Sunday, November 8, 2009

Memorable TV opening themes

Ok, this is kind of random, but I was just thinking today about how much I love the opening sequences of television shows. On the one hand, if it’s a show you really love, it doesn’t even matter how good the opening is, you still react to it like Pavlov’s dog to a bell; the very first notes of the theme song cue that instant rush of excitement and anticipation as you await the imminent commencement of another episode. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for opening sequences that are creative and exciting in and of themselves, even if the show itself doesn’t really do much for you. Yet if one of your favorite shows has a killer opener, one that is dynamic and interesting and perfectly captures the unique tone of a unique show – the effect is amazing. It’s an art form, really.

And so here are some of my favorite television opening sequences, in descending chronological order (i.e. in reverse order of when the shows premiered with their openers).

True Blood (2008). It’s gritty, it’s grotesque, it’s bizarre, it’s strangely fascinating. Just like the show itself, in fact. None of the main actors appear in this opening, but the images used perfectly convey the show’s tone and its stylized northern Louisiana setting. And the song is just perfect! I usually cannot stand country music at all, but I actually had Jace Everett’s “Bad Things” as my cell phone ring for like six months. I can’t really describe the effect of the True Blood opening; it speaks for itself.

Conspiracy in the Court (2007). Ok, this comes from a kdrama, not an American show. But I had to include it because I really thought it did a wonderful job of introducing this fusion sageuk political thriller drama. Conspiracy in the Court stands apart from other dramas in a lot of ways – it really sets out to achieve something different (hence the fusion aspect), and does so extremely well – and this opening really reflects that. When you consider also that most kdramas have pretty lame, generic openings if they have them at all, this sequence becomes all the more remarkable. Observe:

Dexter (2006). Honestly, I never really got into this show. I admire it, I think it’s very cool, I just never got hooked on it enough to make the time to watch it. But the opening is just so amazing. It was expertly shot and edited so as to make an ordinary, tame morning routine appear violent and savage. Thanks to this sequence, I will never look at breakfast in quite the same way again.

Veronica Mars (2006). I say 2006 even though the show premiered in 2004 because they revamped the opening sequence for the third (and, unfortunately, final) season. For the first two seasons the VM opening was pretty average. I liked the song (“We Used to Be Friends” by the Dandy Warhols), but other than that the sequence was pretty unremarkable. For the third season they reworked the song, making it more subdued and stylized, and set it to a series of sepia-toned stills. All in all, I think the new version was much more interesting, and a much better representation of the series. Veronica Mars was, at its core, a noir-influenced detective show set in southern California and featuring a petite blonde heroine. The new opening reflected that.

Cowboy Bebop (1998). I think I’ll just let this one speak for itself. You don’t need to know anything about the show in order to watch this opening and think its just plain awesome. The brass music, the bright solid colors, the animation…

The X-Files (1993). My parents were both diehard fans of this show in the 90s, and they let me watch with them on Sunday nights even though I was probably too young. Even to this day the eerie whistling music gives me the shivers. I remember waiting anxiously each week to see what message would appear at the very end, whether the typical “The truth is out there” or that once in a blue moon substitution. Exciting times indeed. (Sorry about the quality.)

Cheers (1982). Oh, this makes me miss Boston so much! This is just another example of an opening in which all the elements work. The lyrics of the song, combined with the slideshow of images, evoke a powerful nostalgia in me – for Boston, my former home, for the show and all its incomparable characters, for the time when I used to watch it with my family. This was a great show. So simple, so fantastic, so hilarious. It really does make me think about going home, and the theme song hits a very special place in my heart. And now I think I might cry. But it’s a good, happy kind of feeling. That’s how powerful a good tv opening, with strong personal associations, can be.

So although I’m sure there are many more great television openings out there, these were just a few of my favorites. A good opening sequence can be a very powerful thing. May this special art form continue to flourish for many years to come!

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