I love music, and I love television. And you know what I really love? When a show has a great opening credits sequence, with a perfectly picked piece of music set against a rockin montage.
And hey, what do you know? It's Kotaku Melodic time, a.k.a. the time when we talk about music. Maybe next week we'll do the best video game themes, but this week, I thought I'd list the best TV credit-themes, along with a few that make me reach for the fast-forward button. I should say that the bad ones are all from shows that I like—there are, of course, a ton of crap theme songs to crap shows that aren't even worth listing.
Here we go!
I love the Mad Men theme for the way it combines that queasy string part with a totally baller backbeat—the result is something that is at once grooving and uneasy, and perfectly matches the imagery of the now-famous falling man. Dig that flat seventh popping out in the last chord, too. Too cool.
Composed by J.J. Abrams himself, I've long loved the Alias theme for its brevity and focus, as well as for how kicky the whole thing is. I never skip over it—it's too short, and too good!
Freaks and Geeks
Probably the best pop-tune implementation in a show ever, Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" is a prefect accompaniment for the credits to Judd Apatow's first, short-lived but wonderful show. I also like how the background colors change depending on whether the character on screen is a Freak, or a Geek. And yet, there's Ken...
Friday Night Lights
The actual credits sequence is nowhere to be found on YouTube, so we'll just have to listen to the music. But my god, this music... argh, it makes me freak out with so many emotions every time I hear it. Snuffy Walden's work on this show is some of the best television music ever done.
I dig Skins, though it lost me somewhat in the second season. But something about the music really works for me—that repeating, ascending line with the layering parts. It's dramatic in that way that daytime soaps are dramatic, and just… I don't know! It's hard to explain why, but I really like this theme.
Well, you knew this one had to be on here. Not only is Yoko Kanno's "Tank!" pretty much the coolest opening song ever composed, the animation and design on this sequence are so flippin cool that they may never be matched. No mater how hard Archer may try...
Parks and Recreation
Just pure, focused excellence. They had a competition to decide who would compose the theme to this show, and I'm glad they chose who they did. The full version that plays over the credits is even better, and of course, there's the unbelievable Jabba the Hutt version, Hutts and Recreation. Ha!
Game of Thrones
A late addition, but of course this one needs to be on this list. I have to admit, the first time I heard the Game of Thrones theme I was underwhelmed. It just sounded like more generic fantasy music to me. Little did I know that it would become one one of the catchiest, most frequently covered opening themes of all time. And of course, the entire credits sequence for this show is so good that I watch it, raptly, every time, hoping for a new location to spring from the map.
The Veronica Mars opening credits (particularly Season 1), are a great mix of whimsical and sinister (note the sketches on the paper), all accompanied by "We Used to be Friends" by the Dandy Warhols. I maintain that season 1 Veronica Mars was one of the very best single seasons of television of all time.
A real classic, the original X-Files theme will long be one of my favorite theme songs. When I was a kid, I totally wanted one of those cool FBI identification folios that they showed, and would watch this sequence to try to make one for myself. I never made a great folio, but I did watch these credits a billion times. The truth is out there.
The Cosby Show
The Cosby Show had a whole lot of great openings, but I think the season 4 opening, featuring legendary jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin doing his multitrack thing, is my favorite. Aw man, I loved this show so much. It's the only TV show I've ever seen where a whole episode revolved around a rare Charlie Parker record.
The Wire (Season 4)
I'm normally not a fan of long, self-indulgent credits sequences (as you'll see below), but The Wire gets a pass. Particularly for the sequence to Season 4, which centered around Baltimore's broken educational system. That season, the theme song was performed by young Baltimore musicians, and they did a great job—dig that weird-ass guitar solo halfway through. What's more remarkable is how much this sequence says with its visuals—one of the themes of The Wire is how everything is cyclical, and how our failed systems force us to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Note how many circles there are in these credits—circles on circles, repeating around and around—a merry-go-round, a spare tire lined with hidden drugs, a kid rolling a tire around himself. Down in the hole. Dang.
The Worst (For Otherwise Great Shows)
I don't know why, but I just can't get with the Angel credits. Overlong and overwrought, they never had the punchy charm of Buffy's similar credits sequence. Too much cello, not enough rock? Or maybe the melody just didn't do it for me.
(Jason, however, disagrees, telling me: "Kirk, you sanctimonious douchenozzle, the Angel theme song is one of the greatest theme songs ever. That string section is chilling and perfect. It fits the show's tone to a tee. And it's been stuck in my head for years now. Jerk.")
To that, all I can say is: Whatever Jason, it's a dumb song. Go back to listening to a Corgi singing "Call me Maybe."
Sorry, Joss! You get two of the "worst" entries here. Firefly may have been a good show—good enough to make me think fondly of its credits music. The cheesy song, the silly lyrics… it's the biggest disparity between show quality and opening credits quality I can think of. It's like a bad version of the awesome Deadwood opening credits.
The West Wing
I may talk smack on Aaron Sorkin (and be dreading his sure-to-be-self-righteous upcoming HBO show), but I love The West Wing. What I never loved was the opening credits, which go on forever and are full of the sort of cheesy, noble trumpet music that I feel like making fun of these days. Maybe it's a sign of how things have changed that I now get a big kick out of hearing the same sort of melodramatic, heroic music played during the awesome (and underrated!) new HBO show Veep. I really think that at one point I loved the West Wing theme, but that as I've grown more and more disillusioned with American politics, I've lost my taste for it. Sigh. Jadedness wins again!
Last, we'll have to list the mother of all ponderous, endless, boring-ass credits sequences: The credits to Twin Peaks. It goes on, and on, and on—when I watch this show on Netflix, I feel like I fast forward for like two minutes just to get to the waterfalls. It fits the show, weirdly, and has the same sort of gauzy, off-kilter vibe, but I just can't get with this credits sequence. It's iconic, it's unforgettable… it's bad.
So that's just me. And I'm sure I left a few great ones off of this list. For example: I can't quite articulate why, but I decided that both The Simpsons and The Sopranos didn't make the cut. So, which ones did I "forget?" What are your favorite TV show credits sequences? And which ones are the worst?