What Makes a Good TV Soundtrack?
February 27, 2023
Music Moments in TV & Movies
A good soundtrack has the power to decide the tone of any scene and elevate the quality of a TV show or movie. Here are some great songs that I found through great shows.
Brothers in Arms – The West Wing
Aaron Sorkin’s Emmy winning show “The West Wing” follows president Jed Bartlet’s seniors as they struggle to prioritize an aggressive policy agenda over re-election. Some find the show’s relentless optimism naive in the face of an increasingly frightful political climate, though to me the show is an essential source of inspiration – and, crucially, hope – for government that truly works for the people.
No moment in the show displays this dichotomy between hope and disparity better than the ending of “Two Cathedrals,” the season two finale, which is consistently lauded as one of the show’s best episodes. President Jed Bartlet contemplates running for re-election amidst scandal, and the episode is wrought with anticipation. On his way to announce his decision, thunder and rain sound create a tense and expectant mood as Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” plays. The song is pensive and evocative, a perfect match for the emotional turmoil and suspense of this scene. Mark Knopfler’s guitar is chilling as Bartlet steps up to the podium, a rousing end to the show’s second season.
Sorkin explains on “The West Wing Weekly” podcast that he decided to include the Dire Straits song after hearing it on his car radio, though at first he worried that Dire Straits would steal the show. “Am I handing off the second season of the West Wing to Dire Straits and saying ‘you guys take it away’”?
Simple Song – How I Met Your Mother
The soundtrack of “How I Met Your Mother” is a time capsule to the early 2000s. Featuring bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Radiohead, and Grizzly Bear, it is perfect for a slice of life show about a group of New York twenty-somethings. The show is framed though Ted Mosby’s search for his future wife, who finally buys a train ticket on her fated path toward her future with Ted as The Shins’ “Simple Song” plays, ending the show’s eighth season.
“How I Met Your Mother” is a sitcom that often flirts with drama – this scene certainly belongs to the latter genre. Pitchfork describes Simple Song as “total power- pop pleasure overload,” and the emotional punch it delivers in this episode matches the show’s dramatic ambitions.
Wedding Bell Blues – Gilmore girls
‘Gilmore Girls’ is everyone’s comfort show, a perfect mix of fall vibes, nostalgia and witty dialogue. Rory and Lorelai, a mother-daughter duo, navigate their relationships with each other and grandparents Emily and Richard. In the show’s fifth season, Emily and Richard suffer marriage troubles, though they reunite before season five’s ending and decide to ceremonially remarry in episode 13, titled “Wedding Bell Blues,” after the Fifth Dimension song that plays as Emily and Richard have their first dance. Richard tells a heartwarming story of how the song comforted young Lorelai through a painful inner-ear infection. The whimsical feel of Wedding Bell Blues is a compliment to the dance scene, though the sweet moment quickly takes a turn and the scene ends with a breakup and a family feud.
Euphoria Funfair – Euphoria
“Euphoria Sundays” were my favorite weekly ritual of 2022, when friends gathered together watch and any attempt at unrelated conversation elicited a sharp “shhhhhh!” Euphoria’s soundtrack compliments the show’s dramatic twists and melancholic feeling cinematography, and has become iconic in its’ own right. Labrinth’s exhilarating score featured hits such as “Formula,” “Still Don’t Know My Name,” and “When I R.I.P,” though my favorite song used in the show is “Euphoria Funfair,” which plays during the show’s famous carnival scene.
The carnival sequence features some of the show’s most visually appealing shots and brings important reckonings for each character. The song begins as Kat and Ethan board the gravitron, and the intense spinning motion propels us toward several dramatic reckoning. Powered by the suspense of the soundtrack, this scene serves as a turning point in the relationships of several characters. Cassie and Maddy take MDMA; as fireworks pop in the background, Rue and Jules search for Rue’s missing sister. As the score reaches a formidable climax, Maddie shoves a vat of Cal’s chili onto the floor in a rousing moment of confrontation. The song’s shifts in tone throughout the scene provide suspense and catharsis as needed to enhance the plot.