Sunday, March 1, 2009

Best TV Opening Credits.

Television isn't something I discuss much here due to a couple of things: for starters the site isn't supposed to be about TV (it says "Movies" in the title), then there's the fact that I don't actually see as many TV shows as I used to and then there's also the slight incomprehension towards the medium that's a "must" for film snobs.
As a member of the aforementioned category, I actually have to acknowledge that even when cinema has taken a turn for the worst of sorts, television is actually going through a renaissance of sorts. With the internet, video games, DVDs and all the kinds of things that easily grab people's attention it's become true that TV shows now have to fight to gain someone's interest and even more maintain it.
Unlike movies where we have the chance to walk out of the theater mid-projection even if we've paid the ticket, with television it's important that we come back week after week and then wait for months, and sometimes years, between season and season.
I'm witness of how easy it is to lose interest in a show, "Lost" lost me after I missed three episodes and I really wasn't that interested in catching up with everything that happened while I was gone. Perhaps they don't care, but for every mammoth show like this one, there's a million "30 Rock"s that actually crave audience numbers.
How then do you maintain a constant between episode and episode? Most of the time a good opening credits sequence won't only help, but will enhance the viewing and the waiting.
How many of us hummed "I'll Be There For You" constantly? How many of us remember what happened to Carrie Bradshaw whenever we pass a bus with a huge billboard on it? How many of us feel like kings of the neighborhood just by playing a great song on the car radio like Tony Soprano? You get the idea...
Great screen titles were once a thing films were interested in. Mentioning Saul Bass is a cliché of sorts when it comes to this subject.
But as movies lose more and more interest in making a great first impression, TV has been delivering some outstanding work.
With that in mind I set out to look for some of the best TV opening credits; is it odd that the ones I found happen to belong to some of the most critically acclaimed shows on the air?


After "Battlestar Galactica" is gone in a few more weeks, I'll be bold and proclaim that this FX show will grab its title as "Best Television Show on the Air". A great combination of legal thriller and backwards drama, "Damages" has one of the most powerful opening credits as well.
Showing images of a dark New York City and alternating them with shots of the lead actresses (Glenn Close is perfection!), the credits reveal little by little pieces of something bigger, or merely hint at that.
Powered by the thump thump of The VLA's brilliant "When I Am Through With You", the credits roll by and you only wish you saw more. The lyrics are wicked and will put a smile on anyone who's ever had a dark thought and that shot of a bloodied pair of hands holding a purse could very well describe what the entire show is about.

"Mad Men"

They went with Saul Bass and spiced it up with a tongue-in-cheek nod at the terrors of the advertising world.

"30 Rock"

Even when the titles might seem too generic, truth is that three minutes into the show you're craving that they appear. The theme song is mischievous and clever and when the titles reach their end you understand what the hell the title means, but they're worthy if only for that maniacally sexy shot of Alec Baldwin who in a split of a second makes you understand why the show's energy is so contagious.

"United States of Tara"

Most elaborate screen titles? Absolutely.
The pop up book aesthetic makes for a delightful nod at the secrets lying in suburbia and the show about a woman with multiple personalities needs this sort of charm to avoid seeming too serious. Watching how each character, err personality, appears from an unexpected place resumes what each episode will be like and the indie vibe of the theme song screams "Diablo Cody" was here.
But as the last seconds show, this isn't about her as much as about the magnificent Toni Collette who rightfully gets the last shot, even if it's in animated form.


Made me wish I watched the show...
Its combination of "saw" and breakfast is a hell of a tease and the smile Michael C. Hall throws us near the end is perhaps creepier than any single thing we saw before.

Shows that need better opening credits:
"Battlestar Galactica"
It might be effective, but it's also kind of lazy the way it sums up the whole episode in 20 seconds near the end. With this show we don't want to see what will happen, we need to be surprised!

"Gossip Girl"
It seems more like a teaser from a Skinemax flick than a show about horny, vapid teens in Manhattan.
Then again those two kinda go together right?

"Desperate Housewives"
It had the greatest credits sequence since perhaps "The Simpsons" and it went and spoiled it by reducing it to one of those dull title card things lazy shows do. Again it does make sense considering how dull the show has gotten by the season.

Although I have some troubles with the "Ugly Betty" opening credits, I'm not sure what exactly is it.

So, what about you guys? Anyone loves a particular credits sequence or is TV too last century?


Matt said...

the only of these i've seen is '30 rock'. I think the opening titles are good in expressing that whole giddy absurd barrage of witty insanity that is that wonderful show.

Michael Parsons said...

SO knew you would have Tara in there! Great opening credits to a great show.

Sally Belle said...

You are so right about the importance of the opening credits...Hook them right out of the gate and then have a strong "curtain call" and that's what the people leave with. It's subliminal, it's psychological...whatever...but, you have to infect them with the desire to revisit that familiar theme song every week!

I also like the "Saving Grace" opener.