Monday, July 27, 2009
Who doesn't love a good ratings ploy from time to time? Perhaps that's just my 90s-style cynicism talking; I'm sure these producers were only out to express themselves creatively through the art of song. Oh, and to totally sweep in the ratings. Mostly the ratings thing.
Any moderately faithful reader of Children of the 90s knows I'm a huge proponent of the 90s animated sarcast-erpiece Daria. In fact, I've spent much of my time as a broken ankled bed-bound invalid watching seasons 1-3 of Daria. Season 3's "Daria!" was admittedly uncharacteristically gimmicky in its musical format. It's tone certainly clashes with Daria's self-described bitter 90s cynicism, but its quirky musical numbers and naturally disastrous hurricane theme manage to tether it down to appropriate Daria sarcasm levels.
The songs are uncannily catchy. The episode particularly reminds me of how much I love Daria's dear old Dad Jake. His performance in "God God Dammit" and "Manly" truly captured his good-natured anger and mild insanity. When he sings, "I'm proud to be the home/of a Y chromosome", he does so with such fervor and intent that I'm nearly spurned to jealousy at my unfortunate double-X situation. "Obsessed", the duet between sister Quinn and mother Helen illuminates the perfectionistic similarities of their personalities that were obviously too nuanced for those of us assuming both were merely well-intentioned but grating.
Of course, I'm somewhat partial to "They Must be Worried", mainly because I love Brittany's squeak. It's just so eardrum-shatteringly endearing. Help yourself to the full episode below:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer: "Once More with Feeling"
Okay, so technically this episode wasn't broadcast until 2001, but the producers had been tossing around the idea for years. Unluckily for them, the timing of the Xena: Warrior Princess musical (see below) put a halt to their plans. After all, they didn't want to appear to be piggybacking on the success of their fellow hit fantasy program.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show with a serious cult following, so the show's producers had a good deal of leeway from their trusting fans. Not every live action show can swing a musical, but Buffy viewers had some pretty serious faith in the object of their television affection. Of course, musicals work better in fantasy shows as there can be some sort of vague and mysterious supernatural force that brings about this wave of singing and dancing. Such was the case in "Once More with Feeling", where everyone has suddenly been compelled to air their innermost feelings via song-and-dance. Unluckily for some, this could backfire and short-circuit, causing spontaneous combustion.
The songs are well-arranged and the cast is surprisingly musically inclined. All of the cast members sing their own parts, though some of the less musically robust stars have fewer singing parts than others. The episode was extremely well-received by Buffy's loyal fan base and critics alike, with TV Guide ranking the episode at a noteworthy 14th place on its countdown of TV's 100 best episodes.
Rocko's Modern Life: Zanzibar
You know a musical episode has some powerfully catchy songs when you still clearly remember the lyrics unprovoked 13 years later. This Earth Day themed musical featured the good-hearted earth-minded citizens of O-Town seeking to clean up their town and fight against the tyrannical pollution from supercorporatio Conglom-O (slogan: "We Own You"). Rocko's Modern Life is one of those great cartoons aimed at children that manages to be legitimately funny on a level more mature audiences can enjoy.
"Zanzibar" doesn't disappoint on the well-timed deadpan humor. When everyone spontaneously bursts into song about Spring Cleaning, Rocko looks around bemused and bewildered. "How is it you all know the words? Did you rehearse?" He asks somewhat accusatorily in that adorable Aussie accent of it. "Yeah, every Thursday," his pal Heffer replies without skipping a beat, brandishing a paper filled with rehearsal details. "Didn't you see the flyers?" Thus goes the tongue-in-cheek but admittedly socially-conscious musical episode: it doesn't water down the message, but it certainly entertains between preaching.
Luckily a giant compost heap with some helpful visual aids commands them to "R-E-C-Y-C-L-E recycle! C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E conserve! Don't you P-O-L-L-U-T-E pollute the river sky or sea or else you're gonna geeeeeet...what you deseeeeerve!" Moved by the rotting vegetable heap's words, the crowd takes to city hall in the form of a big unruly mob. Despite some setbacks, Rocko succeeds at fighting City Hall. Ed Bighead gets sentenced to some dirty work cleanup but remains unmoved by the cause.
Luckily, the compost heap returns at the close to offer us these heady words of wisdom, "See kids? If we're not nice to Mother Nature, she'll kick our butts." Wise words indeed, especially as they come from a rotting pile of discarded vegetation.
Rocko's Modern Life - Zanzibar
Xena: The Bitter Suite
The 90s were big on historical fantasy, specifically those types of shows geared toward historical fantasy nerd fetishists. Xena: Warrior Princess featured hulkingly beautiful Amazonian Lucy Lawless as a muscularly endowed ancient Grecian seeking to repent for past sins by helping others. A spinoff of Hercules: The Legendary Journey, the show could be summarized in the following SAT-style analogy: Xena is to Hercules as pseudo-historical porn for female-seeking fantasy nerds is to pseudo-historical porn for male-seeking fantasy nerds.
The show didn't need much of a push to be classified as over-the-top, but its musicals certainly made a valiant effort. The show produced a musical episode entitled "The Bitter Suite", featuring original songs. I was never much of a Xena person, but admittedly the promo below makes it look like a veritable guilty pleasure. The Bitter Suite pitted Xena and her sidekick Gabrielle against one another in the mysterious Land of Illusia after Gabs's semi-demonic daughter kills Xena's son. Scandalous, no? From my limited knowledge of Xena music (based on the non-lyrical Xena episodic soundtrack I used for a synchronized swimming trio routine), I'll put myself out on a limb and vouch that it's pretty badass. In a pseudo-historical fantasy television sort of way, that is.
Garfield and Friends: Picnic Panic
I can't lie to you, readers. I mainly just like this episode because of the singing ants. They're so cute. And I don't even like ants. They move in on the picnic and steal their delicious basketful of food, singing the whole way through in their adorable tinny ant voices.
A close second for Garfield doing an impression of BLT on rye. Really, he's quite convincing.
Though musical episodes are risky, they're also a lot of fun if the show manages to pull them off. I'd venture to say most of these episodes succeeded, as I am still humming, "R-E-C-Y-C-L-E recycle" to myself at inopportune times. If you watched that video, I'm willing to bet that you are, too.