Ranked: US TV Show Opening Credits
Because why not? Shows are a mix of high-ratings generators, think-piece generators, random choices and the occasional show I actually watch. All shows current as of 2017 (i.e. not cancelled), scripted drama and/or comedy. Shows are also a combination of network, cable and streaming.
Everything red. New York, red. The Daredevil mask, red. Statue of Justice, red. The music, probably designed to sound red to synesthetes. Matt Murdock’s soul, red. Accept no other colours, no other shades.
Although this shade looks more like wine than blood, so I’m not sure they’re marketing the show they think they are.
House of Cards
Part military vigil, part Massive Attack bassline, although the latter doesn’t quite go low enough to be the real thing. The time lapse could have been terrible, but it’s saved by a) being focused on D.C. (no pointless nature shots), and b) by (accidental or otherwise) resonance. Watch as the shadows creep up the buildings in an accidental recreation of Independence Day; or the brief but major focus on the Washington Nationals’ stadium. Apparently, D.C. politics is like baseball, at least to Frank Underwood. Now watch the show and realise you can’t apply that insight to any of it.
At some point, it helps if the opening titles explain what the show is about. Unlike some hamfisted entries (below), Orphan Black captures its premise utterly, without a single word.
Upsides: an undeniable classic, theme tune you could hum all the way through without prompting, constantly shifting (and not just things like the chalkboard and couch gags, but all kinds of other tiny details too) and changing without ever ceasing to be the original opening titles. Downsides: you’ve seen the first 8 seasons’ sequences a billion times each, so they’re less remarkable now.
“Bring da Ruckus” is probably off-limits for the opening credits, if only for time reasons. Still, what’s needed is music conveying the unstoppability of Carl Lucas, Power Man, and that beat does it. Also, Harlem just looks great — which probably defeats the point of the show a little, but who cares?
Theme tune actually sounds harder and grittier than many allegedly serious cop shows from the past, although the visuals are a useful counterpoint. The best part? Turning non-jokes in the show into jokes in the sequence.
Halt and Catch Fire
Apparently from the same creators as the Daredevil opening (above), which might explain the abundance of red. This, though, doesn’t feel quite as effective. They’re trying to capture the thrill of innovation, but the music is one part per hundred “teenage girl hears there’s a new Harry Styles single”. That’s enough to lose points.
There’s no denying it: these are good credits. They are stately. They are elegant. They evoke both the future and the past. But there’s even more no denying that they are a minute and fifty seconds long. HBO doesn’t show adverts, but I’m not sure if slicing thirty seconds from this to flog us a washing machine would be so terrible.
It explains the show, sorta, but also decides it’s going for ‘arty’ in a way I’m not sure works. There’s no particular reason for Barack Obama to appear upside down, and no reason to flip his image afterwards. Also, I’m sure half of this footage is stolen from Godspeed You Black Emperor gigs.
Legends of Tomorrow
The alert reader will notice how I rank this highest of the D.C. Arrowverse shows; that’s because, if nothing else, “Doctor Who with superheroes” at least demands some explanation. Also, it’s hard to beat metal letters clanging into title form.
Probably the best of the Marvel Netflix shows, but only third-best for opening credits, Jessica Jones features a jazz intro that teeters on the brink of, but doesn’t quite fall into, cliché. It also features this weird, half-baked turn towards rock in the second half, and I’m not sure how relevant the overwhelming purpleness of it all will be during a second season.
A curious artefact of the time this show was about a spy agency — which is not to say it’s bad.
“My name is Barry Allen, and I am the fastest man alive. And that’s all the explanation you technically need, but now I’m going to explain about my tragic backstory, which every superhero has anyway, and point out how I fight crime, which every superhero does anyway, and I’m also going to gloss over the fact that I’m not actually the fastest man alive, given the number of villains who happen to be faster. In conclusion, I’ve delayed you watching this episode by at least thirty seconds. Toodle pip.”
The visuals are a smart, succinct summation of the backstory, with a nice nod to the fact that this is an adaptation of a comic book series.
The song’s just annoying, and couldn’t be more on the nose if it sat directly on the centre of your face.
You know Superman, right? Supergirl is that guy, but with boobs. How does this take 40 seconds to explain?
“My name is Oliver Queen, and despite being a billionaire, I refuse to just buy a Glock already. Also, I insist on firing arrows at people, but not killing them. I’m also attempting to eat an entire cheesecake every night without getting fat. These are the kinds of challenges I like to set myself.”
I jest, but only a little. Curiously, whilst Supergirl feels the need to explain itself, Arrow decides to duck around the bow-and-arrow aspect as much as possible, despite it being pretty fundamental.
Game of Thrones
I know what you’re thinking. But let’s be honest here — really honest with ourselves. If you’ve seen every episode, and hence seen every iteration of these credits, that means you’ve spent an hour and a half looking at a map of Westeros. And yet, despite this:
You don’t remember where any of that shit is, do you?
A pale copy of the other Defenders shows, not unlike the actual show. The vaguely-electronic music feels like a placeholder, and the visuals don’t provide a solid grasp of the show beyond it being about kung fu. Whatever.
A tree overshadows a wall whilst some music box twinkles. Should’ve just been a title card, really.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Comin’ at ya! With…nothing. Like the first half of Season 1, then.
Oddly reminiscent of the title card for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Nothing I’ve seen of promo footage or photos for this show has Priyanka Chopra fighting a robot uprising, or even an evil James Spader. This is a terrible oversight on the part of the Quantico showrunners.
Better Call Saul
Yes, the crappiness is part of the point, but it’s still crappy.
Sense8 is, admittedly, a very hard show to summarise; the show itself took close to four hours to describe itself in full. But the opening credits not only don’t bother, but spend two minutes not bothering, instead pointing at things and telling you to “look!”. Look, Mexico! Look, South Korea! Look, Kenya! Look —
“Good news, Ms. Dunham: the network agreed to the proposed budget, and promise no artistic interference in the content of the show.”
“Great! What about the opening titles?”
“Um, yeah. They said you’ll have to fund that part yourself.”
The Big Bang Theory
Count me on Jeff Winger’s side here — this is terrible. The song is annoying, but more to the point, none of it has anything to do with the show (the visuals, for example, actually contain very little science, and what science exists is a set of visual clichés). Then again, like so many CBS sitcoms, the show doesn’t really have anything to do with the show either — it exists mainly to reassure the network’s smug, middle-aged core audience that even if Kids Today are smarter, their generation is wiser and savvier. Minus infinity points.