1. Buffy and Willow embrace Widespread Panic and The String Cheese Incident, Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Just being fictional doesn’t prevent characters from being entitled to their own tastes in art. Sometimes a character’s musical preferences can serve as lazy shorthand to establish an identity: Slap a Clash T-shirt on Jesse Bradford in Bring It On, and bang, instant punk cred. Other times, what characters listen to feels as essential to their personalities as what they actually say. Witness Samantha Morton in Morvern Callar, soundtracking her hazy way through an in-between-days state-of-mind with krautrock, or Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s “Some Velvet Morning.”
More often, musical choices serve as yet one more detail used to build a personality. But what about when those choices feel at odds with the character? Keen-eyed viewers of Buffy The Vampire Slayer noted a proliferation of flyers for Widespread Panic and The String Cheese Incident popping up in the show’s background. While it made sense for those hard-touring bands to make regular stops in Sunnydale, California—it is a college town, after all—it didn’t make that much sense for the show’s supernatural Scooby Gang to care. The Bronze didn’t seem to play host to jam bands, and neither Buffy nor her friends seemed likely to embrace the granola-and-spliffs lifestyle. So what to make of the Widespread Panic poster in Buffy and Willow’s dorm room in the fourth season? Did Buffy hang out with the hacky-sack crowd between episodes? Did the earthy Tara turn Willow on to the pleasures of noodly solos, along with witchcraft? Or is this a case of jam-inclined production designer run amok?
2. Punk Richie loves The Who, Summer Of Sam
When Spike Lee’s crime drama Summer Of Sam came out in 1999, he probably figured he was going to take some ribbing for stepping out of his comfort zone and telling a story that was mostly about white people. (He even made a meta-joke about it in the film.) But the film’s loopy depiction of punk culture in ’70s New York isn’t completely his fault; much of the blame lies with his two screenwriters, Michael Imperioli and Victor Colicchio. Anyway, someone has to take the fall for the mass of confusion that is Adrien Brody’s Richie, an Italian-American outcast from the Bronx. Even if we buy the fact that he’s a punk rocker partial to British bands when punk was just gaining popularity in England, why on Earth does he affect the liberty spikes and sartorial style of a stereotypical L.A. punk from the early ’80s? And while there’s no denying The Who’s influence on the genre, it’s pretty unlikely that someone going to such lengths to establish his punk cred would claim “Baba O’Riley” as his favorite song. Still, he did manage to find the one diner in New York that had Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” on the jukebox, months before it was even released, so maybe Richie was even hipper than he looks.
3. Blossom and Six dig C+C Music Factory, Blossom
As played by Mayim Bialik, Blossom Russo became a funky early-’90s fashion icon for teenage girls who didn’t really care if they were out of touch with popular kid tastes. So it ought to have been safe to assume that her offbeat choices extended to her listening habits, which made the 1992 episode “You Must Remember This” especially baffling. Enthralled by the music of their favorite band, Blossom and her similarly quirky friend Six (Jenna Von Oÿ) camp out 15 hours to get tickets to a concert by… Take a guess. Sonic Youth? Siouxsie And The Banshees? Pixies? How about C+C Music Factory, whose pounding dance hits “Gonna Make You Sweat” and “Things That Make You Go Hmm…” already felt tired by 1992. (Not coincidentally, they also guest-starred in the episode.) The show’s producers couldn’t have booked a less Blossom-like choice if they’d landed Boz Scaggs.
4. Hannah’s sister is a punk rocker, Hannah And Her Sisters
Along with ethnic minorities and parts of New York City outside of Manhattan, rock ’n’ roll is alien territory in Woody Allen movies. So it’s unlikely he made Dianne Wiest a punk-rock fan in Hannah And Her Sisters after catching a killer Dead Boys set at CBGB. In fact, the scene where Allen and Wiest go to a punk show indicates that the Woodman would probably take a direct flight to Mars before hopping a cab and venturing to one of his city’s non-jazz establishments. (“Don’t you just love songs about extraterrestrials?” “Not when they’re sung by extraterrestrials.”) For Allen, “punk-rock fan” is simply shorthand for “misguided, misunderstood, and strung out on coke.”
5. Meadow Soprano: college-aged ’N Sync fan, The Sopranos
As a rich-girl New Jersey suburbanite, Tony Soprano’s daughter Meadow might plausibly have been a fan of ’N Sync in high school. And it’s possible that she would not immediately sell off her copy of No Strings Attached before shipping off to college at NYU. But David Chase stretched the limits of credibility by putting an ’N Sync poster on Meadow’s freshman-year dorm-room wall in The Sopranos’ third season. Even if she still liked ’N Sync, peer pressure from status-conscious classmates would discourage her from being so open about it. At the very least, by mid-semester, a more college-appropriate music poster—probably Ani DiFranco—should have been up in its place.
6. Everything Vagrant Records puts out is awesome!, Party Down
California indie Vagrant clearly had some pull with the production company behind the Starz series Party Down, about the apathetic employees of a small catering company. In one episode, pretty boy Ryan Hansen makes out with a young woman at a party he’s working. Covering one of her walls are posters for Vagrant artists Dashboard Confessional, The Get Up Kids, A Cursive Memory, The Lemonheads, The Bled, Matt Pryor, Senses Fail, Protest The Hero, and more. That’s quite a spectrum, from metallic hardcore (The Bled) to the wussiest of emo (Dashboard), not to mention a band that hit its prime around the time the woman was born (The Lemonheads). The odds of anyone showing such fierce devotion to a single label, let alone an airheaded teenager, are pretty slim.
7. Nick Sobotka loves TVT artists indiscriminately, The Wire
David Simon’s The Wire has been praised for many things, including its remarkable veracity. At first glance, it looks like that attention to detail extends even to the posters on the wall of dockworker Nick Sobotka in season two: He’s got images of anger-spreading bands Disturbed and Filter decorating his dreary bedroom. But nerdy Guided By Voices fans noticed another poster up there, for the Ohio indie band’s Universal Truths And Cycles—a disc Nick Sobotka would likely never have heard of. (He probably isn’t reading Magnet while waiting to see whether he’s managed to get scheduled for a dockyard shift.) But maybe, just maybe, Sobotka somehow found a kindred spirit in Robert Pollard. After all, they both love to pound beer and whiskey.
8. Ferris Bueller adores Cabaret Voltaire, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Every square inch of Ferris Bueller’s bedroom walls is covered by something, and nothing appears more prominently in his bedroom chats with the camera than his poster for Cabaret Voltaire. Ferris Bueller may have been the kind of worldly, quirky guy who would rock Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen” at a parade, then follow it up with The Beatles, but one of the biggest names in early progressive electronic music? Doubtful. As the movie makes abundantly clear, Bueller is a man of the people, and his musical tastes would likely be similarly populist, if slightly edgy. Cabaret Voltaire hardly fits a guy who programmed his extremely expensive keyboard—the Emu Emulator II retailed for $8,000 in its day—to make coughing and barfing sounds. Director John Hughes, on the other hand? Probably a big fan.
9. Carrie, Hootie, Blowfish, And The City, Sex And The City
Seldom were the four women in Sex And The City—meant to be easily relatable, with their broad personalities and token coifs—given personal tastes in anything aside from men and designer labels. When matters of taste did come up, they usually served the storyline. (In season four, Carrie Bradshaw tells her hopped-up date she doesn’t like jazz because it’s all over the place, a clear metaphor for the guy himself.) An offhand Hootie & The Blowfish mention by Carrie in the season-two episode “Evolution” was an exception. It wasn’t a CD she actually bought—it was in reference to things left behind by old boyfriends—but still, the enthusiastic name-drop sounded a little off. By 1999, when the episode aired, Darius Rucker and company had waned in popularity; more than just that, though, would an ultra-trendy New York sex columnist really jam out to Hootie’s adult-alternative? It doesn’t seem likely—that kind of safe, G-rated entertainment was much better suited to the band’s cameo in the second season of Friends.
10. Jess’s metal-to-punk conversion, Gilmore Girls
Jess Mariano was the quintessential bad boy on seasons two and three of Gilmore Girls, and actor Milo Ventimiglia—better recognized these days as Peter Petrelli on Heroes—had the persona down: The streetwise humor, sarcastic shrug-offs, and singular brood all made him the irresistible counterpart to Rory Gilmore’s good-guy boyfriend, Dean. But Jess didn’t start off that cool. In the early episode “Presenting Lorelai Gilmore,” Jess begrudgingly changes out of a Metallica shirt at the request of his uncle, who recently and somewhat reluctantly took Jess in. Teen rebel Jess as a heavy-metal fan doesn’t seem too out of touch, at least not initially. But the choice did feel a bit generic, especially for a show known to be frequently hip and spot-on with its musical references. Maybe that’s why, after an apparent offscreen musical awakening, later episodes found Jess wearing a Punk Planet T-shirt and carrying concert tickets to The Distillers. No doubt punk-rock Jess would make fun of “Enter Sandman” Jess.
11. Libby would do anything to meet Gordon Gano, Sabrina The Teenage Witch
Every sitcom set in a high school needs a snobby, popular cheerleader. Sabrina The Teenage Witch had Libby (Jenna Leigh Green), who always ended up entangled with the losers she loathed the most. (Imagine Buffy’s Cordelia Chase, but with much worse dialogue.) So when Sabrina and friends decide to head into the city for an autograph-signing by the Violent Femmes, it’s startling to hear Libby declare, “I will do anything to meet Gordon Gano.” Shallow Libby, whose favorite nickname for Sabrina is “freak,” has a crush on short, increasingly doughy Gano, writer of songs for frustrated outsiders? Sure, Angela Chase danced around her bedroom to “Blister In The Sun” on My So-Called Life, but she also dyed her hair with Kool-Aid, so it worked. A real-life Libby would be at least a few years away from singing “Kiss Off” at karaoke with her cool new college friends.