As iconic as Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in the air, or a day in the life of Laverne and Shirley, or even the Huxtables dancing through the years, opening credits can be as memorable as the shows they introduce. Opening themes have varied from early graphic representations, to catchy, saccharine sweet jingles, to the minimalist flashings of title cards often seen in more current series.
With shows like Lost and Breaking Bad perfecting the latter, and the struggle to gain precious seconds per episode, traditional opening credits have somewhat fallen out of fashion. Fortunately, there are still some series that recognize the importance of these credits in setting tone and introducing an audience to a show. The following nine current television programs (in no particular order) offer a wide range of successful and often visually arresting openers.
Dexter’s opening credits are some of the most clever and inventive uses of imagery. By juxtaposing the ordinariness of a morning routine (breakfast, getting dressed, flossing) with visuals that call to mind Dexter’s decidedly unordinary life as a serial killer, these credits are a wonderful example of just how integral a role they can play for a series, especially as they have grown to reflect Dexter’s life as a father. In fact, at this point, Dexter’s opening theme is probably the most satisfying and engaging part of the show.
John Boutte’s “The Treme Song” is not only an obviously apt song to serve as the theme for Treme, it’s also the kind of upbeat track that may not be immediately associated with a show about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Therein lies the beauty of its choice as theme song, as it plays over images of historical New Orleans and a devastated post-hurricane New Orleans, along with water lines marking walls. It’s the show in a nutshell, destruction and tragedy meets the unstoppable force of New Orleans culture, particularly as it relates to its music, and as an opening theme it works beautifully.
3. True Blood
HBO’s True Blood is another theme song, like Treme’s that melds music and image as a perfect encapsulation of the show. Jace Everett’s “Bad Things” playing over clips of characters, both strange and frightening, religious signage, frenzied churchgoers, and the Louisiana swamp present the series as decidedly Southern and outlandish. It sets a tone that immediately informs audiences that themes as varied as violence, sex, or religion would be explored and celebrated, messy though it may be. Like Dexter, at this point, True Blood’s opening theme is better than the actual episodes.
4. The Walking Dead
What makes the opening theme to The Walking Dead so good is that it is able to succinctly summarize a zombie apocalypse with only a minute’s worth of startling images. The music is foreboding, as well as tension-filled, exactly the tone of series, but when combined with the opening clips it serves as not only an introduction to the series, but as a way to remind viewers just what they’re getting into.
5. Game of Thrones
The opening for Game of Thrones is essentially a three dimensional map with moving parts, but what it most ingenious is that the map changes according to the episode. In a series filled with so many characters spread out amongst so many places, the map sets up the episode in a wholly original way. For example, as The Wall or Casterly Rock is featured in an episode, so do they appear in the opening map, complete with appropriate climate and topography. Apart from serving a practical storytelling purpose, the opening is a beautifully crafted piece of computer animation that conveys a feeling for the world of Game of Thrones in a way that a traditional opening sequence would never be able to achieve.
A series centered on a group of community college students, Community is a comedy that manages to infuse a school setting with silliness and absurdity that makes for a hilarious and sometimes poignant show. Its opening sequence uses the image of a children’s paper fortune teller game to introduce the cast. All the while, The 88’s “At Least It Was Here”, an upbeat tune with lyrics arguably about suicide, plays in the background. It’s an opening that presents a series that’s clearly a comedy, albeit one just a little off center.
Scenes of Portland life, while Washed Out’s “Feel It Out” plays, make up the opening credits of the hilariously specific Portlandia. The instrumental opening of the song used is the perfect complement to the landmarks, neighborhoods, and people of Portland presented in quick-cut hazy images. There’s a lot of green interspersed with local businesses and nightlife. Perhaps it’s an unlikely opening for a sketch comedy show, but Portlandia is not a typical sketch comedy, and its opening represents it perfectly.
8. Doctor Who
From the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the Tardis to the almost cinematically epic theme music, the opening credits of Doctor Who are a perfect launch into each episode. It immediately feels like the viewer is about to embark on a science fiction adventure without resorting to tons of clips of spaceships and strange creatures. Fans already know that the world of Doctor Who contains all of that and more, and for those coming to the show for the first time, who wouldn’t be intrigued by a police box flying through an inter-dimensional vortex?
The opening theme to Louis C.K.‘s semi-autobiographical comedy series is so great because it perfectly encapsulates the series in such an unexpected way. Focused on Louie’s life as a working comedian and single father to two young girls, Louie can be darkly comic, sad, and cringeworthy all at once, all of which comes through in the mundanity of his everyday life. The opening theme follows Louie on the streets of New York City at night as he emerges from the subway, stops for a slice of pizza, and arrives at a comedy club, all brilliantly scored to The Stories’ cover of “Brother Louie”. It’s an ingenious way to let the viewer know that this isn’t a traditional sitcom in any way. Rather, Louie stakes out his own unique comedic space in the most ordinary moments, and the opening offers a glimpse of that perspective.