I would like to explore the role of musical episodes in series television. My primary argument regarding the form will be that the musical episode functions as a reflexive tool, aimed at drawing the audience’s attention to the narrative structure, rather than progressing the narrative arch of the season or series as a whole. The musical episode is also more focused on revealing elements of character, and being performative or “spectacular” for the viewer. The form is very audience-aware, and generally more self-contained than other episodes within a season or series.
Specifically, I will look at three musical episodes from various television series. Right now I expect to do closing readings from the musical episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 6), Oz (Season 5, episode 3), and Ally McBeal (Season 3). These three shows have divergent narrative structures already, so they will function well as separate examples of how the musical form of plot structure affects the storytelling. I will also look to the show Glee as a contrasting model of a show who’s entire structure is built around musical numbers that oppose my theory by using music to progressing the plot over numerous episodes.
The musical episode of a television show relates to my broader study of the musical’s transition from stage to screen. My paper will be in dialogue with Caldwell’s chapter Excessive Style and Mittel’s Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television. I also plan to briefly touch on movie musicals, and the task of creating a spectacle with the power of a live musical on the screen, through the lens of movie musicals Chicago and the 1982 movie version of Annie. A study of how changing the form of the narrative while keeping the characters, context, and plot constant will contribute greatly to an understanding of the importance of storytelling form in television.
The reader of my paper will be better capable of discussing style and narrative form as factors that influence the overall effect of any given show. The paper will give rise to questions about the role of spectacle in television, and the divergent paths of live theatre and other, non-live media. Most importantly, my paper will encourage its reader to refrain from a viewing of the musical episodes as gimmicks and look at them as explorations into alternative storytelling and character-building strategies.
For the rest of the quarter, I will do close readings of the musical episodes I mentioned before, as well as re-read the Mittel and Caldwell chapters. I also will begin to draw parallels between the three episodes, and hopefully obtain information about the producers or writers decisions to create musical episodes. Ideally, I would also obtain the scripts and scores for the musical episodes, although these are pretty hard to find.