Music plays a significant role in storytelling for television shows. It can enhance the content of a show or weaken it. Even shows that aren’t all that great can be redeemed by a bomb soundtrack, the kind that makes you want to look up the tracklist on Spotify.
Here are six shows that are worth streaming just for the music.
Insecure follows the dysfunctional life of Issa Dee, an awkward 20-something woman trying to figure out her life in Los Angeles. It’s a comedy series that tackles race, sexuality and friendships between women. The show is good on its own, but the soundtrack really levels it up.
The show's four seasons have provided more than 10 hours of songs to savor as scenes of Issa and her friends’ relationships play out along the palm trees and chill spots of California.
The soundtrack, a mix of R&B and rap, pairs well with the theme of the show and includes songs like “Case of the Ex (Whatcha Gonna Do)” by Mya, “Worth It” by Dreezy and “Norf Norf” by Vince Staples. By the fourth season, the song selection evolves to match the later travel and vacation scenes. Expect a mix of Latin rap and pop beside the typical trap and R&B tunes in the latest season.
High Fidelity (Hulu)
Based on the book and film of the same title, High Fidelity is all about music. The male character, Rob, in the original telling of this story (a novel by Nick Hornby, later adapted as a film starring John Cusack) is replaced with a female Rob, played by Zoe Kravitz. Rob owns a fledgling record shop in New York and is fixated on understanding why all of her relationships have gone wrong. She has a song for each of her top five worst break-ups and an entire playlist for one in particular.
The tracks span eras and genres, from the Grateful Dead to Marvin Gaye to Frank Ocean. It’s like a music time capsule wrapped into a 10-episode show. There are also tasteful covers of classic songs from Thomas Doherty, the young artist who wins Rob over with his wailing tunes.
Other songs that embody the general vibe of this show are “You Got Me” by The Roots featuring Dallas legend Erykah Badu and “Is It Any Wonder?” by Durand Jones & The Indications.
Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu)
Little Fires Everywhere is a dark, psychological drama about the depth of motherhood. The plot weaves together the topics of race, identity, greed and envy. At the center of all of this are two mothers and their families: Kerry Washington as Mia and her daughter, Pearl, and Reese Witherspoon as Elena, a mother of four. Their lives intersect when Elena rents a property to Mia and Pearl. When Elena tries to find out more about Mia’s origins, things soon turn sour and Mia’s resentment against Elena grows.
From the first episode, there’s a foreshadow to how the story ends, but no spoilers. The song choices for the points of tension in the show (and there are many) create a sense of anticipation, sometimes uneasiness, but there is a balance. The moments showing hope and the simpler times in the characters’ lives are done justice by the song selection. At items, the upbeat tunes don’t match the impending sense of something going wrong, making a perfect contradiction. “I’ll Be Your Mirror” by the Velvet Underground and Nico and “Lovefool” by The Cardigans offer a tiny bit of short-lived comfort. Most of the songs are more somber, though, like “Summer in the City” by Quincy Jones, which sounds like late nights on an abandoned street.
She’s Gotta Have It (Netflix)
Nola Darling is a Brooklyn artist (of the paint and street art variety) and has three boyfriends and a girlfriend. She’s Gotta Have It is messy and drama-filled — get ready for some pearl-clutching. If you want a bit of female empowerment to go along with your music listening, this show and soundtrack will fill that desire. She’s Gotta Have It is a spinoff series based on the 1986 film of the same name. Unpopular opinion here, but the series is better than the movie in its execution of polyamory and in its highlighting of insecurities for both men and women.
There are some hits and misses in some scenes and song choices. Sometimes the song would be better placed elsewhere, but that’s a problem for another time. Unless you’re a Prince fan, that is. There is an entire episode in the second season celebrating The Purple One with tracks such as “7” and “Nothing Compares 2 U” played aptly alongside scenes of a Prince festival.
In a normal episode, however, expect a lot of soul, jazz and Latin sounds. A good get-up-from-the-couch-and-dance track, for example, is “Puerto Rico” by Eddie Palmeiri and Ismael Quintana. The soundtrack can best be described as an audio version of Brooklyn and, at least most of the time, fits each of Nola’s twists, turns and avoidable mistakes.
Fresh Off The Boat, Season 1 (Hulu)
This ABC family comedy offers a rare representation of an Asian American family through their lives in an Orlando suburb. Eddie Huang, the child protagonist, brings back old-school hip-hop and rap jams like a '90s treasure trove of nostalgia. This is clearest in the first season of the series, when Eddie’s fascination with rappers such as Biggie is explored.
Tracks from Biggie, Ice Cube and N.W.A. will make you feel infinitely cooler than you are now. They also unravel Eddie’s personality and his passion for a culture outside of his own. If anything, the first season soundtrack of Fresh Off the Boat might lead to brushing off old playlists and listening again like it's the first time.
Scream: The Series (Netflix)
Scream: The Series is an average, cheesy teen drama with murder. Think of the Scream movies, but dragged out over three seasons. The plot is decent, but the musical score is better.
Unlike the case for the others on this list, what makes Scream: The Series stand out is that most of the soundtrack is instrumental. Sure, lyrics are fun and all, but let’s not forget the strength of a good violin or piano. The Jeremy Zuckerman-composed soundtrack adds to the element of jump-scary danger, tragedy and typical teen drama all at once.
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