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Alex & Julia Debate if Musical Cop Dramas Have a Place on Television

Alex Lam / Wednesday, November 18, 2009 Comments Off

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: (srsly)

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?

JULIA: heh

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: omg

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: why were his calves nice?

JULIA: explain in detail


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


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

ALEX: go!

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

ALEX: yikes

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: yegads

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: ha!

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?

JULIA: yes

ALEX: sssoooOoOOOo?

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: alot

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: whaaat?

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: true…

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



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:

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More: Movies / TV / We Have Fun
  • MZ

    I haven’t seen anything that has made me cringe since the “Top That” rap scene from Teen Witch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQ00laVt62c

    “Top That” and Cop Rock are both equally embarrassing to watch. It could’ve definitely been done better, but I don’t think is a good idea for a tv show. But what do I know.

  • http://www.litdrift.com JK Evanczuk

    I sound about 13 years old in that transcript. O dear.

    I just watched “Top That.” You’re right, MZ, it is embarrassing. I really think that the only way musical TV can work is if they accept the camp and play it up.

  • http://www.litdrift.com Alex Lam

    If we hadn’t previously established that we have the ability to punctuate and write without internet shorthand, I wouldn’t have posted it. It was a midnight iChat convo about musical television… regressing a decade is necessary for survival purposes.

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