*SPOILERS AHEAD – PROCEED WITH CAUTION*
From Glee to Smash to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the musical drama genre on television has never been stronger – and more crowded – than it has this past decade. However, Netflix’s new 10-episode romantic musical drama Soundtrack creates it’s own soundtrack within the genre.
Each episode is filled with several musical numbers, but there’s a twist — each number is a lip-synched performance to a hit song. In an interview with Vulture, creator Joshua Safran said that he was “very inspired by that idea that when we think of a song and when we sing along to it in our heads, we hear the artist, we don’t hear ourselves.”
At first, I was very confused by the concept. It took me a second to realize that I was hearing Sia’s version of “Elastic Hearts” in the pilot instead of hearing Callie Hernandez – who plays one of the main characters, Nellie O’Brien – singing a cover.
But as the season progressed, I grew to enjoy the musical numbers more. If I’m being honest, I typically liked them the most when the characters snapped out of their day dreams before the songs were finished, as it felt like those particular numbers better illustrated Safran’s vision of characters fantasizing in big production numbers in their heads. A great example of this is in episode 7, when Sam starts “singing” “Que Sera, Sera” but is interrupted in the middle of the number by the woman from Child and Family Services calling him into her office. Overall, though, I liked the songs Safran picked and thought they helped illustrate the story that was being told.
Safran also included quite a few mashups through the first 10 episodes, which I thought was another bold yet effective choice. My favorite one, and perhaps my favorite number of the whole show, is the mashup of “Blood // Water” by grandson and “Good Luck” by Basement Jaxx feat. Lisa Kekaula that Annette and Dante “perform” at the end of episode 5. Not only did the lyrics fit in perfectly with the story, but I just really enjoyed the way those two songs sounded mashed up together.
But the music isn’t the only standout part of the series. The overall way the story is told is unique as well. Each of the episodes focuses on two characters and their love stories, whether it be the love of your family, your sibling, your children, your romantic partner, your parent, your work or your dream. At first, I wasn’t sure whether or not I would like the setup. For example, when I got to episode 8 and saw Gigi’s name in the episode title, I kind of rolled my eyes. Did I really want to spend an entire episode learning about her story when up until that point she like such an ancillary character? As it turns out, I did. In fact, after I finished her episode, I wanted more and was hoping we’d get some kind of follow up with her in the last two episodes. Overall, especially now that I’ve finished all 10 episodes, I think this setup worked extremely well as it only made me, as a viewer, become more invested in the characters and their love stories of all shapes and sizes.
Also, related to a twist that is learned at the end of the first episode, the show constantly, and effectively, goes back and forth between the present and the past. It was obvious from the beginning that Sam and Nellie’s stories were going to intertwine. But I was legitimately shocked when I realized that Nellie was the dead wife that Sam kept referring to. As a result, we see Sam move forward with life in the present while Nellie’s story – which includes watching her fall in love with Sam – takes place in the past.
I can’t write this review without mentioning the incredible ensemble that Safran and his team assembled for this show. Paul James leads the cast, which also includes Callie Hernandez, Jenna Dewan, Christina Milian,Madeleine Stowe, Jahmil French, Campbell Scott, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Megan Ferguson, Robbie Fairchild and Isaiah Givens. I’ve been a fan of James ever since he was on ABC Family’s Greek, but I was impressed with how well he handled the leading man role. He brought a lot of emotion and heart to the role of Sam and easily made him one of my favorite characters.
However, I thought the breakout star of the series was undoubtedly Jahmil French, who played Dante. Dante is a guy who just got out of prison after 4 years and thought things would be just as easy for him as it was before he was locked up. But he quickly learns that’s not the case as reality slaps him around. In the end, Dante learned the biggest and most important lesson about love: if you love something enough, sometimes you have to sacrifice your own happiness. French’s portrayal of Dante was raw, honest and real; the depth he brought to the character truly pulled at my heartstrings and made me feel for him throughout every step of his journey. If you are still on the fence about watching Soundtrack, you should definitely watch it for his performance alone.
Overall, Soundtrack stands out amongst other shows in the same genre. The musical numbers are memorable, even if it takes a few episodes to get used to the lip-synching. The storytelling is rich and heartfelt and the cast is beyond talented. It is definitely worth the watch this holiday season.
What did you think of Soundtrack? Let me know in the comments below!
Soundtrack is now available to stream on Netflix.