When actors play themselves

There is one reason, and one reason only, that new comedy Don't Trust the B**** in Apartment 23 has managed to separate itself from the generic, Odd Couple-esque sitcom pack: James Van Der Beek.

Oh, don't get me wrong, some of the other stuff in Apartment 23 - the rapport between leads Dreama Walker and Krysten Ritter, Chloe's hare-brained schemes to make money, the bizarre neighbours who always seem to be floating in the background - have given me a few chuckles as well.

But the sight of James Van Der Beek playing an amped-up, mostly fictionalised version of himself is a gift that just keeps on giving. Whether he's holding an impromptu acting class in a café, launching his BJ line of jeans (BJ stands for Beek Jeans, sicko), getting into a rivalry with Dean Cain over dressing-room space, taking a role in a crappy rom-com because he needs the money, or listening to advice from fellow 90s has-been Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Van Der Beek just keeps on impressing and delivering the belly-laughs.

The Beek is hardly the first actor to play a fictional version of him- or herself.

In fact, satirising oneself in a cameo is almost a Hollywood tradition, particularly in recent years. Countless stars have demeaned themselves on The Simpsons, Summer Glau appeared in an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Ryan Reynolds played a gay version of himself on Family Guy, Mandy Moore starred opposite Vince on the fictional Aqua Man film in Entourage, Liam Neeson and Johnny Depp famously appeared on Ricky Gervais' still-not-aired-in-New Zealand show Life's Too Short (you can watch their clips here and here, but be careful: those videos are NSFW), and every episode of Extras featured a guest or two.

Some stars take it a step further and appear multiple times, like Kelsey Grammer playing himself as a con-man on 30 Rock, Carl Weathers appearing as Tobias' acting coach on Arrested Development ("Whoa! There's still plenty of meat on that bone. You take this home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato. Baby, you got a stew goin'!"), Mayor Adam West on Family Guy, or Wil Wheaton playing Sheldon's nemesis on The Big Bang Theory.

My favourites, though, are the select few who play themselves week after week - aside from Van Der Beek, we've also been enjoying Matt LeBlanc as a womanising, egomaniacal version of himself on Episodes, a role which has got the often overlooked Friends star nominated for an Emmy Award, and won him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV Musical or Comedy.

Louis CK is another I love, portraying himself as a somewhat lazy, hopelessly romantic, socially -awkward comedian in New York, on his show Louie* - and his show is kind of a kindred spirit with Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which legendary TV writer David plays himself as a socially awkward B-list celebrity, looking for love, trying to succeed, and committing endless social faux-pas on his hit, often unpredictable comedy show.

However, my favourite self-parodying performance this year - even though the show wasn't consistently great - was by comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip. I only caught up on the six episodes, which find Coogan reviewing restaurants for a newspaper while having nightmares about his career and long discussions with Brydon ("You know, when someone dies, and they go to the funeral, and they say 'we should have done this when he was alive, he would have loved this'" ... "What, cremated him?!"), earlier this year. I laughed my butt off.**

Anyway, enough from me: I've been enjoying the era of self-parody - long may it continue! But how about you ...

What are your favourite self-parodying performances on television? Who have I forgotten about?

(*) Hi, bOb! I thought you might like this Louie mention!

(**) My favourite sequence: Steve and Rob repeatedly trying to do a Bond villain impression - "Come, come, Mr Bond, you derive as much pleasure from killing as I do" - and getting increasingly ridiculous, sipping a drink and gargling wine and mumbling and so on. I think I peed a little during that scene.

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