There was a quick gag in a recent episode of 30 Rock where Tina Fey's character Liz Lemon, panicking about the future of her job, tries to imagine a world without writers.
In the course of that daydream, she passes a cinema poster for a Transformers sequel entitled 'Transformers 5: Planet of the Earth', with a caption underneath reading ‘Written By No-One'.
With that image planted firmly in mind, it has been hard to take seriously this week's release of a third Transformers movie, one with the only slightly-less ludicrous subtitle 'Dark of the Moon'.
True, this instalment has been moderately better received than the last, but, then again, the reviews for the second movie, 'Revenge of the Fallen', could only have been worse if cinema ushers had daubed critics and audience members with faeces on the way into the theatre, and then forced them to wash down blade-encrusted popcorn with giant cups of infected rat urine that has been chilled with ice-cubes made from curdled milk.
But maybe those who have been pleasantly surprised by Transformers are our new Darwinian overlords, the movie-goers who have evolved enough to heighten their level of tolerance for sequels to the point where, at worst, they're indifferent, and, at best, can try to see the good in them. And if you haven't reached that state yet, then you'd better hope you get there soon, because the sequels look set to keep on coming.
In the same week as 'Transformers 3' opens, and three weeks after the who-the-hell-asked-for-this-sequel 'Honey 2' trudged into cinemas, we also heard rumours of several more truly ominous-sounding sequels being discussed. Can it get any worse than, say, 'Hangover 2', 'Pirates of the Caribbean 16' (it feels like that anyway), or the forthcoming don't-call-us-we'll-call-you 'American Pie' sequel? Hollywood seems up to that challenge.
Take 'Green Lantern', which has hardly been the critical or commercial hit everyone expected it to be. It was generating talk of a follow-up even before the first movie had premiered. However, in the past few days, Warner Brothers have tried to cool any potential sequel talk for the ring-wielding hero. 'Green Lantern' was a hugely expensive undertaking - rumoured to have cost around $400m in total between production and marketing - and by all accounts it will struggle to recoup that amount during its global release. No matter how afflicted Hollywood is with sequelitis, commissioning a second instalment for this seems as good a business investment as MySpace.
Far more disturbing was the intimation this week from Tom Hanks that a fourth 'Toy Story' could be in the works. In the middle of promoting his new middle-aged comedy 'Larry Crowne' (also out this week), Hanks was asked about the animated franchise and whether there might ever be a fourth movie that his newborn grand-daughter will be able to see in cinemas. "I think there will be, yeah," Hanks replied. When asked to elaborate, he added: "Yeah, yeah, I think they're working on it now."
Most 'Toy Story' aficionados - indeed, movie fans in general - would surely agree that this would be a sequel too far. Last year's third movie achieved the seemingly impossible by matching its first two movies in quality, and finding a way to deliver a poignant and fitting climax to the series. As good as Pixar is, there can't be any way the company could resurrect the story without the brand suffering and/or contaminating the memory of what came before it.
Similarly, Kristen Wiig - co-writer and star of 'Bridesmaids' - has been the subject of the inevitable talks about a sequel to the smash hit comedy. Director Paul Feig has said - jokingly, perhaps, but who knows these days? - that a second part could be called 'Bridesmaids Revisted', to which Wiig added that the plot could revolve around hosting a divorce party for one of the characters.
If you can stop groaning long enough, keep in mind that nothing has been confirmed, but you can bet that enormous pressure is currently being piled on Wiig to deliver another cash-cow for the studio.
All that being said, there was an admittedly contradictory bright spot in sequel-related news this week with the release of the trailer for the fourth 'Mission: Impossible movie, Ghost Protocol'. Wait, come back! It actually looks pretty decent, and seems to reinvent the franchise once more. Kudos to producer JJ Abrams and director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) for generating some kind of heat for the movie, but it remains to be seen whether or not Tom Cruise can really unload all his personal baggage to become a true box office champ once more.
Wags like me have been cribbing about Hollywood's depressing reliance on sequels for a long time now, with added choruses of disapproval for the industry's reliance on remakes (the trailer for the new 'Tinker Trailer Solider Spy' has just dropped) and - usually below-par - literary adaptations (in this regard, the new 'War Horse' trailer looks good, but my sense of dread about 'One Day' continues to rise upon every hearing of Anne Hathaway's British accent).
When 'Inception' was released last year, it was said that Hollywood would no longer be scared off by original or challenging ideas, and that the default dependence on sequels would be broken. That's hardly been the case since. Indeed, where we're probably most likely to see the ripple effects of Inception's success is on TV; check out the promising trailer for the new NBC show, 'Awake', starring Jason Isaacs.
Until then, we'd all better work on that sequel tolerance, certainly in time for the arrival of 'Puss in Boots', 'Wrath of the Titans', 'Final Destination 5', and, and, heaven help us, 'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance'.
Words - Declan Cashin