Musical Performance in Mainstream Television
Have you ever been watching a tv show and suddenly there is this random musical number (or even a whole musical episode) that doesn’t quite fit? I’ve noticed it a more than a few times and it is just the strangest thing. The first question is, why. Why did the writers feel the need to throw in a musical episode (or episodes)? The next question then takes us to, what. What were they trying to accomplish with it? The final question, did. Did the the writers accomplish what they wanted without alienating the audience too much? I watch a lot of TV. When I say a lot, I mean A LOT. I have a list of 14 shows that I want to watch this year, and that’s on top of work, school, parenting, my other (more productive goals) of the year, and the 10+ currently airing shows that I’m already watching. I watch anything from teen dramas, dramadies, sitcoms, supernatural dramas, medical dramas, superhero/comic dramas, space westerns (I’m looking at you Mandalorian), to seriously everything in between. The most unexpected musical moments hit in episodes of The Flash, Hart of Dixie, and Lucifer.
NOTE: This article does have spoilers. So if you are currently watching any of these shows or are not up to date on what has been released, you may want to stop reading now. Season and episode numbers are marked for reference.
The Flash (S3E17)
For anyone who knows Grant Gustin’s origins, the fact that there was a musical episode shouldn’t surprise us. Gustin began a degree in music theater at Elon University, left to perform in the Broadway revival tour of West Side Story, and then had his TV debut as a recurring character in season three of Glee. After Glee he went on to star in the title role of The Flash and in season three of The Flash, an episode entitled “Duet” aired as a crossover event between The Flash and Supergirl. The CW Arrowverse was not the first time that Gustin and Benoist (Supergirl) had worked together. They actually first worked together on Glee. “Duet” also stars a third Glee alum, Darren Criss, as the villain Music Meister. I think the “why” of this episode is clearly laid out in the history and talent of the leads for both shows, but what were the writers trying to accomplish? Through this episode both Barry and Kara have realizations about the people the love in their lives: family, friends, and romantic relationships. Honestly, what better way is there to display realization of love other than through music? The episode is goofy, but fits the sometimes goofy villains and episodes of the Arrowverse. I didn’t start watching the Arrowverse shows until I had my daughter and was at home with her all day. Babies sleep a lot. If I had seen this episode of The Flash before I got married, I’m pretty sure “Runnin’ Home to You” would have been our wedding song. I mean, really, if the episode couldn’t get any better the final song was written by Pasek and Paul. Pure perfection.
Hart of Dixie (S4E10)
I grew up in Virginia and my first full summer that I spent home from college I discovered Hart of Dixie. It was already finished by that point, which is my favorite kind of show so that I can binge watch it, so I was able to watch the whole show in the couple of months over the summer. Hart of Dixie follows New York cardiothoracic surgeon Zoe Hart as she moves down to Bluebell, Alabama and is forced to try her hand as being a small town family doctor. So far this show doesn’t seem like really the musical type, right? It’s just your average every day southern “chick-flick” TV show. Well the series finale ends with this huge musical number that includes everyone in the town and lasts around five minutes. It honestly came out of nowhere and was a bit jarring. So why did they do it? Here’s my theory (that I don’t super love). The second to last episode of the series is called “End of Days” and follows the town through a panic that the world is ending. What if the world really did end and the whole last episode is some sort of afterlife dream? Okay, I hate that theory too, but I really just don’t understand the finale musical number. So if I don’t even know why they were doing it, can we figure out what they were trying to accomplish? Maybe just create a happy ending? If that was their “what” then they accomplished it. It was jarring, but still fun. It didn’t fit, but I liked the story that the musical number told. They did have to end the show a lot quicker than they had planned due to Rachel’s real life pregnancy. Maybe their “why” was just to get through a lot of story in five minutes. Not my favorite random musical number, but I still love the show.
Music has been a big part of Lucifer for the whole show. It’s no secret that Tom Ellis has a beautiful voice and plays piano like an angel, a fallen angel that is. What hasn’t been present the whole show are major dance numbers, complete with an homage to the 80s film Dirty Dancing, until the season finale of season four. This musical number was so much fun! I honestly didn’t feel alienated at all even though the number was unlike anything we had seen in the show so far. Lucifer originally ran on Fox, but was cancelled with the end of season three. How do you cancel a show after such a reveal as the last minute of the season three finale? The good news for fans of the show was that Netflix picked it up to give it two more seasons (which has now become a total of three more seasons with season five split in two parts due to the pandemic). Season four, being the first season done by Netflix, simply had to go out with a bang. At the top of the season four finale Lucifer is on a high after having had the epiphany that he hates himself and then choosing to forgive himself. The writers chose to use his happiness and celebrate the end of their first Netflix season by including a huge dance number with the whole cast, starting in Lux and ending in the precinct, to Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright.” I think the honest to Lucifer reason for this number was just to celebrate. The cast, crew, and characters were happy so why not add the audience to that mix? It was such a fun scene. I definitely want to see more dance numbers like that in Lucifer. Who knows what’s coming in the next season and a half. We’ll see.
There are so many more instances of random musical episodes or numbers in shows where they don’t seem to make sense, but as I’ve discovered while writing this, somehow they work. I still am not quite sure about the number in Hart of Dixie, but it didn’t completely turn me off to the show. I have watched the whole show two more times after the first. Music speaks to people. The reason for musical numbers may not be initially obvious, but it’s there if we look for it. Shoutout to music and dance for expressing emotions that simply couldn’t be expressed through spoken word.