TV's Best and Worst New Credit Sequences, Part 1: Comedy
The opening credit sequence of a television show is the "Hello My Name Is..." sticker of the television world. And just like any greeting, it can range in tone from a formal "How do you do?" to a casual "'Sup?" to the annoying invasion of personal space and destroyer of decency that is a leaping, wrap-its-legs-around-you hug. Or, in Homeland's case, a screaming-in-your-face-and-then-socking-you-in-the-stomach attack. I wouldn't be dumb enough to declare that the quality of a credit sequence affects the quality of the show it represents, but you can glean a lot about a program from its credit sequence alone.
Today I'm looking at the credit sequences for new comedies that launched in the last year or so (I'll tackle the dramas next week) and grading them according to a few incredibly scientific factors: Does the sequence accurately represent the show? Is the music not terrible? Do I want to watch it again? Did the people who made it even even try?
Here they are, in totally random order!
Some people deal with sordid, regrettable pasts by compartmentalizing whatever bad memories they have and starting fresh. Others keep mementos of their lowest lows as encouragement to stay on the straight and narrow. Apparently Mom's Christy falls in the latter camp, because her living room is adorned with photos of her stripping, breaking and entering, getting hammered in a shopping cart, and posing for a mug shot. Is this a clever way of telling us that Christy is a reformed party girl? Or are these decorating disasters simply a sign that Christy could really use a subscription to Martha Stewart Living? Either way, point taken, and we mostly have an idea of what the show. Plus, the classical music—a unique choice that stands out from the muzak of most other comedy intros—indicates that the lazy sex jokes Chuck Lorre shows are known for will be held to a minimum... like maybe only 75 percent of all gags. GRADE: C
There's the upbeat muzak I was talking about! But you have to respect the way this intro lays out the Trophy Wife's bizarre family structure as simply as it can. She's the trophy wife! That other lady is the first wife and had those two kids! And another woman is the second wife and has an Asian son somehow! And now they're all together and it's kind of sad because they can only afford one couch and the trophy wife is hogging it all up. Share the couch, trophy wife! Other people want to sit down! And take off your shoes if you're going to put your feet on it! Yikes, there is SO much couch disrespect happening in this intro. But otherwise, it's great to acceptable—somewhere in that range. GRADE: B
This one is fantastic. It's all, "Heyyyyy there's gonna be a party goin' on in here!" with a theme song full of strong brass, breakbeat drums, and whatever that DRRR DRRR DRRRR is. Plus it tells you the names of the actors who will be making you laugh! Shows just don't do that enough anymore; these days, they're always flashing the cast members' names while the actual episode is rolling, and then the names don't even match up to the people on screen and you end up thinking Josh Holloway is Evangeline Lilly for three years (true story)! But Brooklyn Nine-Nine spells everything out plain and simple. What's more, this intro captures each character at his or her most character-y, so you immediately know that Stephanie Beatriz will kill you and that Joe Lo Truglio is only here to stub his toe for cheap laughs. But the best part is Andre Braugher's portion, because he doesn't actually do anything in it. And that's what makes him funny. Maybe this sequence is why Brooklyn Nine-Nine won the Golden Globe for being funny even though—let's be real—it didn't deserve it, at least not yet. GRADE: B+
Oh man, remember VHS tapes? The Goldbergs does. This is one of those dynamic intros, where the last frame of the episode's cold open is frozen into the opening credits, and then the first frame from the next scene appears on that crappy TV set. I love that—it's like a new treat every time you watch the show! And because The Goldbergs is all about series creator Adam F. Goldberg's memories of his actual family—which he documented himself by annoyingly and incessantly filming home movies, just like the character of Adam does on the show—this intro is spot-on match. Yet, aside from some bitchin' keytar (is there any other kind of keytar?), it's also kind of boring. I would have preferred an explosion of Rubik's Cubes, Alf dolls, and shoulder pads all scored by a Speak N' Spell, but a VCR with big buttons will have to do. GRADE: C+
The Wrong Mans
I have yet to finish Hulu's imported comedy about two blokes who inadvertently get caught up in a criminal enterprise (I've heard it's quite good), but watching this compilation of Season 1's half-dozen titles makes me want to get back to it soon. Sure, they're just text with a shadow effect or italics that drop into or materialize from a scene, but these credits are simplicity at its best. They feel Hitchcockian, which seems perfect for this mystery caper. And because they bleed into the action of each episode, they don't even break the rhythm of the show like a traditional opening sequence might. It's like, "Hey, we don't even want to tell you the name of what you're watching but we feel like we have to, so here it is—and we'll make it kinda cool—but let's get back to the action!" Awesome. GRADE: A-
Back in the Game
Personally, I liked Back in the Game. But the show always had a gender identity problem that made it difficult to sell. It was about baseball! But it was also about a chick! I don't know if it was ever comfortable being a show about a girl and family relationships and kids AND sports. It's almost like it really wanted to grab its crotch and spit all the time, but didn't out of respect to its lady center. These credits scream, "WAIT WAIT WAIT two dudes made this show! Listen to the tough-guy stock music! And look, the first several images are of men, not women! We unnecessarily divided the screen into 20 squares! And now we'll dust off home plate because uhhh... and then, umm... here are the names of the guys who created the show." This is a mess. And there will never be a good credit sequence that exclusively uses images and video from the actual show. Only a Hanley Ramirez level of effort went into this. (Baseball joke, Hanley Ramirez is lazy.) GRADE: D
Super Fun Night
I guess this intro is a pretty good indication of what you'll get if you are unfortunate enough to watch an episode of Super Fun Night: Rebel Wilson over-emoting, Rebel Wilson singing, Rebel Wilson dancing, and other characters trying to stay out of her way. I'm guessing they shot this between takes of another scene? Anyway, I gave credit to Brooklyn Nine-Nine for showing us actors' names, so I will begrudgingly do the same here while also risking all my masculinity by saying I liked the sparkly font the names are set in. I haven't watched this show in a while because I'm trying to be the opposite of angry in 2014, but isn't Kate Jenkinson's character Kimmie's arch rival? Why are they dancing together? Did Cobra Commander dance with Sgt. Slaughter in the beginning of G.I. Joe? I've watched this intro 10,000 times, and I'm still disappointed that Kimmie never lights herself on fire or gets flattened by a steamroller barreling down the street. Make it happen just once, please? GRADE: D-
The Michael J. Fox Show
Wow, talk about a humdrum opening! This has to be one of the laziest TV credit sequences of the last 20 years. Is this a comedy about a family that likes to have a good time by sitting on a bench and sometimes spinning around circles? Those vacant stares and forced laughs don't look very funny to me. In fact, I think this might be a recruiting video for a cult. GRADE: F
The Crazy Ones
The first thing that assaults my senses in The Crazy Ones' intro is the video-game menu screen music; it's the kind of tune that comes with a Mario Kart knockoff and makes you want to defenestrate your GameCube. Argh! Press the start button QUICK! The giant billboard ads of the actors looming over Chicago fit the show's setting and premise, but why do Hamish Linklater and Amanda Setton have better ad designs than series stars Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar? And poor James Wolk has the worst of the bunch. This whole credit sequence is entirely average, but hey, at least it's better than Robin Williams doing impressions. GRADE: C
What made Hello Ladies such a great show was that after all the awkward comedy of Stuart failing to get some 'tang in Los Angeles, each episode would close with a poignant and depressing moment where Stuart was trapped in a sad, hellhole of loneliness. Despite his irrational and selfish behavior, we couldn't help but root for the guy after we saw what he came home to. But one good thing about Stuart was that he sure knew how to take defeat and bounce right back; he was always upbeat about his prospects. That's all laid out here in this brilliant intro that pits one man against an entire dream-crushing city. He's at a club full of ladies sitting by himself, he's gonna get hit by a car because he's rubbernecking a pretty passing pedestrian, he's rejected at a late-night diner, and then he's shopping for one in the frozen-food aisle of a grocery store. Brutal! And it's all amplified by a perfectly paired theme song in Hall & Oates' excellent "Been Alone Too Long," an equally optimistic ditty about crawling out of the death trap that is single life. Finally, at 41 seconds, it's just long enough to let you start to settle in, before leaving just as you want a little more. I could watch this one all day. GRADE: A
[Ignore the first four seconds of the video above, they're from an individual episode.]
The art of the quick intro is tricky, but this Devious Maids shorty nails it. I already know what I'm going to get from the series without seeing a single frame: Murder! Maids! And not just any maids, maids of a devious nature! And not just any maids of a devious nature, Latina maids of a devious nature, as indicated by the plucky Spanish music! This intro says, "Watch me and stuff your face with ice cream and wine coolers and don't answer the phone and who cares if your kid is crying and it doesn't matter that your OK Cupid account has zero activity because you are about to see some spicy maids acting devious and you're going to like it and not tell everyone that this is your favorite show." Basically. GRADE: B+
Orange Is the New Black
This is probably the most divisive entry of the bunch. I really liked the first season of Orange Is the New Black. The first time I saw these credits, my foot tapped, I may have drummed my desk with a pencil, and I was captivated by the stills of women's eyes and mouths intercut with artsy shots of prison life. And Regina Spektor's theme song has some real power behind it. But man oh man, after a couple viewings, I didn't want to see this intro ever again, and I quickly learned that all I had to do to skip it was fast forward to the 1:15 mark each time I started a new episode. It was the best lifehack I've ever taught myself! This opening is guilty of an intro sequence's biggest sin: It is not re-watchable at all. And if you do accidentally sit through it, that damn song is stuck in your head all day. From a pretentious, artistic standpoint, it's very good. But in the everyday world of television viewing, it's too long and too repetitive. GRADE: D
Which of these opening credits sequences are your favorites?
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