To take us back, for better or worse, to the school cafeteria
As soon as you started school, you quickly learned the quirks of cafeteria lunch. And while no one will miss Chicken Salad Tuesdays, you most likely harbor fond memories of Pizza Friday. So when a film or television show is set in that phase of life, those school dishes do more than just feed your favorite characters.
For 136 episodes of South Park, Chef (Isaac Hayes) cooked up his trademark salisbury steak -- an old staple in school cafeterias -- for Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny. “What could be so bad children? It’s salisbury steak day,” he says during Season 1, Episode 1 -- the first of many comments about the dish throughout his 10-season arc. Every time Chef brings it up, it’s an instant flashback for you. Because, well, you might not have liked your school lunches at first, but the familiarity grew on you. You could count on the lack of options, the soggy texture of... basically everything, and somehow you started to crave this stuff (maybe not the food itself, but the simplicity it represented.)
Whether your lunchroom served salisbury steak or, let’s say -- and we’re really just pulling this out of nowhere -- sloppy joes, there was something addictive about school lunch.
“Have some more sloppy joes! I made ’em extra sloppy for yuhs!” Who could forget the creepy lunch lady from Billy Madison? The use of sloppy joes in this lunchroom scene works on two levels: a nostalgic device for both the audience and Billy himself, who’s returning to school after all these years. He’s made to feel like a kid again through a meal that, generally speaking, only kids eat. And if you still eat them now as an adult, let’s just say, well… we’re coming over for dinner.
To help us relate to the characters
Creator and star Aziz Ansari made sure his show Master of None was chock full of references tailored specifically for millennials. His anxiety over ordering an Uber for a date-gone-wrong (“There’s an UberX that’s like three minutes away and there’s an UberBLACK that’s like 15 minutes away. Should I just UberX? I just didn’t want you to think I was being stingy.”) perfectly reflects dating landmines in 2017. It’s one of many ways Ansari reminds the audience that like you, his character Dev (a 30-year-old NYC actor) has lived the same millennial experience.
At a child’s birthday party a stranger runs up to him: “You’re that guy from the Go-Gurt commercial aren’t you? Ah, I knew it!” Dev’s been living off the residuals from his spot since presumably the early 2000s, when the squeezable tubes of sweet stuff were popular. “It’s been paying my rent for years,” he says. You know the feeling -- seeing a recognizable face when you’re hanging out. Like, if you saw the guy from Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” commercials at a party, there’s no way you wouldn’t run up to him and make a joke. (And if you have more chill than that, teach us your ways.)