Storytelling school

Meta Storytelling – Inspired or just lazy?

The next season of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” triples on meta.

The latest twist? a story based on previous stories featuring existing characters alongside the old school team.

Confused? Get in line.

The online reaction was comical to say the least.

Others took a more cynical approach to the news.

Disney+ series news arrives with two new features that lean heavily on the meta-style of storytelling.

“See How They Run,” which opens Sept. 16, offers a thriller brimming with nods to the genre itself. The film’s narrator and co-star Adrien Brody delivers most, but not all, of the meta bits as a director who saw it all murdered in the opening moments.

Director Kevin Smith, one of Hollywood’s most meta-friendly talents, crafted “Clerks III” around a wildly meta concept. His lazy heroes shoot a movie about life behind the convenience store counter. Many scenes bear a direct resemblance to Smith’s original 1994 film, “Clerks.”

And he’s bald about the process behind the threequel, according to his conversation with far-left Rolling Stone.

“We’re definitely making a movie within a movie and sucking our own dicks and staring at our own belly buttons.”

In “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” our obnoxious heroine breaks the fourth wall to comment on her life and the entire story.

You could say “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a big meta nod to Comic Con fans, but done with a dynamism that can’t be denied.

The current meta wave, more often than not, is both exhausting and overplayed. What once seemed like a clever way to bring the audience into the story is now a trap for lazy screenwriters.

And too many scribes fall into the trap.

The original “Scream” isn’t where the meta gimmick originated, as comedy legends like Mel Brooks and Monty Python incorporated it into “Blazing Saddles” and “The Holy Grail,” respectively.

Still, the success of “Scream” cemented its place in pop culture lore, especially at a time when Hollywood was beginning to care more about existing IP addresses than original fare.

Suddenly, horror fanatics could see themselves on screen, dissecting genre tropes with the character count dwindling. More meta-horrors followed, including “The Cabin in the Woods” and “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.”

The faces of the “Scream” franchise may change, as well as the people behind the Scream mask, but its meta-winks are the true north of the franchise. Take away the meta nods, and it’s just another horror series.

Meta shtick barely stops at the horror genre. The “Deadpool” franchise features Ryan Reynolds speaking directly to audiences, while “The Family Guy” does the same at Fox.


There’s a sneaky edge to meta-friendly stories. They riff on our collective memories, which can be easier to write down and provide instant comfort. Western culture thrives on all forms of nostalgia, and meta taps right into that vein.

Hollywood is already facing the heat to lean on reboots, sequels and big-name properties. Sooner or later, the meta-revolution will spark similar outrage. Whether the industry will release the pop culture accelerator remains to be seen.