I was watching the newest episode of one of my current favorite series – NCIS: Los Angeles – Tuesday when I noticed a shout out. Or at least, that’s how I think of them. I’ve also heard of them called in jokes, though I wonder whether it might be possible to separate the two terms.
“Chinatown”, the episode I was watching, is about Chinese spies. At one point, a Chinese spy uses a Chinese man who the police call a member of the Asian gang Hiragana. Throughout the show, the makers do a pretty good job (as far as I can tell) regarding Chinese things, meaning accents and such. Moreover, the Chinese tong has figured in many American TV shows and movies over the years, so the terminology associated with it should be easy to grasp for a group that clearly spent some time on getting fluent Chinese speakers and translating dialogue. Yet Hiragana is clearly a reference to the Japanese syllabary. I can only guess that that is an intentional shout out to those with some knowledge of Asia, Japan in particular. Does one of the writers have a little Japan in her past? Who knows?
Every so often I catch one of these, and they never fail to amuse me. Some of them – the ones that I would be more likely to call in jokes – reference something that only a person who follows a specific person’s works or has seen all of a series (or all of the bonus materials available online/on DVD) will know. Hiragana feels more like a shout out to me; anyone with passing knowledge of Japanese will get it, regardless of how much they know about NCIS or the actors/directors/screenwriters/et cetera. Do you recall an in joke or shout out that you particularly liked? What was it?
By the way, NCIS: Los Angeles rocks (as does its predecessor, NCIS). You can watch recent episodes here, should you be so inclined.