Sunday, October 29, 2017

My Top Ten Television Title Sequences

I've been reading a lot of Art of the Title recently, and since we're in the middle of a revival of television title sequences, I figured that this was as good a time as any to make up a Top Ten list. My only real criteria is that the sequence in question should be one that I enjoy on its own apart from the show, and don't usually skip.

Entries below are unranked, ordered by airdate.

"The Twilight Zone" (1960) - For a classic entry, really the only title sequence that stick in my mind is the original "Twilight Zone." I'm partial to the second season's opener out of all the different ones produced, but they're all fantastic. The black and white animation was largely the handiwork of director Rudy Larriva. Marius constant wrote the iconic theme music. Though there was nothing else quite like it to this day, you can see the influence of the sequence on science-fiction television titles from "The Outer Limits" to "The X-Files."

"The Cosby Show" (1985)- My apologies, but I can't deny that "Cosby" had my favorite opening sequence when I was a kid. Stu Gardner's jazz theme was rearranged each season, but the central conceit of Bill dancing with each member of his family remained the same. Over time significant others were incorporated, the musical styles changed, and the kids slowly grew up. My favorite version of the theme is the Bobby McFerrin one from the fourth season, but the second season's dancing sequence is easily the best, the baseline that all the subsequent ones were variations on.

"The Simpsons" (1990) - I have to give this one the edge for what the title sequence became over time. The Danny Elfman theme is fantastic, and the blackboard and early couch gags were a lot of fun, but this didn't become a "best of all time" sequence until the show started turning the titles over to guest directors like John Kricfalusi, Sylvain Chomet, Bill Plympton, Don Hertzfeldt, and Banksy. And there was that epic "Rick and Morty" crossover. What animation fan could resist? Of those done in the show's house style, the sentient couch takeover gag is my current favorite.

"Star Trek: Voyager" (1995) - Jerry Goldsmith's sonorous orchestral theme provides the backbone to the absolute best of the "Star Trek" opening sequences, or really any of the space-themed opening sequences that follow the same model. The special effects work is elegant, the imagery evokes the grandeur of space exploration beautifully, and it also brings up great memories of the older "Trek" franchise. Alas, this is another case where the opening is the best part of the show. I respect many elements of "Voyager," but the show never won me over.

"Millennium" (1996) - I can't explain why this melancholy opener stayed with me over all these years, especially since I didn't much like the show that it was made for. Maybe it's because the brief images of despair and and the uneasy, apocalyptic mood did such a great job of reflecting an undercurrent of societal dread about the fast-approaching end of the '90s. Nothing else on television at the time looked like this or felt like this, not even spooky sister show "The X-files," and I'm impressed that the FOX network gave Chris Carter and composer Mark Snow free reign to go so dark.

"The Drew Carey Show" (1997) - All three of the show's opening sequences are fun, but the last and most famous one is the clear standout. "Drew Carey" had a well-known penchant for putting together elaborate musical numbers, and their celebration of all things Cleveland, set to the The Presidents of the United States of America cover of "Cleveland Rocks" was one of their best creations. The full extended version of the opening sequence is my favorite, but the last season of the show gets kudos for playing "Cleveland Rocks" in a different musical style for each episode.

"Paranoia Agent" (2004) and "Cowboy Bebop" (1998) - I could (and probably should) do an entire list consisting of anime openings, which are often very elaborate and used to new plug music. For now, however, I'm going to split this entry between two favorites: the iconic "Bebop" opener set to Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts' boisterous "Tank!" and the beautifully bizarre "Paranoia Agent" opener that appears to show all the main characters losing their minds to Susumu Hirasawa's "Dream Island Obsessional Park." Two very different shows, each with a perfect mood-setting OP.

"Dexter" (2006) - It's so simple and so clever. What better way to get into the head of the friendly serial killer next door than to shoot his innocuous morning routine like he's about to commit a series of violent murders? The playful tone and macabre framing of breakfast foods and Dexter's shaving routine make this one of the most unforgettable openers ever made. Shoelaces and floss never looked so sinister. Credit for the concept go to Eric Anderson and his team at Digital Kitchen. Composer Rolfe Kent used a lute-like bouzouki to get the theme's distinctive sound.

"Game of Thrones" (2011) - As a fantasy fan who has read many a book that includes maps of imaginary countries, I couldn't possibly leave the "Game of Thrones" opener off the list. I love the way that the sequence sets expectations, showing off the series' wide scope, hinting at the heavy use of special effects, and suggesting the Machiavellian machinations underlying everything, symbolized by all the animated clockwork and turning gears. Angus Wall and Leanne Dare were director and designer of the sequence, respectively, and Ramin Djawadi was composer.

"True Detective" (2014) - The Handsome Family's “Far From Any Road” is endlessly hummable and the biggest reason why the first season's title sequence makes the list. The eye-catching visuals, however, have been far more influential, and there are an awful lot of current series with "True Detective" inspired title sequences still running. While I like the second season variation, there's just something special about the western-infused original. Patrick Clair and Raoul Marks were director and designer, and the opener owes a lot to the influence of photographer Richard Misrach.


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