This week, Supergirl and The Flash are airing musical episodes — a good use of the talents of Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist, who had proved themselves on Glee. But theirs isn’t the only musical interlude on sci-fi television.
Shows like Supernatural have used music to turn their dramas into something less dramatic. But more often than not, music tends to amp up a show’s intensity. As we learned from heart-wrenching reveals on Buffy and Xena: Warrior Princess, sometimes things left unspoken can only be sung.
Here’s a look at nine times sci-fi TV has rocked our worlds.
Oh wait, did I say nine? There's a bonus below. A horrible bonus.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Once More, with Feeling"
Reason for spontaneous singing: A musical demon
Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a tone that frequently shifted from apocalyptic doom to comedy to angsty teen drama. It was simple enough for creator Joss Whedon to tweak his premise into a musical.
In this episode, Buffy’s sister Dawn accidentally Xander summons a demon, who brings havoc, mayhem and some snappy song-and-dance numbers to the residents of Sunnydale. He also brings buried emotions and thoughts up to the surface. When people aren't singing about parking tickets, they’re singing about love, fear of commitment and returning from the grave.
And as with many musicals, this episode ends with a kiss. But when Buffy locks lips with vampire and former enemy Spike, this lighthearted musical becomes the jumping-off point for the series’ darkest season.
Fringe: "Brown Betty"
Reason for spontaneous singing: Reefer gladness
What happens when the Fox Network tells Fringe it has to create a musical episode for their "Fox Rocks" campaign? You do what the show did: Go big and go weird. And if that means your mad scientist has to get seriously buzzed on a highly potent strain of marijuana, so be it.
While tripping on his own "brown betty" weed, Walter tells Olivia's niece wild tales of a glass heart and industrial espionage, set against a 1940s film noir backdrop. Sadly, the episode doesn't contain a single song written for the show. But the songs that it did use — Stevie Wonder’s "For Once in My Life" and "The Candy Man" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — are sung with heart. (A real one, not glass.)
Reason for spontaneous singing: A musical theater that exists beyond time and space doesn't need reasons
Lexx was a Canadian sci-fi show whose ambitious ideas were always bigger than its budget. The crew of the Lexx (including janitor Stanley and undead assassin Kai) stumble upon a musical theater in space, which for some reason know Kai's history, as well as the history of his people, the Brunnen-G. This theatre troupe sings about their isolationist views, Kai's desire to venture outward and the terrible consequences when he does.
The songs are composed for the show and are actually quite good, even though there's a strong sense that the writers are trying through song to tell backstories that they never had the budget to actually tell directly. Best of all, the musical's message reached the right audience: the cowardly Stanley, moved by the tale of the doomed Brunnen-G, decides it's better to die fighting than to die running. Lexx was always filled with surprises; the fact that Stanley derived courage from this musical is one of its most delightful ones.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold: "The Mayhem of the Music Meister"
Reason for spontaneous singing: Supervillainy
With quotes like, "Are you seeing what I'm seeing? Because I'm seeing gorillas riding pterodactyls, with harpoon guns, stealing a boat," it’s clear that this Batman animated series (2008-2011) is a less dark take on the Dark Knight.
In "The Mayhem of the Music Meister," the Music Meister wreaks havoc with his voice, which can hypnotically control anyone who hears it. Come for the voice of Neil Patrick Harris. Stay for the part where Black Canary sings about her unrequited love for Batman while kicking villains in the face.
Note: The Music Meister created for the series and has since been used in two DC-based videogames (LEGO Batman 3 and Batman: Arkham Knight). And amusingly enough, the Music Meister is the impetus for the Supergirl/Flash crossover episode.
Xena: Warrior Princess: "The Bitter Suite" and "Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire"
Reason for singing: It's how they do in Illusia
Xena pretty much kicked off fandom's taste for musicals in "The Bitter Suite," where Xena and her bestie-turned-enemy Gabrielle sing about recriminations (Gabrielle's demon daughter Hope slew Xena's son, so Gabrielle kills Hope) and the loss of their friendship. It's some powerful, painful stuff.
Xena upped its own game when it came out with a second musical two years later. "Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire" had only one song with original lyrics, but the rest of them were covers of fun tunes, and "Always Something There to Remind Me," sung by a lovestruck Draco, is tops.
Reason for spontaneous singing: Parasite overwrites host's DNA, changing her brainwaves so she can only understand music.
Dr. Magnus keep Abnormals (i.e., mutated creatures) safe from the world — and vice versa — in her Sanctuary with the help of her allies, who include FBI agent Abby. Here, Abby is infected with a parasite, and she can only understand the harmonic frequencies of music.
That explains why Magnus and her right-hand man Will — Abby's boyfriend — sing to her. That doesn't explain why Magnus sings to her colleagues in the Sanctuary network.
Supernatural: "Fan Fiction"
Reason for spontaneous singing: Fan-fiction musical. For reals.
"Fan Fiction" was Supernatural's 200th anniversary episode, but instead of celebrating the show, the episode celebrated its fans. "Fan Fiction" wasn't just a musical episode, it was a gender-bent one, and the episode was filled with teenaged girls — the core of Supernatural's fandom.
High-schooler Marie has written a musical based on the in-show series of books Supernatural, written by a prophet who could see visions of Sam and Dean. Calliope, the muse of epic poetry (and here, evil), has planned to watch the play, then eat Marie. It's up to Dean and Sam to stop her. But not before watching a musical essentially based on their lives, slack-jawed and stupefied. It's comedy gold, people.
Star Wars Holiday Special
Reason for spontaneous singing: Probably a lot of cocaine
We've had Star Wars television series before — Star Wars: Droids, Star Wars: Ewoks, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, several LEGO-based Star Wars specials, and the currently airing Star Wars Rebels — and there hasn't been much in the way of vocal music. If there's one thing you can say about the Star Wars Holiday Special, it had singing. That's … about all you can say.
The Star Wars Holiday Special was an infamously bad one-off from 1978 about Han Solo and Chewbacca returning to Chewie's home for the Life Day holiday. It's an easy show to bash, and even George Lucas reviles it. And I'm probably the only person who feels this way, but I kinda like "Goodnight but Not Goodbye," sung by Bea Arthur. It's the kind of song that seems in place in a 1930s German beer hall.
It certainly beats Carrie Fisher's song about Life Day.
Futurama: "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings"
Reason for spontaneous singing: The Robot Devil made them do it.
Futurama had come to the end of its four-season run on Fox, and the show wanted to go out with a bang. Of course, it had to center on the hapless Fry and his unrequited love for Leela.
To make Leela love him, Fry decides to take up a musical instrument. But since he's utterly without talent, he makes a deal with the Robot Devil. Unfortunately for the Robot Devil, Fry gets his hands. Fry writes Leela an opera, "Leela: Orphan of the Stars." But Leela is suddenly struck deaf. Can another deal with the Robot Devil make this right? Yes it can.
Note: This musical episode could have ended Futurama on a high note. Lucky for us, it lasted four made-for-DVD movies and two more seasons on Comedy Central. As Dr. Zoidberg is fond of saying, Hooray!
Bonus: Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog
Reason for spontaneous singing: None given
Dr. Horrible was a three-episode web series, not its own television show. But put together, it's 42 minutes of fabulousness. Mild-mannered Billy has a secret identity: Dr. Horrible, a supervillain wannabe. He tries to commit a crime in order to impress the Evil League of Evil (yes, that’s what it's called), but his horrible plans go awry ... when he accidentally introduces his nemesis Captain Hammer to his unrequited crush Penny.
The result is laugh-out-loud funny and gut-wrenchingly poignant. In other words, it's perfect.
Note: Buffy creator Joss Whedon put this together with a few friends and family during the Writer’s Strike of 2008. It helps that some of his friends are the ultra-talented Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Felicia Day.
In addition, the commentary is done in musical form. And even better than that, the fictional E.L.E. had a contest, where fans submitted their Dr. Horrible-based music videos. Twelve winners had their videos released on the official DVD.