,” the Möbius strip of validation between creator and audience.

The thing is, though, any insights we glean seem to be unintentional. Savage told The Hollywood Reporter, for example, “This is not a spoof or a lampooning of anything.” With no specific target, the comedy, while occasionally cringey, is mostly toothless. And that’s a missed opportunity. Especially on Fox, which has long had a reputation for canceling genre shows like The Flare. But they’ll find out what just happened soon enough.

Featured image via Fox

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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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