A Geeky Guide to TV Musical Episodes

Here are ten of our favorite TV show forays into the world of musical theatre...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

If you hadn’t already heard: The CW’s brightest and most jovial superhero shows, The Flash and Supergirl, are set to have a two-part musical episode special as part of the upcoming TV season. As if that isn’t exciting enough, the hot rumour is that Joss Whedon is ‘locked’ in as director. And, on top of that, the speculation mill suggests that Neil Patrick Harris could provide the villainy, reprising his terrific Music Meister performance from the animated series Batman: The Brave And The Bold.

To stop the wait for these weird-but-hopefully-brilliant episodes from becoming torturous, we look back at our ten favorite musical outings from geek TV gone by. Get your song sheets at the ready and prepare to sing along…

Mayhem Of The Music Meister!

Batman: The Brave And The Bold, season 1 episode 25

Standout track: ‘Drives Us Bats’, an ode to Batman’s ability to drive his own rogues’ gallery (and fellow heroes) insane, sung mainly by Neil Patrick Harris…

Explanation for singing: The Music Meister (voiced by NPH) bursts onto the scene with the ability to sing at a specific pitch that brainwashes all those who hear it.

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This is a terrific 22 minutes of telly, centered on a show-stealing performance from real-life musical maestro Neil Patrick Harris (who also got a musical number in How I Met Your Mother and the 2015 Oscars).

The plot of Mayhem Of The Music Meister sees the titular villain brainwashing a lot of people and getting them to steal stuff for him. The stakes are fairly low, but the fun level is off the charts. Especially when Grey Griffin’s Black Canary gets involved, belting out lovelorn ballads even when the Music Meister isn’t around. And Diedrich Bader’s Batman has quite a set of pipes, too. If the Supergirl/The Flash musical episodes end up this good, we’ll be in for a treat.


Once More With Feeling

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, season 6 episode 7

Standout track: They’re all great, but ‘Walk Through The Fire’ contains an expert blend of drama and humor in a number that brings all the cast together…

Explanation for singing: Xander summoned a demon who makes everyone sing and dance their feelings because he wanted to know if he and Anya would have a happy ending. It’s not his finest moment.

Some were sceptical when Joss Whedon announced that he would be writing the original music for a musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but what he produced is a fantastic collection of genuinely great songs that express the characters’ inner turmoil and move all of the major characters on in their lives and relationships in a drastic fashion, such that the final song’s question ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ is certainly uppermost in the audience’s mind as the curtain falls.

Musical episodes of TV series vary in their approach; while some simply insert occasional songs into the story, others fully embrace the medium and have the main characters express their innermost feelings and turmoil in song. Buffy falls fantastically into the latter category. Not only that, Joss Whedon so convincingly embraced the format, producing such good original songs and weaving them into such a tight story, that Once More, With Feeling was voted the 13th best musical of all time by Channel 4 viewers in 2003. It may have been inspired by Xena, but Buffy’s entry is the high watermark for all TV musical episodes that attempt to follow it.

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The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings

Futurama, season 4 episode 18

Standout track: ‘I Want My Hands Back’, sung mainly by Dan Castellaneta’s Robot Devil, is the culmination of the episode and an epic and operatic delight…

Explanation for singing: Fry swaps hands with the Robot Devil in order to impress Leela with some newfound musical ability. He masters the holophonor, to huge acclaim, and is then hired by Hedonismbot to write an opera. 

This one was conceived as an end point for Futuramaas Fox hadn’t renewed the series for any further episodes at the time. Ultimately, the show lived on, but the The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings remains brilliant. It pushed forward the Fry and Leela romance, showing the lengths that former would go to in order to impress the latter.

All of the full-songs with actual lyrics come in the last five minutes, making this one a slight cheat in this, a list of musical episodes. But Fry’s snail-based instrumental numbers that come before make up for it, I’d say. And although there are plenty of other songs in the Futurama canon, I’d say ‘I Want My Hands Back’ is the best of the bunch.


The Bitter Suite

Xena: Warrior Princess, season 3 episode 12

Standout track: ‘The Love Of Your Life’, Xena’s heart-rending apology to Gabrielle and to her son, Solan, who never knew who she was…

Explanation for singing: It’s never actually explained. Some higher power (possibly the Fates) has brought Xena and Gabrielle to the Land of Illusia, apparently to try to get them to reconcile after a nasty incident in which Gabrielle’s daughter killed Xena’s son. (It works.)

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The Bitter Suite isn’t the first TV musical episode, but it is one of the best known, bringing them back into fashion for a while and earning a direct nod in Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s own entry. This is because, while there is a comic element to some of the Land of Illusia, the episode takes both its music and its plot completely seriously. This is not a light-hearted hour of silliness, but a story that rips apart the central relationship on the show and explores the aftermath of putting Xena through every parent’s worst nightmare, the loss of her child. It’s stirring stuff, and passionately delivered by the actors.


Regional Holiday Music

Community, season 3 episode 10

Standout track: ‘Christmas Infiltration’, the spontaneous rap that breaks out when Abed convinces Troy (a Jehova’s Witness) to join the Glee club and save their Christmas production…

Explanation for singing: The Glee club suffer a ‘collective nervous breakdown’ after being handed a Cease & Desist order for performing copyrighted music. Abed is lured in to save Christmas by Mr. Rad (guest star Taran Killam), and gradually recruits his reluctant study group chums for the mission.

After the season 2 Christmas special tugged on our heartstrings in stop-motion style with a great musical numberCommunity season 3’s festive offering upped the ante with no less than five original songs. The most bizarre one might be ‘Baby Boomer Santa’, in which Troy and Abed convince Pierce to join the gang by praising his generation for inventing everything. Either that or ‘Teach Me How To Understand Christmas’, a sexy-turned-creepy number delivered by Annie.

It’s a fun episode, if not one of Community‘s most imaginative instalments. The musical episode is often the pinacle of random creativity in a TV show, but this a series that has animated episodes on the regular and alternate timeline explorations aplenty. If anything, a straight-up musical episode seems a bit low-key among the Community canon.

Brown Betty

Fringe, season 2 episode 19

Standout track: It has to be the singing corpses’ rendition of ‘The Candyman Can’. If you haven’t seen it – it doesn’t really make any more sense in context.

Explanation for singing: High on the titular brand of marijuana, Walter tells Olivia’s young niece Ella a story, acted out for us by the regulars. The story includes Walter regularly breaking into song; at first we hear John Noble singing, but later the characters within the story take over.

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There aren’t all that many songs in this episode, but it does give us a chance briefly to hear Astrid’s rather lovely singing voice, not to mention seeing Peter and Olivia dance together. The story is presented as a loving and rather wonderful pastiche of Raymond Chandler, shot in sepia and featuring Olivia as a hard-boiled, heart-broken private eye hired to find the missing Peter Bishop.

Aside from the fun of it all, and the gorgeous design work to produce a Chandler-esque feel, what’s really touching about this episode is what it reveals about how Walter views himself. Walter tells a story in which he is an evil villain, destroying the lives of children and justifiably abandoned by Peter. He has good reason to feel that way, of course; but it’s hard not to pity him as we see him desperately hoping for news of his son. Young Ella believes the story should have a happy ending, but however he tries to reassure her, Walter can’t quite bring himself to believe it.


Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious

The Simpsons, season 8 episode 13

Standout track: ‘It’s The American Way’, the ‘A Spoonful Of Sugar’ parody, is a brilliant and uniquely Simpsonsy send-up…

Explanation for singing: None provided, but the songs are there because this is a Mary Poppins parody. 

“I’ve been singing you songs all day, I’m not a bloody jukebox!” laments Shary Bobins (a completely original creation, in no way related to anyone else, she insists upon arrival) towards the end of the episode. It’s one of many big laughs provided by this brilliantly-titled chunk of entertainment, which stands as one of The Simpsons‘ finest forays into musical territory. 

As well as the brilliant number embeded above, Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious also includes the highly tragic ditty ‘A Boozehound Named Barney’, making this one of those great Simpsons episodes that mixes dark content with big comedy. Also, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the fact that not even Shary Bobins can impart a life-lesson on Homer. Oh, and there’s a really grim gag at the very end of the episode, too. Also, here’s a fun fact: this is the episode that Quentin Tarantino turned down an offer to cameo in.


Star Trek: Voyager, season 6 episode 13

Standout track: ‘Rondine Al Nido’, an Italian aria by Vincenzo de Crescenzo (1926) about lost love performed by the Doctor at his last concert for the Qomar…

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Explanation for singing: An alien culture who prize mathematics but have never heard music briefly embrace the Doctor as a megastar (for about as long as Bart Simpson was the I Didn’t Do It Boy).

Music has always had an important role to play in Star Trek, with regular characters frequently performing for others in Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, while Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured a popular holographic lounge singer. This was especially true of Voyager, in which the writing team learned early on to take advantage of Robert Picardo’s rich singing voice by giving the Doctor singing as his favourite hobby, as well as featuring regular clarinet playing from Harry and occasional bouts of singing from Seven of Nine (sadly, we never get to actually see Janeway’s ballet recital of The Dying Swan, though).

It was perhaps inevitable, then, that in a sixth season that veered between the serious and the deeply silly, and in which the writers showed a strong desire to lean on the fourth wall, we would end up with an episode in which the Doctor briefly becomes an overnight singing sensation. His rendition of ‘That Old Black Magic’ suffers a little in comparison with Seven of Nine’s sultry version in season 4’s The Killing Game, but his final performance, in which he nurses a broken heart as the woman he had fallen for moves on and the Qomar lose interest in him and switch their attention to a newer, better model, is genuinely moving. It’s all a bit daft, but it’s good fun.


My Musical

Scrubs, season 6 episode 6 

Standout track: It has to be ‘Guy Love’, the bromance anthem sung by Zach Braff and Donald Faison…

Explanation for singing: Patti Miller (guest star Stephanie D’Abruzzo) has a gigantic aneurysm in her temporal lobe, causing her to hear singing when people are really just talking. 

An impressive total of ten songs are crammed into the 24 minutes of My Musical, which somehow finds time to push character arcs forward as well. Carla works through the issue of returning to work after the birth of her and Turk’s first child, while Elliot attempts to find a way to tell J.D. that she’s leaving their shared apartment and he’s not coming with. 

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But, of course, the songs are the standout moments. Dr Cox and the Janitor teaming up to slag off J.D. with ‘The Rant Song‘ is a personal highlight, while ‘Friends Forever/What’s Going To Happen‘ transitions marvelously from Grease parody to heartfelt ballad. Impressive stuff.


Fan Fiction

Supernatural, season 10 episode 5

Standout track: The cover of the show’s anthem, ‘Carry On, Wayward Son’ sung by the young cast, is beautiful and works far better than you might expect; of the original tracks, ‘The Road So Far’ is supremely catchy.

Explanation for singing: A young fan of Chuck Shurley’s Supernatural books (it’s a long story) has written a musical based on them, to be performed at her school.

Supernatural’s 100th episode was a deeply serious entry into the series’ on-going mythology, so it’s not surprising that the new creative team decided to do one of the sort of fun, meta episodes that had been so popular in the past for their 200th episode celebration. However, while there is silliness here, there are also some more serious reflective moments, and the choice to set the musical-within-the-episode in a girls’ school works as a nice tribute to the show’s largely female fanbase.

That is what makes this episode really work; it’s a love letter to the show’s fans. While some of the humour pokes light-hearted fun at the various popular slash ships (and mildly satisfies some by giving stage-Castiel what sounds distinctly like a love ballad about Dean, ‘I’ll Just Wait Here Then’), the episode as a whole is about celebrating fandom in all its forms, and celebrating a love of Supernatural itself, and of passionate storytelling more generally. It ends with a beautiful moment of brotherly reconciliation, and the boys riding off into the sunset, just the way we might all wish for the show itself to end, while knowing that almost certainly isn’t going to happen…