While YTV was no stranger to music-themed programming—see Tarzan Dan’s Hit List—for the ’90s tweenager, there was no finer rockist drama than Catwalk.
Best known as the show that launched Neve Campbell’s career (take that, Party of Five), Catwalk‘s two-year run was a moody, apocalpytic drama about trying to make it as a band in the pre-Jean Chrétien era. Or pre-Kim Campbell era, if you will (no relation to Neve).
Not that it was all sunshine. Rather, it was a decidedly dark show that, in a way, mirrored the anti-pop sentiment of mid-decade grunge. Framed by interpersonal drama and the struggle for fame, the Toronto-filmed Catwalk paradoxically wasn’t set on catwalks—rather, the show’s backdrop was run-down, pre-gentrified lofts and garbage-strewn alleys. The road to fame, it seemed, was post-apocalyptic. Risky biz for YTV—which is why the show eventually ended up on MTV.
But its six stars were, for many, a fictionalized glimpse into music and, more importantly, the music industry. Here are a few deep cuts from Catwalk—with much love to Catwalk Classics, who archived these episodes on YouTube.
The theme song
Catwalk‘s dope-ass theme introduces you to the show’s central paradoxes: Early ’90s fly dancers, dystopian streetscapes, barren lofts, ’80s synths and the unholy combo of Lennon glasses and undercuts all make an appearance. Somehow, it all looks like a precursor to a POD video. How prescient.
How’s this for the dramatic beginning to a band? The pilot shows the renegade Johnny and Mary breaking off from another band (in the most defiant way: with a screaming solo), posting handbills for a hip-hop act, and eventually assembling the nucleus of the band. This clip ends on a money-centric track that’s the Catwalk equivalent of “C.R.E.A.M.”
The first gig
The band’s first show isn’t without controversy: They don’t have a proper demo tape, in a time where tapes were actually functional; they struggle to make a showcase; hit up a venue that looks like 1991’s answer to the Peach Pit; they struggle to get a record exec’s attention. (They also drop an incredible band name: The Screaming Mimis.) Eventually, they showcase their sound: A funk-tinged, synth-laden hip-hop mashup.
Solo it out
How do you solve your problems when you’re a bunch of melodramatic, music-inclined, good-looking ’90s twentysomethings? In Mary and Jesse’s space, talk it out—with a badass keyboard solo.
Catwalk does race
This episode opens with Catwalk singer Sierra attempting to address race—and the white-dominated music industry, and appropriation—as well as the time-old question for musicians: Should you, in fact, quit your day job for your art? Or get one, period? (Hint: the answer is usually yes.) It ends on a somewhat smarmy note with “A Different Shade of Soul,” which features the line “music has no colour.”
When the crew’s forced to spend extra time together after being snowed in—how Canadian—resulting in the departure of their manager, only one thing can save them. That thing? You guessed it: Friendship, duh. (Was there any better catch-all solution in ’90s television?) The best part? A Catwalk song eventually causes the thermostat to rise, presumably cutting through the damp Toronto cold.
Johnny goes acoustic
Johnny reuniting with his absentee mom isn’t quite Will Smith reconnecting with his deadbeat dad on Fresh Prince. But the family dysfunction on display in “Mother’s Day” is high-drama — the type of thing that’d put the show squarely in PG territory. Here, Johnny puts down his typical screaming electric guitar in favour of more ambient Spanish fare. Fittingly.