When we got wind yesterday that Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes was planning to do a musical episode during the second half of the season, we were surprised. But after doing a little research, we discovered that it wouldn’t be the first or even the second hospital-based series to do so — both Scrubs and Chicago Hope previously aired episodes where doctors randomly burst into song. Curious about what else is out there, we decided to do a little more digging. Check out ten of the best examples of musical TV episodes we could find after the jump.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The seventh episode of the sixth season of Buffy was the only one performed as a musical, and remains one of the most popular of the cult series. Thanks to a demon named Sweet, the people of Sunnydale are compelled to randomly break into song and express hidden truths. It’s worth noting that this was Joss Whedon’s first attempt at writing music, and that he learned how to play guitar in order to write several songs.
In the musical episode of Daria, which marked the premiere of the show’s third season, the town of Lawndale prepares for an impending rainstorm. While Daria doesn’t sing as much as speak in rhythm, this one is definitely worth watching for the duet between Trent and her dad.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
In the season four finale of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie wrote and staged a musical, The Nightman Cometh, hoping to get the coffee shop waitress who he stalks to marry him. Thanks to themes of child molestation and slavery, it was a no go. The episode proved so popular that the cast of It’s Always Sunny took it on the road and performed a live version in Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.
According to Entertainment Weekly, the idea for this episode came about because Harold Perrineau, who played Augustus Hill, needed to take an episode off. Creator Tom Fontana decided to replace his usual narration about the innermost feelings of the inhabitants of the Oswald State Correctional Facility with musical-fantasy interludes. The result? Surprising and surprisingly good.
In this episode from season four of Northern Exposure, the town’s oldest tree is dying, and a pregnant Shelly, who usually can’t stop talking, wakes up one day to find out that she literally can’t stop singing. She thinks it means she’s happy; Joel thinks it might be a medical problem. In our favorite of the three songs that Shelly sings, she’s joined by Holling for a duet.
The premise of Scrubs‘ musical episode, which aired in season six: after having an aneurysm, a patient named Patti Miller hears singing whenever people talk. Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence, a self-confessed theater nerd, told TV Guide: “I knew that Donald [Faison] and Judy [Reyes] were Broadway-style singers and dancers. I knew Sarah [Chalke] could dance, because she danced when she was young. I knew Zach [Braff] loved musical theater. I had actually seen Ken Jenkins in Big River on Broadway when I was a kid. Neil Flynn and John C. McGinley were the last two guys to admit that they’d done a lot of musicals and stuff, but being actors, they had. Johnny C. knew how to do a Gilbert and Sullivan number, and Neil had a big baritone voice.”
In this episode from season seven, Troy McClure tries to resurrect his acting career by marrying Marge’s sister, Selma (there had been rumors he was more into fish than women), and adapting Planet of the Apes into a big budget Broadway musical. From his heartfelt delivery of “I hate every ape I see/From chimpan-A/to chimpanzee” to “Dr. Zaius,” a parody of Falco’s 1986 hit “Rock Me Amadeus,” hilarity ensues.
The 27th episode of South Park, entitled “Chef Aid,” featured guest appearances by Joe Strummer, Rancid, Ozzy Osbourne, Ween, Primus, Elton John, Meat Loaf, Rick James, and DMX. The plotline: Chef realizes that “Stinky Britches,” a song that he wrote 20 years earlier, has been stolen and recorded by Alanis Morissette. When he contacts the record company, they hire Johnnie Cochran, who files a lawsuit against him for harassment. Stuck with damages that he can’t afford to pay, Chef resorts to male prostitution, while the boys decide to stage a benefit concert. This ends up warming Cochran’s heart. He decides to switch sides for free, and gets Chef’s name on the album.
That ’70s Show
For the show’s 100th episode in season four, the cast all perform classic rock songs from the ’70s as Fez daydreams about his upcoming high school concert. Not exactly the most original concept, but this one gets bonus points as Roger Daltrey of The Who guest stars as Fez’s mean music teacher.
Xena Warrior Princess
You might be surprised to learn that Xena Warrior Princess had not one but two(!) musical episodes. The funnier of the pair, which aired in season five, parodies the whole “battle of the bands” concept; Xena and Gabrielle organize a musical contest in Melodia to decide who gets Terpsichore’s Lyre.