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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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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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