Who doesn’t love a good musical episode? Seeing your favorite characters burst into song is always an interesting experience, and while some shows don’t hit the right notes with these specials, many manage to not only craft a great episode of television but also show viewers how multi-talented their cast members are. Even when the actors waver a little and the quality of singing isn’t exactly equal to a Broadway show, there’s something to love about the whole endeavor. Plus, these little asides can also lead to some truly memorable earworms that become synonymous with both the series and specific episode (what sums up the bromance between J.D. and Turk more than “Guy Love” in Scrubs?). If you want to see some classic shows take on this format and do it well, then check out our list of the 10 best musical TV episodes, ranked!
10. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds — “Subspace Rhapsody”
The most recent addition to this list comes in at number ten. This isn’t the first musical episode in the Star Trek franchise, with DS9 and Voyager both having taken on the format, but for us, the Strange New Worlds entry is supreme to those efforts (unsurprising, too, given how well the series is doing among fans and newcomers to the universe alike, putting in great episode after great episode). In the episode, we see the crew enter an area of space in which quantum uncertainties are collapsing so quickly that new realities of all kinds are being created — including one where everyone sings uncontrollably. The Enterprise team tries to figure out what’s going wrong and how to stop it, all while belting out original tunes.
9. Futurama — “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings”
Putting a musical episode as a series finale is pretty daring, but Futurama creator Matt Groening had plenty of goodwill stored up thanks to his work on The Simpsons (as well as the previous three and a bit seasons of Futurama brilliance), and the resulting episode is absolutely fantastic. “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings” was supposed to be the last episode in the series and contained many jokes about that fact, but in the end, the show ended up returning five years later (not the last time Futurama was canceled and brought back). In the episode, Fry swaps his chunky human hands for the Robot Devil’s, and in the process becomes a renowned musician and opera writer. The ending is one of the sweetest moments in a series that also includes this tear-jerking scene, which says a lot about how great it is.
8. Psych — “Psych: The Musical”
Comedy drama Psych had plenty of guest stars during its run, but the two-part musical episode in the seventh season saw a host of incredible names join the cast for the event, including Broadway legend Anthony Rapp. The episode took a while to be written and produced, and was in the works for many years before eventually airing. In it, a criminally insane playwright and suspected murderer escapes from incarceration, and we see Shawn and the gang attempt to find him before he kills his next target. The episode wasn’t just full of original songs but was also constructed in a very intelligent way, making it a great watch.
7. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — “The Nightman Cometh”
Although it’s on its sixteenth season and now the longest-running live-action American sitcom in history, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia was still a bit of a cult hit when they released this musical episode in season four. The season finale sees Charlie write a rock opera which the gang, for better or for worse, agrees to put on, with expectedly hilarious (and unexpectedly emotional) results. There are plenty of great references to long-running gags that are leaned into during the show, like Charlie’s functional illiteracy, and his ongoing mostly unrequited crush on the mysterious waitress. Most importantly, though, the songs are surprisingly catchy.
6. SpongeBob SquarePants — “SpongeBob’s Atlantis SquarePantis”
SpongeBob SquarePants usually hits it out of the park when doing themed episodes, and their musical effort is no different. Although this is technically a television movie and not a single episode, we’re counting it anyway as it’s only 40 minutes long overall. In the episode, Patrick and SpongeBob discover an ancient medallion that grants them access to the lost city of Atlantis, where they meet the emperor (played by rock legend David Bowie), who helps them foil a plot by Plankton to take over the city’s powerful weapons and use them for evil. The episode attracted nearly 10 million viewers and remains an iconic part of SpongeBob lore to this day.
5. Community — “Regional Holiday Music”
No show does parodies (sorry, homages) quite like Dan Harmon’s Community, which is set to finally get its movie after six unique and mostly brilliant seasons. In this season three mid-season finale, we see Greendale’s favorite study group slowly sucked into performing in a holiday pageant so they have a shot at “making regionals.” The songs are as hilarious as they are catchy, especially “Baby Boomer Santa” and “Christmas Infiltration,” which features Donald Glover showing off the musical chops that make his hip-hop alter ego Childish Gambino so popular. The episode ends on a deliciously dark note, commenting on the way glee clubs and the jovial atmosphere around Christmas invoke a kind of forced happiness that has an undertone of creepiness, but mostly it’s just a great watch.
4. Scrubs — “My Musical”
Medical sitcom Scrubs is one of those shows that blends the ridiculous with the truly heartbreaking, which is why so many fans are keen to see it revived. Their musical episode, “My Musical,” is a stellar example of the format done well, even though a few prominent members of the cast don’t exactly have the best voices — but that’s what makes it kind of great. In the episode, a patient with brain damage is admitted to Sacred Heart, and her main symptom manifests as her hearing everything in song. As always there are plenty of laughs throughout, and the plot of the episode helps move along the season’s story arcs, but the ending is bittersweet for all the main characters, including the patient who is cured but quickly realizes she misses the music.
3. Dexter’s Laboratory — “LABretto”
If you want to cause a flood of nostalgia in nineties kids, showing them an episode of Dexter’s Laboratory is sure to do the trick. The series about the boy genius scientist with a hidden lab ran for five successful seasons on Cartoon Network and produced some iconic moments and catchphrases (Omelette du fromage, anyone?). Their attempt at a musical episode was incredibly successful, too, earning the show an Emmy nomination. In it we see the origin of Dexter’s eponymous lab, told through the format of opera. Smart, funny, and with jokes that work on countless levels, it’s amazing to think it’s only around ten minutes long because it packs so much in.
2. The Simpsons — “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious”
If Community is the king of homages, then the show was only able to ascend to that level because of The Simpsons. The longest-running show on American television is so influential that it’s impossible to overstate just how important it is, and its Golden Era is (rightly) considered to contain some of the best television ever aired. This season eight episode fits into that timeframe, and in it we see the family take on a Mary Poppins-esque nanny named Sherry Bobbins after Marge begins experiencing stress-related hair loss. The songs are phenomenal and the humor’s unmatched, which is unsurprising given the show was at the peak of its powers when the episode was released.
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer — “Once More, with Feeling”
While the history of Buffy isn’t quite as pleasant as its devoted fans would hope, this episode of the series is undoubtedly the gold standard of musical attempts. Not only is it vital for overall character development in the series, but Joss Whedon utilized various types of genres of music to add more complexity to the episode, mixing and matching various types of songs to best show what the characters were feeling. In “Once More, with Feeling,” an unnamed demon forces the residents of Sunnydale to break into song at random points to reveal secrets, some of which the characters were keeping from themselves, too. There’s a reason this episode inspired live sing-a-longs in theaters after it aired: it’s truly fantastic.