Mar 22, 2017

Channel Surfing: The Flash - "Duet"

Scene from The Flash
Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
It is no easy feat for a TV series to pull off a musical episode. With exception to shows like Flight of the Conchords and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, few shows actually challenge themselves to pin a few original songs per episode. However, there's few that likely will raise an eyebrow quite like the recent special crossover episode of The Flash and Supergirl. This is far from the first time that these two series have joined forces - even earlier this season doing so with Arrow and D.C.'s Legends of Tomorrow. However, the choice to sing a happy tune was a gimmick that nobody could see a superhero series do. In fact, the only other one to pull it off any meaningful way was Buffy the Vampire Slayer... 16 years ago.
The plot itself was a bit kooky, as it involved Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) entering an Inception-like world where Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) had been sent to in the previous Supergirl episode. Nobody knew how they got there, but the answer to their problem was simple. In order to get out of a 1920's pastiche with many familiar cast members talking in stylized Mid-Atlantic accents, they had to do one thing: sing. After all, it had been well established within the series that both Kara and Barry LOVED to watch musicals. Benoist even is introduced in this episode singing a cover of "Moon River."
To be fair, only parts of this special episode actually feature any significant music. There's also only two new songs - which both come towards the end of the episode. However, the episode's deeper intent is made clear. As people outside of the dreamscape have to deal with crime, Barry and Kara have to deal with getting back to the real world. There's a lot of quirky references to musicals, which all play into the duo's excellent chemistry. They even argue over whether or not certain plot points are more like West Side Story or The Fantasticks. It's a delightful episode that may lack a lot of superhero-esque elements, but it's because of the supernatural aspect that this episode feels like more than a novelty concept crammed into an illogical shape.
In fact, the episode does an excellent job of sticking to the first rule of musicals: songs must progress story. While there's a few superfluous numbers that help to establish the world, the episode begins to develop a bit of a conscience that exists largely because of song. Certain characters express their love for each other in passionate numbers. The writers throw a lot of enthusiasm into the premise and eventually explain why musicals are special. They not only help characters to express deeper thoughts, they are fun and can make people happy. It's why shows keep doing them. The one advantage that The Flash has is that Gustin, Benoist, and the entire cast can sing very well.
As far as silly crossover episodes go between The Flash and Supergirl, this one is possibly the best to date. Not only does it reflect the best of both series, but shows that genre-bending aspects can be used to forward plot points. Its earnestness is a powerful tool that reflects why the CW is producing some of the best superhero fare in any medium. It also helps that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom helped to pen a few of the numbers, which feature her manic joy and self-referencing comedy. As a whole, it's a technique that makes you appreciate musical episodes more while hoping that only the shows with good singers think of pulling it off ever again. Even then, it's a good sign that there's plenty of promising places for these two shows to go. They've already produced arguably one of the year's best episodes of TV, thanks to one of the hokiest ideas.

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