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?