Should every TV show be a musical?
Maybe, depending who you ask (Yasper from “The Afterparty” we suspect is strongly in favor). There’s no denying the power of musical numbers, scores, opening credits, or just the right needle drop to propel a television scene from enjoyable to legendary. Moments like this were so bountiful in 2022 that IndieWire decided to pick the best ones as we comb through the best of this TV year so far. Below, in order of premiere, are the most memorable musical moments from 2022 TV.
1. “Peacemaker”: Opening Credits
It’s been a wondrous year for opening credits, none more bizarre and perfect than “Peacemaker.” James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad” spinoff had a tough job with its HBO Max debut, spotlighting one of the only white male characters from the 2021 film and making a case, somehow, for the floundering DC Extended Universe.
But “Peacemaker” did that and more, starting with this opening. Cast members enter to Wig Wam’s “Do You Really Wanna Taste It,” starting with star John Cena, and they dance — not with particular skill or grace, not with the joyful abandon of the “Pachinko” opening — but with stoney faces and cumbersome movements. The number is an ideal primer for this show’s eccentric and ultimately engaging tone, a thesis statement that somehow says “Hey. Shit’s gonna be weird. But you’re going to have a great fucking time watching it.” —Proma Khosla
2. “Somebody Somewhere”: Choir Buddies Reunited
This scene stands out in a generally excellent pilot, and happens to be another Kate Bush track. A still devastated Sam (Bridget Everett) joins Joel (Jeff Hiller) for “choir practice,” a nod to their high school connection and a chance for Sam to socialize, enjoy something nice, and distract herself even briefly from grief and chaos at home. When it’s Joel’s turn to perform, he calls her on stage, pointing to the mic and invoking a cover of Bush and Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up.” The duet represents so many things: Sam and Joel’s new friendship, the pain of living without her sister, and a brief moment of joy and release when so much else in life feels unbearable. Everett nails every note, literally and figuratively; her eyes brim with tears after Joel’s first “Don’t give up,” and she pours power and resolve into the next verse. As the crowd cheers, Sam and Joel hug it out on stage, an unspoken promise to be there for each other —PK
3. “The Afterparty”: Yasper’s First Song
Aaron Epstein / Apple
There’s no way that “The Afterparty” wasn’t going to do a musical episode. And, of course, the guy named Yasper (Ben Schwartz) was going to deliver a “kind of ironic, but not ironic enough to keep it off your Best Songs of 2022 playlist” motivational rap. While there may not be as many songs as you might hope for from a 34-minute episode, songwriter Jack Dolgen and choreographer Kat Burns (both “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” vets) help deliver this steady second-chance anthem that makes the whole thing worth it. What other 2022 show was going to find a way to weave together at-home breweries, the elemental composition of water, and the multi-hyphenate career of Eric Stoltz, all in a tidy two-minute package? (Time will tell if Jamie Demetriou’s tragically short-lived pop career will blossom elsewhere. It should.) —Steve Greene
4. “Pam & Tommy”: “The King & I” Scene
“Pam & Tommy” had plenty of pitch-perfect needle drops, but perhaps the most memorable musical moment came from Pam (Lily James) and Tommy’s (Sebastian Stan) own mouths. After the iconic duo have a quickie wedding in Mexico, real life comes crashing in and they realize they…barely know each other and have very little in common. The whole relationship might have been doomed before it even really starts, if not for some well-timed “The King & I” sing-alongs back at home in bed together. The scene showcases the sweetness at the center of their (fictionalized) bond and perfectly complements some foreshadowing dread of what is it come once Lee breaks out a video camera in the scene’s closing seconds. —Erin Strecker
5. “Euphoria”: The Play
There isn’t a public school drama club in the country with enough money to fund a show-stopping number like what Lexi and company pulled off here at “Euphoria” High. Hell, even “RuPaul’s Drag Race” would struggle to produce a lip-sync performance this grand. Fresh off his breakup with Kat, Ethan (Austin Abrams) shines on stage while making a mockery of Nate Jacobs through a homoerotic dance routine to this Bonne Tyler classic, complete with an ensemble of ripped, shirtless guys all gyrating on top of each other. If viewers weren’t suspending their disbelief watching the controversial HBO teen drama before, this musical moment towards the end of Season 2 served as a final taunt. —Marcus Jones
6. “Severance”: The Music Dance Experience
Atsushi Nishijima / Apple
Yes, there’s the hip bouncing and the maraca shaking and the “coastal tourist resort”-worthy light show. But what really sets up this unexpected diversion from the middle management drudgery of Lumon is the laminated placard that Helly (Britt Lower) gets right before she makes the decision to set it off. (Tag yourself: I’m “Thoughtful Grunge.”) Everything on “Severance” is motivated, built in service of a fully realized, absurd office environment unmoored from time or space. So by the time that Mark (Adam Scott) and Milchick (Trammel Tillman) start showing off their wedding dance floor moves, it’s against a backdrop of some clearly defined emotions and scale. With Joe McPhee’s “Shakey Jake” echoing the background, watching this sequence go from pure gyrating meme fodder to hellish chaos with a few well-chosen color changes and camera angles has all the simplicity and elegance of this show’s entire season. —SG
7. “Better Things”: The “Bright Side” of a Finale
Pamela Adlon is an artist regularly driven by music. Look no further than the series’ soundtrack, or the iconic Season 3 dance sequence to “Tilted.” But it’s worth taking a second look at the finale, which not only ends with a direct-to-camera song but also begins with one. The opening moments share the making of a music video starring Duke (Olivia Edward), inspired by Gideon Irving’s “Woke Up Looking.” The mirrored framing creates an eerie symbiosis between Duke’s self-awareness and her self-destruction; she sings about her inseparable relationship to her cell phone, looking at it as she wakes up, moves around, gets paid, gets laid, and, in the end, gets in a car accident. The pleasure and pain are somewhat inseparable — and fitting, since “Better Things” has always cast a distrustful eye toward screen time — until the song ends, and we see Duke’s mom, Sam (Adlon) directing her daughter’s video with the help of her sibling, Frankie (Hannah Riley), friends, and crew. The title card flashes, only this time there’s a period between each word: “Better. Things.” Indeed, they are.
Yet even after that eye-opening start, Adlon finds a way to top it in the same episode. Providing a bookend to the season premiere’s use of Monty Python’s “Galaxy Song,” the finale closes with a full cast rendition of “Always Look on the Bright Side.” As Sam whistles along to the radio in her car, the camera cuts to her daughters, mother, brother, friends, and more “Better Things” characters, past and present, as they belt out each lyric to the heartening number. A burst of joy directed straight at our hearts, these final moments make for an ideally endearing close to a show about family that sought to inspire and improve the lives of those watching. Each cast member’s direct-to-camera address pushed past the thin line separating fiction from reality, as Adlon reached out her hand to hold those who’d been taking in her life all these years. Music has the power to do that, and Adlon found just the right tune to bridge the gap she’s been narrowing for five seasons: “Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke” — what a way to go. —Ben Travers
8. “Stranger Things 4”: Max’s Song
Was this a moment or a movement? The intrinsically cinematic ’80s pop standard soundtracked the climatic midpoint of “Strangers Things” Season 4, literally saving the life of tomboy Max (Sadie Sink) as she sprinted away from the evil Vecna’s sinewy clutches in the Shawn Levy-directed episode “Dear Billy.” What came next were, of course, the memes about what song people would have their friends play them to help them escape the Upside Down, but more importantly the scene introduced British icon Kate Bush to a whole new generation that has propelled her 1985 track higher up the Billboard Hot 100 than she has ever been before. —MJ
9. “Ms. Marvel”: Kamala’s Training Montage
Daniel McFadden / Marvel Studios
The “Ms. Marvel” soundtrack does not miss, and though there was no doubt about it, Episode 2 clinches it. Freshly superpowered Kamala (Iman Villain) embarks on every hero’s rite of passage: The training montage, set to the adrenaline-pumping sounds of “Goddess” by Krewella and NERVO featuring Raja Kumari. The trap song with touches of Indian classical instrumentation and melody plays out as Kamala jumps off rooftops, shoots light out of her hands and feet, and tries to come up with a cool new nickname. Hearing Kumari’s voice as Kamala imagines the life she could be leading inspires chills:
Oh-na-na-na, hold it down
You got that crown, baby, don’t give it up now
Oh-na-na-na, say it loud
Runnin’ that shit like a goddess
10. “The Boys”: A Catchy Change of “Rhythm”
Eric Kripke’s Prime Video superhero satire is often surprising. Giant exploding penises, speedboat whale harpoons, and more creative flourishes of jaw-dropping violence pepper each and every episode, yet rarely fail to stun in their frank depiction of unchecked and uncensored superpowers. But no matter how extreme your bingo card boxes, I doubt any fan had a musical ode to Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and “Shipoopi” blocked off for Season 3.
But before Frenchie (Tomer Capone) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) filled the toe-tapping shoes of two classic movie stars, they sat together in a hospital bed, sharing a simple, sweet date watching “Girl Crazy.” The two have been dancing between friendship and romance for most of the season, and the episode began with Kimiko’s thrilled reaction to losing her powers. She’s long felt her abilities have created more violence than peace, and sitting there, next to Frenchie, watching a favorite film, she gets lost in a daydream — beautifully enacted by a hospital-set song-and-dance filled with sparks from defibrillator pads, a clipboard chorus line, and bedpan drums.
Led by Kimiko’s lip-synced rendition of “I Got Rhythm,” the production culminates in the cafeteria, as she holds Frenchie in her arms… and kisses him. The kiss happens just as the routine is revealed as a fantasy set since Kimiko’s head, but the romantic gesture is real. And thanks to the surprising musical number, the passion behind it is even stronger. —BT
Honorary Mention: “Barry” Hums to Himself
Music is conspicuously absent during the high-octane chase scenes and shootouts of “Barry” Episode 6, but the episode’s tension is punctured throughout by Barry singing to himself: “You’re my buddy, you’re my friend.” The deranged juxtaposition of Bill Hader’s forcefully light tone and Barry being nearly killed by multiple assailants is a delectable microcosm of what this show always is and has been: Total destruction lurking beneath nervous laughter. —PK