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TBTS Top Five TV Show Title Sequences

February 11, 2012
Top 5

Title sequences don’t generally get much attention. Usually, at worst they are unremarkable or even non-existent. Occasionally one will be universally regarded as “annoying” because of a visual gimmick or a particularly awful song (*cough* Family Guy *cough*). Some can even be polarizing. I personally like the title sequence for Joss Whedon’s criminally short-lived space western Firefly, but I know people who hate it, mostly because of the song. Maybe one show in ten has a truly unique and memorable title sequence. Here are my top five.

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones impresses right out of the gate with a brilliant computer-animated title sequence. Possibly because of the truly epic nature of George R. R. Martin’s seminal work, the show’s creators saw fit to use the title sequence as an introduction to the fantastic world of Westeros. The sequence opens on a gyroscopic sun, giver of light and warmth. The viewer’s perspective is one of an omniscient being, looking down on Westeros through some kind of celestial telescope. We are treated to visions of every landmark that is (or becomes) important to the story. As the eye settles on each location in turn, buildings sprout from the ground and expand in a pseudo-mechanical blossom of civilization. We see King’s Landing and its regal, forward-looking design. We head North to see hardy and spartan Winterfell. Further North we see the enigmatic Wall, fortified and intimidating. From there we travel East across the Narrow Sea to the exotic free-city of Pentos. (As other characters were introduced throughout the first season, later episodes featured an extended sequence that afforded us a fly-over of the impregnable mountaintop fortress of Eyrie and took us further East to the wild lands of the Dothraki savages.) All of this plays under a masterful title theme with pulsing percussion and a dignified and forlorn cello lead.

Dexter

Frankly, this show’s title sequence was the inspiration for this post. Six seasons in and Dexter is still an immensely popular choice for around-the-water-cooler discussion. With a slithering, vaguely Pink Panther-esque score, the sequence is essentially Dexter’s morning routine. It starts with the day’s first act of violence, the squashing of a mosquito, complete with blood and a grin of satisfaction from our anti-hero. Then we are treated to an orgy of mundane activities rendered in exquisite and excruciating close-up and/or slo-mo. Shaving is shown for the surprisingly violent activity it actually is. Coffee beans are ground in dizzyingly high frame rate; even the working of a French press is depicted as an act of slow torture. As anyone who hasn’t worked at a little coffee place would know. We see the preparation of a breakfast featuring fried ham, eggs, and (naturally) a blood orange. Even the simple act of tying shoes becomes an alien and disconcerting activity as Dexter pulls hard enough on his laces to make his fingers redden as they are engorged with blood. Finally, we see the man himself as he leaves his apartment. He gives us one knowing smirk and begins another day of stalking and murdering bad guys.

Mad Men

Another watercooler show, Mad Men keeps it relatively subdued and basic. A silhouetted businessman, ostensibly main character Don Draper (Jon Hamm), watches his high-rise office collapse around him. As he falls endlessly, Madison Avenue skyscrapers are adorned with ad images for various nameless products. The title score is an abbreviated version of RJD2’s “A Beautiful Mine.” This simple and evocative sequence has been spoofed by other great shows such as The Simpsons.

Parks & Recreation

Parks & Recreation is perhaps the most whimsical selection from this list. The theme music is upbeat and cheerful, evoking old 4-H commercials and those filmstrips they used to show in American grade schools. The split-screen is in constant motion, alternating between shots of each of the major characters and generic images of good old American folks enjoying good old American fun in a public park. The whole display is bouncy, optimistic, and perhaps slightly naïve, just like main character Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler.) This sequence too has been parodied, perhaps most successfully in this mash-up with the excellent (and tonally similar) Community.

The IT Crowd

This thoroughly underrated Britcom starts off in the best way possible. A harsh synthesizer bleeps and bloops its way over 8-bit (retro video-game style) verisons of the show’s three main characters. Surprisingly, the heroes are depicted doing things that aren’t quite within character. Meek and weak-willed Roy and violence-phobic Moss vent their frustration by beating a user’s computer with a cricket bat and mallet while the clueless and comically management-challenged Jen cracks a digital whip at her two employees. Suddenly a trap-door opens beneath them and they are cast into the corporate abyss of IT, banished to the basement where all nerds belong. The sequence ends with a deliciously rendered computer video glitch.

Honorable Mentions

Weeds — The first couple of seasons featured various guest renditions of the Malvina Reynolds/Pete Seeger hit “Little Boxes,” intended to satirize the suburban existence of the show’s, uh…protagonist(?). But as the show’s focus moved away from the cookie-cutter planned community of Magestic, California, each opener has essentially been a brief reference to something that happens in the episode, with a pot leaf not-so-cleverly worked in there somewhere.

Nurse Jackie — Also underrated, this show’s opening titles are cast against a stark, white background as pills and other medical detritus float around our bemused, smirking heroine Jackie (Edie Falco.) The music is a sort of modern, big-city gospel/jazz number. (Check out a mini-review of Nurse Jackie here.)

Hung — I watched this show for a season and a half before I realized the music played during the opening credits is The Black Keys’ “I’ll Be Your Man.” The song plays over a sequence of Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane) removing various articles of clothing as he strolls through Detroit, finally jumping naked into a small lake behind his house. (Check out a mini-review of Hung here.)

True Blood — I don’t watch this show (mostly because I’m pretty sure I’ll love it and I simply don’t have the time or energy to spare for a new favorite show.) But fellow Tweedster Mark Matics insisted I at least check out the opening titles on YouTube. It’s a pretty impressive visual quilt of violent vampire imagery, nudity, sex, and the back-woods of the Louisiana bayou. And the music is great.

What say you, dear reader? Did I miss anything? Speak and be heard!

(Bonus! Here‘s a pretty clever 80’s-tastic Knight Rider/Airwolf take on a Firefly opener.)
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3 Comments
  1. C.M. Tomlin permalink
    February 12, 2012 5:21 pm

    For my money, nothing beats the retro-seventies science of the “Look Around You” opener, with its giant green flashing cursor and rudimentary code.

    • Paul the Geek permalink*
      February 12, 2012 6:10 pm

      Dude, that show is hilarious.

      • Anonymous permalink
        February 12, 2012 11:17 pm

        Yes, very very.

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