TV's best musical episodes
TV gets musical
With the highly anticipated Transparent series finale (a.k.a. the "Musicale Finale"), a musical extravaganza about to debut on Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 27, we figured we should look back at some of the best musical episodes (and, okay, we also included the worst) of non-musical shows to air on TV.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Once More, With Feeling”
Life’s a show and we all play our parts, even on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. From streetside singing scenes about getting mustard stains out to gut-wrenching moments of honesty, this season 6 episode manages to progress the story and function as a standalone installment that slays like no other. When a singing, toe-tapping demon is summoned to Sunnydale, the characters spontaneously burst into song and dance, revealing some of their darkest secrets. Great if you’re Anthony Stewart Head (Giles) or Amber Benson (Tara) and can really hold a note, less so if you’re Alyson Hannigan (Willow) who’s relegated to singing, “I think this line’s mostly filler.” Thankfully, Dawn’s (Michelle Trachtenberg) self-pitying ditty is cut short when she’s captured by the sultry (and oddly attractive despite his red skin) demon responsible for turning Sunnydale into a Broadway show. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) soon shows up to save her sis and launches into a song that puts her slayer agility to good use with an acrobatic dance routine but also reveals a terrible truth to her friends: When they brought her back from the dead, they dragged her out of heaven. “See you all in hell,” croons the demon on his way out of town. Maybe he will. —Ruth Kinane
Grey's Anatomy, "Song Beneath the Song"
When Callie (Sara Ramirez) gets into a car wreck in season 7, she has an out-of-body experience that comes complete with a sing-along. She starts seeing herself partake in a singsong of everything from the show’s opening theme to some of the biggest, most iconic music moments from the series so far. (Think: The Fray’s “How to Save a Life “ and Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.”) At times, it seems like Callie is more traumatized by the fact that everyone treating her medically is bursting into song than by her actual head trauma and failing organs. As is standard when any of the show’s main cast members are in peril, every single doctor on staff is working on keeping Callie alive and they are thereby all awarded the chance to showcase their vocal chords; Kevin McKidd is the real show stealer. Ultimately, despite contending with heart problems, brain bleeds, and a pregnancy, the Grey’s choir show they do in fact “know how to save a life” and Callie lives to see a whole lot more trauma in seasons to come. Watching it retrospectively, though, it sure makes you wish someone had started belting out some ballads to keep Derek alive. —Ruth Kinane
The Flash, "Duet"
The Flash-Supergirl musical crossover works in spite of itself. Featuring a mix of covers and original songs, the episode was heartwarming and injected much-needed light to The Flash's oppressively dark season, even though the central conceit was kind of weak. In "Duet," the Music Meister (Darren Criss) traps The Flash (Grant Gustin) and Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) in a movie musical, and in order to escape, they must make it to the end without dying because if they die in there, they die in the real world. What ensues is immensely charming as Barry and Kara encounter their friends (and one foe) in this alternate world as stock characters from old movies. While the musical performances aren't as character specific as one would hope, they were a lot of fun and the cast turned in great performances. We dare you not to shed a tear watching Victor Garder, Jesse L. Martin, and John Barrowman perform "More I Cannot Wish You" or to grin from ear to ear during Gustin and Benoist's performance of "Super Friends," which was penned by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom. —Chancellor Agard
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, "The Nightman Cometh"
Charlie’s rock opera — which sees him cast Mac, Dennis, Dee, and Frank in various roles — actually turned out to be an elaborate proposal intended to win the heart of the Waitress. But even though she turned Charlie down, viewers said yes to the tune-filled 30 minutes, which has since resided on “Best Episodes” lists and even spawned a tour that saw the actual cast perform the musical live in six different cities. —Nivea Serrao
Scrubs, "My Musical"
We're going to go out on a limb and guess that no other TV musical has done a song about feces. “Everything Comes Down to Poo” is just one of the 10 hilarious and catchy numbers belted out by the Sacred Heart staff. While many shows have to go to great lengths to justify why it's suddenly turned into a musical, Scrubs seamlessly integrated the element by having a patient suffer a massive aneurysm. The season 6 episode, which was nominated for five Emmys, also gave the quintessential J.D. and Turk shipper moment, with the best friends perfectly summing up their relationship in “Guy Love.” —Derek Lawrence
When thinking of shows that would do a musical episode, a dark HBO prison drama would have to be low on the list. Yet, as Warden Leo Glynn (Eamonn Walker) says, “This is different. This is Oz.” The unexpected musical element came about when Harold Perrineau, who played Augustus Hill and served as the show’s narrator, needed an episode off to film his role in the Matrix sequels. To replace the usual transitions, fantasy segments were used, with B.D. Wong, J.K. Simmons, and West Side Story star Rita Moreno showing off their singing prowess. Of course, it wouldn’t be an episode of Oz without plenty of violence along the way. —Derek Lawrence
Psych, "Psych the Musical"
Honestly, Psych was basically a musical for most of its run. Fake psychic detective Shawn Spencer (James Roday) and his partner Gus (Dulé Hill) were always liable to break out into song, if not in the episode proper then definitely in the beloved Psych-outs in the credits. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the show eventually did a full-on musical episode in season 7, much to the delight of fans. The very meta-episode — written and directed by Steve Franks — found Shawn and Gus going after a murderous playwright (played by Rent’s Anthony Rapp), featured guest appearances from Ally Sheedy, Barry Bostwick, and Jimmi Simpson, as well as a few memorable songs still worth the occassional listen, including the opener “Santa Barbara Skies,” “(When You’re) Making Up a Song,” and Gus’ charming ender “Jamaican Inspector.” Sure, the plot is slightly undercooked, but the episode is immensely charming because of how much fun everyone involved is clearly having. —Chancellor Agard
Xena: Warrior Princess, "The Bitter Suite"
Given that Xena’s adventures saw her interact with both Greek gods and mythological beings, it wasn’t too much of a stretch for the series to do a musical episode. The Emmy-nominated hour from season 3 came after a rift had divided Xena and her ladylove best friend Gabrielle, causing them to be at each other’s throats. Luckily, a trip to the land of Illusia soon fixed all that; with each passing song, both women realized that the only thing keeping them apart was their hate and that they did love each other after all. —Nivea Serrao
Community, "Regional Holiday Music"
Over the course of its six seasons, Dan Harmon’s cult favorite sitcom parodied many facets of pop culture, taking on everything from The Dark Knight (“Introduction to Statistics”) to My Dinner With Andre AND Pulp Fiction (“Critical Film Studies”). But in this particularly memorable episode, the NBC sitcom managed to not only pay tribute to the musical stylings of Glee but also poke fun at the various tropes of Christmas songs — while producing a few more than catchy non-denominational holiday numbers of its own. —Nivea Serrao
That '70s Show, "That '70s Musical"
Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) is starring in the school’s annual musical pageant, the Spring Sing, but is worried none of the group will show up to see him perform. His anxiety over the show leads him to daydream throughout the episode. The fantasy scenes see the rest of the cast decked out like glam rockers in leopard print, feather boas, and flares — standard fare on the That ’70s Show set. In one dreamy moment, Red (Kurtwood Smith) plays the doting father to Fez, Hyde (Danny Masterson), and Eric (Topher Grace) as he tucks them into bed before they all wake up in the morning to sing the Turtles’ “Happy Together.” The accompanying synchronized shakedown with batons makes the entire episode more than worth a watch. The episode also includes a stoned sing-along of The Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker,” a disco rendition of Nazareth’s “Love Hurts,” and a full cast get-down to Peaches & Herb’s “Shake Your Groove Thing.” Show 'em how we do it now! —Ruth Kinane
Ally McBeal, "The Musical, Almost"
Ally McBeal broke it down for the season 3 finale, unearthing 12 Randy Newman songs and bringing us the confident vocal stylings of Jane Krakowski and Lisa Nicole Carson (along with best efforts from Portia de Rossi and Peter MacNicol — we may never recover from MacNicol’s and Greg Germann’s awkward dancing during “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”). Under the guise of Ally experiencing the effects from a drug-alcohol interaction, this series had a great time dipping into musical territory, which wasn’t much of a stretch since the show was famous for flirting with surreality throughout its five-year run. —Dan Heching
Chicago Hope, "Brain Salad Surgery"
Adam Arkin’s Dr. Aaron Shutt suffers an aneurysm and wanders the late night hallways of the hospital, hallucinating various musical interludes, featuring Mark Harmon, Mandy Patinkin, and others. Patinkin, who has a successful career as a singer and musician, does a marvelous job singing the standard “I’ll Be There.” (Dr. Shutt admits he’s jealous of Patinkin/Dr. Geiger’s voice, but then proceeds to do a pretty good job getting through “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.") The moment Hector Elizondo spontaneously begins lip-synching is pretty great, too. —Dan Heching
How I Met Your Mother, "Girls vs. Suits"
So this one isn’t necessarily a musical episode, but it does feature a musical number that earned the show an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics, so it’s definitely earned its spot here. Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) is flummoxed when MacLaren’s new bartender has an aversion to men in suits, his go-to wardrobe choice. In an attempt to bed the hot bartender, he starts dressing more casually, but it isn’t long until he’s experiencing intense withdrawals from the suit life — including salivating over Marshall’s (Jason Segel) dapper clothing. Of course, this all culminates in song. Barney burst into the streets of Manhattan to belt out his love for suits. Here’s just a taste of the things he’d sacrifice for formal wear: a pot of gold, never aging, one million chicks, and world peace. It’s worth it, though, because “nothing suits him like a suit.” —Ruth Kinane
Daria, "Daria! The Musical"
Daria had one of the best (and most lackadaisical) theme songs of any pre-emo MTV cartoon, and the musical episode in season 3 took it to new heights with an episode chock full of singing. Daria herself, as you can imagine, isn’t really moved to sing per se, but more sing-speak. Look for the fun nod to The Brady Bunch at the top of the show. —Dan Heching
The Fosters, "The Show"
With a half-season buildup of Brandon writing his own rock musical and the main characters preparing to take on the leads in his take on Romeo & Juliet, it made sense that the Freeform show would bring the goods. And they really, really did. The cast has an impressive collective set of pipes, the songs were catchy, and the story played well against the arcs of the characters. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the show's co-creator, Bradley Bredeweg, has also produced a Romeo and Juliet rock musical of his own. —Breanne L. Heldman
Fringe, "Brown Betty"
After puffing from a strain of marijuana known as "Brown Betty," our favorite fringe scientist, Walter (John Noble), starts to hallucinate and imagines Olivia (Anna Torv) as a 1940s noir detective and his missing son Peter (Josh Jackson) as having run away with his glass heart. The songs may have popped up intermittently, but the cast committed. And while the episode may have received mixed reactions, there's no question Jasika Nicole's rendition of "I Hope I Get It" from A Chorus Line impressed. —Breanne L. Heldman
7th Heaven, "Red Socks"
No best musical episodes list would be complete without mentioning 7th Heaven’s truly awful and unnecessary musical outing from season 9. The premise of the episode? It’s Valentine’s Day, which moves the entire Camden family to sing as the opening number, “Love Is Sweeping the Nation,” explains to us. Most of the cast struggle (or barely try) to carry a tune. The dancing, or attempts at dancing, are just awkwardly terrible, too, making an incredibly cringeworthy hour — and not in a fun, Office cringeworthy kind of way. —Chancellor Agard