What do you do when your television series has been picked up by a network for multiple seasons and you’ve cultivated a loyal fanbase, but you want to explore other genres? You could start from scratch and pitch a new series, or you could employ the highly divisive but potentially award-winning strategy of creating a musical episode.
The now tv trope is a single episode in the show’s continuity that is a departure from the established genre of the show. The musical episode is not something that is reserved for the likes of children’s series and can be included across a myriad of categories from the comedic (e.g. ‘Holiday Regional Music’ from Community) to the procedural drama series (e.g. ‘Song Beneath the Song’ from Grey’s Anatomy).
Most notably, ‘My Musical’ from Scrubs received six daytime Emmy Award nominations the year it was aired for its original compositions which paid homage and poked fun at Broadway classics, showing audiences and critics alike that there is a demand to see these out-of-genre experiences. But what are some of the shows that could successfully produce a mini-musical, without having to ask audiences to suspend too much disbelief?
A major drawback described by the more cynical viewer is that people randomly bursting into song and dance brings you out of the situation, as it is not a typical reaction people have that would get us to empathise and root for the characters.
Sit-coms are the easiest mediums to convey the musical episode as the genre has pre-established the humour aspect of the show with audiences. Ensemble casts, like the one in Brooklyn Nine-Nine could create a musical episode and it would appear completely in line with the tone of the show.
Picture for example, Detective Jake Peralta trying to get his new-born son to sleep, and instead of a lullaby, he sings to him about the gruesome case he is working and the daily goings on in the precinct.
This plot could easily include nods to both classical and contemporary Broadway shows, with Amy and Holt performing a rendition of the Dream Ballet from Oklahoma!, in keeping with Amy’s strong admiration of the captain; or an epic chase scene to the tunes of West Side Story. Lin Manuel Miranda could make a return guest appearance and feature songs from In the Heights. Is there anything to be said for another city-wide blackout?
The characters have been established across the seven seasons that each would warrant their own solos and their chemistry would easily come across through song. With Andy Samberg’s musical history, it makes sense as a direction for the show to go in.
Rick and Morty
With Community cancelled back in 2015, show-runner Dan Harmon needs to find a way to tell us that he hated Glee before we all discovered how problematic the writing was upon re-watching. What better way for him to do that than through Rick Sanchez?
Famous for his nihilistic tone and humour, Rick could be the audience’s stand-in as he and Morty go dimension hopping or land on a planet with no portal gun where everyone communicates through song. There is nothing sacred within Rick and Morty, so a musical episode where Dan Harmon gets to poke fun at everyone who likes musicals seems bound to happen.
The episode could serve as a tonal sequel to ‘Daria!’, the musical episode from MTV’s Daria, or it could also throw caution to the wind and have Rick and Morty destroy a suspiciously similar choir room to that of William McKinley High School.
Alternatively, fire up the ole’ brainalyzer and torture him for 20 minutes with an alien version of Cats.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
They already covered ‘Masquerade’ from Phantom of the Opera, and it sounded good. The main challenge here is get the episode as close to ‘Once More With Feeling’ from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and as far away from any Riverdale episode as possible.
The use of magic by some demon or other-worldly entity would easily set the premise of the episode and adopt it into the canon of the show easily enough as a consequence from the season three finale. Or Sabrina could bring on the music through a messed-up spell, it certainly would be in character.
Being a darker series, the show could lean into the staple ‘I want’ and villain songs and produce a dark opera type musical or perform covers of cult classic musicals such as Little Shop of Horrors, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Before it ends, I’d like to see a musical finale. ‘A little bit Alexis’ is one of the more surprising breakout moments on the show and with the likes of Moira Rose’s and Catherine O’Hara’s history in theatre, a musical episode centred around a town variety show is an exciting way to give each character the conclusion they deserve and the ones that fans want to see, within a format that producers are familiar with.
Charlie Brooker has had no problem signing big names up to be in Black Mirror, with the likes of Andrew Scott, Daniel Kaluuya and Miley Cyrus, so Broadway names coming on the show would be a welcome addition.
One avenue that could be explored is highlighting the pitfalls of seeking stardom and what repeated rejection or abusive fans do to your mental health, with Brooker’s dark twist at the end to leave a haunting feeling in viewers. ‘Anyone who knows what love is’ could play as the familiar musical overture to more songs from Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, who wrote “On a Roll.”
(Image Tina Franklin, via Flickr.com)