Despite the respective ends of Breaking Bad and 30 Rock, the disappointing return of Arrested Development and the imminent departure of Mad Men, it’s still a pretty great era for television shows – and the same can definitely be said of the calibre of opening credit sequences and theme songs.
Where the titles once served as a device to introduce the actors over a catchy jingle (Friends handclap 4 EVA), the credit sequence has become an integral part of a show, pivotal in capturing attention, setting the mood and tone of a program and in some cases, telling a story or giving a snap-shot of the plot.
Some are virtually non-existent (Nashville, Glee, Girls) while others are fun at first but then grating (Orange is the New Black – sorry Regina). Then you’ve got the boring (Boardwalk Empire) to the downright unwatchable (Homeland).
Using a complicated formula that includes music choice, style, story, relevance, graphics, re-watchability and catchiness, here’s my rankings of the best current TV show opening credit sequences.
10. Pretty Little Liars
It hurts my soul that more people aren’t watching this show, because it’s all kinds of brilliant. The opening titles are short (which is important), stylish, and a little spooky. As an added bonus, they’re made even darker for the annual Halloween episode.
9. New Girl
I know it’s really just a vehicle for Zooey to sing, but noone is immune to that sweet Deschanel siren song. The ring tone of choice for every 20-something girl named Jess, it’s a fun, light-hearted tune that you’ll be singing it for days. It makes the list because aside from serving its purpose, it’s also a nice little self-parody (as seen by the what-is-even-happening-here? faces on the guys).
8. Adventure Time
Taking more than a few cues from The Simpsons, Adventure Time’s opening sequence gives us a quick aerial pan past the characters and scenery before launching into a 13-second theme. Again, it’s short, catchy and fun – just like the show itself. (If you’re not watching Adventure Time, you’re missing out on something pretty darn rad.)
Set to the sounds of “Echoes” by The Rapture, the part animated, part live action title sequence is weird, jarring and a fantastic mood-setter. The show also pulls of the neat trick of having the song kick in while the preceding scene is still playing out.
6. The Walking Dead
The score is creepy as hell and winds your nerves until they’re set to snap – my only complaint is that the show isn’t anywhere near as good as the standard set by the opening titles.
5. Mad Men
Controversy consistently follows Mad Men’s opening titles, with its imagery reminiscent of one of the most iconic and haunting photos in history – the September 11 “Falling Man”. No matter your stance on the sequence, you have to admire how striking it is. The credits manage to be both clean and complex, depicting a man plunging from a skyscraper after his world drops away from under him. It’s foreshadowing and thematically on-point for the series, which revolves around Don Draper’s slow fall from grace.
The simplicity of the sequence is sophisticated, fitting with the style of the show, while the screeching violins are like something from a 50’s era horror movie, giving the credits another level of underlying doom and darkness.
4. The Simpsons
The Simpsons is the Beyonce of TV show opening sequences – visually stunning, consistently relevant, constantly reinventing itself and is the benchmark for everything that comes after it.
The greatest part is the show’s willingness to play around with the titles. From the rotating couch and chalkboard gags to complete overhauls for Halloween and a reimagining from Banksy, The Simpsons uses pop culture to its advantage like no other show.
3. True Blood
Time to get sexy, you perves. As far as encapsulating the overall feel of a show, the True Blood titles are peerless. They’re True Blood at its best – captivating, shocking, vivid, dirty and completely over the top.
The credits transport us to the straight to the south and utilize the location of Louisiana even better than the show does. It’s an impressive feat to have an opening sequence that doesn’t actually feature settings or scenes from the show, yet manages to perfectly encapsulate the themes of the series.
The titles remind you of the brilliance of the first season storyline – vampires fighting the new civil rights battle. It’s too bad it turned into a show about trailer trash werewolves, shape shifters, smoke monsters, and fairies.
2. American Horror Story
Not so much a song as a collection of sounds in fits and jumps, the AHS theme, comprised mostly of creaks, drips and static, is the scariest and most unsettling title song since The X-Files. That’s even without the imagery, which kicks it into a whole new gear. Plus, the final few seconds show Ryan Murphy’s name in big letters – if you’re a Glee fan, you know just how terrifying it is to have Murphy in charge of a program you love.
1. Game of Thrones
I’m prone to hyperbole, but Game of Thrones is the greatest title sequence of all time. Not only is the music iconic, intense and insanely epic, the opening serves dual purposes – it both depicts the world in which the story is set in an artistic and simplistic manner, and tells viewers the story of what came before they did.
The journey across the map of Westeros is constantly changing and growing, adding another layer of excitement to the viewing experience.
Game of Thrones pretty much drops the mic even before the show has begun, making it the easy choice for number one.