Hey guys, instead of a Town Line Tuesday this week I wanted to finally post something I’ve been struggling to finish for a while now about one of my all time favorite TV tropes—the musical episode (What’s not to love about watching your favorite characters spontaneously burst into song for seemingly no reason at all?)—I also want to try to post some flash fiction later this week and we’ll get back to our regularly scheduled Town Line Tuesday next week. Anyway, a few weeks ago one of my current TV show obsessions—SyFy’s The Magicians—came out with its version of the musical episode and it got me thinking about all of my favorite musical TV shenanigans. I thought about watching them all over again to see how The Magicians stacked up against them but including Magicians that’s seven hours I simply don’t have. Still, if I were to rate them from good to best, I think it would look something like this. (A/N: These are all the musical episodes I have seen—or at least all the ones I remember. Also, most of these are over a year old but since The Magicians is on this list I should warn you that this is in no way spoiler free so if you want to avoid spoilers stop reading now.)
The CW DC TV crossover episodes are some of the most fun episodes of the shows—especially the ones that showcase the super friendship of Kara Danvers and Barry Allen. So when they announced the musical crossover between Supergirl and The Flash, I was excited to see the former Glee stars sing, dance, and just be generally super goofy. After watching it I was…kind of disappointed actually. The villain of this episode was the Music Meister—a sort of inter-dimensional being with a variety of powers ranging from hypnosis to omniscience and power stealing—and while former Glee co-star Darren Criss was a lot of fun in the role, the character’s motivation throughout the episode was…confusing. In the episode, the Music Meister hypnotizes Kara and Barry and traps them in a combined dream world where they are characters in a musical and in order to escape they have to follow the script to the end—with one caveat: if they die in the dream they die in real life. So far so good, and when it turned out that the Music Meister was using his hypnotic hold on Barry and Kara to steal their powers I was completely on board. But at the end of the episode when the Music Meister reveals that all he wanted was to bring Barry and Kara back together with their respective significant others—both couples having broken up in the episode before the crossover—he lost me. I mean I guess I understand to a certain extent, I too would sometimes love to trap my favorite characters in a musical until they admit their love for each other, but it seems like an odd goal for a super villain to have and it came off more like fan-fiction than a canonical episode. Don’t get me wrong, I love cheesiness in musicals and I’m all for villains that aren’t really villains but for some reason the way it was done in this episode just came off as pointless. As much as I love the musical trope, I much prefer when there is an in-universe reason behind it that fits in with canon rather than as a weird out-of-place episode that neither fits in with the season nor works as a standalone. All that being said, the music was great and I loved how so many of the shows’ characters got a chance to sing. I wish there were more original songs in the episode but “Super Friend” was hilarious and totally embodied the adorable craziness of Barry and Kara’s friendship while “Running Home to You” was super romantic. Overall, the episode was entertaining but was by no means the best musical episode I’ve ever seen.
The hallmark 200th episode of Supernatural, titled “Fan Fiction” was touted as a love letter to the fans whose love and support kept the show going for an incredible ten years—and is still keeping it going strong well into the thirteenth season now—and despite my initial reservations going into the episode (I love this show but sometimes I wonder if they truly know their fans at all) it completely lived up to that promise. The premise of this musical episode is that when Sam and Dean investigate the seemingly supernatural disappearance of a high school drama teacher they discover that the drama class is putting on a musical based on their lives. “Fan Fiction” is one of my favorite episodes of Supernatural, there’s something so warm and loving about the way Supernatural fans are portrayed and how Sam and Dean interact with them throughout the episode. So very different from the show’s first portrayal of its fans: Becky a crazy stalker fangirl who understandably—but frustratingly—makes Sam and Dean very uncomfortable. The only reason this episode is so low on this list is that Sam and Dean do not actually break into song themselves—only the girls playing them in the musical do. Not to mention the fact that I’m still bitter that Misha Collin’s Castiel didn’t get to be a part of this huge moment in the show’s history…but I digress. As much as I would’ve loved to watch Sam and Dean (and Castiel!) sing and dance, the original songs in this were great—“The Road So Far” was catchy and “A Single Man Tear” was somehow both sad and hilarious—and the cover of the show’s semi-official theme song “Carry on Wayward Son” by Kansas was heart-wrenchingly beautiful. All in all, this episode is one of the best episodes of Supernatural but perhaps not the episode I’d recommend to those looking for musical fun.
“All That Josh”–The Magicians
The third season of SyFy’s The Magicians was already my favorite season of the series so far and then they went and had a musical episode and made an already epic season that much better. Seasons one and two both had an episode with a musical number but since it takes more than one song to make a musical they don’t really count. “All that Josh” has one of the better in-universe reasons for the random singing and probably the best over-arching thematic reason behind the use of the trope of all of the episodes on this list. In their search for the fifth key in the quest to restore magic, Quentin, Kady, and Alice stumble into Josh’s fantasy pocket world where everything is a party, magic is back—or at least small party trick spells—and Josh—always the forgotten one—is the center of attention. Of course as tempting as this little universe is, not everything is as it seems, and if you stop having fun, or god forbid kill the mood… well lets just say you don’t want to anger the mindless party zombies. Quentin and the gang quickly figure out that the best way to mollify and distract the party zombies while they search for the key is to—you guessed it—sing. All the keys the questers have found so far have had a unique power—such as illusion, truth, or time—that presents itself when someone holds it and the fifth key is no different. When Quentin, Kady, and Alice find the fifth key their minds become linked with the other five questers, creating a much-needed sense of unity in the group for the first time in a very long time. The eight questers have been spread across universes and timelines dealing with their own life-or-death situations for the entirety of this season and the majority of the previous season as well, a state that they have been barely skating by on for this quest but that the unity key is making perfectly clear is not one in which they can possibly succeed. Or, to paraphrase Quentin, “we’re all fucked in our own way, like always. But if we do not put aside our own bullshit and work together the quest is done.” Naturally, Q enforces this new unity by coercing everyone into a huge musical number. Using the musical episode to finally unite the scattered questers and to bring in the last quester who has up until now been forgotten and left behind by the others more times than he can count, was the perfect use of this trope. My only complaint is that the musical aspects of this episode could have been so much cooler if they had incorporated more than three full musical numbers or if they had done some original songs instead of just covering existing ones. That being said the big group performance of “Under Pressure” was amazing.
“The Song in Your Heart”–Once Upon a Time
If you thought that a musical episode of the fairy-tale based TV show Once Upon a Time which airs on the Disney-owned ABC Network would be cheesy as all hell, well, you’d be right. “The Song in Your Heart” is easily the cheesiest musical episode on this list—which is saying something—but honestly the corniness is what makes this episode so great. Why is everyone bursting into song? Because Snow White made a wish on a star that her unborn daughter would be happy and safe after the impending Dark Curse and that translates into spontaneous musical numbers because Disney Logic. Upon discovering that they’re stuck in a musical, Snow White and Prince Charming of course immediately start singing about why they’re singing—honestly all musicals should have songs about “why the hell am I singing?” bonus points if its “please dear God make it stop”—and they also immediately assume that they’ll now be able to stop the Evil Queen just by singing about their love for each other at her. Again, Disney Logic. But all of the songs are upbeat and catchy and I’ve had Captain Hook’s song “Revenge is Gonna Be Mine” stuck in my head more times than I can count. “The Song in Your Heart” earns third place on this list for sheer number of songs, all of the songs being original, and for being incredibly charming in its cheesiness.
“Psych: The Musical”–Psych
Psych and musicals are two of my favorite things. Put them together and you get the two hours of awesomeness that is “Psych: The Musical.” The Psych musical episode is perhaps the best standalone musical episode on this list—meaning if you love musical episodes but don’t want to watch an entire show in order to enjoy and understand an episode, “Psych: The Musical” is the episode for you. Although this episode is really more of a standalone—its place as the last episode of the seventh season doesn’t even fit in with events that happened earlier in the season—it works in a way that “Duet” simply didn’t. Why Shawn, Gus, the Santa Barbara Police Department are bursting into song isn’t really explained until the end of the episode but it basically boils down to the murderer of the week being a former playwright famous for his failed attempt at a Jack the Ripper musical so naturally Shawn and Gus use this opportunity to retell the case as if it were a Broadway musical. All of the songs are original—which as you can probably tell from the rest of this list is a very important criterion to me for a quality musical episode—and they’re every bit as ridiculous and fun as the show is. If you’ve never watched Psych and you love musicals and fake psychic detectives being dorks this might be the best place to start, trust me, you won’t regret it.
“Once More With Feeling”–Buffy the Vampire Slayer
And of course the award for best musical episode goes to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “Once More With Feeling” is the original musical TV episode and no other use of the trope has quite lived up to this predecessor. A demon that makes people sing and dance is a really unique monster of the week and I particularly love how this power that seems innocuous enough quickly becomes a real problem—and not just because people start spontaneously combusting. I really appreciate the fact that when the Scoobies sing about their emotions and secrets and insecurities that they are actually singing about their emotions etc. you know, as opposed to those musicals where they pour their hearts out in song and the second the music stops its like nothing happened and no one heard them. In “Once More With Feeling” when Buffy reveals in song that she got kicked out of heaven or when Xander and Anya sing to each other that they’re terrified of getting married, they are forced to actually deal with the backlash of revealing the thoughts they were trying to keep hidden. The episode is full of fun quirky original songs with lyrical gems such as “They got the mustard out!” and “I think this line’s mostly filler” but still manages to be an emotionally charged episode that fits perfectly into the season arc while still acting pretty well as a standalone episode for those just looking for some musical fun.