1. MeowMeowBeenz, Community
In one fifth-season episode of Community, an app that seems like a strange cross between Yelp and all those “grade your teacher” websites is unleashed on Greendale, where the unsuspecting student body finds it can suddenly rate anybody and anything. Students rate teachers! Teachers rate students! Everybody is rating various places and objects! This being Greendale, everything descends into chaos, and soon, the episode turns into a parody of futuristic dystopias alongside a parody of so-called social media clout. It’s a big, ambitious, messy episode, with a lot of ideas.
Predictably enough—this is Community, after all—a bunch of the show’s viewers decided the best lesson to take from the episode was that it would be really cool to make their own MeowMeowBeenz app, so we can give out from one to five MeowMeowBeenz in the real world. Numerous versions of the app have popped up in our reality, but here’s one you have to pay money for that appears to only let you rate Community-related things. Won’t you enjoy finding that in your downloads in a decade?
2. Forbid, Girls
When Charlie finally ends his on-again, off-again relationship with Marnie on Girls, he doesn’t merely unfriend her on Facebook or delete her number from his phone. No, his desire to be free of his ex is apparently so potent—and so inspiring—that he builds an entire company around it. Charlie’s lucrative app is called Forbid, and it charges users $10 whenever they call an ex, a crush, or anyone else that they’ve placed on their list of “forbidden” contacts. Charlie intuits that his generational peers love to outsource self-discipline to technology and, crucially, that they often don’t abide by that discipline. So Charlie gets rich as his users call the people they pledged never to call again. (Charlie’s no different—he ends up back with Marnie, the ex he’d sworn off, at least for a spell.)
In the real world, there’s no app that exacts financial pain for contacting a former lover, but Ex Lover Blocker does dole out humiliation. When you try to call the object of your ill-advised affection, Ex Lover Blocker first alerts your friends so that they can talk some sense into you. If you go ahead and reach out to your ex anyway, Ex Lover Blocker posts your indiscretion to Facebook, encouraging the rest of the world to shame you. An added bonus: Because the app was developed by a Brazilian marketing company, it’s entirely in Portuguese, so by the time you figure out how to use the damn thing, the urge to reconnect with your lost love may have passed anyway.
3. Fakeblock, Arrested Development
George Michael’s impeccable internal metronome follows him to college for the fourth season of Arrested Development, in which he sets out with roommate P. Hound to recreate his favorite instrument—the woodblock—in mobile form. Never again would his quad’s drum circles and impromptu a cappella groups have to suffer without the consistent thwap that only a wooden block can provide! Unfortunately for George Michael, his father, Michael, is crashing with him, and when Michael hears that George Michael needs some privacy for his software, “Fakeblock” becomes “privacy software” in the elder Bluth’s mind. Since privacy is a hot market, the misunderstanding snowballs into a multi-million-dollar startup, backed by celebrity buzz and pure market speculation—and no product whatsoever. Thus a young man who wanted nothing more than consistency and reliability is catapulted into a world where none of those things exist.
With the sharp timing of a George Michael woodblock solo, Netflix released an official Fakeblock app for iPhone to coincide with the show’s revival, and it works largely as you would expect: Touch the screen, repeat. Every so often, a little window pops up to announce that an achievement has been unlocked, encouraging “players” to share their refined sense of rhythm with friends on social media.
4. WUPHF, The Office
Disgraced former temp Ryan Howard was barely a player in the later years of The Office, but he scored a rare season-seven subplot in an episode named for his web app, “WUPHF.com.” Designed as the last word in social networking, for a mere $12.99 a month the service links every conceivable communication portal, alerting subscribers via simultaneous phone call, text, email, tweet, instant message, phone call, and fax whenever they receive a “WUPHF.” “It’s part of the Dog Pack, as I call it,” Ryan brags, without explaining what exactly that means. The service works well enough to convince many of Ryan’s coworkers to invest—especially an enthusiastic Michael, who covers his car in WUPHF.com bumper stickers—but when they’re reminded of Ryan’s less-than-sterling business sense, they pressure him to sell to a buyer with other intentions for the WUPHF.com domain.
Though Ryan never gets to see his grand creation through to the end—he had dreams of marketing it with 50,000 condoms falling out of the sky—it was doomed from the start. By 2010, when the episode aired, the market was already crowded with dozens of apps eager to bombard your phone and computers with instant messages, emails, and push notifications, including the social media manager HootSuite and an obscure little service called Facebook. It may not shoot you faxes, but it costs a lot less than $12.99 a month.
5. App App, Cougar Town
Laurie Keller can’t live without her phone and all her niche apps, like her death row tracker, which vibrates every time someone gets executed, and a suspicious app that purportedly shows you how to murder your husband without getting caught. Among her favorite life-hacking smartphone delights is the App App. “When you shake it, Zach Braff tells you what appetizer to order,” Laurie explains, and it’s really as simple as that. The app does feature a JibJab-style animation of Braff’s mouth moving as he says things like, “How ’bout some potato skins?” and “I love pot stickers.”
So far, the non-fictional Zach Braff hasn’t capitalized on the App App concept. However, there is a free, low-rated, poorly documented Android app called Dish Picker that can be configured as an app app. All you have to do is enter a list of appetizers. Afterward, every time you open Dish Picker, the clip-art chef will present a randomly selected appetizer. It lacks the special joy of hearing Zach Braff order queso for you, but it gets the job done.
6. iToilet, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Seinfeld’s season-two finale, “The Busboy,” features a brief bit of banter in which George boasts to Jerry that he can identify the best public toilet near any given point in the city. To demonstrate his extensive knowledge, George gives hilariously specific recommendations like “Sperry Rand Building. Fourteenth floor, Morgan Apparel. Mention my name—she’ll give you the key.” The quick conversation gets a callback on Curb Your Enthusiasm’s seventh season, in which Larry David has to write a Seinfeld reunion episode. One storyline involves George getting rich with an app called iToilet, which brings his exhaustive knowledge of “the nearest acceptable toilet” to the masses.
Real life only caught up this year, with the debut of Bathroom Scout Pro, an Android app that’s clearly not for amateur bathroom scouts. It not only helps you find facilities, it lets you rate them on one to five stars—a veritable MeowMeowBeenz of commodes. Until Zagat’s finally gets into the bathroom rating business, it’ll have to do.