Opinion | Every TV show should have a musical episode

By Alex Dolinger, Senior Staff Columnist

Aren’t we all starved for joy? The world is full of garbage, but I think that more garbage is the cure. There are days when nothing can make me feel a genuine human emotion, with the exception of one single phenomenon, and that phenomenon is musical episodes of television shows.

Does anyone remember when we still used cable, and commercials for the “Grey’s Anatomy” musical episode would play? I had never experienced such chaos in my life. I watched the episode with my mom, and now I can confidently say that every television show on air should have a musical episode.

I would like to start off by defining the subject at hand. When I say “musical episode,” I don’t mean any old episode of “Glee.” This is much more than that. I’m talking about television shows that do not involve regular song and dance. These shows have no song or dance of any kind. Then, suddenly, they release one single episode where the whole cast showcases the musical talent they do or don’t have.

When I research this subject, I see a lot of negativity because it seems that most writers aren’t brave enough to show their support of musical episodes. I attribute this to shame, so it’s a good thing that I have none. I love these musical episodes. They are brilliant, and there is nothing wrong with them.

Unfortunately, only a handful of these musical episodes exist. I am qualified to discuss exactly three of them — ”Once More, With Feeling” from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Duet” from “The Flash” and of course “Song Beneath the Song” from “Grey’s Anatomy.” These are the only shows containing mini-musicals that I have watched, so I am able to speak to how they fit in with the rest of the show. The spoiler-free zone ends here.

All of these episodes do great work advancing the plot of their respective shows. In fact, these are all quite dramatic. For example, in “Song Beneath the Song,” Callie Torres, a main character on “Grey’s Anatomy,” gets in a car accident and hallucinates a series of musical numbers performed by her colleagues while she fights for her life. In both “Buffy” and “The Flash,” the musical numbers are brought on by a supernatural being who makes everyone sing, but the affected characters are all going through very intense relationship drama.

All this is to say that these musical episodes aren’t even filler, and these are all shows that have a lot of filler. All of these characters are being beaten down by plots so crazy that they simply must sing about it. “Once More, With Feeling” is a personal favorite of mine because Joss Whedon wrote completely original songs for the occasion, and they slap unreasonably hard while also being hilarious. The other two episodes mostly utilize covers, but “Duet” features two original songs — one of which is by Pasek and Paul, which is absolutely hysterical to me. 

While these musical episodes can be called “cringy” or “disgraceful” or “something that Alex would definitely like,” I think they are a great way to spice up a season and utilize the usually under-utilized vocal talent of so many actors. When it comes to “Grey’s Anatomy,” Sara Ramirez — the actor who plays Callie Torres — is a Tony Award winner for their role in “Spamalot”, so having them belt to “The Story” by Brandi Carlile seems like a no-brainer to me.

This is my main justification for creating more musical episodes today. There are so many television shows that tragically cast prolific Broadway belters and don’t let them sing at all. Audra goddamn McDonald, a six-time Tony Award winner, was on a “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff called “Private Practice” and she never got to sing. Andrew Rannells, a seasoned Broadway actor, is all over the television scene and was on “Girls” for six entire years and only got to sing a 16-bar cut from “Smash,” of all things.

This is truly such a waste, and most television shows are offenders. I believe we’re making progress by letting Rannells sing on “Big Mouth” and letting the cast of “Riverdale” do whatever the hell they’re doing. While we’re definitely seeing more musical episodes emerge, I see a lot of pushback that I honestly think is absurd.

You simply cannot tell me that watching these musical episodes doesn’t fill you with emotion. They could definitely be negative emotions, like secondhand embarrassment or deep, deep anger when you hear Owen sing “How to Save A Life” by The Fray on “Grey’s Anatomy.” He seriously sounds like a rejected muppet. It’s okay to be upset. But isn’t it great to feel something? Even if just for an hour?

Personally, musical episodes make me laugh hard enough to get a full abdominal workout. I think they are so funny and often so poorly executed that I wheeze with glee. I think that “Once More, With Feeling” is the best of the bunch in terms of plot and payoff, but when Buffy starts moving in slow motion and Giles begins his “Slipping Through My Fingers”-esque ballad, I cannot help but cackle.

Also, let’s get real. Music makes us happy. When life is super depressing, I make sure Joni Mitchell is absolutely blowing the roof off of my apartment. Music has all sorts of psychological benefits, like making us happier and more motivated. Basically, I don’t think I’m qualified to say that these musical episodes are a form of music therapy, but I am going to heavily imply it. 

I think we need more of these mini-musicals in our lives. Who are they hurting? No one. Who are they helping? Sad nerds. I haven’t done any research but I think that an increase in musical episodes will have a net positive effect and probably end the coin shortage.

“But is a musical episode really appropriate for every TV show?” Yes. These musical episodes can portray a whole range of subjects and genres. “Song Beneath The Song” was full of looming death. “Once More, With Feeling” was full of relationship angst and intense confessions with some quirky supernatural elements. “Duet” was just an excuse for former “Glee” stars to wear fun costumes and remind us that they can sing. Thus, I think there’s room in most television shows to sing some silly little songs and bring the joy that we so desperately need. 

This column is a cry for help. Network executives, Audra McDonald, Pitt film students and anyone else who may be reading — please make more musical episodes of television shows. You can truly just pop one in the middle of the season and have your main characters finally get together, but through song. Absolutely everyone will like it, and if they say that they don’t, it’s probably because they like it so much that they’re shy about it. Musical episodes are the best part of modern television, and they are a valuable storytelling tool that should be used literally all the time.

Alex is a senior theatre major with a minor in creative writing. They primarily write satire about how the world is ending. You can reach them at [email protected].

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