Tonight, Grey’s Anatomy aired its musical episode, “Song Beneath the Song.” And after all the hype that comes with a musical episode — The actors SING! Can you believe it?! — I was FORCED to ask myself, “What’s the point?” No, seriously. What’s the point?
Now, I’m not against musical episodes. I think shows have found creative ways of doing them in the past and they’ll do the same in the future. But when an episode like this falls flat, it falls flat. Keep in mind that a musical episode is different from the, “WHO. WILL. DIE?” sweeps stuff we’re used to seeing, so there needs to be something there, something fun to reward the fans and hopefully something worthwhile that’ll bring in some new folks. It just needs to be good. Which can be hard to define but you know what it’s not. What supposedly set tonight’s episode apart was that the characters sing songs that, if it weren’t for the fact that it was a musical, we probably would have heard in the episode’s soundtrack. Except for that one song where everybody takes a break from Callie to have sex with each other.
And that was it. It was this meta thing where the characters are singing, but no one else realizes they’re singing. And you might be saying to yourself that that’s what all musicals do, right? WRONG. In your Greases and your Wickeds, the songs serve as an ersatz dialogue, through which the characters communicate with each other. In tonight’s episode, the writers found songs that conveyed feelings appropriate to the scene, but that was about as far as it went. Like I said before, these were songs we’d hear in the soundtrack anyway. The characters aren’t aware of what each other’s doing. There’s even one scene where the doctors (including my old girlfriend Kate Walsh) are arguing over how to best treat Callie, and we hear Hunt singing in the next room! For a moment, the show isn’t even paying attention to him. In the words of so many late-night infomercials, there’s got to be a better way!
In its sixth season we saw Scrubs do, “My Musical,” which is probably one of the best musical episodes ever made. In it, a woman who’s been admitted to Sacred Heart is diagnosed with an aneurysm in her brain that causes her to see everything as one giant musical playing out before her. It made sense in the reality of the show and was really funny. I mean, it gave us, “Guy Love.” What more do you want?
Fringe did its own musical episode late in its second season. “Brown Betty” had Walter telling Olivia’s niece, Ella, a story which was a sort of Valentine to Peter after the events of, “The Man from the Other Side.” That episode started out great. It was a noir-style story with a lot of pulp sci-fi elements that quickly went off the rails. It was the 50s, but there were still computers and cell phones. Olivia was a detective who had been hired to find Peter, who had stolen a glass heart that Walter invented and stuck it in his chest. You can forgive some of the weirdness. It is Fringe, after all. And the episode kind of gave us a cool look into the way Walter sees the world around him. But the musical aspect — which was something a few FOX shows were doing at the time to promote Glee — just seemed like it was shoehorned in at the last minute. The “songs” were all pretty short and sounded more like a couple of lines of dialogue, just set to song. A great premise that fell flat in its execution. I mean, Astrid singing, “I really need this job! Please, God, I need this job! I’ve got to get this job!” Not exactly Moulin Rouge.
So, what is the point? It’s all a gimmick to bring in viewers, of course. After Alley McBeal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Scrubs, Fringe, musical episodes are a thing now, so I can’t fault the show for jumping on the bandwagon. It’s just that, for all its faults, Grey’s Anatomy is one of the more solid shows on TV right now. It does what it does very well. So it’s a little disappointing to see it screwing up the endgame.