You know, for a long, long time the soundtrack to the average TV show was, at best, an afterthought: whacking some obvious song cues in for a romantic scene or a car chase, and then some contemporary hits of the day, maybe with someone we’ve been forced into including on the show.
It wasn’t until shows like The OC and Buffy came out with a strong niche-age audience that someone went “hey, let’s get someone with an actual idea about music to choose some songs to go in the ear-place of our viewers.”
And thus was the Musical Supervisor born, and now no show worth its tie-in media is without it. And it made career too. Think Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ and Grey’s Anatomy, or Sia’s ‘Breathe Me’ and Six Feet Under. Goddamn, those people are kingmakers.
And we live in a goddam golden age of good sounding shows, including the ones we’re about to get into.
Just to be clear, these are playlist-ready tunes rather than ones with amazing commissioned soundtracks. So not the stirring scores-made-for-the-actual-show (thanks for playing, Game of Thrones; goddamn you’re perfect, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s Stranger Things score).
The Genre Nailer: Glow
The jubilant eighties vibe of the show starts with the (sort of) theme song – ‘The Warrior’ by Scandal featuring Patti Smyth – and it would have been super easy to just pull out the standard pop hits as per the cues in Stranger Things.
It’s when they go deep, like pulling out Siouxie & the Banshees or Yazoo cuts that really deserve the chef’s kisses.
The Accidental History Lesson: This Is Us
When you’ve got a show that leaps between timelines it’s helpful (and easy!) to indicate where you are via musical references, but This Is Us just pulls them off so damn well.
One scene will have Cat Stevens or Stephen Stills, and then BANG! we’ve jumped forward and it’s the Cure or Jason Mraz or Inara George. It’s a TV show soundtrack as an education.
The Primer: Luke Cage
The Marvel series about the indestructible man kept him soundtracked with deep jazz cuts and modern soul, managing to evoke the Shaft comparisons without being beholden to them.
And sure, Wu Tang and Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings work perfectly, but it was one of the quieter moments that really made clear just how inspired their music supervision was: pulling out Nina Simone’s version of the standard ‘Plain Gold Ring’.
The New Original Classics: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
With songs that jump from 80s synth pop to country to protest marches to slow jams to hip hop to everything in between Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s music was always its secret weapon even as the show got more convoluted.
But if you’ve ever thought “hey, what would Huey Lewis and the News sound like if they did more songs about being bisexual?” then yes, they’ve answered that question for you too.
The Worst: Riverdale
Sure, the show is turning into some sort of parody of a parody of itself, but just when you think “that’s it, I can’t even watch this show any more” they’ll suddenly drop some a goddamn awful cover of Duran Duran’s ‘Union Of The Snake’ or something which raises so many more questions than it answers.
The existence of the Pussycats should mean awesome pop tunage, as per every single other incarnation of them, but in this universe they do nothing but covers and they’re always ghastly.
Burn it to the ground and then burn the ashes just to be sure.