The 10 best musical TV episodes
Musicals are having a bit of a TV moment. We saw Kara Tointon serenading the hills in The Sound of Music Live at Christmas, and it’s been impossible to miss the buzz about Fox’s Grease Live which broadcast in the US last week and will air on ITV 2 tonight (03.02.16) at 8pm.
Whilst the “live” concept may be a new and exciting development in the television musical world, musical episodes of long-running shows have been around for years. Generally a bit of a marmite decision by producers, these musical additions to the oeuvre can often be disastrous, but we think we’ve found 10 that will leave you wanting to burst into song at the next opportunity.
Grey’s Anatomy – “Song beneath the song” – S7, Ep. 18
This episode of the hugely popular US medical drama revolves around surgeons Arizona Robbins and Callie Torres being involved in a vehicular accident. Severely injured, Torres hallucinates a healthy version of herself watching all of the action and creates her own soundtrack to it. All of the doctors join in, singing songs that had previously appeared in the series. Show creator Shonda Rhimes had wanted to do a musical episode right from the series’ conception and we thank her for it. The episode was generally well-received as a one-off deviation from the norm.
Daria – “Daria!” – S3, Ep. 1
A hurricane rocks the suburban town of Lawnsdale in this pure musical episode of offbeat comedy, Daria. Die-hard fans of the show were not happy bunnies when it was announced there would be a musical episode, mainly due to it’s usual firm grounding in reality. With no explanation behind the choice to do a musical, “Daria!” still manages to succeed because, well, Daria doesn’t care what you think. The lack of outstanding Broadway voices and even particularly memorable songs is exactly why it works and stays in-keeping with the sharp witty tone of the series.
That 70s Show – “That 70s Musical” – S4, Ep. 24
In this episode Fez gets a starring role in the school musical but worries that his friends will not come and see him. The set-up for the musical numbers comes from Fez daydreaming and fantasising in song. The show brilliantly integrated 70s classics from Nazareth, The Turtles and Peaches and Herb (as shown below). As per usual with That 70s Show, it’s clear the cast are having an absolute ball, which makes this musical choice a success.
Community – “Regional Holiday Music” – S3, Ep. 10
Cult favourite, Community, prides itself on subverting traditional TV tropes and parodying pop culture. This was proven to hilarious effect in their musical episode. Mocking the ever-mockable Glee, the episode sees the team reluctantly joining glee club which is expertly led by SNL cast member Taran Killam as “Mr. Rad”.
The Simpsons – “Elementary School Musical” – S22, Ep. 1
Proving my theory that Glee will forever provide fodder for parodies and spoofs, this episode of The Simpsons sees Lisa go off to performing arts camp. She finds herself surrounded by gloriously artistic people who encourage her to burst into song to express herself. The episode guest stars Lea Michele, Cory Monteith and Amber Riley from Glee, as well as Stephen Hawking and comedy duo Flight of the Conchords.
Even Stevens – “Influenza the Musical” – S2, Ep. 21
This makes the list for the sole reason of seeing a 15-year-old Shia LaBeaouf singing and dancing. The explanation for the musical element here is (a common trope) Ren suffering from flu and dreaming that everyone is constantly bursting into song.
American Dad – “Hot Water” – S8, Ep. 1
CeeLo Green narrates this episode about Stan buying a hot tub to try to relax more, only to find that the hot tub has a murderous character and begins to kill his friends. All the while, musical numbers including “Dip a Toe”, “Hot Tub of Love” and “Psychotic Hot Tub” provide a weird but catchy soundtrack. The show was nominated for the “Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program” if you’re not convinced.
How I Met Your Mother – “Girls vs. Suits” – S5, Ep. 12
Whilst not technically a full musical episode, it ends with such a spectacular finale number that we couldn’t leave it off this list. When Barney meets a girl who doesn’t like men in suits, he faces a big dilemma. He tries living life in casual wear but finds it unbearable. Eventually, the girl gives him an ultimatum: me, or the suits. Cue musical number. This celebratory 100th episode of the sitcom really showed off the amazing talent that is Neil Patrick Harris.
Scrubs – “My Musical” – S6, Ep. 6
In a rather familiar sounding storyline (although potentially the original), the musicality of this episode comes from the mind of a patient with a mysterious illness. With Avenue Q writers Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez behind this, it comes as no surprise that “My Musical” was nominated for five Emmys, winning “Outstanding Direction”. The quirkiness of the regular show made the transition to musical absolutely seamless. Zach Braff and the rest of the cast gave outstanding and hilarious performances in songs that stand apart from the episode itself.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Once more, with feeling” – S6, Ep. 7
Saving the best for last, this episode of seminal teen drama Buffy consistently tops the list for best musical TV episodes. Joss Whedon had always wanted to write a musical episode and when a drunken house party had all the cast members singing, he realised it was possible. The songs vary dramatically in style and tone, each fitting to the characters’ personalities. The concept behind the episode is that “Sweet” – a demon – forces his victims to reveal their hidden truths. The humour and heart of the series remains completely present in this episode making it one of their most successful.
In this ensemble number we get a good feel for each characters’ story arch through the good o’ power of song. Look out for Willow’s great moment: “I think this line’s mostly filler”.