2017 Year Retrospective, Part III:
The 10 Best Television Original Scores

The 10 Best Television Original Scores of 2017
So far we’ve focused on film, but Part III of the Year Retrospective series brings the best television original scores of 2017. I’ve never done this before, but in recent years TV series have grown bigger and better than ever, and with them, their music – so there was really no way around it!

In fact, when I began this post it was set to be mainly about movie scores, with a little intro on five notable ones from television series. But before I finished I had 10+ TV scores and an average of two paragraphs on each so… yeah, we’re dividing this one in two. Truly, it’s been an amazing year, and I can assure you the following list is not exhaustive – I simply had to stop searching at some point or I’d never get this post out! So take the ranking with a grain of salt, because most of them could easily be in the top 3.

The 10 Best Television Original Scores of 2017

HM: Mindhunter

Original Score by Jason Hill

Eerie, dark (little heads up, I will use this word a lot), minimalistic and, most of the time, barely there. Generally speaking, this is not likely one you’ll enjoy listening to – it will either be an odd choice for ambient music or a masochist’s symphony. Like the show, it is unsettling. Like a ticking clock, a thinking brain – it’s cold. And isn’t that so fitting?

Best Tracks: Mindhunter – Main Titles, Weird Thing, From a Motel Phone, A New Hairdo for Beverly Jean
Listen on Spotify

10. The Punisher

Original Score by Tyler Bates

The Punisher is dark and violent, and its overall badassness is all over the show’s blues-infused theme. But Tyler Bates (who also composed one of the year’s best film scores, you’ll see!) went further and elevated what could’ve been just another bland tv score to something with an edge. It goes for deep, nightmarish, industrial tunes that can sometimes feel disjointed and erratic, just like Frank Castle’s PTSD.

It speeds up for action sequences, always with that disturbing streak, and then in contrast slows down to mournful, almost hopeful compositions that reflect the show’s rollercoaster of emotions. I especially love how Family Dinner starts as a dream but quickly turns dark in a way that sounds like a true horror score – and if you’ve seen the show, that will make perfect sense.

Best Tracks: The Punisher Main Title, Just in Time, The Runaround, Family Dinner, The Punisher End Title
Listen on Spotify

09. Outlander

Original Score by Bear McCreary

Half cheating here because the sad truth is, we don’t have a released score yet for Season 3. However. McCreary’s work for this show is impossible to ignore, and goes far beyond mere – albeit brilliant – theme song variations. Despite my gripes with this season (which you’ll know all about next week), one thing that absolutely shone for me was its emotionally fuelled score.

Indeed many of the tracks are reminiscent of songs from previous seasons, but that’s precisely what was so clever about it: this season, more than any other, was… eventful. Jamie and Claire were apart for a good portion of the time, and when they were together, they were very far away from the world of Outlander as we know it. And so the familiarity of certain songs instantly comforted and grounded us, keeping the focus on what is at the heart of this show: Jamie and Claire’s larger than life, all consuming love. And damn, that theme song is still as catchy as ever.

Best Tracks: Hopefully I can revisit this post in the near future and give you an answer
Listen on (to be released soon!)

08. Twin Peaks: The Return

Original Score by Angelo Badalamenti

Like in Outlander, some of its tracks are adaptations from the original series score – which, once again, immediately transports us to the strange, strange world of Twin Peaks. All it really takes is that haunting theme to get us there. Working in close collaboration with creator David Lynch, Badalamenti’s take on Season 3 is every bit as surreal and iconic as ever. From the familiarity of Laura Palmer’s Theme and Audrey’s Dance (my favourite!), to the occasional jazz tune (like Deer Meadow Shuffle), the most unsettling cries of Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima, and even a beautiful, emotional piano peace (Heartbreaking).

Best Tracks: Heartbreaking, The Chair, Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima, Laura Palmer’s Theme, Audrey’s Dance
Listen on Spotify

07. Victoria

Original Score by Martin Phipps and Ruth Barret

Shows that I have yet to watch are an exception in this list, but in truth, you don’t have to see Victoria to appreciate its original score. Phipps and Barret’s work is of the kind we so often find in period dramas about royalty: classic, majestic, rich. Add a few tracks with the Mediæval Bæbes ensemble (yes, really), and you’ve got yourself a winner!

Best Tracks: Lord M, Locomotives (from the first season score, released in 2017)
Listen on Spotify

06. The Handmaid’s Tale

Original Score by Adam Taylor

Taylor’s work for the most popular tv show of 2017 is every bit as dark (told you I’d use this word a lot) and oppressive as the dystopian world is it set on. Danger lurks around every corner in this score – any glimmer of hope in a track either has a warning in the background (like in Nick and Offred), or is quickly muffled by the next one with renewed fear.

Best Tracks: River Walk, He Wants to See You
Listen on Spotify

05. Taboo

Original Score by Max Richter

Another exception, for I haven’t seen Taboo and actually am not sure I can before the Best TV Shows of 2017 list is up next week – but I sure will try because it looks awesome. In the meantime, this score is simply outstanding.

The show seems to be set in 19th century London, something with ships and murder starring Tom Hardy (can you tell I hate spoilers?). So with that in mind: Richter’s score certainly boasts a deep and strange darkness, the rush of challenges, and a harshness that evokes violence and impending doom. In piano driven tracks it slows down to beautiful and sad melodies that are quite literally described as laments and are bound to lift up emotionally charged scenes. Does any of this make sense to those of you who saw the show?

Best Tracks: The Inexorable Advance of Mr. Delaney, Lamentation For a Lost Life
Listen on Spotify

04. House of Cards

Original Score by Jeff Beal

Alright first of all, this score is gigantic – we’re talking 51 songs here. And yes, we are used to the composer’s extensive albums for this show, and I’m sure for sheer hard work Jeff Beal would’ve deserved the Emmy win; but the fact is, this might just be the show’s most refined score to date.

The album opens with Nothing to Be Afraid Of, reminiscent of the House of Cards Theme, and marches on in a terrifying manner. Previous scores have been ruthless (just listen to Season 4’s New Organ), and kinda scary (those vocals in the NRA Meeting), but in Season 5 everything is amplified: the smoothness of its warmest tracks (Tom Yeats), the hair raising horror (Dial Up The Terror, Nuclear Codes), the danger warnings (Almost There, Don’t Go Their Way), and the piercing cries (Dead to Rights).

Best Tracks: Dial Up The Terror, Almost There, Tom Yeats, Dead to Rights, Shut it Down, Nuclear Codes
Listen on Spotify

03. Alias Grace

Original Score by Jeff Danna and Mychael Danna

Symbolism aside, Alias Grace is a story of duplicity: is she a victim, or a murderess? Is she lying, or telling the truth? Throughout the whole show we question both her honesty and the one of the characters around her. Between this dangerous uncertainty there are dreams of longing, eerie nightmares and supernatural hallucinations straight out of a horror tale (Grace’s Dream), bright friendships (Mary Whitney), and inescapable sadness (Funeral at Sea, Mary’s Burial). For all that and more, the Dannas’s work here is a rich, dark and beautiful soundtrack.

Best Tracks: Grace in the Mirror, Doctor Jordan, Mary’s Burial, Grace’s Dream, Embroidery of the Tree of Paradise
Listen on Spotify

02. The Crown

Original Score by Lorne Balfe and Rupert Gregson-Williams

If I had to describe The Crown‘s score in one word it would be grandiose. Take any royal themed soundtrack and make it bigger, more epic, more daring and a thousand times more intense. This season in particular housed a lot of scandals and relationship strains, and so Britain’s gloominess is amplified tenfold by ominous tunes (like The Downfall) that forewarn the darkest of secrets that will soon be coming out.

There is so much tension and urgency (just listen to Headlines) in most of its 18 tracks, that I don’t believe anyone can sip their tea and happily listen to it. Even a seemingly contemplative song turns into the biggest challenge of your life (Your Majesty, Christmas Message) in an unrelenting crescendo. It does let up for like a second, but only to fill you with overwhelming sadness, of course (poor Princess Margaret).

Best Tracks: Bounden Duty, The Downfall, Future Kind, We Shall Go To War, Princess Margaret, A New Chapter
Listen on Spotify

01. Stranger Things

Original Score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein

If you’re an 80s kid, welcome home. If you’re not, don’t stress – I ain’t either. But what Dixon and Stein did in Stranger Things works for any generation: a score that immediately transports you to a simpler, cooler time. It may play with nostalgia, or simply with your ability to imagine an idyllic childhood, but give you the feels it will. Unless you despise 80s synths, I guess. In that case, carry on.

There’s plenty of sentiment (like in Eulogy, or She Wants Me To Find Her), adventure, intensity (Looking For a Way Out), creepiness (Chicago), pure horror (The Hub), and that Stranger Things special something that we can’t get enough of (The First Lie, Soldiers, The Return). All to keep up with, quote, the crazy shit that happens in Season Two.

THIS is the score you’ll listen to unashamed; this is score that is cooler than the 80s probably were, and definitely cooler than you and I will ever be.

Best Tracks: Walkin in Hawkins, Looking For a Way Out, Descending into the Rift, The Return, To Be Continued
Listen on Spotify

As I mentioned, it was quite an amazing year and this list is certainly not exhaustive – so if you have other TV scores you loved in 2017 make sure you share them below!
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10 Comments

  1. Sonia (A Film A Day)
    January 19, 2018 / 8:36 PM

    I agree, Stranger Things’ is the best. I did love Peaky Blinder’s too.

    • January 21, 2018 / 7:47 PM

      Oh that theme alone – love Nick Cave. See a lot of my favourite artist’s there actually, reminds me I need to see it!

  2. January 20, 2018 / 12:25 AM

    Thanks for sharing these! Music is such an important element of tv shows. I’m always looking for new music to listen to while I’m writing. I can’t wait to check them out! Bear McCreary creates amazing work for The Walking Dead. Knowing he’s apart of Outlander makes me want to check it out even more. 😀

    • January 21, 2018 / 7:49 PM

      Oh yeah, I saw he composes for TWD too! I never heard it but I’m guessing it might be a bit different from what he does in Outlander… ?

      Have you visited his website? It’s pretty amazing, he explains his whole process and thinking behind the songs.

  3. January 20, 2018 / 1:27 PM

    Oh man. I’ll come back to read this properly but man, I have seen like 2 shows in this list… my TV year was so boring! 😀

    • January 21, 2018 / 7:52 PM

      Most of the shows here are great so I’d recommend giving them a go! I haven’t seen all of them myself, namely Victoria and Taboo, though I am about to finally watch the latter.

  4. January 21, 2018 / 10:35 PM

    As far as TV show scores go, I love the Peaky Blinders one.

    • January 22, 2018 / 10:51 AM

      The one with the various artists, right? Sonia up there brought it to my attention and I already followed the list, there are so many artists I love in it! For that alone watching the show must be nice

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