Opening sequences are something (I think?) common to all television series. On a basic level, they tell you what you’re watching and who is in it.
But, if effectively used, they can really add to the series, and the episode, they are attached to. The best opening sequences lodge themselves in the mind, becoming inseparable from the series itself in the same way as cover art on a book. Just look at the Friends opening sequence.
So here’s something I’ve been musing on for a while, pushed to crystallisation by a recent io9 article. My personal top five TV opening credit sequences.
Honourable Mention: Battlestar Galactica
I’m including Battlestar Galactica here, despite the fact that (as much as I loved Ronald D. Moore’s reimagined series) I was never that keen on the credit sequence. But what I did like was the format. The beginning of a BSG episode loosely divides into four. Firstly, a short intro posing the premise of the series. Then the “Previously, on Battlestar Galactica…” immediate recap. Then the music-and-images credit sequence. And finally a few frames of preview of the episode to come.
It sounds protracted, but it’s enormously effective in raising excitement. In particular the rapid fire preview of the episode is like a teaser trailer, followed by the main feature.
5. The X-Files
Few opening sequences have so completely summed up a programme.
The X-Files opening credits are amongst the most simple, but the effect of the vaguely sinister theme music and the grainy shots of purported paranormal phenomenon demonstrate perfectly the show’s ethos of softly-softly horror which creeps into the imagination almost undetected.
Shots of Mulder and Scully’s FBI badges and the closing tag-line of “The truth is out there” round off a near-perfect flavour of the show it heralds.
4. Game of Thrones
Aside from the fact that the theme music will eat its way inside your brain, lay its eggs, and never leave, this opening sequence is a creative marvel. Using the Westeros map gives the audience a grounding in the world of an unforgivingly fast-paced series. The clockwork-style pop up cities is different and filled with character. And the locations shown give a clue of where the action in the episode in question takes place.
Also, each credit has a little sigil next to it, to make it a little easier to tell who plays who.
A confession: I never watched past the fourth season of Dexter. This despite thoroughly enjoying those four seasons.
But the opening credit sequence is one which has always given me shivers. The juxtaposition of everyday tasks with the implications of Dexter Morgan’s serial killer secret identity are quite funny, and the final knowing smile as Dexter walks past the camera captures the tone of the show.
2. American Horror Story
When I first watched American Horror Story, I consumed the first two seasons in very few sittings. And each time it rolled, the intro sequence scared the ungodly shit out of me.
Before the episode started.
It is deeply, darkly sinister. A combination of hauntingly “what was that?” theme music, and quick glimpses of half-visible monstrosities. The above video is from the first (Murder House) season, poking around the murder house and its various ghosts. The subsequent seasons’ intro sequences use the same music, with different visuals: Asylum filled with horrific mental institute imagery, Coven dripping with deep-south witchy weirdness. They’re both worth a watch in their own right.
They get added points in that they contain subtle references to the events which unfold in each season; like a game of terrifying Where’s Wally.
1. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Well, how many other theme songs do you know all the words to? All together now: “Now this is the story all about how…”