I am a total sucker for TV show title sequences. In a matter of a minute or two, title sequences teleport us into the world that the show’s creators present for us. They put us in the mood and they evoke everything that the show is about. Here are the 10 best.
Obviously this is subjective. Your results in a top ten may vary.
10. Insomniac with Dave Attell
This is a gutsy choice for the list because it’s rather obscure. If you’re familiar with Attell’s humor at all, then you know that a show about Attell staying up and drinking all night could start no other way. It’s a barrage of strange late-night critters surrounding Attell- it’s a “late night freak show jubilee!”- with a theme song that sounds like it’s right out of the mind of Tom Waits.
For a few years there, all of the HBO show title sequences took on the same flavor. The imagery implied the mystic, and there were a lot of obscure instruments playing, like ukuleles and sitars. Six Feet Under, Rome, Deadwood, and Carnivale all fell into this category. However, it was most appropriate for Carnivale given the scope of the show. It only lasted for two seasons but this intro perfectly primed my brain to watch each and every single episode.
8. The Sopranos
86 times, we all saw Tony Soprano fire up a cigar and drive around in the grittiest parts of New York City and New Jersey while A3’s song spoke of waking up and grabbing a gun. 86 times, it made us all want to witness his crew’s highjinx.
If you grew up in the 80s, odds are good that the life of a bar rat seemed glorious. And that’s 100% because of the weekly antics at Sam Malone’s bar. As an adult, we all know that bar regulars are more likely dark lumps drinking their lives away. The truth has been exposed. But for over a decade, the bar life seemed magical. The show’s intro full of celebrating bar patrons who all know your name played a large role in creating that connotation.
6. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
“Pure genius” is the only way to describe the title sequence of The Fresh Prince. If you want to know what the show is about, watch the intro and you’re ready to go. It earns bonus points because it helped segue Will Smith from “wholesome rapper” to TV star.
5. The Simpsons
There are some things that are as comfortable as a warm blanket. Almost every one of my Sundays for more than 20 years has been filled with a weekly chalkboard and couch gag while the classic Simpsons theme plays. It’s officially part of the zeitgeist. This one is a little more somber, although it’s one of the few decent versions I could find.
The Dexter title sequence is made great not because of the music, but because of the way it playfully takes everyday events and turns them into grisly events. It’s perfect for the show’s theme.
3. Boardwalk Empire
I love everything about this title sequence. It’s a show produced by Martin Scorsese, and we’re treated to the music of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, a band influenced by Scorsese’s often-used Rolling Stones. The imagery mixes the Atlantic City shoreline, Nucky Thompson (the protagonist), and illegal alcohol banging into the shore. What really takes it to another level for me is that it’s so clearly an homage to René Magritte’s Son of Man.
2. Game of Thrones
If you’re like me, then you’re not really a fantasy nerd. Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft are out of my realm. But if I had associated this intro with that culture, I’d feel differently. It establishes the show’s empire-building atmosphere, shows you the map, and even includes a lot of the show’s iconography.
1. Mad Men
Mad Men’s intro is the King of Title Sequence Mountain, hands down. It’s extremely iconic and highly evocative of the world in which it exists. It even draws inspiration from Saul Bass, a title sequence designer who made his hay during the era that the show depicts. It’s simple, it’s clean, and it says so much while showing so little.
I couldn’t really squeeze these two in to the list because they were HBO mini-series. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how great both of these are:
Band of Brothers