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Top-four ‘Hallelujah’ TV uses

| Tuesday, November 13, 2018

I often turn to TV to get my drama fix, in a feeble attempt to avoid it in my actual life. TV shows use many features to hype up emotional responses. They use dramatic twists, foreshadowing, character foils, color and different styles of editing, but most of all, music to emotionally manipulate the viewer. One of the most common songs to show up on TV dramas soundtracks is Lenard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The haunting lyrics and sad ballad lends itself to dramatic montages of tragedy and sorrow. For a song that has been covered over 100 times, it manages to take on a unique life in almost every use. This list is not very exhaustive and I am not including any performances of the songs on shows such as The Voice, American Idol or even So You Think You Can Dance. Warning: Spoilers ahead.

  1. “The West Wing”

(Season 3 episode 23: “Posse: Comitatus”)

This scene used the song purely to add drama, and boy did it work! Aaron Sorkin creation Secret Service Agent Simon Donovan, walks up to a counter with a smile and a joke, only to find out that he walked into an armed robbery. He proceeds to apprehend a suspect, cracks a joke about bad luck and returns to buying his Milky Way, giving the audience a moment of solace before he is shot and killed by a second suspect. Cue the slow motion and Jeff Buckley’s song cover. The scene tugs on the heart strings when it switches from an overexposed C.J. Cregg in Time Square, fleeing a play about the War of the Roses, to a shot of Agent Donovan being photographed by police, dead in a pile of roses he meant to buy for her. The desperation of the song is embodied by the tragedy in a way that no other show manages.

  1. “NCIS”

(Season 13 episode 18: “Scope”)

In another scene featuring Mark Harmon, this use takes another view of the song. Though this is a performance of the song, it exists within the plotline of the story and is not separate from it, so I included it. The performance being performed by real-life wounded veterans surprisingly leaves less of a feeling of despair, and more of a feeling of hope and pride in the viewer. The storyline also features some of the struggles of veterans struggling with PTSD, which is especially poignant close to Veterans Day.

  1. “Scrubs”

(Season 1 episode 4: “My Old Lady” )

This is one of the first times I heard the song used. John Cale’s version does not overpower the gut-wrenching twist of each doctor going through the loss of a patient. JD’s personal internal monologue that ends every episode is especially heart-wrenching in this iconic episode. The song offers the perfect dramatic background to a serious and emotional sequence in the TV medical comedy.

  1. “Saturday Night Live”

(Season 42 episode 6: “Dave Chappelle”)

Though this is also a performance, after great deliberation, I will count it because though it does not happen in the context of a plot, Kate McKinnon does perform in the character of Hilary Clinton. The Cold Open simultaneously mocks and mourns the results of the 2016 election. The song served as a memorial to the death of Cohen and to the dead Clinton campaign. This use earns the No. 4 spot for its duality of both mocking the drama of the song while being uncharacteristically sincere.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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