Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Top 7 TV Opening Credits

Every TV show has opening credits – some are flashy, some are entertaining and most are downright boring. Watching the new Aussie comedy/drama Offspring the other week (which I am enjoying by the way), I was struck by how much I didn’t like their opening credit sequence. As a cutesy bubble-pop song plays, the main actors jerkily spin in a myriad of poses as if they are characters seen through a viewfinder. The whole thing just seemed a bit too twee. To me, a good opening credit sequence is one that does more than just slap-bang a few clips of the show together with a current pop music fave – it’s a gilded invitation to join the show’s universe. It’s one where no matter how many episodes I watch in a row while DVD marathoning the show – I will always watch the opening credits.

These are a few of my favourites:

An awesome homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Mad Men’s opening credits are almost dreamlike – the slow, languid pace of the businessman falling surrounded by skyscrapers with reflections of period advertising posters and billboards.  We can all relate to those dreams of falling which are meant to express our suppressed anxieties, our feelings of being out of control and overwhelmed.  This is what Mad Men is all about – that loss of control and identity – and in a decade where everything about the world was changing.   Plus they can’t go wrong with a final image of dreamy Jon Hamm’s shoulders casually slung across the back of a couch can they!

Definitely the best set of credits for a currently running program; True Blood’s have even been nominated for an Emmy.  Created by Digital Kitchen, the production studio also responsible for the awesome credits for Six Feet Under and Dexter, True Blood’s opening sequence is steeped in Deep South imagery and plays around with the contradictory ideas of innocence and menace that go hand in hand with the themes of the show.  The whole thing really just leaves you with a feeling that things just ain’t right – sex, violence, horror, life, and death all wrapped into one.  And those maggots!  Shudder!

The Simpsons

A television classic, The Simpson’s original credits are jam-packed with minutiae detail and in-jokes.  I remember my brother and I having a poster that actually charted the whole sequence of events that occurs – stuff that you barely even glanced while the camera careened around Springfield.  Featuring one of the most memorable theme songs ever created for any television show, the whole sequence flows into an insane package which gives you a look at Springfield, its inhabitants and most importantly the Simpsons. What makes The Simpsons opening sequence so special is the different weekly gags – Lisa’s different jazz licks, Bart’s different lines on the chalkboard, the couch gags.  20 years and they are still funny.  Check out this hilarious Estonian parody.


Dexter’s opening credits are filled with such an innocuous sense of menace. He is simply going through his morning routine, but since we, the audience, know he is a serial killer; even the littlest things seem violent.  Whether it is cutting into an orange, tying his shoelaces, or even simply pulling his shirt over his head, each action has a heightened sense of danger.  By the end, even Dexter flossing his teeth seems threatening.  The whole show’s notion that Dexter is attempting to blend in and make all those around him think he’s normal fits in perfectly with the darkness in the opening credits, even when it seems like nothing out of the ordinary is happening.

Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under’s award-winning title sequence didn’t introduce a single character, but it so embodied the show’s dark and sombre world of death and whimsy that it prepares you for the quirky sob-fest you are about to watch.  Probably the first time I ever really took notice of any opening credits (beyond trying to name what episode each scene in the Friends credits came from), I can still watch the Six Feet Under opening every time I sit down to marathon the whole series.  I also may or may not own the dance remix of the theme tune…

The Sopranos

Another fantastic opener - The Sopranos opening credits really set the stage for the series, showing the grittiness of New Jersey and contrasting it with Tony's wealth and power at the end (i.e. his gigantic gated mansion).   Pimped out in his SUV, stogie in hand, Tony Soprano is the man – a total king of the road.  Along with the killer Alabama 3 song "Woke Up This Morning" and it’s lyrics about guns and mama not telling you about right and wrong, it’s the perfect intro into Tony’s psyche.

I may be biased with this one, since this is one of the best shows in the history of life, but Deadwood’s credits take you back to the old West before you can draw your gun and say cocksucker.   Who knew dirt, blood and filthy miners could look so good?

Honourable mentions go to:

Friends:  Come on!  Who didn’t used to clap along!!

Freaks and Geeks:  Fantastic Joan Jett song.  Great cast in before-they-were-famous mode!  Hilarious bad school photo day flashbacks.  What’s not to love?

Chuck:  I’m a sucker for a cute animated sequence, so Cake + an animated spy dude = awesome credit sequence!

Arrested Development:  Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son that had no choice but to keep them all together… 

Lost:  So so creepy.  I love that this lasts only 11 seconds and you already know you’re in for a treat of confusion and headaches.

The X-Files:  What did the red hand thing mean??  And the scary face!!  God this show used to scare the shit out of me.

Sex and the City:  Such jaunty music and who doesn’t love gratuitous shots of New York City??

The Wonder Years:  Oh the memories.  Sadly these opening credits remind me of myself hogging the camera in many of my family’s early video moments.

Flight of the Conchords:  Jemaine and his gangly dancing seriously crack me up every time.

and my own personal guilty pleasure

Beverly Hills 90210:  So so cheesy.  And yet so awesome.  I think I may have kept watching this show well after I should have purely so I could make the duna-duna duna-duna chick chick music noises every week.

How bout you guys?  What are your favourite TV opening credits?  And what are the best cheesy ones?  I warn you though – once you start using Youtube for evil and looking for videos, you will be stuck in a flashback vortex of television theme song mania!!  Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers anyone??


  1. Agree with you on Flight of the Conchords and The Wonder Years - such great sequences!

    And yes, Beverly Hills, 90210 was totally awesome. As soon as my sisters and I heard the first few seconds we flew into the lounge room to settle in and watch the show.

    I also have a soft spot for the Weeds opening credits, but I think that's mostly because of the Litte Boxes song they use the different versions of it.

  2. I mostly agree with this but I would add that the True Blood credits are also big on themes of redemption and salvation.

    The creepiness of the South is very strong, but I am more disturbed by the religious imagery and the desperation of people trying to lose themselves (or find themselves) in something spiritual - be it God, or sex.

    I get particular creepy chills from the nasty hillbilly in his rocking chair, and the children eating red berries... CREEPTASTIC!

  3. I totally agree with you Erin! The religious imagry gets me the most too, I can handle the blood, dead animals etc any day.
    True Blood has to be my favourite at the moment - but you can't go past the subtle coolness of Tony Soprano, his cigar and Alabama 3.

  4. I love Brandon's double-fist pump in 90210! Haha one of my friends and I reinact it all the time!