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7 seemingly normal TV shows that actually take place in supernatural universes

Ichabod, Bones. Bones, Ichabod.
Ichabod, Bones. Bones, Ichabod.

Even the press release for the Bones meets Sleepy Hollow crossover, which airs Thursday, October 29, at 8 pm Eastern on Fox, knows it's fighting an uphill battle. "Like you, when we first heard of the idea to crossover Bones and Sleepy Hollow," the two series' producers write, "we went, What?!"

What?! indeed, Fox. What?! indeed.

The most obvious objection is that Bones is supposed to be about scientists solving murders with, you know, science. That in mind, introducing Sleepy Hollow's time-traveling, supernatural rules would completely mess with Bones's basic reality. Much to my surprise, though, further research proved that the existing world of Bones has plenty of room to include Sleepy Hollow — because it's already included multiple, confirmed ghosts.

Bones, which has been on the air since 2005 and just began its 11th season, has gotten progressively stranger as it's aged. There was a Family Guy crossover, though the series explained that away as a tumor-induced hallucination.

Still, there have been episodes that confirm that the Bones universe — inasmuch as you can count it as a "universe" — includes ghosts. In the fourth season, a ghost helped Booth (David Boreanaz) break out of a prison cell, and lest we think it was a hallucination, his partner Bones (Emily Deschanel) acknowledged the ghost's presence by the episode's end. In the eighth season, Bones even did an episode from the perspective of — wait for it — a skull.

The skull turned out to belong to a ghost boy named Colin, who ended the episode skateboarding away into the night, as is good and fitting for a network television ghost boy.

So it turns out that it's not as big a stretch as I thought for Bones to allow demon chaser Ichabod Crane into its laboratories, after all.

If you keep looking for ghosts, demons, and other weird beasties where you might not expect them, you'll actually come across them in a number of other television shows where by all rights they shouldn't exist. These shows profess to rely on logic, hard facts, and hyperrealism, but still allow for breaks in their realities. Usually this happens a few seasons deep, when they're comfortable enough to shake things up — or have just stopped caring.

Here are seven shows other than Bones that you might not realize are actually — technically — genre shows.

1) Castle meets a time traveler

castle time traveler

Beckett and Castle confront their time traveler

Castle follows directly in the Bones model: Passionate guy partners with inscrutable woman. They solve crimes and, inevitably, fall in love. But after just a few seasons, Castle also reflected Bones's increasingly haywire propensity for throwing logic out the window.

There have been several episodes that introduced a science fiction bent, sometimes as a nod to star Nathan Fillion's past time in the Firefly universe, and other times as a way to spice up the case of the week, just for the hell of it. The seventh season featured episodes with an antagonist that used government technology to make himself completely invisible, to say nothing of Castle (Fillion) traveling to a parallel universe where he had never met his partner, Kate Beckett (Stana Katic).

In the sixth season, though, a case's prime suspect insists he is a time traveler — and Castle does not insist otherwise. The time traveler makes a few separate escapes without a trace, and the episode never offers an explanation other than time travel. The only way we can know for sure, it seems, is if Castle runs long enough to catch up to this guy's future, where Castle and Beckett (now a senator!) apparently have three kids.

2) When Boy Meets World wasn't being haunted, it was also introducing time travelers

Ghosts are tricky television business. While supernatural shows often use them explicitly, others outside the genre will call them hallucinations, personifying some inner guilt or otherwise unfinished business in an external way. Sometimes, though, these "hallucinations" will get enough acknowledgement to prove that they are, within the show's own definition, an actual ghost.

ABC's family sitcom Boy Meets World stretched this idea to its breaking point. Wild card Shawn (Rider Strong) spends much of the sixth season grieving his dead father, Chet (Blake Clark), only to have Chet's ghost show up to reconcile their considerable differences. This could be written off as one of those aforementioned hallucinations, if it weren't for the fact that Chet exits a scene by pinching a woman's butt, to which she visibly reacts. Way to use your ghosthood to be a giant creep, guy!

Boy Meets World was also a fan of time travel episodes, and while the show usually turned to "it was all a dream!" as a cover-up, a crossover event with Sabrina the Teenage Witch couldn't be explained away.

In that episode, Sabrina's cat Salem swallows a "time ball" (come on, guys) to send the Boy Meets World cast back to the 1940s, where they got to use olde-timey words like "lug" and "moxie." All the men then volunteer to join the Army, and advise their women whom they should marry in their absence. (It was supposed to be romantic, or something.)

3) Archer hangs out with aliens

One of super spy Sterling Archer's more endearing qualities is his tendency to drop whatever super-spy mission he's on to fully geek out. Usually, Archer's enthusiasm is reserved for those times when he gets to reenact something from an action movie. (See: season two's furious Terms of Endearment rampage, an homage to Bullitt's famous car chase through San Francisco, anything and everything Burt Reynolds.) Sometimes, though, he shows his truly geeky colors. (See: anything remotely involving space.)

In the sixth season, Archer and his fellow spies crashed the infamously secretive military base Area 51 for a mission that went horribly awry, as per usual. The episode was a rare misstep for Archer, flinging characters in every direction seemingly just for the hell of it. Then aliens — full-on, giant-headed aliens — ran amok throughout the episode.

Still: The weirdest part about Archer's aliens is that Archer, who spent most of his time in actual space talking about how awesome space is, didn't seem to care about them at all.

Sure, Archer had cyborgs and space pirates, submarine bases and Fantastic Voyage-style adventures into a human body, but those could all be explained away with vague "scientific advancements." Once Archer introduced aliens, though, it was game over for reality.

(Somewhere, Fox Mulder's radar is going haywire.)

4) My So-Called Life learns valuable lessons from the beyond

Claire Danes's breakthrough role as Angela Chase came thanks to this short-lived but beloved series, which looked at the inner lives of high school girls and outcasts in intimate and witty fashion.

But its Halloween episode had a ghost.

Opinions vary wildly on the episode, since the show was otherwise so committed to keeping things grounded. "Halloween" is a definite anomaly, with its dirtbag teen ghosts and otherworldly sock hops. Then again, Angela had a Halloween adventures with a dead dirtbag teen ghost. It's every teen girl's dream, even if it made not a shred of sense on the show — until the Christmas episode in which Angela met a homeless woman who turned out to be a straight-up angel.

Once you open those supernatural floodgates, it's nigh impossible to close them.

5) Pretty Little Liars accepts that it is part of a full supernatural universe

Caleb tries explains how Hanna exists in a magical world, fails.
ABC Family

Yes, technically Pretty Little Liars exists within a supernatural universe. But this has nothing to do with the show's storied history of melodrama, shadowy stalkers, and alternately thrilling and perplexing twists.

No, Pretty Little Liars belongs on this list thanks to Ravenswood, its short-lived attempt at a spinoff. The series followed Hanna's hangdog boyfriend Caleb (Tyler Blackburn) to a nearby town, which was apparently brimming over with dead spirits and curses and the like. The series flamed out after a single season, probably because no one cared about Caleb outside the context of his Pretty Little Liar ex-girlfriend.

But the damage was done.

In spinning Caleb off to mystical Ravenswood, Pretty Little Liars accepted the existence of spirits into its world, thereby giving it an easy out if it ever decides it's bitten off more than it can chew with its central mysteries about the identity of the mysterious "A" (which, at this point, is not a terrible idea).

6) Community braves the zombie apocalypse

While NBC-turned-Yahoo sitcom Community did its own take on genres and tropes throughout its run, it never quite tore the fabric of reality as brazenly as it did with its second season Halloween episode, which turned all the students at Greendale Community College into zombies.

Now, Community is still a sitcom, so no one died, in a grisly fashion or otherwise. But the show went to great lengths to make becoming an actual zombie both a believable and temporary condition. The premise of "Epidemiology" is that the campus's Halloween party goes horribly awry when the dean accidentally serves contaminated taco meat. Everyone suddenly starts showing signs of zombie behavior, like the urge to bite people, slurred speech, and a general tendency toward creating chaos. The episode eventually hits everyone with a heavy dose of amnesia, vaguely blaming The Government for the contaminated substance.

When speaking to my colleague Todd VanDerWerff about the episode, creator Dan Harmon admitted this was a bit of a cop-out, but that he didn't want the show to exist in a world where anyone could stop a conversation dead with, "But the government is covering up zombie secrets!" Which is fair. Later, though, Harmon also pointed out he wasn't sure at that point how long Community would run, so why not do a zombie episode while he had the time?

This "what the hell" attitude can be either a blessing or a burden, but when applied towards sitcom zombies, I'm inclined to encourage it.

7) Felicity ends on a ... different note

Felicity was a straightforward show about a wide-eyed woman (Keri Russell) who moves to New York City for college and grapples with her feelings for two strapping young men (Scott Foley and Scott Speedman). There had been nothing terribly mystical about the series (give or take a weirdo Twilight Zone homage) until the latter half of the final season, when everything went almost literally sideways.

Felicity traveled back in time to try out life with Noel (Foley) instead of Ben (Speedman), causing a chain reaction and alternate reality that messed with her life as she knew it. The show tried to play like it was "all a dream," but let's be real: Knowing the series' co-creator J.J. Abrams, this was probably not a dream.

If I told you in 2015 that Abrams ended his collegiate drama with time traveling and an alternate universe, the series' end might not be as surprising as it was for Felicity fans. But when Felicity aired its final season in 2002, Abrams had only just started Alias, the twisty spy drama that solidified his career. Throwing Felicity into an alternate universe could have been Abrams testing the waters for future projects like Lost, Star Trek, and even the upcoming Star Wars. If you have a strong opinion about any of those properties — and chances are you do — you might have Felicity to thank.