It used to be that a TV theme song told an entire show's premise. Lately, all you get is a wordless ditty. In this game, we've rewritten the lyrics to classic TV tunes to be about modern-day dramas.
Plus, They Might Be Giants perform a new song, "Hate The Villanelle," live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Our next round is called Just Sit Right Back. And here to play it we have. Rachel Lang and Navdeep Tucker.
EISENBERG: Now, I'm hoping Just Sit Right Back means something to you. Rachel, does that mean anything to you?
RACHEL LANG: I mean, I feel relaxed now.
EISENBERG: You feel relaxed? All right.
EISENBERG: Might be an issue. Navdeep, does it mean anything to you?
NAVDEEP TUCKER: I feel like it's how I feel when I watch television.
EISENBERG: Oh, OK. That's a good start. Do you watch a lot of television, Navdeep?
TUCKER: I do.
TUCKER: I watch quite a bit.
EISENBERG: Have - you've worked in television?
TUCKER: I work in entertainment.
EISENBERG: Yes. And what do you do in entertainment?
TUCKER: I'm a lawyer.
EISENBERG: Oh, you're a lawyer.
JONATHAN COULTON: A television lawyer?
TUCKER: A music lawyer.
COULTON: A music television lawyer?
EISENBERG: Very good. Rachel, do you watch a lot of television?
EISENBERG: And you work in television.
LANG: I did.
EISENBERG: This was the confusion.
LANG: I do and I did.
EISENBERG: You do and you did. What kind of television did you work in?
LANG: I used to work in reality TV.
EISENBERG: Oh, yeah, reality television...
EISENBERG: ...The high bar.
LANG: Yes - very proud of my years there.
EISENBERG: So do the people on reality television, are they exactly how they display?
LANG: Sometimes. But honestly, I would say that a lot of people don't realize how smart some of them are, like...
EISENBERG: Some of them are smart?
LANG: Maybe smart's the wrong word. Savvy?
EISENBERG: Savvy. OK, yeah. Right. Ambitious?
EISENBERG: Got it. Well, for this game we are going to enlist the help of Jonathan Coulton and our special musical guests, They Might Be Giants.
COULTON: That's right.
COULTON: You know, there was a golden age of TV sitcom theme songs. They used to have theme songs with verses and choruses. They would explain the entire premise of the show rather than just dropping you in and hoping that you can swim through the plot.
COULTON: We thought it would be helpful if modern TV dramas had similarly expository theme songs.
COULTON: So here's an example. (Singing) Here's the story of a Lannister lady, who was trysting with her brother on the side. Puzzle guru, Art Chung, what's the answer?
ART CHUNG: That would be the theme song to "The Brady Bunch" rewritten to be about "Game Of Thrones."
COULTON: That's right.
CHUNG: Winter is coming.
COULTON: So, you see, you have to tell us what the drama is that we are describing with the lyrics. And for a bonus point, tell us what sitcom the theme song was originally from. And if you get either part incorrect, your opponent can feel that point. Are you ready?
COULTON: OK. (Singing) Just sit right back in your Chippendale was a wealthy family. They live in a Yorkshire mansion in highbrow society. The (inaudible) is unflappable, the dowagers so strong. Aristocrats and servants, can they really get along? Can they really get along?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
LANG: "Downton Abbey" is the drama.
LANG: And the song is - oh, my God. Wait. All I can think of is...
EISENBERG: It's OK. Relax.
LANG: Don't say it. Don't say it.
EISENBERG: They're just young, everybody. They're just young.
EISENBERG: It's not their faults.
COULTON: I agree with you. It is shocking. Navdeep, do you know the answer?
TUCKER: That would be "Gilligan's Island."
COULTON: That's right.
COULTON: You are both correct.
COULTON: (Singing) Making your way in D.C. today, there's no room for disgrace. Hire yourself a crisis manager, maybe you'll save face. Has your public image gone astray? Sometimes you need to know somebody who can clear your name. She'll find someone else to blame. She's got problems of her own. Her wardrobe is never tame. She'll always be somebody who can clear your name.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
LANG: "Scandal" is the drama. Thank God. I just want to say that, Ophira, you look a lot like Olivia Pope right now, and I'm loving it.
EISENBERG: You won the game.
LANG: Thank you.
LANG: And the show is "Cheers"?
COULTON: You got it.
COULTON: I'm going to get some help from John Flansburgh on this one.
JOHN FLANSBURGH: Check 1, 2.
COULTON: He's a rock star so that's how...
FLANSBURGH: Check. Check.
COULTON: That's how you do it in the rock star business.
FLANSBURGH: What's the chord that we start this song with?
COULTON: I will play it, and then we will begin. You ready?
COULTON: (Singing) Misanthrope, you hate when your patients die. Misanthrope, and you know for a fact that all people lie. As a diagnostician you're unsurpassed. But your personal issues are surely vast - Vicodin addiction.
FLANSBURGH: (Singing) Vicodin addiction.
COULTON: (Singing) Co-workers causing fiction.
FLANSBURGH: (Singing) Co-workers causing fiction.
COULTON: (Singing) Yeah, you walk with a cane and you're not completely sane, misanthrope.
COULTON AND FLANSBURGH: (Singing) Misanthrope, misanthrope, misanthrope. Misanthrope, misanthrope, misanthrope.
LANG: The drama's "House." And I don't know at all what the other thing is.
EISENBERG: No, no. That's expected. That is expected.
TUCKER: I know the song.
COULTON: It was written by John Sebastian. And at the very end they had pictures of the elevated train in Brooklyn.
TUCKER: I know the song. I know it's "Welcomed Back."
EISENBERG: Yeah. You just need one more word.
EISENBERG: There you go.
COULTON: (Singing) Meet Dana, the one who stays detached, remained a skeptic 'til Fox was snatched. But Fox believes conspiracies and cover-ups occur with these. They might seem mismatched. But they're partners. They're FBI partners. And you will find what paranormal things they sleuth. They both are searching for the truth. They become aligned when partners find threats to mankind.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
LANG: It's "The X-Files," and I don't know what the other thing is.
COULTON: You sound so sad. Don't feel sad. You're young.
LANG: I'm disappointed in myself.
COULTON: Your whole life is in front of you.
EISENBERG: (Laughing) You have so much potential.
COULTON: "X-Files" is correct. Navdeep, do you want to steal the second point?
TUCKER: There's some sort of relative. I know that part.
EISENBERG: Yeah, OK.
COULTON: That's right. That's right.
EISENBERG: (Singing) There's some sort of relative. OK, that's good.
COULTON: (Singing) There's some sort of relative.
TUCKER: They're related in some manner.
EISENBERG: (Singing) Related in some...
COULTON: (Singing) Unusual relatives. What is it? Everyone knows what it is, right? It's "The Patty Duke Show." They were cousins - identical cousins, which I don't think is a thing.
TUCKER: It's not.
COULTON: All right. Here we go. (Singing) Baby, if you've ever wondered, wondered what ever came of me. I'm living in New York. I'm in the ad game. Now I have a new identity.
COULTON: Got kind of tired of having no real future. Ditched the war, left poverty behind. Living the ideal mid-century lifestyle. But nothing really seems to ease my mind. I'm living in New York City, and I've got a fake name.
LANG: "Mad Men."
LANG: You think - I mean, I think...
COULTON: Yeah, you're just going to pass?
COULTON: Don't even try.
COULTON: Don't even try. Navdeep, do you know what the original sitcom was?
TUCKER: They know. They know.
COULTON: They know. No, I know.
TUCKER: They know.
TUCKER: But they're not up here on stage. It's hard for you guys.
TUCKER: Is it "Partridge Family"?
EISENBERG: Dear God, Navdeep.
COULTON: Not even close. Not even close. No.
COULTON: What is it everybody?
AUDIENCE: "WKRP In Cincinnati."
COULTON: "WKRP In Cincinnati." It was a show about a radio station. Radio was a kind of...
COULTON: This is your last question. To make it extra climactic, we're going to have They Might Be Giants play this one.
FLANSBURGH: (Singing) Now the drug war failed, and we see that every day. Institutions are corrupt, and it's always been this way. The cops, the gangs, the mayor and the press. Now Stringer Bell is dead, but no one will confess 'cause it's Baltimore. Yes, it's Baltimore. Yes, it's Baltimore and Maryland. Yes, it is - Baltimore and Maryland.
TUCKER: Is it "The Wire"?
COULTON: It is "The Wire," yes. Well done. Any idea?
TUCKER: Some, but not a whole idea.
TUCKER: Not enough of an idea to offer an answer.
COULTON: You just described a sitcom, my friend.
TUCKER: Maybe that'll be my second career.
COULTON: OK. Rachel, do you have any idea what it is?
COULTON: No, OK.
COULTON: What is everybody?
AUDIENCE: "Diff'rent Strokes."
COULTON: "Diff'rent Strokes. That's right. Art, what happened in this game?
EISENBERG: What happened?
COULTON: I just felt my mortality. That's one thing that happened.
CHUNG: Well, four fourth-graders they did pretty well.
CHUNG: But Rachel was our winner.
EISENBERG: Congratulations, Rachel.
EISENBERG: Great job, Navdeep. Rachel, you'll be moving on to our Ask Me One More final round coming up at the end of the show. Let's welcome our special musical guests, They Might Be Giants.
FLANSBURGH: This next song is brand new. We've never performed it in a public place before. And it seems very fitting to be performing it on a quiz and a puzzle show because this sort of - the core part of the song is ultimately poetic - in many ways is a puzzle.
This song is - was written as a villanelle. It's like a limerick or a haiku or a sonnet - a little more like a sonnet in that it's got a very strict rhyme scheme. And there's some very, very good villanelles that have been written. This is not one of them. So this song is called "Hate The Villanelle." And it's a true story about writing this song.
FLANSBURGH: (Singing) Don't hate the villain. Hate the villanelle with these picky rules and their odd jigsaw rhymes. Curses, these verses are my prison cell.
At school, I ran from the very first fell. The teacher's ruler, those maddening chimes. Don't hate the villain. Hate the villanelle.
Choking in class, oh, the words I misspelled. Mumbles and stammers, but are those real crimes? Curses, these verses are my prison cell.
Someone could hear for someone to tell. But friends have all fled to faraway climes. Don't hate the villain. Hate the villanelle.
I solved this puzzle, but tumble through hell. These words are fractions when I needed primes. Curses, these verses are my prison cell.
My hand disappears as I wave farewell. This gentle quicksand turns into hard times. Don't hate the villain. Hate villanelle. Curses, these verses are my prison cell.
FLANSBURGH: Thank you very much.
EISENBERG: That was "Hate The Villanelle." They Might Be Giants, everybody.
EISENBERG: Coming up after the break, we'll talk to the geniuses behind Radiolab and find out if the rumor is true, that they really can read each other's minds. So stay tuned. This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER.
(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.