Generally, film and television characters have the least discerning tastebuds of anyone, ever, when it comes to drinks and libations. They sidle up to a counter or bar and order the vaguest thing they can think of. Sure, it’s a narrative technique to avoid product placement, but it’s almost always nonsensically vague. They order a “beer,” but not even a lager, ale, or porter; they order a whisky, but not (at least) a scotch, rye, or bourbon.
In this never-ending sea of vagueness rises Sleepy Time tea – an unstoppably specific force infiltrating the business in and out.
Sleepy Time is the tea offered to Eric Stoltz when his café, Java, doesn’t have chamomile, and chamomile is the answer Seth Rogen gave our Scott Beggs years ago when asked about his favorite Sleepy Time tea flavor. It is what fictional characters sip while watching What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, and part of the nightly beauty routine of one of the How to Get Away with Murder stars. It’s even used as a measure of cinematic worth – what Take Shelter has been compared to, as well as The Eye, and the dialect in Suddenly.
On-screen it pops up again and again. People might not care whether their beer is dark and rich or light and refreshing, but they sure as hell care about how much Sleepy Time they consume. One dare not be vague when it comes to tea, as if there is an all-powerful Sleepy Time lobby pushing film and television to never forget it exists.
Sometimes it gets edited out, like the pilot of Enlisted where Jill drinks the tea because of nightmares of a wolf with her cousin’s face on it. Other times, it sneaks right in.
Scott Pilgrim v. The World
Ramona Flowers has many teas to warm up the boys she brings over on cold winter nights – even after you take out the pile of teas she could excise with one bottle of honey. She has “blueberry, raspberry, ginseng, Sleepy Time, green tea, green tea with lemon, green tea with lemon and honey, Liver Disaster, ginger with honey, ginger without honey, vanilla almond, white truffle, blueberry chamomile, vanilla walnut, Constant Comment, and earl grey.” Scott thinks she made some of those up, and indeed, Liver Disaster became a reality after the fact when a tea company decided to embrace Pilgrim fandom.
She chooses Sleepy Time and it leads them right to (almost) sexy time in the bedroom. But more than suggesting the idea of sleep, Ramona’s ability to curl her tongue around every title without stumbling is the biggest hint at what might come.
SpongeBob Squarepants, “Sleepy Time/Suds”
In the episode, the only specific allusion to the tea is in the title, “Sleepy Time.” However, the link is fairly explicit. SpongeBob spends the episode visiting his friends’ dreams, and when he tries to find Mr. Krabs, he happens upon Pearl and her tea party dream, where she pours her stuffed bear some tea (a riff on the tea’s usual pajama-dressed bear?) and laments that “Boys don’t understand the sophistication of tea parties.”
2 Broke Girls, “And Just Plane Magic”
While one show invents a pastel-pink world of girly tea parties, 2 Broke Girls flipped the script and made the tea the new form of jumping the shark, at least, as far as Vice was concerned. When 2 Chainz visited the show, the site said his appearance – and acting debut – was “everything that is wrong with America” – “2 Chainz, 1 Shark.”
In the Grammy-themed episode, Max and Caroline find themselves on the latter’s old private plane with 2 Chainz. Of course, the show wouldn’t just mention the tea; they call it “so gangster” and when the rapper doesn’t move when they kick his seat: “Wow, that Sleepy Time really knocks you out. He must’ve two-bagged it.”
Parks and Recreation, “Time Capsule”
In Pawnee, Will Forte is Kelly, a “weird goon who’s obsessed with a kids’ book” – aka, a die-hard Twilight fan. When he hears that the town is making a time capsule, he heads straight to Leslie Knope to suggest that the series be included in it. When his long history of Stephenie Meyer’s life and scene descriptions don’t sway her, he chains himself to a pipe in her office in protest, infiltrating the team from the inside, making Sleepy Time tea and making more Twihards in the Parks’ office.
Alex Karpovsky’s Jed is a mega-mooch who uses Lena Dunham’s Aura for a free place to stay in her full-length feature debut, Tiny Furniture. When he arrives, she offers him tea and asks which kind he likes. “Good tea,” he responds, prompting her to first mention Sleepy Time, before an atypical mix of options leads him to be tantalized by the option of the pun-labeled Smooth Move herbal stimulant laxative tea. The ol’ Sleepy mainstay is tossed aside as he insists that he’s in New York for “the laxative tea” – a novel idea that’s quickly forgotten as they chat about Jed’s business in the city.
Gilmore Girls, “Last Week Fights, This Week Tights”
There seems to exist a creative imperative that if a character is going to name out options of tea (because, again, one mustn’t just order tea – they need to ask for a specific kind), Sleepy Time will be amongst it – boy, girl, professional, or slacker. In Gilmore Girls’ fourth-season episode, Mrs. Kim finally heads to Lane’s apartment to investigate her sleeping arrangements with her bandmates. Lane tries to welcome her with tea, and tasks Zach with preparing some. They’re starving musicians, but still have a “whole selection” including orange pekoe and Sleepy Time, but we never hear just how many as Mrs. Kim freaks out and flees the scene.
Happy Endings, “Most Casual Sex Ever!”
Nothing ever happened as expected on Happy Endings, and in “Most Casual Sex Ever,” Penny avoids base jumping with Brian Austin Green, takes the stairs, and ends up in a body cast when she falls down them. She’s a horrible patient to best-friend Max, who almost flees the scene until he sees her sexy physical therapist. Naturally, he decides to “Misery” her, keeping her in her cast and knocking her out with Sleepy Time tea, or rather “Sleepington’s, nature’s lullaby” mixed with “Lunesta, nature’s Ambien.” But they still love each other in the end, because she’d done the same thing to him before.
Happy Endings, we miss you.
Chris Kattan’s Corky is the son of a mobster, training vet, and star of a film that’s inspired much derision, including: “It might be courting hyperbole to call Corky Romano the single worst movie ever to feature an SNL cast member … but I’m willing to go out on a critical limb and rank it among the all-time bottom dozen.” Sleepy Time tea is Corky’s comfort when he loses a pet, or when a woman insists on having her beloved, growling cat, Jesus, euthanized when faced with a future of giving him piles of medication rectally every day. In a bad comedy, however, the tea offers everything but comfort.
Related Topics: food