Saturday, June 11, 2011

“Notice what this song does not say.”

I like to think of myself as being subtle and tasteful and other “ull” words, but sometimes I am just as susceptible(!) to blatant emotional(!!) manipulation as the next person. Especially in the area of TV programs, where my intellect drops to the lowest common denominator and I become notoriously easy to please (my goodness, I went through a Highlander phase, it doesn’t get much more shameful(!!!) than that.)

To wit, I am realizing how many of my favorite scenes in TV shows – and hence favorite TV shows because once you’ve hooked me I’m a line and sinker kind of fish – are the ones where a song with Extremely Pertinent And Meaningful To The Character’s Emotions At This Moment Lyrics starts playing on the soundtrack. And even though I know my heartstrings are being purposefully tugged on, it doesn’t make me any less starry-eyed over the song, the character, and the show in general. Hey, I’m not proud of it – I’m only human. People who make TV shows study very carefully how to make the audience react in ways they want, so it’s no wonder that once in a while they get it right.

So here’s some of my favorite (or perhaps infavorite in terms of my self-respect) moments of “Oh Hai, Soundtrack, I See What You Did There.” Note: I’ve put the reason I found each song so effective, so if you don’t mind having the plot for a certain show spoiled, highlighting will reveal the text.


White Collar: The most recent example, that got me thinking about this. Neal has learned the organization that has given him a job, among people he considers friends - and a partner - also contains the man who stole away the woman he loves. It was a big suspenseful thing that was cleared away within a few episodes, but it was killer for that moment where he’s looking around the bustling office to the swell of Shane Alexander’s Feels Like The End.

I don't remember what I've done.
I'm done with all the years.
I've got no one but myself
To ask "how did I get here?"
And I worry all the time.
What's coming around the bend?
Maybe I'm just going crazy,
But it feels like the end.


X-Files: The mystery of what happened to his sister Samantha when they were children underlined most of Mulder’s life, and hence the show. When he finally lets go of her and achieves – as the episode’s title indicates – “closure,” it had to be a culmination of all that obsession and regret and longing, for the sake of the audience if nothing else. But Question: when you have a score by Mark Snow, how do you top that in haunting? Answer: get Moby’s My Weakness.


Lost: A show that thrives on this trope, the first few episodes blatantly having a character turn on his cd player a minute before the episode ends, while everyone around him – presumably unable to hear through his headphones (and his hair!) – still manages to make doleful expressions to suit the music. When he finally ran out of batteries, it was a much-needed touch of humor on the deserted island. And meanwhile, from an artist I have trouble reconciling that I like his music but loathe his habits – Willie Nelson’s Are You Sure?

Look around you, take a good look,
And tell me what you see.
Are you sure that this is where you want to be?

Queer as Folk: Yeah, I know this isn’t going to end well. I’ve seen before, a couple of times, not to mention I know how foreshadowing in the genre works. It doesn’t stop it from being one of most hopeful, romantic, and sweet scenes in any show (not only for the audience familiar with Brian “The Jerk” Kinney’s usual modus operandi). But maybe that’s the redeeming power of a good old-fashioned love song like The Drifters’ Save the Last Dance For Me


The Sopranos: Now, I loved the theme song to this show – but that’s not the point of this post - maybe another day’s. It’s impossible not to have a love-hate relationship with this show, as it is with the main character. I’m sure there were more emotional song-scenes, considering Tony was a character who could inspire extremes of disgust and protective instinct in the space of heartbeat. But when it comes to sheer memorable soundtrack moments, none other can be named than the shenanigans of the FBI trying to bug his house to a brilliant mashup of Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn Theme and The Police’s Every Breath You Take.


House: And speaking of characters we love onscreen but would hate to meet in real life, Gregory House. Is his addiction a need, or a want? Is having a friend a need or a want, and if the former, how do you balance your need for one with their need to maintain their life away from you? This song could almost be the theme song, it’s so integral to the character arcs. The true struggle is knowing the difference between what one wants and what one needs – but there are worse philosophies to live by than The Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

You can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes, you just might find
You get what you need.

Smallville: OK, I know you’re thinking that a TV show not only based on a comic, but on a strange alternative reality version thereof, where famous nemeses were best friends in their youth before inevitably turning against each other like some kind of Greek tragedy, has no foundation for moments of honest and sincere emotion. And I really have no defense for my period of fascination with the show – I don’t even like comics – except that I was young and have you heard Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) talk at all? I make no secret of the fact that a sexy speaking voice has always been my Kryptonite.

And yeah, so this was even more than the usual of melodramatic and manipulative, but there are many small sins I’m willing to forgive for Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt.

If I could start again,
A million miles away.
I would keep myself.
I would find a way.

Buffy: Oh, Joss Whedon, you can’t be satisfied with normal teenage angst, can you? Some girls have boyfriend troubles – Buffy had a vampire boyfriend hundreds of years her senior, who became a soulless killing monster and had to be killed (by her, natch) in order to save the world. No wonder she ran away from home on the next bus out of town – I’m just surprised she didn’t do it sooner (considering the town in question) – and especially, as all life’s saddest moments ought to be, to the strains of Sarah McLachlan’s Full of Grace.

It’s better this way, I said,
Having seen this place before,
Where everything we said and did
Hurts us all the more.


So, those are the Good, Bad, and Ugly of my favorite Anvilicious televised soundtrack moments, just off the top of my head. Any you’d like to suggest?

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