Music is so associated with the best shows on TV that it’s almost cliche. From the Sopranos to Mad Men to Glee, pop music has scored some of the most iconic moments in TV history. But it’s not just old shows that know how to work music into the narrative. Here are the best six recent shows who know exactly how to blend music into an unforgettable pastiche.
CW’s Supergirl has an excellent grasp of the modern music landscape, and manages to pick songs that reflect the overall tone and tenor of the series. It deployed Demi Lovato’s “Confident” to add wit to the creation of wry villain Livewire, and used the throwback “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar to show Kara’s training montage in the series’ second episode.Aimee Mann, Transviolet, Margo Price, Oingo Boingo, Bahara, Electric Guest and Neil Finn also are featured.
FX’s 1980’s spy drama is one of the best at integrating period music. The production makes everything from music to clothing to the commercials seen in the background on the TV are true to the era. Its first episode features Fleetwood Mac’s underrated “Tusk” as they narrowly survive a brush with the FBI. Season four’s “The Day After” uses Bowie’s “Major Tom” to explore Elizabeth’s dread at having to seduce her friend’s husband. The show used Elton John’s Goodbye “Yellow Brick Road” in a montage that ended season five, showing teenager Paige learning defensive spy skills. The music reflects the tumultuous time for the Jennings family, with Paige seeming to commit herself to the Soviet Union, while Phillip wants to stop entirely.
HBO’s The Leftovers has one of TV’s best soundtracks. In one episode, it used three different versions of A-Ha’s “Take On Me.” Opera, folk songs, and classical music also feature prominently. Verdi has been a favorite of the show, with “Va pensiero, sull’ali dorate” appearing in both season 2’s amazing “International Assassin,” and in the final season episode “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother).”
Issa Rae’s Insecure blends music that is appropriate for the Los Angeles landscape into every episode. The most important artist is SZA, who debuted her single “Quicksand” on the season-two soundtrack. Other appearances of SZA include “Supermodel” and “Love Galore.” Later, a declined SZA ticket plays out in the plot of one of the show’s top episodes.
FX’s Fargo uses music as well as any show on television. Season two, which took place in the cold Midwest of the 1970’s, expertly used prog rock to set the scene. The sci-fi elements of the season were reflected in the use of songs like Billy Thorpe’s “Children Of The Sun,” which as so important to showrunner Noah Hawley that he wrote it into the script. The song foreshadowed the UFO element of season two. Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” is featured in season two’s big reveals about Hanzee.
Halt and Catch Fire
FX’s Halt and Catch Fire is set in the 1980’s, but it avoids cliched 80’s music in favor of tunes from the time which are sympatico with their characters. As Cameron Howe is revealed as the show’s actual protagonist, her punk music takes center stage. She uses mix tapes with artists like Bad Brains, Big Boys, The Clash, and the Raveonettes (covering Joy Division). Punk is used to empower other women of Halt and Catch Fire, like Haley, who uses PJ Harvey and the riot grrrl movement to discover her sexuality.