With the 25th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer taking place this March, there’s been plenty to pour over regarding the show’s legacy and its toxic creator. That said, beyond the showrunner and the alleged onset behaviors he’s done, there are portions of the series that, to this day, stand the test of time. Many of these can be credited to the strong cast, though some, in particular, simply work because the idea behind it was strong. However, one of the best examples of the show’s creativity was the musical episode, “Once More, With Feeling,” which allowed the characters to sing their innermost thoughts and feelings that, previously, had been tucked away.
The musical episode isn’t exactly a rarity, with examples ranging from Psych to Futurama and Grey’s Anatomy to Lucifer. However, for all the shows that choose to indulge in this style of storytelling, few manage to execute it with inducing a severe level of secondhand embarrassment. It’s what allows “Once More, With Feeling” to remain such a classic – even when some of the actors aren’t able to convincingly carry a tune, the performances make sense within the context of the show.
Despite the uneven history of the musical episode, television has often had a strong showing of musical moments within regular installments. Taking inspiration from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we ranked the 18 best musical moments in non-musical shows (eliminating possibilities from musical series such as Glee and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.)
Broad City – A Visit From Val
The best moments in Broad City are when the sitcom explores the different sides of Abbi and Ilana’s personas. Fortunately, the episode “Hashtag FOMO” delivers on this. In the episode, Ilana drags Abbi to several parties across town because she has a bad case of FOMO or fear of missing out. However, none of the gatherings live up to Ilana’s high expectations, not even Lincoln’s wine and cheese bash.
Eventually, Abbi gets so blackout drunk that she takes Ilana to an underground speakeasy, which is where she sings Ruth Etting’s “Get Happy” as her alter ego Val. And just like Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce, Val gives Abbi power. Decked out in a fedora and black mini suit dress, Val banters with guests, smokes cigarillos, and even calls Ilana her “baby girl.” Not only does this musical number show that FOMO is not a great way to live one’s life, but it also gives viewers a more confident and lively Abbi. [Phylecia Miller]
Bojack Horseman – Don’t Stop Dancing
Bojack Horseman took its final bow a little over two years ago and, even still, elements from entire character arcs to mere fragments of the show continue to stick. One of these seemingly small moments that instead encapsulates all that the character has journeyed to takes place in the final season, as Bojack, near death, envisions himself in a type of purgatory where he’s confronted again with the people he’s lost, let down, and/or somehow been the catalyst of their particular demise–be it creative or life. The reprise of “Don’t Stop Dancing ‘Til The Curtains Fall” sung by Sarah Lynn is haunting in how it takes what once was a jaunty show tune into a depressive, melancholic farewell, even when it’s given a pop-synth breakdown. To then end the sequence with characters leaving through a literal stage door, one where the exit leads to uncertainty is bold and highlights so much of what this series and its titular character were about. Perpetually grappling with and running from his mistakes, until he’s forced to confront them. [Allyson Johnson]
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Going Through the Motions and Where Do We Go From Here
The opening and closing numbers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s musical outing “Once More With Feeling” are the strongest of the bunch. The episode captures Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) depression rather perfectly in all of the songs, but these two stand out as the driving thematic touchstones of the episode as well as the season. Buffy’s friends pull her from a peaceful afterlife to once again take on the responsibilities of the slayer and life in general—”Going Through The Motions” is a highly relatable number about what it’s like to walk through life feeling numb but still technically functional.
“Where Do We Go From Here” is an ensemble number, started by Buffy but finished by the rest of the cast. It has the strongest sound to it and spins the Scbooy Gang’s victory over the Dance Demon into a bittersweet one after Buffy’s revelation about her resurrection. A once strong demon-fighting group knows they’re broken but also understands the fight goes on. Demons they can handle, but how do they repair the damage and the hurt amongst themselves? [Katey Stoetzel]
How I Met Your Mother – Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit
For How I Met Your Mother’s 100th episode, the series went all out with a musical dream sequence starring Barney (Neil Patrick Harris). When Barney starts pursuing a woman who hates his love of suits, Barney is torn: will he abandon his favorite clothes for the love of a woman? Or, are suits his one true love? The name of the song—“Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit”—gives it away, but that hardly matters. It’s an extravagant and absurd way to commemorate 100 episodes of the series, and a catchy one at that. [Claire Di Maio]
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – The NightMan Cometh
Most community theater productions can be an absolute drag. Luckily, the musical Charlie produces in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is anything but that. The episode opens with Charlie telling The Gang that he wrote a musical called “The Nightman Cometh.” Though initially skeptical, Mac, Dennis, Dee, and Frank participate in the production because they are too narcissistic to give away their parts. Yet, as Charlie’s friends rehearse his rock opera, they soon realize that the musical is about a little boy who is preyed upon by an individual called “the Nightman.”
Positively cringy and risque, this episode proves that creator Charlie Day and the cast of Sunny are the masters of their craft. Sure, Day is no Stephen Sondheim, but “The Nightman Cometh” will make you laugh. And thanks to the popularity of Day and composer Cormac Bluestone’s songs, the cast of Sunny got the opportunity to perform the music live in six cities. [Phylecia Miller]
Justice League Unlimited – This Little Piggy
As the latest Robert Pattinson led The Batman understood, the best version of the Caped Crusader is often one who allows a level of levity into their story. It’s why, despite a superbly bizarre turn from Pattinson, the Kevin Conroy animated version of the character remains to be the best iteration. While Batman the Animated Series is the obvious example to look at, he’s just as great in Justice League Unlimited, which brought thematically adult tones and storylines to what was, inevitably, a kid’s show. One of the best throughlines is a developing will-they-won’t-they romance between Batman and Wonder Woman, with one thread of it, in particular, leading to an exasperated Batman having to sing at an open mic (cowl in place) to have Wonder Woman turned back into a human from the pig she’d been transformed into it. Now let’s see if their live-action films attempt that. [Allyson Johnson]
Legion – Rainbow Connection
The strongest element of this scene is how the series utilizes the inherent sweetness of the song “Rainbow Connection” to jarringly juxtapose Dan Stevens’s wide-eyed, petrified gaze as he softly croons the piece. Lost in his head, we get glimpses of danger and corner of your gaze nightmares that infuse an already unsettling scene with an oppressive sense of foreboding. [Allyson Johnson]
The Flash – Superfriends
There’s a lot to choose from in the musical crossover episode from The Flash’s third season, “Duet.” Not only does this episode crossover with Supergirl, but it brings together Melissa Benoist (Supergirl), Grant Gustin (The Flash), and Darren Criss (The Music Meister) together for a musical reunion. Crossovers at one point were one of the main allures of The CW’s DC multiverse, but this episode takes the cake with the Glee nostalgia.
Kara and Barry’s duet “Super Friend” encapsulates the spirit of both of these different sides of this episode and puts the actors’ singing chops to good use. When The Music Meister puts both Kara and Barry into a musical dream world, these two use their relationship and their lesser-known power of on-the-spot songwriting abilities to satisfy the Meister long enough to get shot and subsequently saved by their love interests, allowing for the perfectly poised love confession. How’s that for a reunion? [Amanda Reimer]
The Leftovers – Homeward Bound
One of the many strengths of HBO’s The Leftovers was how, no matter how devastating, the emotions were always visceral. In season two, while Justin Theroux’s Keven is stuck somewhere in between life and death, he’s required to sing a song to complete the journey he’s on, leading to a cathartic rendition of “Homeward Bound” which plays out like poison being sucked from a wound. As images flash forward of the people he loves, he’s reminded of why he’s on this current path and continues his song until it’s done. Theroux is captivating as Kevin crumbles ever so slightly with each verse, the sequence just a brief example of why The Leftovers is considered an all-time best. [Allyson Johnson]
The Magicians – Under Pressure
Yes, technically, it was the 25th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that inspired this piece, but between myself and TV Editor Katey, we would’ve found a way to highlight this moment eventually. In Season 3, the show’s strongest, the group of magicians have been split up between worlds – both living and not quite so–and their would-be friend Josh is stuck in a pocket reality. To save him as well as uniting a progressively tethering group, they must sing along to David Bowie and Freddie Mercury’s “Under Pressure.” Only a few of the actors are truly good singers (special shoutout to Hale Applemen and Jade Tailor) and that’s part of what makes it such a satisfying and cathartic moment. They aren’t singing to be shone a spotlight on, they’re singing out of desperation for their friends. It’s a lovely, absurdist moment of television that perfectly encapsulated the peculiar heart The Magicians so often wore on its sleeve. [Allyson Johnson]
Mr. Robot – Rule the World
Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot is a show known for chill-inducing needle drops and deep character work, but few impacted the show’s fanbase quite like Portia Dobuleday’s performance in this season two episode. Angela’s original intent to infiltrate E-Corp has finally begun to break her. By the time she’s truly resigned herself to a sense of failure, she gives this performance at a pedantic 4th of July Karaoke party, and we hear not the original studio recording but a drunken, dulcet cover. Her singing is unnatural and hollow. Not a true performance but a desperate plea to be seen and heard by anyone in the room. But the audience sees her with a tight close-up and glassy eyes for the duration of the song, intercut with fSociety’s panicked rush to find dirt on an E-Corp lawyer once she discovers them hiding out in her elitist bourgeois New York apartment. For Angela, this moment feels like her life has ended a second time and she’ll continue to walk the scorched earth of corruption she has now taken part in for the rest of the series. [Evan Griffin]
Peacemaker – The Opening Credits
Argue as you might if this moment, in particular, deserves a spot on this list, but it isn’t just a highlight of a very solid series, but a reminder of how the DC Universe, when it chooses to be, can have a bit of fun. James Gunn often brings music into his work and it’s best here due in large part to how seriously the entire cast is taking the choreographed dance. John Cena is a particular standout as he keeps a stony facade throughout which sets the tone for the ridiculous levels of spectacle the series will present us. [Allyson Johnson]
Pushing Daisies – “Hopelessly Devoted to You”
Pushing Daisies knew it had a treasure on its hands when it cast Tony-winning theater legend, Kristin Chenoweth, as lovelorn waitress Olive Snook. Discouraged that her boss Ned (Lee Pace) will never love her, Olive cleans the empty restaurant while singing Grease’s “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” Dancing alone through the restaurant, Chenoweth’s powerful rendition of the song is enough to win you over, and desperately hope Olive finds a love of her own. It’s not like the witty, candy-colored Pushing Daisies needed to further convince you of its twee charm, but a little extra whimsy never hurt anyone. [Claie Di Maio]
Schitt’s Creek – Maybe This Time
Schitt’s Creek had three stand-out musical moments during its run and all three are amazing. But Stevie’s (Emily Hampshire) rendition of “Maybe This Time” from the Moira Rose-directed production of Cabaret in Season 5 is the standout. Throughout Season 5, Stevie Budd flourishes in her business partnership with Johnny running the motel, but she’s also wondering what more she has to offer to the world and herself. After a disastrous breakup with motel reviewer Amir, Moria gives Stevie a boost of confidence by casting her as Sally Bowles. Despite initially accepting the offer, Stevie fights her starring role every step of the way until she starts to get the hang of it. But it’s not until she’s singing “Maybe This Time” on stage that Stevie’s seasonal arc solidifies itself. The play is temporary, a stop-gap after a bad breakup and waning career opportunities, but the strength of Stevie’s voice rings a powerful truth—maybe this time, the next time, or right now, Stevie’s going to win. [Katey Stoetzel]
Scrubs – Waiting for My Real Life to Begin
A formative television moment for myself as well as one for Zach Braff’s JD in Scrubs as he truly learns what it means to lose a patient, season two’s “My Philosophy” showcases a quietly confident moment in the series. Demonstrating the eagerness of the show to push formative boundaries of comedy by bringing in fantastical and musical elements, the sequence is led by a woman who envisions death as a grand stage. The number “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” allows each of the characters to express their feelings from the episode through song and the effect, like the very best of Scrubs, is emotionally open, wickedly clever, and odd. [Allyson Johnson]
Sense8 – What’s Up
It would be easy to write off the “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blonds montage as a little on the nose in Season 1 Episode 4 of Sense8. After all, the episode is also titled “What’s Going on?” a main lyric of the song. But this episode-closing sequence perfectly captures the strange circumstances the Sense8’s find themselves in. It’s early in the show, and despite not knowing why everyone continuously appears in each other’s lives as real apparitions, they still help each other. The sequence begins when Riley plays “What’s Up?” on her iPod, the song filtering into the other lives of the Sense8’s, everyone joining the sing along despite how little they understand their situation. Across the world, people connect through song, forgetting for a moment the problems that surround them and embracing the oddities of life and all that comes with it. [Katey Stoetzel]
Spongebob Squarepants – Sweet Victory
Every millennial knows the Spongebob Squarepants episode “Band Geeks,’ Squidward spends the entire episode trying to prepare the people of Bikini Bottom for a performance at the upcoming Bubble Bowl to show his pompous rival Squelium (Oh no, he’s hot!), that he can still compose great music. The band practice turns to disaster, and despite the enthusiasm of Spongebob and Co., Squidward’s faith is completely shot, and for once, the audience agrees with him, completely prepared for failure as the gang emerges to a crowd of feverishly wild human football fans in the crowd.
The brass section plays an introductory set of notes that harmonize beautifully, but in 2002, no one was prepared for the rest: Plankton on a melancholic keyboard, Spongebob sings with vocals comparable to Phil Collins, Patrick on drums, Sandy on Bass, and Mr. Krabs on Keytar. The reveal is truly one of the most astonishing in animation history; its impact is so much that Squealium is pulled out on a stretcher and Squidward gets his sweet, victorious Breakfast Club freeze-frame as the episode fades out. [Evan Griffin]
Ted Lasso – Let it Go
Frozen’s “Let It Go” holds double meaning on Ted Lasso. It’s sung by Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) at karaoke as she celebrates her football club’s latest victory. She finally feels pride in the club—it used to belong to her nasty ex-husband—and starts to feel like herself again. Ted (Jason Sudeikis), who’s going through a divorce himself, excuses himself as he senses the beginnings of a panic attack come on. When the song ends, Rebecca leaves to help Ted, and she sees him as someone with more to him than his chipper exterior. “Let It Go” gives them both a moment of vulnerability, to see each other for more than what they present themselves to be. They’re no longer a hard-edged boss and her inexperienced new colleague, but friends who can rely on one another. Who knew karaoke had such emotional power? [Claire Di Maio]