In recent times, the television musical genre has captured the attention of many of my (all girl) classes and generated plenty of discussion. There was rarely a lesson when the latest episode of Glee or Smash weren’t pored over with regards to their songs, character motivations, acting cred or even somewhat unfathomable (read, ‘jumping the shark’) storylines. Whilst teen-comedy Glee is now somewhat ‘old news’ being in its fifth season, Smash was a more recent soap-operaesque newcomer in 2012-2013. Around the same time, there was also Nashville, which is best described as ‘a television show with music’, rather than so much of a ‘television musical’. And now there’s a new one on the cards for 2014 – Galavant is an upcoming ABC (US) musical comedy series that has been described as “Spamalot meets Princess Bride”. Could be interesting.
Whilst I must admit that I’ve always been partial to musicals of any kind for my own viewing pleasure (maybe I watched too much of Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock as a child?!), my students’ obsession with the form has got me thinking more about the usefulness of such programs in the Media classroom. More viable in length than the feature film, today’s television series are often accompanied by impressive budgets and equally impressive production values, making them suitable for not only ‘last night’s viewing’ discussions but some gutsy media analysis.
Whilst current television musicals like to somewhat reinvent the genre with song revivals, original tunes or ‘mash ups’, there’s nothing new about the musical per se. In actual fact, it has been a popular screen form since the invention of sound films in the late 1920s and it’s never really gone away – even series like Fame in the 80s (which resulted as a spin-off to the successful film of the same name) remind us that the musical genre is, quite possibly, timeless. The recent TV musicals craze seems to have been spurred on by the gimmicky success of many one-off ‘musical episodes’ for popular series, including Scrubs, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Futurama and even the pious 7th Heaven, proving that we are all suckers for the magic and escapism that a song and dance can provide.
So while studying screen musicals as a genre could take your class on a trip down ‘memory lane’ and into a film history retrospective, the more modern television versions can also provide excellent examples of representation and character stereotyping, effective filming and editing techniques for fast-paced movement sequences, an examination of genre conventions well beyond just ‘musicals’ and, of course, the use of song as a narrative device.
Musicals provide a pleasant change from the usual heavy content found in much of today’s popular media, requiring a wonderful suspension of disbelief. I’m thinking it could be time to raise the curtain on a new teaching experience and bring a little bit of that old-world magic into the classroom.