The Best and Worst Credit Sequences of the 2011 TV Season: Sunday Shows

By Tim Surette

Nov 21, 2011

The opening credits for a TV show are more than just a reminder of what you already know you're watching, they're like a first impression, television's equivalent of the knuckle bump and "How you livin'?" As such, they can leave a good or bad impression on viewers.

A good opening sequence reflects the tone of the show, and an excellent one never inspires viewers to hit the fast-forward button. Imagine if Lost had opened with a goofy theme song or True Blood was introduced by free jazz and pictures of dolls. The openings for both of those shows, two of the best of the last decade, perfectly prepare viewers for crazy plane-crash survivors and horny vampires, respectively, and each one is good for completely different reasons.

Each fall season brings with it fresh opening titles for each new show. Some are short, some are long, some are great, and some are atrocious. Over the course of this week, we'll take a look at the title sequences from each new fall show and critique the heck out of them (just the sequences; the grades are in no way indicative of a show's quality, so please don't cry if I say something bad). We'll go day-by-day, starting with Sunday.

Allen Gregory

If Saul Bass, one of the most famous creators of memorable movie openings, were alive today, he'd be rubbing a bag of flaming dog poop in Jonah Hill's hair. But the blatant rip-off isn't the greatest crime committed by this sequence. What lobotomized man did Fox hire to write the lyrics to this theme "song," and why do I think it might be Sloth from The Goonies' favorite workout track? Allen Gregory is sandwiched between Family Guy and The Simpsons on Sundays, and those shows feature what are arguably two of the best animated series openings of the modern era, and Allen Gregory counters with this. Grade: D-

Hell on Wheels

It's may not be revolutionary, but the Hell on Wheels intro works. Starting with images of fire (which I assume represent the "Hell" part) and gradually bringing everything toward the real world with a final shot of Cullen on the train tracks, there's an artsy story being told here. And that story goes something like this: When Cullen is done scorching the earth, he, his gun, and his big hat will move on to the next target until no train is left standing! This guy is on a mission to kill all the trains that killed his wife, right? Grade: B


It's weird that the season's best new show also has the season's worst credit sequence. It's great to see Claire Danes' childhood photos and realize that she's only aged about a week since third grade, but this is an indisputable mess of a montage with old news footage and confusing imagery slam-dancing together to improv'd jazz. It's like your college roommate's bad poetry, visualized. What's up with the animal mask, trumpets, and Bill Clinton? Did American Horror Story, Treme, and Frontline have a three-way, and this is what was left on the sheets? Great show, horrible opening. It's only saving grace is the cursing. (Cursing and nudity should be part of all opening sequences. How great would it be if The Big Bang Theory's theme song went like this: "It all started with a Big Fucking Bang, Motherfucker!") Grade: F

Once Upon a Time

This video includes the exposition bonanza typical of a show's second episode, but what I really want to focus on is the quick graphic at the end, the show's real title sequence. It's no secret that Once Upon a Time piggybacked on Lost's success, and that's made even more apparent by the Once Upon a Time's same short opening, same font, and same ominous feeling as Lost's iconic spinning word. The trees are cool, but the music—half a scale from high to low—and overall tone are way too serious for a show that features the Seven Dwarfs. Grade: C

Pan Am

I'm a sucker for a computer-generated perspective of flying through the clouds, and Pan Am is all about the titular airline, so no complaints here. It's to-the-point almost to a fault, but who cares? We're flying! Wheeeeeeeee! Grade: B

Strike Back

I don't know a thing about Strike Back, but from watching this opening, I get the feeling that it isn't going to be as boring as In Treatment or as slow as Mad Men. This opening tells me it's about two guys who may be in the Army and definitely shoot people and have sex with unhealthily skinny chicks. And that's exactly the kind of intel I want out of a title sequence. Grade: B+

Check back tomorrow for Monday's crop of graphics. Now comes the hard part: Tell us which Sunday opening sequence you think is best!

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  • edkins Nov 04, 2012

    Totally disagree re. Homeland. I liked it. Thought it was really well done. Definitely gets an A+ from me. :)

  • JCMeraz Apr 23, 2012

    I like Homeland's intro. It's obviously about what's going on inside Carrie's head, it uses jazz music because Carrie is a jazz fan (she mentions having an autographed Thelonious Monk record at some point). It works well, IMO.

  • GeronimoX Nov 05, 2013

    The music is the perfect bipolar-tune!

  • GeronimoX Jan 11, 2012

    The fact that the Homeland intro is memorable and has an effect on almost everyone makes it a definite A+!

  • megarameno Dec 22, 2011

    I agree with the conclusion that the HOMELAND title sequence is bad. It feels like worth of mention that it is not about content of it, photos, speeches of the presidents or aweful music - the meaning of it. In my opinion the F is for how visually and acoustically bad whole cocktail is. And for that reason the HOMELAND title sequence deserve even worst than F. HOMELAND TV SHOW on the other hand is excellent A++ television.

  • cawylie Dec 03, 2011

    I think the opening creds for Hell On Wheels are about how the railroad "ruined" the natural beauty of the land (the burning) while bridging the nation and Mr. Bohannon is added to show he doesn't really care about the land, only his vengeance. All that in 30 seconds?

  • TV-Glotzer Nov 29, 2011

    W. may not be in it, but Colin Powell is and so is footage from that day, so 9/11 is referenced in Homeland's opening sequence.

    I really like how it juxtaposes Carrie's personal development with the political one.

    After all, most of us have grown up sitting in front of a screen in our secure appartments, while strange things are happening out there.

    And still, this second-hand experience does have an effect on us, haunting our minds, whereas our environment remains inanimate.

    Granted, some metaphors are a little too obvious and worn out (labyrinths!), it still is my favourite from Sunday's selection.

  • penny_ante Nov 28, 2011

    I'm anti-Homeland's opening, as well. It's disgusting that they skipped over President George W. Bush in the opening sequence, as 9/11 seems to be the catalyst the show is based upon. Yet, somehow they deemed it necessary to include obama.

  • GeronimoX Jan 11, 2012

    Bush was an American PR nightmare nobody wans to be associated with that cokesnorting dumbass...

  • RobertSamuelson Oct 10, 2013

    1.5 years after this ad hominem attack by GeronimoX, Obama has lower approval ratings than Bush did at this point in his second term. For good reason, too. Obama likes to lead from behind because he likes to take it from ... oh well, I won't sink to the same level as GeronimoX -- grin.

  • GeronimoX Oct 11, 2013

    How did Obama get in the mix? Fox News much?
    Robertsamuelson a Dutch shower.... Look it up redneck giggidy

  • falastyr Nov 27, 2011

    Wow, couldn't disagree more on Homeland's opening sequence. I freakin love it to death. Just something about it gets me thinking so much about life and all it's complications. It's my favourite sequence this year.

  • fzlmcq Nov 27, 2011

    I like that Once Upon A Time's opening sequence changes the shadowy image in the trees each time to hint at the storyline.

  • DrXabregas Nov 25, 2011

    strike back is far better than all the others

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