A Must-See Musical Episode

I am of the opinion that more shows would benefit from including singing and/or dancing in the occasional episode. It’s just something I love to see because it always makes me happy. The “Time After Time” sing-a-long on Parks and Rec was a beautiful moment, the adult cast dancing to “The Sign” was the best moment in Trophy Wife, the random songs on Bob’s Burgers make it approximately 50% more charming to me than it would otherwise be, and I honestly like some of the performances on Glee. So, naturally, I’m a big fan of musical episodes. The Scrubs musical has some classic songs but in my mind, it doesn’t come close to my favorite musical episode (which is probably one of my top 10 favorite episodes ever) – “Once More With Feeling” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

This is one of those episodes of TV I think everyone should see sometime in their life. Ideally after watching all the Buffy episodes that came before it, but that’s the Buffy fan in me speaking. In all seriousness, you will get the most out of the episode if you are familiar with the characters and plot. This isn’t an isolated episode that ignores the plot and just opts to have fun. The events that happen in this episode are heavily influenced by the episodes preceding it and have serious effects on future events.

For all of its musical trappings, this is a sad episode of television. As far as the plot is concerned, Tara and Willow continue to fight over Willow’s magic abuse, Giles decides to leave, and Buffy reveals to everyone that they didn’t save her from hell but rather ripped her out of heaven and away from the peace she had found. Then there’s the fact that the musical demon causing all the singing also makes people dance until they catch on fire and die and wanting to take Dawn back to his world to be his bride.

As a plot device, I love the idea of making people sing their feelings and expressing the things they couldn’t say on their own. Music gives us a way to give voice or feeling for the things we can’t find the words to say on our own and that’s what makes it so powerful. So to make it physically powerful in way that could be cathartic but also dangerous is really intriguing to me.

I love the plot movement in the episode but it’s all about the music for me. I love how well the songs work in the episode and the wide variety of musical styles featured. It’s a soundtrack that I can listen to again and again and never tire of it. I really love Anthony Stewart Head’s voice, so I love that he had a song all to himself in addition to the group songs. “Standing” and the gorgeous reprise with “Under Your Spell” will make me cry everytime I hear them. The songs make me feel things, just like they should. I can get into the minds of the characters in a way that dialogue wouldn’t allow for. The image of Willow’s horrified face as Buffy sings “Something to Sing About” made that reveal more powerful than it would have been without the juxtaposition of the happy music with the heartbreaking lyrics.

Just like Sweets gave the citizens of Sunnydale a way to get out what they couldn’t say, one of the songs in this episode gave me a way to express my feelings when it was too hard to admit otherwise. The song “Going Through the Motions” perfectly describes how I felt the last semester or two of grad school. I was doing the bare minimum to finish school and frankly, that just isn’t me. I loved my thesis topic and I really do love psychology but I struggled to motivate myself to get what I needed to done, let alone anything more. To put it as the song did, I just wanted to feel alive. While I never managed to thrive in grad school the way I might have liked, this song helped me feel like I wasn’t alone. The rest of Buffy’s arc made me have hope that the feelings would pass and I would find myself again. That’s what good TV does for me and I am happy to have had this episode and the music from it.

What is your favorite moment on a TV show featuring either singing or dancing?

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9 thoughts on “A Must-See Musical Episode

  1. Sadly, I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of TV that has had moments featuring singing and dancing (other than the obvious with Glee).

    One moment that does come to mind is in an episode of Castle where Ryan, Esposito, Beckett, and Castle, all start singing “Piano Man” at the end of the episode. It was just such a nice moment, where you really felt like they were a family, and was quite fun as well.

    With Glee, a few moments really stick out to me as ones where I truly loved not only the music but how the music was connected to the story. One is in Season One where Rachel sings “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” which gives me goosebumps every time. I think it was a moment where I realized how truly talented Lea Michele was and how much I enjoyed seeing Rachel come into her own. I also really loved the earlier in the season “Somebody To Love” performance where you could feel the whole group of kids start to come together, and I think the audience really started to realize what magic could be had in Glee.

    Another was the entirety of the performances from the Nationals episode, which are probably some of my all-time favorite Glee performances. They sang “Edge of Glory,” “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now,” and then “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.” There was just something magical about that whole string of performances going back-to-back that it became one of those rare moments in TV where I felt that the show got everything exactly right. “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” especially makes me emotional every time I watch it since Lea Michele puts on one heck of a performance and it feels like it sort of encapsulates Rachel’s journey on the show with the way it’s sung. You just end up feeling such a sense of pride in her for how far she’s come and how you are now seeing her succeed. Following that up with “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” which is such a fun and strong performance by the whole group, just makes the combination of all three songs pretty much perfect.

    1. That episode of Castle has made me long for a musical episode for that show ever since. It’s one of my favorite moments on the show for a myriad of reasons.

    2. The “Piano Man” scene is fantastic. Like you said, it’s all about them as a precinct family and Castle really gets that feeling right.

      I agree, Glee has their moments when everything they do is just right and that string of Nationals performances is one of them. The competition eps are always my favorite because of all the singing and dancing that doesn’t necessarily have to be linked to any particular plot moment but that one is even better than usual.

      I’ll always be partial to anytime they sing “Don’t Stop Believing”. That song is the show for me and now especially, I tear up every time they sing it.

  2. There have been many musical moments I have loved on TV over time. Musical episodes that range from the bizarre musical episode in HBO’s Oz to Ally McBeal’s season 3 finale. Like Leah mentioned above, Castle’s “Piano Man” moment marks one of my favorite episodes of the series and has left me longing since season 3 for a Castle musical episode. I realize that Buffy is the gold standard for musical moments on TV for sure but there have been non-traditional moments along the way in TV that I still remember as both powerful and wonderfully unexpected. However my top 3 are as follows:

    3) The entirety Eli Stone, who like Ally McBeal before it used fantasy musical interludes to give us internal monologue insights. What made Eli Stone’s so wonderfully fantastic was that Eli conjured George Michael songs. Eli Stone found a way to take a completely absurd concept and make it play wonderfully into the fabric of the show.

    2) Chicago Hope never got as much ink or success as ER did. However, I adore Mandy Patinkin and this show offered one of the most powerful moments of its run in the first season. Patinkin’s character is a brilliant, belligerent surgeon who bulldozes pretty much everyone. We get very little of his backstory before the closing moments of this episode. We know he is estranged from his wife and only in that last scene do we learn why. As the show closes Dr, Geiger visits his wife in a sanitarium and we learn that she is bi polar and institutionalized. Patinkin holds her tight as she suffers an episode and in barely a whisper sings “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables. It is a devastating moment that is perfectly delivered almost as a prayer by the character. It is a moment that has stuck with me since the day I saw it. It was powerful because of the delivery and meaning and for the sheer shock in which it unfolded in the episode.

    1) I grew up watching Murphy Brown. Moreover I remember the silly ‘controversy’ that transpired from the story arc of the character becoming a single mother. Long before that story line the show had long since established Murphy Brown’s strong independence, and apparent lack of empathy as well as a deep rooted love of all things Mowtown. When she gave birth in the season finale and the closing shot was of mother and child that would have been sufficient for a great end to an interesting story arc of a then modern woman taking on a surprise pregnancy against societal stigma. Instead of a big speech or a preachy defiant monologue about stereotypes the show simply had Candace Bergen sing the chorus of “Natural Woman” in a raspy, emotionally overwhelmed A Capella voice. It said everything that was true about that character and that moment when a woman realizes that life has changed forever and you are simply and profoundly humbled.

    1. I’m not familiar with any of the three moments you mentioned and now I really want to see them. The last two sound like perfect examples of what a good musical moment can add to an episode. It doesn’t always have to be a big song and dance number, a lot of times, the quieter moments are the most powerful.

      This made me want to watch Eli Stone even more. I tend to love fantasy interludes (as evidenced by my love for Scrubs) but adding music to them just makes them even more appealing to me.

      1. I loved Eli Stone truly madly deeply. Everything about it, casting, Victor Garber, George Michael interludes – all of it. I was very sad when it was canceled. Definitely worthy of your time. I think you’ll love it.

        As for the other two – Chicago Hope should be on Hulu and if memory serves it was episode 2 of the first season, so you could easily watch the first two episodes and get context, although frankly I think it stands on its own. Murphy Brown’s episode stands up without having ever seen another episode. Worth a watch.

  3. I have to echo those who’ve already talked about the “Piano Man” scene from Castle. It was such a great use of the cast’s formidable talents, but, more than that, it was just so much fun to watch. It was such a nice reminder of the family that’s been built in that precinct, and it was a nice little way to let the actors’ sense of camaraderie shine through, too.

    Another favorite musical moment of mine is anytime “5,000 Candles in the Wind” is sung on Parks and Rec. It’s hard to believe that a song about a miniature horse could make me emotional, but when the whole cast sang it as Leslie and Ben’s wedding, I cried harder than I did at perhaps any other point in the episode. It was a lovely little bit of in-show continuity, and it was a truly heartwarming scene to watch—with the whole cast sitting together and looking like they were having the time of their lives singing that song.

    I guess the theme of my choices are moments that use sing-alongs to showcase the friendships on a given show. Both of those scenes featured groups of people who’ve become family to one another sharing a fun, warm, musical moment together.

    1. First of all, “5,000 Candles in the Wind” is an excellent choice for the best use of song in an episode, especially the episode you picked for it. It’s a beautiful testament to the show and how well Pawnee has been developed that a memorial song for a miniature horse can be as emotionally powerful as it is because of what the cast puts in to it.

      Second, I love that you analyzed why you love those moments and I love what you came up with. It’s just what I wanted from these posts and there isn’t a trope I love more than chosen families. In both of your examples, the character moments were so strongly aided by the love the casts of those two shows have for each other and I love seeing that onscreen.

    2. I love this! It is so true. We’ve talked about how that moment at the end of Last Call was when the 12th on Castle became a family. It really is an insightful use of music to convey something so strong and intrinsic without new dialogue or having the characters say it out loud.

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