Monday, June 21, 2010

Credits where credit is due

Nearly every year, you see a story about how the opening credit sequence is dead. At the very least, I agree that creating a lengthy credit sequence for the opening of a television show is a lost art. It's certainly not as common as it was in the 60s, 70s or even 80s, when many series had memorable, catchy theme songs and indelible opening credits.

 I'm thinking Mary Richards catching her hat, and proving she really would make it after all. Or the woeful tale of the crew and passengers on the S.S. Minnow. Or even the memorable instrumentals composed by TV virtuoso Mike Post, responsible for the themes to everything from "The Rockford Files" to "Hill Street Blues" to "Magnum P.I."
Today, few network shows have traditional credits, opting instead for a title card and, occasionally, a brief snip of music. But the credit sequence is alive and well on cable. In fact, many of the shows on HBO, Showtime, and FX have credits that are little works of arts.
I've been reminded of this while previewing and reviewing some of this summer's TV offerings. After all, three series returning this summer have credit sequences that are as memorable and engaging as the shows they open. I'm speaking of HBO's "True Blood," FX's "Rescue Me," and AMC's "Mad Men."
Among this group, "Mad Men's" sequence is arguably the most famous, with RJD2's eerie strings-and-percussion theme "A Beautiful Mine" and the gorgeous, mysterious art deco images that accompany it. I agree, it is a stunning piece of work, which you can see here (YouTube wouldn't let me embed the clip).
However, if you're going to go with the title sequence that gets you most excited about watching the show it represents, you've got to go with "Rescue Me." The show focuses on a gang of NYC firemen, and the theme song -- the Von Bondies's insanely catchy "C'mon, C'mon" -- was selected specifically because its opening sounds like a fire engine rolling out. The music accompanies quick-cut images of the firefighters (a hat here, a hose there), to create a mini-celebration of the profession.
Don't believe me? Check it out.

Great as that is, my favorite title sequence of the three is "True Blood's," which mixes Jace Everett's thrumming "Bad Things" with a bevy of creepy images (KKK members? Check. Corpse devoured by maggots? Check). It all adds up to a funky but bizarre clip, perfect for this offbeat fantasy series. Some have even argued that the credits are better than the show itself. That's debatable, but the credits are pretty awesome.

But summer doesn't have a monopoly on great title sequences. FX just wrapped the freshman season of its cool new drama "Justified." The series was well-written, well-acted, and even had a nifty title sequence, featuring the song "Long Hard Times to Come," by Gangstagrass, featuring T.O.N.E.z.

But the title of best opening sequence goes, in my opinion, to Showtime's "Dexter." The show is about a Miami blood spatter expert who has a secret life as a serial killer. Appropriately enough, the opening sequence is innocent on the surface, consisting of nothing more than shots of Dexter eating breakfast and preparing for his day. But everything he does takes on a sinister tinge, beautifully accompanied by Daniel Licht's perky but spooky theme music.
Take a look:

Well, those are some of my favorite title sequences. What are yours?


Bill Scurry said...

Mad Men's opening credits were inspired heartily by the work of Saul Bass, and it's better for it, not to mention era-appropriate.

The Colonel said...

It's not advisable to watch the "True Blood" credits while you're about to tuck into dinner. I speak from experience.

IScreen said...

@Colonel: That decaying fox is pretty freakin' nasty. I've not checked, but I'd be willing to wager that True Blood's credits are the only ones in history in which maggots figure prominently.

DARA... surviving the storms of life while remaining strong and beautiful. said...

Hey, IScreen. Quite a great job you are doing up here. Keep it up sir!

DARA... surviving the storms of life while remaining strong and beautiful. said...
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