Category Archives: TV

5 Awesome Uses of Songs in TV Shows

This may seem like a random subject to write about, but the use of music in TV shows is something I really notice.  Consistently good song choices can elevate a show dramatically and make scenes stay with you after the episode ends.  These are the examples that come to mind:

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Full of Grace” by Sarah McLachlan

Buffy had many wonderful song choices over the years – “Wild Horses,” “Goodbye to You,” “A Prayer for Saint Francis” – but none of them hit me so hard as “Full of Grace” at the end of “Becoming, Part II.”  When Buffy stabs Angel and sends him to hell right after he regains his soul, hearing McLachlan’s haunting voice is like a second punch to the gut.  As Sarah Michelle Gellar’s expressive face just crumples, we cannot help but fall apart as we hear, “The winter here’s cold…and bitter…and chills us to the bone.”  The song continues to the end of the episode, leaving us hanging as Buffy abandons Sunnydale.  Season 2 is beautiful television for many reasons, and this sequence is one of them.  I couldn’t find a good YouTube video of the scene, so here’s a picture to give you an idea:

 

Alias – “No Man’s Woman” by Sinead O’Connor

Alias was an awesome show for many reasons, but its primary asset was its protagonist, Sydney Bristow.  Sydney was a kickass spy chick played by the fabulous and athletic Jennifer Garner.  In the very first episode, “Truth Be Told,” J.J. Abrams uses Sinead O’Connor’s “No Man’s Woman” to give the climactic sequence some punch.  Both the rhythm and the lyrics go perfectly with the message of the scene: Sydney will not be bossed around by anyone.  She will kick ass and take names in her own way, and Sloane (and the audience) can take it or leave it.

 

Nip/Tuck – “Natasha” by Rufus Wainwright

Like many people, I have some problems with Ryan Murphy as a showrunner (regarding Glee in particular).  Nip/Tuck was a bit of a mess, but it was consistently entertaining and provocative.  One of the most remarkable elements of the show was the use of music.  Every episode, Christian and Sean would go to work on a patient, and whatever song they had in the CD player always contributed an ironic commentary to the proceedings. This sequence, however, is the most profoundly moving one in the show.  Christian (Julian McMahon) is a mess of a person, consistently treating women like crap and therefore unable to have healthy relationships with anyone.  In the episode entitled “Natasha Charles,” however, he meets a beautiful blind woman named….guess…Natasha (Rebecca Gayheart).  When they sleep together, she makes him close his eyes, and her ability to treasure him without actually seeing him makes it the most intimate encounter he has over the course of the show (and he has many).  He treats her terribly later on, of course, because Christian is nothing if not self-destructive, but this scene is the most vulnerable he ever allows himself to be.  Rufus Wainwright’s gorgeous “Natasha” not only fits the scene due to its name, but it also gives it a lyrical, intimate beauty that makes it seem almost like a dream.  This is probably the most sublime moment of Christian’s life, and the floating melody of the song makes that quite apparent.

 

The O.C. – “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap

You can’t really write about music in TV shows without including The O.C.  When the show was at its peak in seasons 1 and 2, it brought bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Wilco to the forefront of teen music culture.  It was a teen soap, but it was very well made.  The most memorable musical moment (sorry for the alliteration) was when Marissa shot Trey to the haunting tune of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek.”  Although this scene was later parodied to hilarious effect on SNL, the timing of the music and dramatic resonance of the scene gave everyone chills.   Discussion of Marissa shooting Trey was all over my high school the next day, and a huge part of that was the song.

 

Sons of Anarchy – the whole series

I have to include Sons of Anarchy here, but I can’t pick just one song!  I bought the soundtrack, “Songs of Anarchy,” a few days ago, and I’ve been listening to it nonstop.  The show uses heavy metal for background noise most of the time, but when they really want to emphasize a sequence or montage, we get beautiful and haunting folk covers.  Between Audra Mae’s cover of “Forever Young,” Curtis Stiger’s “John the Revelator,” Joshua James’s “Coal War” and The White Buffalo’s “House of the Rising Sun,” there are so many moments in the series that are made memorable by their music.   No clips available on YouTube, but here are “Forever Young” and “House of the Rising Sun”:

 

Well, that’s my list.  What are your favorite song sequences?

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“Tell Me You Love Me”: Sons of Anarchy Ep. 4.13

I haven’t made a practice of doing single episode reviews, but last night’s episode of Sons of Anarchy was so fantastic I just had to write about it.  “To Be, Act One” was the first half of the season four finale, and man did it bring everything full circle.

Written by showrunner Kurt Sutter and Chris Collins, the episode is largely made up of two-person scenes. We have Jax and Tara, then Gemma and Tara, then Jax and Gemma, the tension building in each confrontation, until the three of them finally come together to hash it out.  The elegance of this structure does a lot to streamline the story and hone in on the relationships between these three characters, and all three actors do an amazing job.

In the end, Tara emerges as the real power player, having surpassed Gemma in both machinations and possessiveness.  When she says to Jax and Gemma in turn, “Tell me you love me,” it is more of a challenge than a plea.  Maggie Siff has been phenomenal this season, and we can feel the rage emanating off of Tara throughout the episode.  When she pulls out a syringe and details her plan to kill Clay, the look on Katey Sagal’s face is fantastic – she’s looking at Tara like she’s never seen her before.  Indeed, we are seeing a whole new Tara here.  Her eyes have become cold and empty.  When she tells Gemma, “[I’m doing] Everything you taught me….He’s MINE,” we can only join Gemma in gaping at the monster she has created.

As a counterpoint to all the Jax-Tara-Gemma intrigue, we have Tig’s much simpler desire to rebuild his friendship with Clay.  When did Tig become the sweetest character on this show?!  His love for both Gemma and Clay is beautiful, and Kim Coates’s face is so wonderfully expressive.  When he goes to Clay’s bedside and apologizes, his “I love you” is the only emotional one in the episode.  It’s all the more heartbreaking because we know Clay doesn’t deserve Tig’s love.  This season is just cutting to the bone at every turn.

Finally, I loved how much “To Be, Act One” brought us back to the pilot.  Gemma looks at pictures from the same “John misc.” box where Jax found JT’s manuscript in the first place.  Jax is just as hopeful and misguided now as he was then, but the stakes are even higher.  Then, in the most chilling echo, when Tara pulls out that syringe, we are reminded of when Gemma gave Wendy a needle to OD with.  Tara has become what she never wanted to be: Gemma 2.0.

“To Be, Act One” was an amazing episode all around.  I can’t wait for “To Be, Act Two.”  What am I going to do without Sons of Anarchy in the spring?!

 

Favorite comedic moments:  The image of the prospect sitting at Jax’s kitchen table eating cereal from a salad bowl was just marvelous.  Then, in the next scene, he was feeding the baby!  I think he’s the new Half-Sack.

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Ally McBeal and Third Wave Feminism

Brief little think piece as I make my way through the first season of Ally McBeal:

So far, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by this show.  I had heard it was a kind of “feminist romantic comedy,” so I expected it to pay lip service to feminism while essentially undermining its ideals in the course of the show’s romantic endeavors.  At this point, however, 7 episodes into Season 1, I am very pleased to see that show is genuinely trying to explore ideas of feminism and female empowerment within a workplace context.

Because the show began in 1997, the first season at least is firmly situated in 90’s Third Wave Feminism, the phase of the movement that embraced femininity and was all about female empowerment and the career woman.  Ally McBeal follows a young female lawyer, played by Calista Flockhart (aka the woman who would marry Harrison Ford!), who goes to work at a new firm after leaving her last firm due to sexual harassment.  When she joins the new firm, she discovers that her high school sweetheart works there and wackiness ensues.

The show spends most of its time dealing with gender issues in a legal manner.  Most of their cases involve prostitution, marriage, sexual harassment, etc.  What’s most exciting to me about the show is its willingness to address gender issues and double standards head-on, and it’s not afraid to have Ally get overtly feminist.  In an early episode, Billy says it’s okay for men to cheat but not for women, since, for women, sex is “more mental.”  I was immediately outraged by this statement and, luckily, Ally was right there with me!  She is not afraid to call out the (often unintentional) chauvinism of the men around her.  She even confronts one of the firm’s partners for his “prostitution is more fair to women than hitting on them in bars” speech.  When he delivers it in a thought-out, convincing manner, another show would have let it go and allowed him to be vindicated, but Ally takes him on and doesn’t let him get away with his BS.

The episode that really made me like the show is Episode 5, “One Hundred Tears Away.”  Ally has been reported to the bar for being “too emotional” and “possibly unstable” after losing her temper a couple of times.  No one understands why the bar is making a big deal out of it until Whipper (hot, older-lady judge) calls them out on the double standard.  She sees that they’re going after Ally because for a woman to be emotional means that she’s fragile, that a “pretty little thing” like her can’t handle the pressures of being a lawyer.  Billy joins in, saying that Ally isn’t afraid to be emotional and human, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  I really love that the show is willing to embrace all aspects of femininity – even if you’re a feminist lawyer, it’s still okay to be emotional and impulsive.  (Side note: My old favorite Zeljko Ivanek is in the episode!  He seems to play a lot of magistrate types.)

Finally, the show does an excellent job creating three-dimensional female characters.  With the exception of the stereotypical “sassy black friend,” the female characters are all layered and unique individuals.  For instance, Ally and Georgia, Billy’s wife, get off to a bad start when they admit a mutual petty hatred for each other.  Over the course of a few episodes, however, they realize that their dislike is silly and decide to become friends.  The show allows them to have a realistic, mature relationship instead of using their situation to create drama and conflict.  I love that Ally McBeal recognizes that women don’t have to fight over men to make good television.

Obviously, my opinion on the show could change as I move forward, but for now, I am a big fan of Ally McBeal.

 

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9 Things I Love About “Sons of Anarchy”

So, I recently watched the whole run of FX’s Sons of Anarchy, and I’m kind of obsessed.  I started watching primarily because I like Charlie Hunnam (2002 Nicholas Nickleby anyone?), but I quickly got sucked into the story of SAMCRO and the people of Charming, CA.  Here are 9 reasons I love this show:

1. The beautiful credits sequence where the characters’ ink morphs into the titles. I couldn’t find a good clip of it on YouTube, but this is one of the final images:

2. Charlie Hunnam.  The man is gorgeous and a fantastic, sensitive actor who makes Jax’s frequent fits of conscience very convincing.

I mean, come on....

3. Three-dimensional female characters. Television has definitely outstripped film in creating ample, meaty roles for women, and this show is no exception.  I was worried that the show’s subject matter would make it male-centric and misogynistic, but boy was I wrong.  Gemma and Tara are two incredibly complex women who develop in new and surprising ways as the show goes on.  Neither of these women takes any shit from their men, and the powerful actresses definitely hold their own in a sea of testosterone.  Even the smaller female characters are well-developed.  The hospital administrator initially seems like a cartoonish nemesis for Tara, but we gradually learn more about her and her motivations and she becomes an intriguing, sympathetic character with her own story to be told.

4. Katey Sagal.  Her Golden Globe win (and the fact that she voices Leela on Futurama) made me want to watch the show in the first place, and it’s totally worth it.  As the matriarch of SAMCRO, Sagal owns the screen every scene she’s in.  Whether she’s worrying about her encroaching menopause or swaggering around barking orders at the men in leather, she is one of the emotional centers of the show and a force to be reckoned with onscreen.  Also, you’ve got to love a show that admits that a woman in her fifties can still be sexy.  In so much film and television, an older woman is considered asexual and has no capacity for desire at all – the portrayal of Gemma completely flouts that, making this show far more feminist than it would seem.

5. There’s a character named Half-Sack because one of his testicles was blown off in Iraq.  How can you not love that?

Did I mention he's also awkward and adorable?

6. Hey!  It’s Gerry Bertier from Remember the Titans!!

Remember the Titans

Sons of Anarchy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. A varied and honest approach to abortion.  Again, for a show about a biker gang, Sons of Anarchy displays some serious interest in portraying women’s issues honestly.  Both Tara and Lyla consider abortions for different reasons, and not once is it treated as an abomination or a crime.  I’m not going to spoil things by going into detail about their two cases, but suffice it to say that the show treats them both with subtlety and sensitivity.  In a era where even discussing abortion on television is a big deal (see: Friday Night Lights), this show’s decision to take the time to examine this choice in detail is significant.

8. Dudes in leather.  Why watch a show about a biker gang if you don’t like to watch people ride around in leather on Harleys?  The id strikes again.

SAMCRO rides

9. Jax and Tara.  This couple is simply lovely.  Their slow build over the course of the first season and subsequent dips and roadblocks never feel anything but real.  When Jax has his periodic fits of guilt and tries to push her away, Tara always fights back, and he in turn is never afraid to call her on her bullshit.  At this point in the show, they have a lovely little family, and I hope their relationship continues to develop in interesting ways.

Well, those are only a few of the reasons I love Sons of Anarchy!  I hope this gets new people to watch (seasons 1 and 2 are on Netflix).

Update: Douglas McGrath’s Nicholas Nickleby (2002), starring Charlie Hunnam, is now on Netflix Instant.  Definitely check it out if you haven’t seen it! It’s the first thing I ever saw him in, and he’s excellent.

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