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The Opening Credits: Ranking the 15 best—Part 1

With the rise of the “prestige television” era, a show’s opening credit sequences have become a major production unto themselves. Some have the grandiosity and the budget of an independent film. Others are understated and beautiful in their simplicity.

I’ve done some critical scrutiny to determine the ones that deserve the most praise. In choosing these top 15, I did set some boundaries for eligibility—otherwise, the choices would be almost infinite. These were selected from hourlong drama or comedy/drama shows that aired on a premium cable network or streaming service since 1999 (which marked the debut of The Sopranos, the unofficial start of the modern prestige era.)

My criteria was twofold. My choices were based on the extent to which these credits (1) were visually and aurally appealing, and (2) reflected the time, place, mood, and essence of the show. Credits should put the viewer in anticipation of what it to be seen.

Without further ado, here are the bottom eight of the top 15 modern TV opening credit sequences!

15. Six Feet Under, HBO, 2000–2005

One of the earliest premium cable drama series, and still one of the best, uses the original, tried-and-true formula of object imagery paired with mood-inducing music. The credits featured funeral-home equipment along with images of death. However, the music could be interpreted as upbeat, making the music and imagery incongruous, which, for those that have watched the show, could also explain the experience of the Fisher family. Six Feet Under was so much more than a family running a funeral home, but it’s a perfect theme for the credits.

14. Homeland, Showtime, 2011–present

Confession: I find these credits irritating, so it might seem odd that I would include it in a best-of list. However, I believe that is the intended reaction. The atonality of the jazz music paired with the disorienting, black-and-white imagery of past terrorist attacks—and lead character Carrie growing up and experiencing these attacks—creates uneasiness The disorientation is not unlike Carrie’s experience: driven to protect the country from terrorism at all costs while dealing with a debilitating mental illness. Perhaps these credits are meant to give us a quick glance into what Carrie’s mind is like. Besides, no one should go into watching Homeland expecting a feel-good show, right?

13. Queer as Folk, Showtime, 2000–2005

Remember this show? The quick, jarring images of silhouettes of go-go boys grinding over a background of psychedelic color bursts opened this show for the first few seasons. Of course, these images are meant to present shallow stereotypes of gay men. (In later seasons, the opening credits were changed to a sequence where the characters were featured.) But back in 2000, a show featuring all gay characters was a breakthrough in television, and a cable network was the only place to take a chance on it. The jolt of music and color was a like an energy shot to the senses—and, honestly, it was a ton of fun.

12. The Affair, Showtime, 2014–present

The Fiona Apple song “Container” is enough to carry this opening sequence, with the lyrics “I have only one thing to do and that’s/To be the wave that I am and then/Sink back into the ocean” over a sequence showing—no surprise—ocean waves. It’s a jarring song that indicates the show is about more than just two people and their affair.

11. Hung, HBO, 2009–2011

The opening credits to Hung, a show about a Detroit teacher moonlighting as a male prostitute, sees Thomas Jane, in the lead role, gradually removing the various parts of his business suit as he walks through downtown Detroit. He eventually arrives fully nude at a dock and dives into the body of water. It’s so simple, yet so perfect. I am sure no one minded watching Thomas Jayne disrobe before each episode (and often during the series).

10. The Sopranos, HBO, 1999–2007

The Sopranos began the modern era of prestige television, and its opening credits also lead by example. The viewer is put in the POV of a car driver (Tony Soprano) on the seemingly endless New Jersey Turnpike, passing New Jersey hallmarks. The contrast between the socioeconomic statuses of the different location, along with the hip-hop influenced “Woke Up this Morning” by Alabama Three, does not contain the extensive visual design of the others on this list. Yet it establishes the location and mood perfectly.

9. Masters of Sex, Showtime, 2013–present

The montage of visual sexual innuendos—a coin being placed in a slot, a train entering a tunnel, a phallic cucumber—is almost eye-roll inducing. But how could we not expect to see sexual imagery in the credits for a show about the study of human sexuality? On top of all that, the vibrant images are excellent in creating a retro feel, which is fitting, considering this is one of two beloved current shows that take place in the 1960s.

8. Treme, HBO, 2010–2013

These mark another opening credit sequence that may not specifically introduce any characters, but excels in setting the place, time, and mood of the show. Imagery depicting the music, people, history, and culture of New Orleans is mixed with imagery from the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. The positive imagery mixed with the hurricane footage, along with an upbeat, memorable song, makes the viewer not just understand the hurricane’s devastation, but feel hope that the culture, people, and history will endure through it. (The images in the credits also changed with each season to match the show’s progress.)

I’ll share my top seven spots in a later post. Which shows do you hope to see in the top seven?

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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