But I'm as healthy and spry as a 65-year-old after two heart valve replacements, so in the words of Game of Thrones' Oberyn Martell, "Today is not the day I stop handing out grades to relevant new TV credit sequences." He said that, right?
In this latest batch I'm looking at new entries from the 2014 midseason, with a few exceptions—namely, I've skipped over some of the garbage ones that no one needs to see again, like Surviving Jack's painful botch job. Technically that makes the headline of this story slightly misleading, because the "worst new credit sequences" aren't totally being represented. But I took a one-man vote and decided that it's better to save you 30 seconds of Christopher Meloni pushing his kid into a pool to the tune of Social Distortion's "Story of My Life" than to hand out an F while you think to yourself, "DUHHH."
Below, you'll find a dozen opening credit sequences from the 2014 midseason that I hand-selected and subjected to both criticism and compliments (and if you're a tl;dr type, a letter grade that sums each one of them up). Take a look, then name your favorites and least-favorites in the comments!
There's nothing like ornate sculpture to class up a joint, and despite the fact that the series itself featured a pirate wearing the latest in 18th-century sunglasses technology, Black Sails apparently wanted to distance itself from Johnny Depp's grinning pirate caricature and a Disney-fied depiction of what was actually a very brutal lifestyle. This sequence successfully distinguishes the Starz drama, with close-up shots of a bitchin' stone tableau (computer rendered, of course) featuring ship hulls; symbols of justice, innocence, and violence (all of which intersected on the high seas); and of course, lootin' pirates. But it's the creeping ebony skeletons that bring the statuary to life—or death, rather—by reminding us that pirates' morality was all relative (were things so black and white?). Some of them just wanted to earn their keep and be free from the rule of a fat man on a throne, while others were merchants of murder—and both are represented spectacularly here. Add in Bear McCreary's addictive theme music, and Black Sails has one of the best new credit sequences of the midseason. GRADE: A-
You have to have watched/slogged through the first season of Syfy's totally weird virus drama to really appreciate the madness of this brief-but-brilliant title sequence. Helix was essentially a big troll job on its audience, purging logic and common sense to make room for odd scares with jarring cuts, ridiculous violence against rodents, and mismatched music, all with the intention of keeping us off balance. It was fun! And the show's intro, which clocks in at a barely registrable nine seconds and immediately whomps you in the head after some huge moment in any given episode's cold open, is an essential extension of that chicanery. Plus, the record-player slowdown and dripping black goo at the very end add the perfect hint of sinister humor. This intro tells you, "Hey dude, you're in for some wacky shit." And that's the truth. GRADE: B
True Detective deserves nearly every bit of praise that's bestowed upon it, but let's pump the brakes a little on the love for the opening sequence. It's good, but it's not the best thing out there (as some folks claimed when the show was airing). This intro does a fantastic job of incorporating the importance of the Louisiana landscape by combing it with the show's characters through a series of double exposures, with the characters becoming windows into something more. And the prevalence of fire is fitting with the series' apocalyptic themes. But not every image is successful (a kid over a phone?), and the repetitiveness of the titles downgrades the whole thing. Thank goodness that the Handsome Family track "Far From Any Road"—which triggers a Pavlovian effect in my brain and gets me me all excited to watch Rust and Marty do their thing—is there to pick it back up. GRADE: B+
I do not understand this one, not at all. The broadcast networks have almost entirely abandoned the art of the opening credit sequence—they'd rather spend the time showing you an ad for shampoo—and may shows' intros are little more than 10-second interstitials (see Helix's opener for an example of how to do short right). There's an attempt at visual metaphor happening here; two instances of the show's title overlap and combine, as if to illustrate that even when one word ends, another word starts, much like life and death on the show. But all I see is some artist trying to make something out of the repeating "re" in the word "resurrection" and paying dearly for it. Look dude, if it doesn't work, don't force it. (Can you imagine if the show's title was Reregistered? The guy's head probably would've exploded.) Also there's a tree and some bubbles—possibly because of the drowning deaths that were investigated in the pilot? What is going on here? GRADE: D-
This mish-mash of imagery is designed to showcase the plethora of powers that little Bo possesses—including toy levitation, compass distortion, and flower reanimation (she probably has more specific terms for them)—and for the most part, it works. The idea that it all begins when someone opens a box is the ultimate nod to discovery, a major theme of the show. And I dig the cosmic background behind the text because I'm the kind of guy who loses hours staring at screen savers. The music is apropos, even if it kinda sounds like a girl with the hiccups. This is a really good first draft, Believe! GRADE: B-
Silicon Valley is was
literally figuratively built by computers, so HBO's Silicon Valley—a parody of the tech industry—captured the boomtown feel by time-lapsing a city as it's literally built and destroyed by a computer. Sim Mother-F'ing City-style! And using real corporate logos, to boot. (Speaking of which, I'll never understand how the network managed to pull that off without a lawsuit; it must be a case of fair use?). As various properties rise and fall to signify the instability of the industry, this intro grounds Silicon Valley much deeper in reality than it has any right to be, a key component of the series' satire. And haha, a Napster balloon deflated. Take that, Napster! For added dynamics, the intro music changes with every episode; in the Season 1 finale, for example, a banging' Shakira song expertly extended a joke from the cold open and set the stage for the guys' presentation at TechCrunch Disrupt. GRADE: B+
There's a lot to like about the opener for AMC's Revolutionary War spy drama. Visually, it's a looker, with animated paper cut-outs that depict early spy tech (there's even a submersible egg thingy!) and nifty perspective-shaping layers. The theme song features the unmistakable baritone of The National's Matt Berninger, accompanied by the delicate back-up vocals of The Civil Wars' Joy Williams. And the little swivel of the 'N' in the show's title at the end? Hey, I get it! But none of this jives with Turn's solemn tone; the credits are almost playful, but the show is stone serious. While the many moving parts are independently successful, they ultimately feel slapped together without a coherent direction, like the Founding Fathers jumping out of a clown car to battle radioactive mole people (which I'd totally watch, btw). GRADE: C-
This version of Penny Dreadful's credits, from the show's official YouTube Channel, is missing the text that usually appears over the visuals, but even armed with that knowledge, this drab 90-second intro drags like Frankenstein Monster's left foot. It's a collection of not-that-spooky-or-gorgeous images and stills from the pilot—a horrible offense, and any credits sequence editor who commits it should be forced to endure a year without dessert. What's more, it looks like it was shot last-minute, and at an insect zoo. The series itself is beautiful, but this... this is lazy. The theme song is fine, I guess, but the credit sequence as a whole is nothing but disappointing. Well, not as disappointing as Showtime's torturous intro sequence for Homeland, but still. GRADE: D
Call me a Puritan, but I always find it funny when a period piece has a modern theme song, and the intro for WGN America's 1600s-set witch drama is soundtracked with the rumblings of one Marilyn Manson, goth rocker extraordinaire. If there's one thing that I want people to know about me when I die, it's that I do not care for Marilyn Manson. But if you can get past the growls of Mr. Real Name Brian Hugh Warner, the visuals—muted, sepia-toned Salem Witch Trial atrocities, faceless zooms, and one freaky doll mirror-imaged against itself—fit the series well. I love the witch-hex text, too. And the image of dangling feet from a hanging is always a day-brightener. If the music for this sequence was full of shrieking violins, violent gongs, and creaking wood, it would've been in the running for an A. But the second Manson's voice infiltrates my ears, it's doomed to mediocrity. GRADE: C+
Yeehaw! There be gold in them there credits! Discovery's scripted miniseries about the Gold Rush in the Yukon introduced itself with a big gold nugget followed by cool glimpses of dangerous treks and gold-panning techniques that morphed into the mountains of bumblef*ck Canada's harsh terrain. That's what the show was mostly about, right? Unfortunately, things get a little forced around the 0:38 mark, as tributaries transform into the blue eyes of a snarling wolf and the credits start rushing to get things done. By end, the visuals are no longer blending smoothly; what's with the barrel of a gun gushing molten lead—or gold?—into a cup that becomes a lady's cocktail? It all adds up to a completely average opening for a completely average show. GRADE: C
The Red Road
Sometimes the simplest palette creates the most complex art, and the two-toned color scheme of blood red and pitch black in this intro is a nice nod to the violence that lurks in the rough backwoods of The Red Road's New Jersey. It creates a feeling of hurtling through dangerous terrain that's nearly as exhilarating as riding Star Tours at Disneyland, and the haunting, piano-driven score adds mystery. Elegant, enigmatic, and excellent. I have nothing bad to say about this one, no matter how hard I try. But mostly, it just looks cool. GRADE: A-
From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series
I know I just talked about what a sin it is to stock a credit sequence with pilot footage, but this is From Dusk Till Dawn, a series on Robert Rodriguez's fledgling El Rey Network about bank robbers who stumble upon stripper vampires. So I'm bending the rules a bit on account of these credits being a throwback to the ridiculous action shows and grindhouse flicks of yore. Studio-grade rock wafts into your earholes and a generic vector mask of the show title pans sideways—a lazy effect, but a necessary one to give this sequence a semblance of panache. And really, that's everything you want out of the opening credits for a B-movie television series. Perfectly acceptable. GRADE: C
Which recent new credits sequences would make your list?