TV

Nine Great TV Opening Themes

Dexter's morning juice.

The opening themes to some TV shows are as artful as the shows themselves.

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.

 
1. Dexter

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.


 
2. Treme

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.


 
6. Community

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.


 
7. Portlandia

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?


 
9. Louie

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.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image