Have zombies taught us nothing? Resurrection is just… never a good idea (unless of course you’re that guy whose resurrection resulted in the celebration of Easter).
Case in point: the musical television drama. If you didn’t know such a genre existed, it’s for good reason – these shows have incredibly short life spans and it really takes a very special person to stomach a single episode. In fact, I had pushed everything I’ve viewed of this genre into the same dark little closet in my brain that I keep bad break-ups and embarrassing moments. It wasn’t until a recent conversation I had with Julia that I remembered such a genre existed. Julia has quite a taste for the cop show genre. She (like many others these days) is also really into Glee, Fox network’s musical comedy. As a business school alumna, Julia understands the value of her time and doing things efficiently, thus pitched the idea of a musical cop drama so she and others with similar taste could save time by watching these two genres in one place. To her shock/horror/dismay/amusement, I told her that like most things in TV – it’s been done before.
Cop Rock. Yes, Cop Rock. If you’ve never heard of it before – it’s exactly what the title suggests. Hailed as one of the worst television shows of all time, Cop Rock’s greenlight continues to baffle us nearly two decades later (unless of course, you’re Peter Bowker and erroneously thought resurrecting the genre with Hugh Jackman may mean a better shot at success).
When Julia and I parted ways that night, we left the conversation with a lot of unanswered questions. Below is our iChat transcript of our attempt to wrap our minds around the existence of Cop Rock (with embedded videos for your viewing pleasure) and if or how this genre could succeed today:
ALEX: so how much of cop rock did you get through. did you see “he’s guilty?” because i never in my life thought i’d hear the lyrics “i was abused as a child” being sung like that
JULIA: HA! i’ve watched about 7 videos so far, including one about a woman singing to her baby before she FUCKING SELLS IT to a man for $200
JULIA: you could tell the writers put a lot of thought into it
JULIA: oh and i also watched a female cop sing a song called “bumpty bumpty”
JULIA: about how she gets horny on the job
JULIA: and she humps her partner
ALEX: oh god this chick is scary
ALEX: someone call SVU
JULIA: fo realz
ALEX: i am just amazed that this actually exists
JULIA: i think it could totally work today, if they played up the camp
JULIA: like cranked that shit up
ALEX: i don’t think cop rock’s original intention was campiness though
ALEX: i mean… could this exist as what it was then today?
JULIA: maybe if joss whedon directed it, then it could work as a sincere piece of television?
ALEX: so like… not that i’ve seen it, but in your opinion – if dollhouse were a musical, would it have been canceled earlier or lasted longer?
ALEX: i just remembered something that i wiped from my mind!
ALEX: cause my roommate just brought it up
ALEX: Viva Laughlin
ALEX: do you know what that is?
JULIA: no, what is it?
JULIA: oh shit hugh jackman
JULIA: they could just film an entire series of him brushing his teeth and i’d be happy
JULIA: i mean, what?
ALEX: i’ve seen that man in real life
ALEX: i couldn’t stop looking at his calves
ALEX: (off-topic, sorry)
JULIA: DO NOT BE SORRY
JULIA: why were his calves nice?
JULIA: explain in detail
>>RIDICULOUSLY LONG HUGH JACKMAN INTERLUDE DELETED<<
ALEX: so wait, Viva Laughlin is proof it can’t work
JULIA: I wiki’ed it and apparently it was panned NOT for the musical numbers, but for the bad dialogue and writing
JULIA: maybe it’s the sort of thing where it will work if and only if the stars are in alignment and everything is perfect
JULIA: maybe it’s not musical dramedy that’s failing TV, it’s TV that’s failing musical dramedy
JULIA: BECAUSE I HAVE FAITH
ALEX: do pitch to me how you would do it
JULIA: get a good idea, get some great writers, a great cast, a great crew
and also play up the camp, like i said
JULIA: because i think musicals always have a little bit of inherent camp to the general public, so i guess the only way you can deal with it is to use it to your advantage camp and irony are all the rage these days or whatever. do you think musical TV is absolutely doomed?
ALEX: i think the musical drama on tv is doomed
ALEX: pretend i’m a network right now and i want you to pitch to me a musical drama, so no camp allowed pitch it to me with your dream cast and concept and so forth
JULIA: oh good god
JULIA: well i think it would be about a team of do-gooders, one of which is a vampire slayer…
JULIA: or if you want something more original
JULIA: i think shows targeted to women would work best
JULIA: so high school/college dramas like One Tree Hill or Gossip Girl
JULIA: rich beautiful teens singing and dancing
JULIA: or Desperate Housewives
JULIA: i honestly think anything could work if the writing was good enough
JULIA: because i think part of the problem with the musical dramas on tv is that they
JULIA: relied too much on the musical numbers
JULIA: the story and the characters weren’t strong enough
JULIA: so nobody cared
ALEX: like, even on stage when you’re not looking at everything supercloseup and personal like you would with a TV screen – it’s still a fine line you walk
ALEX: is my theory
JULIA: what do you mean?
ALEX: like – think phantom, rent, fiddler, aida, spring awakening etc
ALEX: recent shows that were dramas and musicals
ALEX: when you sit at a distance and you’re looking at everything at once and you choose where you look at what time and there’s that whole thing with being overstimulated by a big cast and the orchestra, etc
ALEX: it’s not as uncomfortably intense as a close up of the convicted felon singing, “I was abused as a child” onscreen
ALEX: in my living room
ALEX: it’s like ::squirm::
JULIA: but that’s hilar
ALEX: yes but that was not their intention
JULIA: so you think the problem is the intimacy?
ALEX: i mean – i think that’s what it is for me
ALEX: musicals are meant to be grandiose
ALEX: it belongs onstage
ALEX: you know – musicals on the big screen don’t even quite work
ALEX: with chicago being the only one that really made it
ALEX: cause they presented the musical numbers in a way that wasn’t just breaking out into song
JULIA: but what about other film musicals that did well
ALEX: like what?
JULIA: like high school musical, as horrendous as it was, and actually progressed from TV to the big screen
ALEX: oh… true – but that’s a very specific age group we’re talking about
JULIA: i’m not speaking to quality here, but it still resonated with millions of people
JULIA: or teen girls specifically
ALEX: i’m really talking about something more universal
ALEX: like musical films in the 50s 60s
ALEX: that shit just can’t happen anymore for some reason
ALEX: after Chicago, they tried to ride its success and do the musical film thing
JULIA: and so forth, they did Phantom
JULIA: if we’re talking about broadway to film adaptations
JULIA: there’s Rent, which was goodish but had other issues
JULIA: and Hairspray
ALEX: oh, hairspray
ALEX: i didn’t see that, was it good?
JULIA: i really liked it
JULIA: but i have a track record of liking shit
JULIA: but i think it did really well at the box office
ALEX: oh, Mamma Mia
JULIA: i watched about 10 minutes of that and then turned it off
ALEX: a friend of mine who loved the broadway show and loved ABBA said that the movie made her wanna die
JULIA: sounds about right
JULIA: but it’s not like EVERY instance of musical film/tv is unsuccessful
JULIA: it’s like saying “sci fi doesn’t work” and then picking out all the bad examples of sci fi film/television
ALEX: all this being said, i CAN’T wait for Nine
ALEX: i’m not saying musical tv/film doesn’t work
i’m saying in terms of successful ones – and by that I mean ones that were actually quality work – it just… doesn’t fly the way it once did
JULIA: so maybe it’s a change in people’s tastes?
ALEX: it’s possible
JULIA: like how we used to trust the government and now we, uh, don’t
JULIA: people used to believe they could survive an atomic bomb by ducking under their school desks
ALEX: yes but like…
ALEX: today we can watch the stuff of hte 50s and 60s
ALEX: Singing in the Rain, The King and I, My Fair Lady
ALEX: it still works, somehow
ALEX: i mean, look at Hello Dolly
ALEX: Wall-E is into it and he’s from the future
JULIA: so then what’s different?
ALEX: is it a matter of WHAT we are today?
ALEX: like… the way they dressed in the 50s
ALEX: that looks like a musical to me
ALEX: they don’t even have to sing and it just… looks like a musical
JULIA: what about the blues brothers
JULIA: that was pretty awesome
JULIA: that was mildly dramatic
ALEX: even with the ones i mentioned from the 50s and 60s they weren’t dramas
not quite to the degree of seriousness that cop rock and viva laughlin were at
JULIA: musical drama actually seems contradictory to me
JULIA: because musicals are usually about singing and dancing and joy and etc
JULIA: so they don’t really jive with straight-up drama
JULIA: there has to be a little bit of life in them to work
ALEX: well let’s go back then
ALEX: even further back than the 50s
ALEX: an opera is a musical drama, is it not?
ALEX: why does opera work?
JULIA: because the story is compelling, and the music is wonderful, and the talent is wonderful
JULIA: everything jives
ALEX: so why can’t we replicate that today?
ALEX: i liked phantom of the opera
ALEX: as a book
ALEX: as a musical
ALEX: but onscreen…
ALEX: boo urns
JULIA: i haven’t seen the film
ALEX: it was sooo uncomfortable
ALEX: and you could see that they had no idea how to cover all the shots when they were singing
ALEX: but theatrics are theatrics
ALEX: live theatre is not always translatable
ALEX: patrick wilson makes me… mmph
ALEX: and i still couldn’t watch it
JULIA: can we talk about bollywood?
JULIA: cause that’s musical films
JULIA: that’s an entire industry of musical films
ALEX: yes but that’s campiness
JULIA: not a lot of it
ALEX: bollywood is pure camp!
JULIA: not to a lot of its fans
JULIA: they take it verrrry seriously
JULIA: and to the filmmakers
JULIA: bollywood is traditional, serious storytelling
JULIA: with singing and dancing
ALEX: well then that goes into a cultural thing
ALEX: i mean – american entertainment, are we just not able to take anything seriously?
ALEX: what do we take seriously on TV?
JULIA: crime, relationship dramas
JULIA: but there’s also a lot of crime shows i don’t take seriously
JULIA: so i don’t even know
ALEX: i can’t take SVU seriously for the life of me
ALEX: i can’t even take news magazine shows seriously
ALEX: or news
ALEX: “A woman known for her beauty was the subject of a gruesome murder”
ALEX: “Next – the item in your kitchen cabinet that can end in death. We’ll tell you what it is after a word from our sponsors”
JULIA: is there anything you take seriously?
ALEX: i’m not sure anymore
ALEX: this has suddenly become a question of myself
ALEX: how did this happen
JULIA: WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIIIFE
JULIA: HOW CAN WE TAKE ANYTHING SRSLY
ALEX: i’m exhausted
JULIA: have some sugar
JULIA: or speed
So… questions for anyone who made it through that doozy of a convo!
1) Do you think the musical television drama will ever succeed?
2) How d’ya like Cop Rock?
3) Does our society have a hard time taking things seriously?
4) Pitch me a musical television drama – the concept, cast, etc. that will make the genre work – no campiness or tongue-in-cheekiness allowed!
Oh, and one last one for you to take on the road: