It's impossible to pinpoint when it happened, but a one-off musical episode has become a rite of passage for TV series.
There's no shortage of creativity in the writer's room: singing demons, stage adaptations of '80s blockbusters, and medical hallucinations have all been incorporated into songs. Whether it's an inventive idea to explain the sudden outbursts of singing or a plot twist worthy of a season finale, these episodes always manage to hit the right note. Plus, some of the songs are composed by Tony-winning Broadway alums.
Check out our list of 9 musical TV episodes to watch below. And be sure to check out 11 musical series to binge during this time of self-isolation!
Big Mouth (S3, E10: “Disclosure: The Musical”)
The ‘90s movie starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore takes center stage as a musical in this episode of the Netflix animated series. Featuring music by Mark Rivers and lyrics by the writing staff, Disclosure explores sexual harassment and workplace culture in the ‘90s, baffling the teens of Bridgeton Middle School in 2019. As Nick and Missy tackle the leads, Jessi fights against the sexism found in the musical, and Andrew hides backstage.
Cast: Nick Kroll, Kenny Slate, Jessi Klein, John Mulaney, Jason Mantzoukas, and Andrew Rannells
Available to watch: Netflix
Bob’s Burgers (S5, E1: “Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl”)
“I smell a Tony!” says Gene during the curtain call of Wagstaff's school musical, the critically acclaimed (by parents) Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl. The episode follows Gene as he tries to put on his musical adaptation of Die Hard as the school production, but finds himself up against another beloved ‘80s adaptation: Working Girl. The only way to solve their issues? Combining the two into an extravagant spectacular.
Cast: Eugene Mirman, David Wain, H. Jon Benjamin, Kristen Schaal, John Roberts, Dan Mintz, and a special non-appearance by Carly Simon.
Available to watch: Amazon Video, Hulu
Note: Bob’s Burgers frequently features original music, including “Electric Love” sung by Megan Mullally and Kevin Kline in Season 3, Episode 16; and “Right Number of Boys,” sung by Josh Gad, Andrew Rannells, Rory O’Malley, and Daveed Diggs in Season 9, Episode 1.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (S6, E7: “Once More With Feeling”)
Joss Whedon's first attempt at writing music resulted in one of the most beloved musical episodes of TV. When a new demon arrives in Sunnyvale (what else is new?), the gang are forced to sing their true feelings about each other and the events unfolding. In addition, the demon tries to steal Dawn as his bride. The episode features 14 original songs, with an assist from composer Christopher Beck, in a variety of styles, including “I’ll Never Tell,” “Under Your Spell,” and “What You Feel.”
Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Emma Caulfield, Michelle Trachtenberg, Anthony Stewart Head, Nicholas Brendan, Amber Benson, and James Marsters.
Available to Watch: Amazon Video, Hulu, iTunes, Google Play
Daria (S3, E1: “Daria!”)
What do the residents of Lawndale High School do in the face of a hurricane warning? Sing, of course! While one might not expect Daria to be the musical loving sort, the episode features seven original songs with lyrics by Peter Elwell and Daria co-creator Glen Eichler and music by Elias Associates. Numbers include “Morning in the Burbs,” “If The Town Blew Away,” and “Gah, Gah, Damnit!”
Cast: Tracy Grandstaff, Wendy Hoopes, Lisa Kathleen Collins, Marc Thompson, and Dean Julian.
Available to watch: Amazon Video, Hulu, iTunes, MTV
The Flash (S3, E17: “Duet”)
A handful of Broadway alums appeared on screen together in this crossover episode filled with DC comic book super heroes. When The Music Meister (Darren Criss) puts both The Flash and Supergirl into a coma to steal their powers, the pair meet in a dream world filled with music. Emmy winner Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Oscar winners Benj Pasek & Justin Paul (La La Land) contributed musical numbers for the episode, which also included some pre-existing songs like “More I Cannot Give You” from Guys and Dolls.
Cast: Grant Gustin, Carlos Valdes, Jesse L. Martin, along with special guests Darren Criss, Melissa Benoist, Jeremy Jordan, John Barrowman, and Victor Garber
Available to Watch: CW TV app, Netflix, Amazon Video
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (S4, E13: “The Nightman Cometh”)
The Season 4 finale of the ensemble comedy features a wildly inappropriate musical "The Nightman Cometh," written by Charlie to impress his crush. The episode, written by the show’s writers, follows the Gang as they squabble over casting, elocution, and lyrics (“Tiny Boy” raises some questions due to its potential-but-metaphorical predatory nature). Finally, opening night arrives and all hell breaks loose. The Nightman Cometh was ultimately turned into a stage production with the cast going on the road for six special live performances.
Cast: Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney, Kaitlin Olson, Danny DeVito, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, and Artemis Pebdani
Available to watch: Hulu, Amazon Video, iTunes
Once Upon a Time (S6, E20: “The Song in Your Heart”)
When Snow White and Prince Charming make a wish for help to defeat the Evil Queen, they wake up to find everyone in the Enchanted Forest speaks in song (because singing comes from love, and love is the strongest weapon of all). This episode features music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, with songs like “Powerful Magic,” “A Happy Beginning,” and “Wicked Always Wins.” The penultimate Season 6 episode also includes the series’ usual amount of drama spectacle, including a fairy tale wedding in Storybrook.
Cast: Jennifer Morrison, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Dallas, Lana Parrilla, Rebecca Mader, and Colin O'Donoghue.
Available to watch: Netflix, Amazon Video, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu
Scrubs (S6, E6: “My Musical”)
When a woman—played by Tony nominee Stephanie D’Abruzzo (Avenue Q)!—collapses in the park, she begins hallucinating that everyone is singing, including the helpful staff of Sacred Heart Hospital. Original songs include “When The Truth Comes Out,” “Gonna Miss You Carla,” and “Guy Love.” The Emmy-winning episode’s music was composed by a handful of people, including Tony winners Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, with lyrics by Debra Fordham. Another Broadway connection? Serving as director was Will Mackenzie, who played Cornelius Hackl opposite Carol Channing in the original production of Hello, Dolly!.
Cast: Donald Faison, Zach Braff, Sarah Chalke, Judy Reyes, Ken Jenkins, and Neil Flynn.
Available to Watch: Amazon Video, Hulu, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu
Transparent (S5, E1: “The Musicale Finale”)
The groundbreaking Amazon series went out with a 100-minute musical spectacular in a way that embodied all things Pfefferman as the family deals with—SPOILER ALERT!—Maura’s death. As Shelly and her kids try to move on, the matriarch puts on a musical about her family using “doppelbangers,” and sets opening night for the day of the funeral. All songs were written and composed by Faith Soloway (sister of series creator Jill Soloway) with standouts including “Sit in It,” “Your Shoes,” and “Joyocaust.”
Cast: Judith Light, Amy Landecker, Gaby Hoffman, Jay Duplass, Kathryn Hahn, and Alexandra Billings
Available to watch: Amazon Prime