The Prisoner's final episode, "Fall Out" has possibly the Ur-Example in the TV medium. The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" is prominently played first as Number Six is being brought in to be exonerated as The Village's new paragon, and a second time — far less appropriately — as Number Six and friends bloodily shoot their way out of the assembly chamber. In a similar vein, you may never be able to hear "Dem Bones" quite the same way again.
The creepy, jaunty, jazzy music that plays in the background of the scene of Nip/Tuck when Colleen Rose kills the agent by filling him with teddy bear stuffing...
The season two finale featured a character killing himself in front of his mother, who later lays beside his body, holding him, and a character getting attacked in their bed by The Carver, a serial rapist who disfigures his victims, the season ending with the slash of The Carver's knife, all set to the Art Garfunkel ballad "All I Know."
The last episode of the third season of Being Human uses this to a particularly unnerving effect. The bloody corpse of a recently dead vampire victim rises up out of the gurney, and begins to sing about the inevitability of Mitchell's death and how Annie needs to return to purgatory while his ghost watches in horror.... oh, and he sings it to the tune of Frere Jacques. Cause that totally wasn't creepy enough already.
In the second season, Tchaicovsky's "Swan Lake Waltz" is used as Saul tries dragging a panicking Annie through the door to the afterlife.
Hal singing and dancing to Puttin' on the Ritz as he wakes up his newly created vampires, drenched in blood, in a roomful of people he just massacred.
Sometimes caused by the theme music in the 'pure historicals' of the early 60s - terrifying, screeching, then ultra-modern electronic music fits when the Doctor is going to fight the Daleks or the Zarbi, but not so much when he's pretending to be a gendarme in revolutionary France or getting mixed up in the politics of the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre.
Sickly electronic music (written by Dudley Simpson and produced by Delia Derbyshire) is a major feature of the Crapsaccharine World holiday-camp culture in "The Macra Terror".
"The Ice Warriors" is a story about environmental scientists battling against cryogenically-frozen aliens and opens up with an atonal One-Woman Wail.
"The Silurians" uses a stacatto Leitmotif for the Silurians based around the crumhorn, a medieval instrument and the precursor to the modern oboe. The composer's rationale was that it was a 'less evolved' instrument, much like the Silurians were from a less-evolved Earth. Unfortunately (and as noted by the producers and directors in the DVD special features) the bright, honky sound is comical (almost kazoo-like) to modern ears.
"Death to the Daleks" accompanies the most feared beings in the universe with comical saxophone trio music.
Invoked example in the Classic series: Even when we know all is far from being well at the Psychic Circus (aka The Greatest Show in the Galaxy), the exterior to the tent still has cheerful music playing.
It started in the second episode. Rose in trouble, the Doctor in trouble, the villain getting their way, and the soundtrack was Britney Spears' "Toxic".
The Christmas Invasion features a spinning Christmas tree of death rampaging through the Tylers' home trying to kill them all... while playing Jingle Bells.
And "The Impossible Planet" has a hauntingly beautiful violin piece played over a scene of demonic possession and murder.
'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' is a song a character begins to play in "Rise of the Cybermen"- while in the background, we hear the tortured screams of people being transformed.
"Love Don't Roam" is a happy, upbeat, peppy orchestral pop song about being separated from your loved one forever.
In "Family of Blood", the boys killing the scarecrows is set to "To Be A Pilgrim". This is particularly poignant because the episode is set in 1913, a year before World War I.
In "The Sound of Drums", an army of six billion Toclafane fly down to Earth under orders to murder one-tenth of the world's population, and "Voodoo Child" pounds in the background — here come the drums, here come the drums... The 2nd part of the finale confirmed that the Master had brought along his own soundtrack to the apocalypse, when he regaled his fortress of slaves and the decimated Earth with "Track 3", a Scissor Sisters song called "I Can't Decide", which is indeed track 3 off their album Tah-Dah. The actual lyrics fit the Master quite well, but the fact that it's a rather catchy tune that the Master dances to creates the dissonance.
The climax of "The Pandorica Opens", where The Doctor is being forced into the Pandorica - a holding cell - by every alien he's ever fought, Amy is shot by an Auton who was in the form of Rory as a Roman soldier, and River Song is trapped in an exploding TARDIS, is set to music that sounds like something from a freaking Don Bluth movie.
The Daleks: The Early Years VHS used the film inserts from The Daleks' Master Plan episode 1, but apparently did not have the audio yet, so they used the British Go-Gos' novelty song "I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas with a Dalek". Over the death of a Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire security agent by Dalek neutralizer.
Boardwalk Empire seems to employ this mostly during the assassination montages, most notably in the montage that ends the first episode, with a lovely Enrico Caruso aria playing as men are blown to bits.
Soundtrack Dissonance also appears at the end of almost every episode, as the credits run over a (usually upbeat) piece of popular 1920s music, while most episodes tend to end on a downer or bittersweet note.
Harper's Island. In Episode 7, upbeat classical music plays in the background when Malcolm is burning the money... and continues to play when he is pulled offscreen and chopped to bits.
In the episode "Home", where the family of mutants beat the sheriff and his wife to death to the strains of Johnny Mathis' "Wonderful, Wonderful". Even worse, at the end of the episode, the song plays again as the surviving mutant son attempts to impregnate his mother inside a rocking car.
In "Chinga", a possessed child's doll puts "Hokey Pokey" on an old lady's record player, then smashes another record and slashes the lady's throat while the music cheerfully plays. Used similarly in other murder scenes.
In the episode "Kill Switch", a building is blown up and a woman has her consciousness sucked out to "Twilight Time", a sweet romantic song by the Platters.
In The Wire, whenever Omar Little makes his appearance, he's always whistling "The Farmer in the Dell."
In Veronica Mars, Aaron Echolls beats the crap out of his daughter Trina's abusive boyfriend to the dulcet strains of "That's Amore." It's a combination of horrifying and hilarious that's wonderfully uncomfortable. Earlier in the series (in fact, in the episode where he was introduced), Aaron Echolls beats the crap out of his son, Logan, while "Ventura Highway" by America is playing. Both times, most of the damage is done by a belt.
And the requisite Buffy the Vampire Slayer example: In "Listening to Fear" Buffy is washing dishes, crying her eyes out in the dark while the radio plays cheery Latin dance music, she having turned on the radio to drown out the sound of her mother raving upstairs.
Not to mention the end of "Conversations with Dead People." A devastated Willow and Dawn, the death of Jonathan, and Spike beginning to kill again, all set to whimsical, beautiful "Blue" by Angie Hart.
Not to mention the hard rock credit song, clashing with the tone of more than several episodes (e.g. "Body", which otherwise used no music at all).
And the haunting vocal music that plays over the slo-mo carnage and Mirror Buffy getting her neck snapped by the Master at the end of "The Wish."
And the music playing while the building collapses around Spike and Buffy having passionate sex.
A Played for Laughs version is the dramatic music playing during Xander and Harmony's slo-mo slap-fight in "The Initiative".
Averted in one episode of The Nanny, where Fran is depressed at not being pregnant. Instead of cueing the overtly upbeat theme tune, we just fade to a still from the opening.
Firefly does this in "Safe". As Mal and Jayne get into a gunfight with the law, River is a fair distance away dancing at a local fair. For the first few cuts, the music in the fair sequence cuts off when we go back to the gunfight, but then it just keeps playing — so we have cheery folk music over people shooting at each other.
The finale from the second season of The O.C. involves a scene of a gunshot and its effect, in slow motion, set to the rather calm tune of Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek."
A Death Note clip (3:58) in AMV Hell 4 used this song and the scene where Matsuda shoots Light several times, with the song clip starting from the beginning each time.
And in AMV Hell 4 the song pops up again, during a clip of Cowboy Bebop's final episode, in which Spike points at the camera and says, "Bang." followed immediately by a slow-motion shot of someone who was watching said clip falling out of his chair, playing dead.
That's a Running Gag. An earlier Hell features the same song to another scene from Cowboy Bebop, if I'm not mistaken, at two different times.
The Babylon 5 episode "And The Rock Cried Out No Hiding Place" is one of the better known examples of this, in which an upbeat gospel hymn of the same title is played over a scene of Refa, a particularly vicious Centauri war criminal, being hunted down and beaten to death by Narns. (Word of God cites Cabaret, listed in the Musical section for this trope, as an inspiration.)
For bonus points, said song also has Lyrical Dissonance, being an upbeat gospel hymn about sinners facing judgement at the rapture. A perfect, but ironic song for a war criminal's demise.
For more bonus points, the song's title is the same as the episode, and said war criminal is being hunted down in an underground cave, with the words "the Rock Cried Out No Hiding Place Down Here" being sung as it seemed Refa was about to escape when a group of Narn appeared from apparently nowhere (and the direction Refa had originally came from) to push him back to the lynching mob. No hiding place indeed.
And for even more bonus points, said upbeat hymn immediately followed a sermon about the evils of intolerance. Yet non-Christians will still burn in Hell...
"And we will all come together in a better place... a better place... than this"
Kamen Rider OOO managed to pull this one off in the opening scene with an operatic version of "Happy Birthday." It's just not the first song to come to mind when you see kaijin brutally massacring a motorcycle brigade.
Whoever does the soundtrack for NUMB3RS loves this trope too much. The most egregious example: at the beginning of one episode, the song "Drift Away" plays in the background as a woman is driving home... and continues playing as she pulls into the garage and is killed by an unseen gunman.
The end of one episode which has the team doing the required chase sequence, while sad music plays. Then again, there WAS also someone about to be executed for a crime he didn't really commit, so it was fairly fitting.
Invoked in the season 4 episode "Thirteen" which has the killer using Bible Numerology to choose his victims, then recording and killing them in the ways that Jesus' apostles where killed (even their names are the same) all while playing soothing music in the background.
The Amazing Race, season 21, leg 9 sees Abbie and Ryan eliminated after one of the most demoralizing humiliation congas in the series, then played off to a happy, jaunty tune from the street organs from the earlier Detour.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles double-subverts the trope (playing the music almost dead-straight), using Johnny Cash's The Man Comes Around, a song about the Biblical Revelation/Apocalypse for a scene where Cromartie slaughters an entire SWAT team off-camera and tosses their corpses, one by one, into an apartment swimming pool. It's an energetic tune with appropriate lyrics, but most of the slaughter takes place off-camera, in slow motion; a very "artsy" scene.
And in another episode, Derek's ashes are buried in an anonymous grave all to the tune of a Scottish comedy song sung by a little girl and a killer robot. Specifically, "Donald, whaur's yer troosers?" Which isrevealed later to actually be a good robot, raised to possibly be an Anti-Skynet.
The British comedy anthology series The Comic Strip Presents had an episode called "Mr Jolly Lives Next Door". The eponymous and misnamed Mr Jolly was a hit man who would invite his victims to his flat and then play upbeat Tom Jones records very loudly — to drown out the sound of their screams.
On one episode of Lost, Michael tearfully pinned a suicide note to his chest and attempted to kill himself by driving into a shipping crate while "It's Getting Better" by Cass Elliot played over his car radio.
Which turns into Fridge Horror when one realizes that its cheery chorus reflects the mood of some suicide victims right before they kill themselves.
At the end of "Sundown," the smoke monster massacres everyone at the Temple. In the aftermath, Kate, Claire, and Sayid stroll through the carnage and destruction while Claire's earlier singing of "Catch a Falling Star" plays creepily in the background. This was the only time in the show's run that a song was played purely for the audience's benefit, i.e. not from an in-universe source such as Hurley's discman or Jack's car stereo.
In "Man of Science, Man of Faith" and "Adrift", Desmond, who holds several main characters at gunpoint and starts out seeming a little Ax-Crazy, constantly plays a record with the very upbeat song "Make Your Own Kind of Music" throughout his scenes.
The Mork and Mindy episode "Mork Meets Robin Williams" ends with Mork explaining the downside of fame to Orson, and ends by listing off people who became victims of their own fame: Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Bruce, Freddie Prinze, and the recently assassinated John Lennon. You can hear Mork's voice shaking as he says this. The show fades out without a wisecrack or a "Nanu nanu", just the sound of a cold wind blowing in the background. And then, cue the happy, upbeat theme music!
In the lonelygirl15 episode "Home Invasion", Rachmaninov's "Praise the Lord from the Heavens" plays in the background as some Order mooks attack Jonas and his family.
A less-overt version, where the music's general upbeatness fits the scene but is way over the top in tone, occurs in Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars. The birth of Aeryn and Crichton's child is met with music like that child was the 3rd coming of Christ; the song, called We Have A Son on the soundtrack, is rife with chimes, choir, crashing cymbals, trumpets, and so on. A good piece of music, it is perhaps over-the-top compared with the music most commonly suited to birthing scenes. Semi-justified in that this was a pregnancy that had to overcome three years of tension, two wildly different cultures, a case of potential mistaken babydaddy, 4 deaths split between the 2 people involved, torture, a nuclear explosion, accidental implantation in another species, a galaxy-spanning war, and the kid was had in the midst of a battle after birthing problems. And his parents had gotten married quite literally a moment before. He deserves an overture after all that, let alone surviving what happened after he was born.
Somewhat unusual example from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: in "The Siege of AR-558", the crew is on a planet helping a squad of marooned Starfleet officers defend an outpost that they captured from the Dominion. After a few battles take place, their only hope for survival is to take a fairly brutal Dominion weapon that has killed many members of Starfleet and use it on the Dominion soldiers. Nog, while in recovery from having his leg amputated due to injuries, becomes obsessed with a recording of the relaxing lounge jazz song "I'll Be Seeing You". This is already a fair amount of Soundtrack Dissonance, considering the fact that the show takes place in the 24th century, but it becomes even more dissonant when the song plays while the Starfleet officers hear explosions and screams of anguish as the Dominion soldiers are killed by the weapon, and see bright flashes in the sky. The dissonance is also commented on by some of the characters.
So "Fire Of Unknown Origin" (by Blue Oyster Cult) sounds like a cute song, right? Perfect for a light-hearted/pranky episode of Supernatural. But just listen to it all the way through, especially the line "Fire of unknown origin/Took my baby awaaaay" and you start to wonder how the hell Sam and Dean can listen to it, let alone Dean turning up the volume and singing along with it to wake Sam up.
There's also soldiers shooting out Croatoan zombies to "Do You Love Me?"
Bad Moon Rising also provided a nice case of Soundtrack Dissonance. While the lyrics did fit the mood (the Winchesters getting in a demon-induced car accident, with Dean already on the brink of death in the backseat), the melody is quite cheery and and certainly not dark.
Unintentional example: The BBC has been using the perky, quirky song "Young Folks" by Peter, Bjorn and John for its trailers for the 5th season of Who Do You Think You Are?, a series in which celebrities investigate their family history. With lyrics like "talking about me and you" it works well with the basically optimistic theme that everyone has an interesting history worth exploring. But it does not sound right at all over footage of a man wiping away tears as he walks through the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Even if that man is Jerry Springer.
To round out the Whedon trifecta, a pivotal episode of Angel features Angel boarding what he's pretty sure is a literal elevator to Hell in the company of the walking corpse of his nemesis who is taunting him about how futile his struggle is...with typical schmaltzy elevator music Muzak chirping away in the background.
Also, The Beach Boys' cheerful song "Wouldn't It Be Nice" plays as everyone in LA is going around happily... because they have all been brainwashed by Jasmine.
The opening to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a cheery public domain number called "Temptation Sensation" which is accompanied by a series of shots of the titular city from a car. Of course the show itself features an almost exclusively jerkass cast all of which are selfish, morally twisted and at times downright antagonistic people. Each episode following their twisted exploits all of which end in abstract failure and often ruining the lives of anyone caught in the middle.
And of course, the soundtrack is almost entirely classical, baroque or easy listening music.
Which makes the entire show even funnier. Friend gets shot in the head mixed with serious acting? Not funny. Friend gets shot in the head mixed with serious acting while baroque music plays in the background? Strangely hilarious.
Another "Sunny" example: In season 7's "Frank's Pretty Woman", the gang drags Frank's prostitute girlfriend, who just died of a heart attack, out of Frank and Charlie's apartment because it would be bad for the gang.. No points for guessing the songnote It's Pretty Woman.
On one episode of Malcolm in the Middle, the boys in the family get into a knock-down, drag-out fight with a group of clowns after one of the clowns insults Lois. Lois, who has been angry with her family for forgetting her birthday, watches the sequence with a loving smile as "You Decorated My Life" by Kenny Rogers plays.
Dead Set features a scene where Davina McCall is chased by a zombie, attacked, has her throat bitten out, and is then left to die alone gasping for air... all to the light-pop stylings of Mika with "Grace Kelly".
One of the darkest episodes of Las Vegas ended on a cliffhanger. Several, actually. By the end of The Teaser of the next episode, Sam Marquez had been kidnapped, nearly raped, and killed her attacker by opening the door of his jet. In flight. Mary may have killed her father who abused her as a child, and Danny, Ed, and Mary herself are all suspects, with Danny being caught on cell-phone cam at the scene arranging Mary's escape and taking the gun from her. Oh, and a shell-shocked Marine commits suicide with an IED - which he mentions is "easier to make than you think" - in order to keep from being redeployed to Iraq, possibly killing Danny's pregnant Love Interest in the process. And the casino gets robbed, with several members of the security team killed. The millions of bucks in back-taxes the casino owes is actually reduced to a subplot by all the GRIMDARK. The episode right after the cliffhanger used the standard theme song; Elvis' "A Little Less Conversation".
Someone needs to explain why the epic, dramatic music that plays over sea battles in Pirates of the Caribbean movies was borrowed and used as incidental music for VTs on The X Factor. Because it really, really doesn't work.
The season 4 M*A*S*H episode "Deluge" had newsreel footage of a swing dancing competition back in the States, accompanied by an instrumental version of "The Tennessee Waltz". The video would switch back and forth between the dance footage and a scene of Hawkeye doing triage with Radar in the compound, while the audio stayed with the dance music.
The "Fun Fun Fun in the Sun Sun Sun" ending theme of Red Dwarf occasionally fell into this, depending on the episode preceding it.
Monk sometimes ran into this with "It's A Jungle Out There" from season 2 onward. The season finale for season 7 began with Monk coldly telling a construction crew with no background music that they can't tear down the parking garage down- his wife died there. Cue bouncy theme on trumpet.
In "Mr. Monk and the Very, Very Old Man," the murder is committed to an upbeat piano piece playing on the room's gramophone.
Done intentionally in a Christmas episode where a mysterious gloved figure's preparations in doctoring a bottle of wine with poison is accompanied by "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree".
Hyde from Jekyll ends up singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" after slaughtering a lion and waiting for the shocked K&U soldiers to follow him into the den. While the music doesn't show up, he also enjoys a Disney Favourites CD. He also signals his intention to play lions by whistling "Boys And Girls Come Out To Play."
Benjamin: Give it up for a ballsy song choice.
For the NBC special Cribs Inside the Obama White House they felt the need to put in as many hip song instrumentals as possible, which sometimes resulted in this: for instance, using "Wonderful" by Everclear (about a kid dealing with his parents' divorce) and "Bitter Sweet Symphony" ("No change/ I can't change/ I can't change anymore...") — although using "Shut Up And Let Me Go" as the president wanted to get out of his limo ASAP and order some burgers was hilarious.
Sports broadcasts do this a lot. For example, during the 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, CBS would play the very recognizable intro synth solo from The Who's "Eminence Front" over statistical graphics. The song is about how cocaine ruins lives. ("The snow packs as the skier tracks / and people forget / forget they're hiding")
In Chouriki Sentai Ohranger the Insert Song of the female members that talks about what kind hearts and strong bonds Momo and Juri have plays over Juri engaged in a brutal Catfight with a Brainwashed and Crazy Momo. Oddly this is only time the song is played in the entire show.
This actually happens quite a bit in Super Sentai, thanks to the prevalence of happy, upbeat ending themes (often Dancing Theme Tunes). So when a character dies, or near the end of the series where you get the inevitable Darkest Hour moment, you can expect that to be disrupted by images of the cast smiling, dancing, and generally acting goofy.
An early episode of House had the titular doctor and his hospital's new benefactor have a very serious discussion about House following the rules. When House decided to end the conversation, he pressed the play button on his portable music device. Hava Nagila begins playing. He presses the stop button, and says, "I was hoping for something a little more dramatic."
And who can forget "Broken", after House enters the Mayfield Asylum and starts Detox. Light piano, guitar, and a happy-go-lucky soundtrack to go along with puking, screaming and pounding the glass until he bleeds. Yeah, nightmares for weeks...
The sentai spoof Kagaku Sentai Dynaman used this with the big boss fight: All through the combination and fighting sequence against the Giant Monster, the soundtrack is Bruce Springsteen's utterly un-subtle anti-war anthem "War." The end result is side-splittingly hilarious.
Some ITN News bulletins on ITV still used ITN's original theme music, Non-stop, until the early '80s. Early TV news took inspiration from cinema newsreels, which were often rather light affairs, but what seemed like a good theme tune in 1955 dated quite badly and seemed rather un-newsy by the eighties.
The happy, upbeat ending to the "Katie And Emily" episode of Skins, where Thomas and Pandora get back together and Naomi and Emily finally publicly admit their love for one another, is set to Glasvegas' epic "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry", an astoundingly depressing song about how one man's fear that his girlfriend is cheating on him comprehensively destroyed their relationship.
Of course, given S4, it may turn out to just be brutally spectacular foreshadowing... two episodes in, and both of those couples are already on the ropes due to infidelity.
The music guys are well aware of this, by the way. Their summary for the tracklist for the utterly depressing "Emily" (4x02) is "At least some of the music was uplifting?"
Which bits? The Temper Trap's "Sweet Disposition" was about as positive as it got; everything else ranged from the intentionally creepy (Max Richter's "Organum") to the devastatingly miserable (Dinosaur Jr's "Said The People"). Of course, it should be noted that the music guys (Alex Hancock and, latterly, Kyle Lynd) are geniuses capable of turning the whole show into Crowning Music of Awesome...
New Tricks has a high quotient of these; regardless of how bloody and unpleasant the crimes investigated may be — or how low our heroes may be at the moment the credits roll — You will always be assured that "It's alright, it's okay" by a cheerful Dennis Waterman. For added dissonance, you can quote Little Britain's version of Waterman, optimistically remarking that he could "write the theme choon, sing the theme choon..." Later series would sometimes use a more melancholy piece of music in these situations to avert this.
In Black Sheep Squadron, the opening theme uses a quote from "The Whiffenpoof Song" sung by an off-key male chorus in the Key of Doom.
In FlashForward (2009), there's a scene where "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan plays over an intense slow-motion gunfight.
Likewise, there's a scene that shows the blackout occurring around Echo Park Lake that occurs to the quiet/upbeat tune of Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet" - even as a Metro bus drives ''over unconscious citizens" and plunges right into the depths of the lake.
Scrubs seems to enjoy a fair amount of use of this trope. Let us count the ways.
"My Own American Girl" has U2's "Beautiful Day" as J.D. and Turk walk in for another long day at Sacred Heart, where J.D. also interprets one of Dr. Cox's rants over the song.
"My Choosiest Choice of All" has "Light & Day/Reach for the Sun" by The Polyphonic Spree playing over a montage that includes the Janitor tackling Kelso.
"My Lunch" has Three Patients die over the song "How to Save a Life" by The Fray, those deaths fueling a Heroic B.S.O.D. for Dr. Cox.
"My Transition" has a rendition of Chili's Babyback Ribs jingle played as an instrument of torture.
"My Friend With Money" plays it for laughs with "Isn't She Lovely" by Stevie Wonder to a scene of a very pregnant, very irritable, Jordan Sullivan walking through the hall, destroying everyone and thing in her path.
"My Words of Wisdom" averts this. J.D., knowing that Dr. Cox's daughter has been named Jennifer Dylan (J.D., natch), bursts out with "It's a Beautiful Morning" by The Rascals, until Carla reminds him that they're at Laverne's funeral.
"My ABCs" plays it straight and subverts it at the same time, with a somber rendition of the Sesame Street Theme by Joshua Radin played as a patient dies and J.D., Cox, and Eliot are contemplating the troubles with their interns.
They also managed to avert this with "I'll Follow You into the Dark." Rather than trying to use it as the love song it is commonly mistaken for, the song was played to great effect at the end of an episode about accepting death
"Spanish 101": Aimee Mann's "Wise Up" plays over Jeff and Pierce's bizarre Spanish class presentation, complete with Mexican dancing, fairies waving flags, a blackface minstrel show (which angers the only two black people in the class), robots shooting each other, using one of the women in the class in a piece about a pair of boat-rowing kidnappers, and a Silly String fight.
"Epidemiology 206": The group tries to survive the Zombie Apocalypse with ABBA's Greatest Hits blasting over the school's PA system.
The Sopranos loves doing this. There doesn't seem to be an instance of non-diegetic music on the show that doesn't involve this trope. One example: in the first episode, Tony and Christopher chase down a guy and beat him up while a perky a capella love song plays on the soundtrack.
The third season finale ends with the President at a play while he's waiting for word on the ordered assassination of a foreign official. The actors sing an uplifting song about patriotism, glory, and victory while American operatives gun down several unarmed people on an isolated airstrip.
A homeless war veteran who froze to death on a park bench is formally given a military funeral. The music that plays during this is the light-hearted Christmas carol "Little Drummer Boy." Somehow, it still works.
"Noël" ends with Josh walking to the hospital with Donna after a tense therapy session, wherein he's forced to come to grips with the fact that he has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder...all while a nearby choir sings "The Carol of the Bells". Earlier in the episode, we also see scenes of Josh having a panic attack inter-cut with his near-fatal shooting at Roslin...while Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach. Interestingly, this trope is actually a plot point in that episode, as we gradually find out that music triggers Josh's PTSD because it reminds him of the police sirens at Rosslyn.
In the UK, Channel Five's evening news programme on 9/11 ended with slow-motion footage of the Twin Towers attacks accompanied by Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, more familiar as the theme to Platoon. You could kind of see what they were trying to do but still... May have also been a case of Too Soon.
Here's a way more dissonant appearance for "Hallelujah": Ok, so songwriter Leonard Cohen is Canadian. Ok, so he's one of the greatest songwriters of the last century (though usually by way of being Covered Up). So the Vancouver 2010 Olympic opening ceremony is looking for a song by a Canadian to perform after the declaration that opens the games (which the American TV announcers prefaced as a "song of peace"). And they pick Hallelujah, a mournful song about broken love. Fine performance by K. D. Lang, totally not matched to the event (unless you count the tragic death by accident of the Georgian luge racer on the track earlier that day, but that wasn't planned).
Castle often opens an episode with shots of the scene of the crime set to some sort of music, and it splits about 50/50 between this trope and extremely appropriate pieces. In either case it's often accompanied by a Diegetic Switch as the background music is shown to be a headset, radio, or other object at the crime scene.
The theme of the show also counts. Played over the end credits the perky whistling usually fits the mood since the episodes tend to end on a happy note. Sometimes that's not the case and it feels really inappropriate.
The Secret Life of the American Teenager theme song is a very upbeat cheesy pop song called "Let's Do It(Let's Fall In Love)" which is always played after the opening scene. The song can be quite jarring if the opening scene is an attempt at a dramatic moment.(Which it often is.)
Chuck had one of its Buy More characters get murdered for no reason by one of the bad guys from the current Spy arc. It's bad enough that it's really the first time anyone from the Buy More crew had come to any kind of actual harm and all previous instances were Played for Laughs. They played Hold On by Wilson Phillips when it happened. Hold on, for one more day, things will go your way. As said character get shot in the eye by a silenced pistol from point blank range, followed by a close up of his broken glasses, a bullet hole in the middle, splattered with blood. Also, in the Christmas Episode, 'Silent Night' was played over a tense confrontation in which Sarah killed a Fulcrum agent in cold blood.
Jeffster! performances can double both as this and Crowning Musicof Awesome. Seriously, you have a gunfight scored to "Mr. Roboto," Ellie giving birth to "Push It," and the final confrontation with Quinn in the series finale backed up by "Take On Me."
Played for laughs in How I Met Your Mother. Robin's ex-boyfriend (played by James Van Der Beek) convinced her to play his seriously hard rock song, "Murder Train," during the "Adopt A Puppy" segment.
Robin: Hey, lots of puppies got adopted! ...Of course, a lot of the people calling in thought we were going to kill them.
The 1970s Game ShowTreasure Hunt was known more for its novelty skits from host Geoff Edwards than anything else (after all, it was a revival of the 1950s Jan Murray-hosted show, revived in the 70s by The Newlywed Game creator Chuck Barris). If you were lucky enough to pick the Mystery Box that had the top prize, the show ended not with exuberant victory music, but rather one of the mellowest pieces of music ever heard on a game show.
A probably unintentional example: there was a Gallagher TV special shown on Comedy Central in the early nineties that showed a montage of the comedian's messiest moments set to Fishbone's "Party at Ground Zero", an upbeat ska song about nuclear war.
An episode of Glee subverted it with The Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand". Normally, this song is very cheery, but in the episode it was slowed down quite a bit. Enough to qualify as a Tear Jerker!
There's also a Tear Jerker moment at the end of mattress when the glee club prepares for their picture and have it taken, only for it to be promptly degraded to a cover of Charlie Chaplin's 'Smile.'
At the end of the episode "On My Way", the cheery song "Going to the Chapel" is playing just before Quinn gets into a violent car crash.
The Monty Python's Flying Circus teaser "Blood, Devastation, Death, War And Horror" opens with footage of destruction and carnage, segued into the studio by bright, peppy music.
An episode of General Hospital concluded with Laura singing Brahms' Lullaby to her baby girl. As the sound of her singing continued, viewers were treated to a montage of a local mafia thug's revenge on his rival—gunfire erupting in front of a restaurant, in an apartment, and in a house, while various people scrambled for cover.
The Man From UNCLE was generally good with its music - except for the third season two-parter "The Concrete Overcoat Affair," which executive producer Norman Felton hired Nelson Riddle to score expecting him to write music in the vein of his work for The Untouchables (as the story involved gangsters). Unfortunately Riddle wrote the music in the vein of his work for Batman... suffice to say Felton not only never hired Riddle to work on the series again, he never hired Riddle again period. Ironically, Riddle's music suited the campy turn of the third season perfectly when it was tracked into episodes like "The Hula Doll Affair."
In the Breaking Bad episode "Half Measures," The Association's bouncy sunshine pop song "Windy" plays over a montage of Wendy the hooker's sad daily routine.
Later in the Season 5 episode of Gliding Over All, during the scene where the men connected to Gus' drug empire are brutally murdered in prison, the song Pick Yourself Up, by Nat King Cole is played.
Season 2 of The Good Wife had a love scene between Alicia and Peter Florrick, done to NPR's All Things Considered playing on Alicia's radio. That weekend's episode of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! noted that this was a first for NPR.
The ending of the season finisher for Season 4, "To Hell.../...And Back" plays a very soft, childlike theme, almost a lullaby, over the end of the episode; in fact, except for a voiceover once Aaron Hotchner starts his summation, it's literally the only sound. It includes the death of both UnSubs, one by a vengeful family member and the other who probably didn't pose a threat, and then starts Hotch's very downbeat summation of the episode where he reflects on the huge damage done to everyone, from the ninety-three people who died, to the victims who survived and their families, townspeople who thought monsters weren't real until they found out they lived with one, to the psychological damage the job does to his team. The episode ends with Hotch getting shot by a recurring villain.
On Heroes, Sylar is sauntering down the street with a folder of Company files after acquiring Claire's ability when he's stopped by two Company agents. They shoot him and after he pulls the bullet out, he quickly disposes of the agents. He sends one flying to the ground and the other right in the windshield of the car, destroying its dashboard camera. The entire scene is set to a perky Fatboy Slim / BPA cover.
Averted several times in Eureka. When ending on a cliffhanger or Tear Jerker, the end credits music actually reflects the ending instead of playing the usual generally upbeat theme. This is most notable in one season 3 episode which saw the death of Nathan Stark, on what was supposed to be his wedding day no less- the ending music playing during the credits was a much more somber piece.
Lie to Me has an example in the third season, although there was an in-plot excuse - Lightman and a friend were trying to convince attackers that they were ill-prepared and so "sexy music" is playing when a gun fight breaks out ("I'm in the Mood" by John Lee Hooker).
ER's season nine episode, "A Thousand Cranes" features this trope when Jing-Mei and Luka find three of Doc Magoo's regular staffers shot and locked in the freezer while The Beach Boy's Good Vibrations is being played in the diner.
American Horror Story has been using this in some of the season 3 teasers, using Winter Song by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson over imagery of a woman stuck with giant pins and sewing needles, among others.
Helix has a strange relationship with easy listening music.
In the pilot, Dionne Warwick's peppy, Baião-influenced "Do You Know the Way To San Jose" serves as musical bookends: It's Source Music in the opening scene, as Patient Zero of The Virus is discovered by a researcher and his head of security, and Background Music in the closing scene, Patient Zero's first successful attempt to infect others as he circumvents a biometric lock to assault a lab full of screaming scientists.
In "Vector," another bouncy easy listening tune in the same genre as the Instrumental Theme Tune serves as musical bookends, playing as Source Music during two frightening encounters, when Dr. Doreen Boyle is accosted by an infected Dr. Tracey, and in the closing scene when Dr. Julia Walker encounters a likewise infected Peter Farragut during decontamination.
In Coronation Street, the upbeat rock anthem "Whatever" by Oasis plays as incidental music while Tracy Barlow murders her boyfriend Charlie Stubbs by repeatedly bashing him over the head with a statuette. Needless to say, it makes the whole scene even more haunting, especially with the relevancy of the lyrics.
In March 2014, The Daily Show started a meme called "McConnelling", where viewers could dub a web ad for Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell with any song they wanted.
One episode of CSI opened with a character cooking, with the background music being the funny novelty song "Everybody Eats When They Come to My House." What he's actually doing is force-feeding a cut-up credit card to an identity thief before killing him. Also, Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick as he puts some totally normal ingredients in there first.
Invoked in the season 15 premiere of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, when serial rapist/murderer William Lewis goes for a drive and sings along to the chirpy foxtrot "Ain't We Got Fun" on the radio with a tied-up and gagged Detective Benson in the back seat.
Just about a minute of Midsomer Murders "Death and Dreams" episode - doubtlessly one of the most wicked in the whole series - manages to ruin nothing less than Mozart's world-famous Turkish March - possibly forever.
In one episode of Gotham, Nygma decides to cut up Kringle's dead body and dispose of it. The music playing? 'To The Bone'!
An unintentional version occurs in Birds of Prey. The climatic fight scene features "All The Things She Said" by t.A.T.u.. Because a pop song about Schoolgirl Lesbians just goes so well with an action packed superhero fight.
Vinyl features this all the time. Soft music plays over dark scenes, hard rock places over tense arguments to ironic and hilarious effect:
Buck Rogers: I put the jukebox on random, because that's how life is!
One especially dark instance is Buddy Holly's "Rave On" that plays on the car radio in the flashback that ends with Ernst's accident, and just to rub it in, Buddy appears in an Imagine Spot.
An episode of Elementary starts with a woman being gunned down and the culprit trashing their getaway car afterwards set to "Build Me Up Buttercup" by The Foundations.