Favorites: Opening Title Sequences

Favorites takes a lighter approach to the material we normally cover. Each week, we will take you through a list of favorites—whether it’s moments, scenes, episodes, characters, lines of dialogue, whatever!—in bite-sized articles perfect for your lunch break, a dull commute, or anywhere you need to take a Moment of Zen. So, sit back and enjoy this week’s offering: Caemeron Crain’s top opening title sequences.

I recently saw Kirby Ferguson’s video defending closing credits, and while I am fully on board with that, I feel even more strongly about the opening ones. There has been a tendency to shorten them, or to even more or less do away with them, in recent years, but as much as I enjoy the starkness of the opening to Lost, or the way that Better Call Saul cuts us off mid-note, I can’t help but love the opening title sequence proper.

We live in an age where streaming services encourage us to simply skip over this kind of thing, and I guess I want to argue that they shouldn’t. The opening title sequence of a show potentially tells you a lot about whether it is worth watching. I, at least, struggle to think of a great show with a bad opening. So, here are my top five opening title sequences. I’ve ranked them and forced myself to only choose five, to maximize your ability to tell me I am wrong on social media. So, please do.

Honorable Mention: It’s Garry Shandling’s Show

It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was so far ahead of its time, I think it is still ahead of ours, and the opening theme song exemplifies this. The action underlying it on screen always differs—here it is Garry showing off books about TV (because “there’s more to life than watching TV; you can read about it, too!”)—which makes it an outlier on this list. But it is hard to imagine anything more meta than a song that tells you it is the theme to the show you are watching, and what you listen to as you watch the credits.

If you haven’t seen the show, you should. And if you haven’t seen Judd Apatow’s documentary about Garry Shandling, you really should (and read what Ashley Harris had to say about it).

5) The Sopranos

As with all of these entries, the song is a key component to this choice. In this case, it is “Woke Up This Morning” (Chosen One Remix) by Alabama 3, but most of us probably just think of it as the song from The Sopranos. It’s rhythm and themes, set behind footage of Tony Soprano driving (and smoking) his way home from New York to New Jersey, does a perfect job of setting the tone for the series. And along the way we see locations that will be iconic for the show, such as Satriale’s, and other sites that resonate with themes that define the show in more symbolic ways (for example, a graveyard).

4) BoJack Horseman

BoJack Horseman is far better than you might think that a showing about a talking horse(man) has any right to be. It grapples with the themes of depression and addiction in a way that can make one laugh and cry at virtually the same time, and tackles the issue of power dynamics in the TV/Film industry better than anything else I have seen in the wake of #MeToo. The voice acting is also top-notch, but the thing that really makes this show a cut above in my mind is the attention paid to visual details. Pretty much any time there is text on the screen, it contains a joke or a pun. Pause on that contract that they showed for less than a second and read it, and you’ll laugh.

It’s that attention to detail which gets the show on this list, as it carries over to the opening credits. The visuals vary in ways that relate to our friend BoJack’s life at the moment, all while his floating head (symbolizing his depressed detachment?) remains consistent. It’s a shame that Netflix encourages us to skip past this, as paying attention to those details pays dividends. Watch BoJack Horseman, and watch the credits (the ones at the end, too).

3)  The Leftovers (Season 2)

My love of The Leftovers is well-documented. And, looking at this list, I suppose it is also fair to say that I like it when shows introduce variety into their opening titles. The Leftovers opening for the first season was great; ominous and stark in a way that set the tone for the series wonderfully. But it was with the shift the occurred as we entered the second season—symbolized by the use of Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be”—that we began to learn what this show was going to ultimately be.

The images would become iconic; cemented into the minds of viewers like me in such a way that, when they decided to play with the accompanying music in the third season, the effect was incredible.

2) The Wire

I was struggling to decide which season of The Wire I was going to use here, until I found this handy video that gives you all five in one and that let me off the hook (just kidding, the right answer is season 2/Tom Waits). The changes between versions from season to season, though, are part of why I think what The Wire did here was truly great. Altering visual elements in relation to plot events, and offering a new version of the same song each year, exemplified the kind of difference and repetition that the show itself would focus on in terms of what ails us socially.

1) Twin Peaks

I have seen Twin Peaks more times than any other television show. I have lost track of how many times I have watched it, but even just tallying the number of people I have watched it with get us close to ten. Yet, in all of those times, I have never once skipped the opening title sequence. Even when I watched it on Netflix because it felt easier than getting out my DVDs and the site skipped them for me, I protested and undid it. I have fast-forwarded through the Evelyn Marsh storyline, but not the credits. I insist on watching them every time.

Something about them is comforting: the music, of course, but also the images, from the bird to the sawmill to the waterfall…There is an odd way where I want to say this feels like home, all nearly three minutes of it. As the trend to shorten, or even eliminate, opening title sequences pushes forward, that length increasingly feels to me exorbitant; not in a negative sense, though, but in the sense that I feel like I am luxuriating its sustained presence.

It is no surprise that when Twin Peaks returned, it was with a sequence that was shorter. Of course one could relate that to the changing times and mores surrounding such things, but it also strikes me as thematic: no more bird, no more mill, and we feel more like we are tumbling over the waterfall (as opposed to enjoying its beauty) into the red curtains and the swirling chevron floor…You see, it’s all there from the beginning. It’s right there in the opening credits.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

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