I’ve Had It Up To Here With Solemn Musical Sequences On TV

When you hear the whispery acoustic cover.
When you hear the whispery acoustic cover.
Photo: Courtesy of FX

The Americans had its series finale least week and if you’re worried about me spoiling the end for you, please have no fear. I’m not here to shatter your dreams or point out continuity errors. So, without giving any particulars away, I thought the finale was a perfectly fine ending to a well-done series, and I’m not even mad they stretched it out to 90 minutes. You deserve a bigger sandbox when you have to wrap up all your storylines.


BUT… okay, here’s the part where I put on my Old Man Yells At Cloud cap, because the final episode of this show, into which I invested my EXTREMELY VALUABLE AND FLEETING TIME, contains not one but TWO extended, solemn musical sequences. For one of them, they actually edit the song to make it LONGER so that the sequence can run for, like, ten minutes.

This is horseshit. I’m here to watch a show, not listen to your Spotify favorites. Television shows have been burning airtime for YEARS now by overstuffing episodes with endless, maudlin sequences set to the Coldplay imitator of your choice. Like Snow Patrol, a band that just released a new album this month. You remember Snow Patrol, right? Big-ass British band that struck it rich in the early aughts when they got “Chasing Cars” played on Grey’s Anatomy? Prior to that smash hit, Snow Patrol occupied the strata of British rock bands aiming to take Radiohead’s place when Radiohead finally decided they didn’t want to play rock anymore. And I’ll gladly admit that I think 2003’s Final Straw is a fine album. I still listen to it when I’m on the elliptical, because I am hip like that.

But after “Chasing Cars”—which was such an integral part of Grey’s Anatomy that they actually filmed a sequence where the cast sung the fucking song while wrist-deep in human offal—Snow Patrol spent the better part of a decade basically trying to replicate that formula, to increasingly dull ends. A band cannot simply choose to be Discount Television U2 without there being a heavy price to pay. I cannot hear Gary Lightbody’s voice anymore without thinking he’s still trying to score a scene where Katherine Heigl bangs a ghost.

And I cannot watch any TV show anymore without having to sit through a music video no one asked for. Every soap like Grey’s does it. Every procedural does it. Every prestige drama like The Sopranos does it. Fuck, even COMEDIES do it. I remember Scrubs did it eight times a week, which in retrospect should have served as a clear warning to anyone considering attending a screening of Garden State. All of these sequences go on FOREVER, and all of them remind me of the “Montage” song from Team America, a sequence which remains the peak of the form:

Please note that song only takes 68 seconds. Now THAT is some filmmaking economy.

And I say this as someone who enjoys music. Why, sometimes I even enjoy music and television together. But when you allocate a significant portion of your show to a solemn dirge from some coffeehouse gremlin, it starts to feel like a very big crutch. Even worse, it’s wholly unnecessary for a drama like The Americans, which already does such a good job establishing suspense and unease on its own. The music, which is meant to raise the emotional stakes, often ends up taking me out of the story instead. This is especially true when a montage that could take two minutes takes eight instead. Extra demerits if that shit is a cover song. I’ve heard the Gary Jules version of “Mad World” more than I’ve heard my own children speak.

There are a million different ways to tell a story, and Lord knows music can be a grand and wondrous way of doing it. I’m also keenly aware that churning out episodes of a television series is a real bitch to do, and you gotta break it up somehow. My issue is that too many shows now deploy music in the same way. While The Americans finale included a critical moment set to music, most of the time the showrunner is using music as a way to brandish his/her good taste, all while showing people being very sad and pensive either after something bad happens or before something bad either does or does not happen.


But you know what isn’t happening during many of those sequences? The story itself. So get the fuck back to the dialogue already.

Drew Magary is a Deadspin columnist and columnist for GEN magazine. You can buy Drew's second novel, The Hike, through here.