I love a good musical number and a good television show, though it’s rare that the two ever go together well. Aside from a brief stint in the early 2000s where it seemed like every TV show was doing a musical episode, most musical shows have bombed pretty horribly. Does anyone even remember Hugh Jackman’s Viva Laughlin?
The few shows that have succeeded in bringing in large musical numbers are awesome: endlessly entertaining, surprisingly heartfelt, and always super fun to watch. Here are three of my favorites—plus one book!—to warm you up on these cold winter nights:
The quintessential musical show, Glee has set the standard for all TV musical shows. On top of the stellar musical performances (hiring Broadway star Lea Michele as Rachel was a genius move) the storylines are funny, touching, and pretty relatable when it comes to growing up in our modern era. It doesn’t hurt that the show has a uniquely fast-paced, almost-mocking style that still feels completely original. From slushies in the face to the hilarious Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester—not to mention the tragic, real-life death of Cory Monteith who played Finn—Glee tells the story of an a cappella group turned sort-of cool as they navigate high school and the world beyond. Plus those musical numbers! I mean, does it get any better.
When Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) suddenly burst into song on the first episode of this CW show, I was a little taken aback. It was not what I was expecting from a lighthearted, funny comedy about a successful New York lawyer throwing it all away to follow her one-time boyfriend back to his hometown of West Covina, California. But no one would accuse this show of realism, and the quirky musical numbers only add the to hilarious and over-the-top storytelling. Check out this underrated gem—especially since Bloom just won a Golden Globe for her wacky-but-somehow-still-grounded performance!
Am I the only one in the world who genuinely liked NBC’s Smash? Yes? OK, fine. But the truth is, I really liked it. Campy, over-the-top, but still rooted in real emotion, this show hit every Broadway-geek trigger for me. It focuses on all the steps of putting together a Broadway show—and all the drama that comes with it. Their show is called Bombshell, about Marilyn Monroe’s life, and the camera explores everything from the writers’ lives, to the musical numbers, to the turmoil behind picking the ultimate Marilyn. I couldn’t get enough of the drama—and I might have cried just a little when it was canceled after its second season. But I may have a reason to dry my tears—word is that it’s being developed as an honest-to-goodness Broadway musical.
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein (Riverheads Books, October 2015)
If you only recognize Brownstein as one half of the hilarious Portlandia duo, then prepare to be surprised: she’s also a prominent punk rocker and has been in several bands, including the well-known Sleater-Kinney. In this memoir she chronicles her life through music—how it helped her escape a rocky family life, how she was inspired by the emerging indie scene in the Pacific Northwest and how she ultimately helped shape the feminist punk-rock movement. Brownstein is a woman of many talents and her memoir is dense, honest and emotional. It may not have any flashy dance numbers, but this is a must-read for any music lover.