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The Opening Credits: Ranking the 15 best—Part 2

Yesterday, I listed the bottom eight of what I believe are the 15 best opening credits for an hour-long premium cable or streaming television series since 1999 (the beginning of television’s 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.

With those criteria in mind, here are my top seven TV opening-credit sequences of all time!

7. True Detective, HBO, 2014–present

The opening to True Detective is an extraordinary visual experience. Sure, it may not tell us specific details of the show, but it darn well sets a mood. Hazy, blue-tinged imagery of farmland, silos, highways, and tractor-trailers are superimposed on top of each other, projected onto character silhouettes. Compared to the others on this list, the True Detective opening credits reflect the most dreamlike experience. The song, “Far from Any Road” by Handsome Family, has deservedly received reconsideration after its 2003 release.

6. Orange Is the New Black, Netflix, 2013–present

If you binge-watched this, it is likely you became very familiar with the theme song “You’ve Got Time” by Regina Spektor. The poignant lyrics “Think of all the roads/Think of all the crossings/Taking steps is easy/Standing still is hard” are heard as the viewer is shown close-ups of women’s faces of varying ages, races, and emotional states. What it tells the viewer directly is that the incarcerated women are not just people to be forgotten; they are all unique individuals with unique stories. What it informs us of indirectly is this show’s diverse casting and its focus on women’s stories and characters—much more than we typically see on television. It appeals to the emotional core, as the show requires a viewer to do, since the focus is on relationships among the women, and not just the fact that they are in prison.

5. The Leftovers, HBO, 2014—present

Sometimes watching The Leftovers feels like a test of stamina for how long you can experience people grieving and in emotional pain. In the show, the town of Mapleton is dealing with the aftermath of 2 percent of the world’s population being taken by the Rapture—literally disappearing into thin air. The credits consist of haunting music while we pan over a fresco depicting people’s loved ones being ripped from their embrace and taken up to the sky, their faces showing agony and fear. It certainly doesn’t lie: The show is far from upbeat, and these credits make sure the viewer is in the right mindset.

4. True Blood, HBO 2008–2014

True Blood may have veered off track in its later seasons, but the first chords of Jace Everett’s “Bad Things” always struck my brain’s pleasure center. The credits do not show any scenes from the show, but do show various images of the Deep South: everything from rotting roadkill to backwoods bars to baptisms to scantily clad strippers. These images, along with the lyric “I Wanna Do Bad Things to You,” set the stage for what you’re about to experience in the show: sweaty people, scary situations, and lots and lots of sex. The only complaint would be that these credits run a bit long … but to be fair, the show has a ridiculously large cast.

Click here to watch.

3. Dexter, Showtime, 2006–2013

There were a lot of strong feelings about how the series progressed and eventually ended. However, if you can remember way back to the first season, it was dark comedy at its finest. At the heart of the show was Dexter’s struggle to hide his identity and “perform” as a person with feelings and morals. The imagery shown depicts the normal morning habits of a normal person, but behind it are more violent actions, such as cutting through flesh, dripping blood, and bondage. This is the perfect metaphor for the show. And in one devious smile to the camera, the viewer is already on Dexter’s side.

2. Game of Thrones, HBO, 2011–present

Game of Thrones is the summer blockbuster of opening titles. It’s big, it’s brash, it’s expensive. It also serves as a visual guide to the geographic nature of the world, while acknowledging the viewer’s responsibility to understand this setting. The amazing mechanized animations show the viewer the location of the city within Westeros, and the swooping aerial shots of the map show each area in relation to the others (and it changes as the story’s locations change). The burning sword emblazoned with “Game of Thrones” is just one step away from being over the top—but there’s nothing subtle about the show either, so why not go big?

1. Big Love, HBO, 2006–2011

It’s hard to beat the classic song “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys. It’s the perfect song for a show about faith and religion and the constant questioning of it. The soft focus, dreamlike ice-dancing fantasy not only introduces each character, but also sets up the show’s character dynamics perfectly, including each sister wife’s relation to patriarch Bill and to each other. What puts this at the top of my list is its wink and nod to its own campiness. The show itself would never be categorized at a comedy, but there are darkly amusing components that this opening sets up perfectly. Big Love was a show I didn’t originally clamor to watch, but immediately after seeing this opening, I was hooked. Season 4 saw a new opening, but that one was inferior to the original:

Honorable Mentions: Shameless, Marco Polo, Boardwalk Empire, Carnivale, and Deadwood

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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