The best musical moments on television this year. Some spoilers abound.
10. Michael Shannon rapping // ROOM 104
Room 104 was already a surreal anthology where almost anything could happen in any given episode, but having a Russian Michael Shannon bursting into a spontaneous rap with RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Katya dancing alongside him whilst on a date with Judy Greer is a whole new level of strange. Michael Shannon gives a typically great performance and proves he can rap pretty well, even while keeping a solid Russian accent. Oddly enough, it fits perfectly within the context of the episode about a first date where a person refuses to be sincere and open.
9. “Groove Is In The Heart” by Dee-Lite // BIG MOUTH
Big Mouth’s episode focusing on Planned Parenthood this season (appropriately titled “The Planned Parenthood Show”) is one of its best and is the perfect balance of the show’s sincere and irreverent tones. The highlight of the episode is a flashback sequence that sketches in Andrew’s mom’s past: her partying, her abortion, her meeting Andrew’s dad after said abortion, and giving birth to Andrew. It’s the show in miniature: an oddly sweet, realistic portrayal of sex positivity combined with an odd pop culture artifact (in this case, Dee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart”, slide whistles and all).
8. “Under The Pressure” by The War On Drugs // BOJACK HORSEMAN
This season of Bojack Horseman was especially dark, given how the show took Bojack to task more than ever by unflinchingly examining his reprehensive behavior and parsing whether he’s truly a lost cause. The finale finds Diane dressing down Bojack, proclaiming there’s no such thing as bad guys or good guys, only people trying to be good, as he enters rehab. She waves and drives away down the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway to the melancholy, gentle tones of The War on Drugs in one of the more oblique, yet beautiful season finale endings the show has ever produced.
7. “Laffy Taffy” by D4L // ATLANTA
Atlanta always knows how to capture a specific mood, and none felt more specific and funny than when Earl and the gang hide out in a Southern frat house during an ill-fated visit to Georgia Southern University. A member of the frat professes his love of Southern rap, specifically UGK, to Paper Boi and Earl, prompting him to reminisce on D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” and force the naked pledges that are also in the room to dance along when he plays it, all while the Confederate flag hangs behind Paper Boi and Earl. It’s an indelible gag, disturbing and funny in the singular way that only Atlanta can pull off.
6. “Which Side Are You On?” by The Almanac Singers // SUCCESSION
Capping the most eventful episode of the season, the use of “Which Side Are You On?” by The Almanac Singers as Logan Roy sits victorious is one of the darkest, inappropriate jokes that Succession pulled off in a season of dark, inappropriate jokes. How else to celebrate a multi-billionaire firing half his board than by soundtracking his victory lap to a historic worker’s union anthem?
5. “Varúð” by Sigur Rós // IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA
It’s Always Sunny’s treatment of Mac’s sexuality is one of the most interesting examples of longform television storytelling in the past decade. While Mac’s sexuality has been the butt of the joke for most of It’s Always Sunny’s runtime, the past two seasons have gradually taken him more seriously and even allowed him to have a proper coming out. The apotheosis of Mac coming to terms with his sexuality is in the 13th(!) season finale when he pulls off a successful contemporary dance routine that doubles as him coming out to his father. It’s an uncharacteristically beautiful and sincere moment, and easily the most emotional scene of the series so far.
4. “The Winner Takes It All” by Bob Odenkirk & Michael McKean // BETTER CALL SAUL
The darkest season of Better Call Saul yet starts its finale by looking back towards happier times between Chuck and Jimmy. Jimmy’s celebrating having been inducted into the New Mexico Bar Association and urging Chuck to sing karaoke with him. Chuck does, and of course he sings better than Jimmy and steals the limelight from Jimmy at his own party. It’s a funny scene, but also desperately sad, showing how the Chuck/Jimmy relationship has been faulty for many years now, and how this unequal relationship has caused Jimmy’s morals to steadily erode over time.
Watch Joe Pera Talks With You - "Joe Pera Reads You The Church Announcements" on Adult Swim
In which Joe Pera reads the announcements at church (second Sunday of Advent).
3. “Baba O’Riley” by The Who // JOE PERA TALKS WITH YOU
Joe’s been asked to read the church announcements at mass but he can’t help but rant about this amazing new song he’s just heard for the first time. It’s “Baba O’Riley” by The Who, and Joe’s one of the few American adults that has not heard this extremely popular song. His face when he first hears the opening riff is a wondrous mix of confusion and joy and it only gets more joyous as he listens to it again and again. Like the rest of Joe Pera Talks With You, Joe listening to Baba O’Riley for the first time is completely sincere, yet hysterical in how slightly off the whole situation is, and Joe Pera sells every moment to the point that it’s completely believable when the pizza guy joins in on dancing with him.
2. “With Or Without You” by U2 // THE AMERICANS
I’m a sucker for a good series finale needle drop, but this is one for the ages. In a series full of perfect needle drops this also just might be the best. Elizabeth’s face when she sees Paige is permanently associated with this song for me now. It’s also genius how this scene plays with the “child leaves home” trope that so many family dramas utilize in their own series finales to devastating effect.
- “Under Pressure” by The Cast of The Magicians // THE MAGICIANS
The Magicians has threatened to do a full-on musical episode ever since the spontaneous Les Miserables sing-along last season. This season’s “All That Josh” was not exactly a musical episode but boasted several musical numbers, including the best one the show’s done yet. The entire main cast sings “Under Pressure” together despite several of them being in different dimensions in the ultimate ode to hope and friendship despite hardship and personal struggle. Like the best parts of The Magicians, it’s a completely ludicrous scene that nevertheless feels all too human.