Finally, the post you’ve all been waiting for — my personal opinion on the top 10 best opening sequences in television. These are loosely ranked from last to best, because I’m non-committal and I let my emotions get involved near the end:
10) Laverne & Shirley
Look at these kooky ladies! Who among us didn’t want to be these ladies when we were younger? Working beside your best friend and roommate in a distillery in the Midwest — that’s what I dreamed being 28 was like.
This opening is so iconic that even Wayne’s World paid homage to it. While the opening is mainly a montage of two young and carefree girls getting into hijinks together, the sequences are a trove of nostalgia — not only for the time period the show takes place in, but also for ’70s TV — when theme songs and live audiences reigned supreme. I generally don’t love openings that are just montages, but there’s something iconic about that glove waving goodbye on the bottle that makes this sequence get a place on the list.
9) Hilarious House of Frightenstein
Vincent Price monologue. Need I say more? It worked for Michael Jackson and it works for this. This opening was my first exercise in dissonance. The TV Guide channel said “hilarious” and yet I could rarely get through the opening sequence because it was way too scary.
While the production value on this is about as low as you can go and not be on the local access cable channel between the weather and a recorded town council meeting, the opening gets on the list because of the monologue. Bonus points are given because the monologue really doesn’t have any bearing on what the show ends up being…if you can make it to the end of the sequence.
This opening sequence is 11 seconds long. And yet, it’s captivating. How bold a choice to skip the drama, time, effort, money and production and just go with a one syllable word on a black background. Without getting too pretentious, I suppose I can concede that if not this, what could they possibly put in an opening sequence? The Hurley Bird? Without really knowing what journey the story would take, the writers and developers went with something that’s isolating and eerie, and only takes 11 seconds of screen time. It’s the fear of the unknown and what’s lurking in the dark, and it was one of the first times I’d ever seen an opening so short and so bare. It’s a departure, just like the show.
7) The Wire
Montages really aren’t my thing (unless they involve some sort of martial arts or weight training and late ’80s music), but The Wire gets a spot on the list.
The creators made a new opening sequence each season, each time updating the visuals to match the story arc of the season accompanied by a new bluesy version of the theme song. The Wire was praised for its ability to write effectively despite following a number of equally interesting story lines. Instead of only caring about one character, you cared about how all of them were doing in their own streams of story. The theme so perfectly captures this idea and makes for a cohesive thread throughout the series.
Here’s a departure for me. As you can probably tell (with the exception of that embarrassing but unfaltering love of Laverne & Shirley) I’m a bit of a TV snob. But, the House theme is just too good to not include.
This opening has a pulse, literally. The staccato, rhythmic beat of the music matches seamlessly with the images. Watching this is like looking into the moody brain of a med student. Textbook images bring us to a crescendo of a headless body right to the end of the sequence, mixing a little symbolism about main character Gregory House for good measure.
5) True Blood
Come, join me in this swamp. Are you feeling a little sweaty? Muggy? Sexy? The Deep South pulsates in this opening. From the very beginning you’re struck with the feeling that this is deep rooted and long standing, but won’t be understood by outsiders.
Historic images are cut with deviance over the song “I Want to Do Bad Things to You.” And, right before the hook of the song, we’re treated to the symbolism of the mouth bloodied with strawberry. Splice in some porny snippets of skin and you’ve got a jambalaya going, baby. This opening tops many lists because of its off-putting but sexy vibe. As they say in the Deep South, “God Hates Fangs”
Once House of Frightenstein acquainted me with dissonance, I couldn’t get enough.
The Weeds opening is a suburban nightmare. “Little Boxes” of the same kit house pop up. Each little box spawns the same sterile “neighbourhood”: the same obligatory jogging dad, the same fleet of white suburbans, the same line up of disgruntled tweens and the same hoard of WASPY yuppies (ugh, it feels waspy just to type that out). The song is appropriate but oh so irritating, and yet, you feel like it in order to be polite, you should just let it happen.
Bonus points: This opening makes me hate everything that I’ve almost become — and that’s exactly what it’s trying to do.
And here’s where my list gets confused — my trifecta of perfect TV opening sequences, and the raison d’etre for this article. The Dexter opening is masterful. It is beautifully shot and exquisitely conceived.
Dexter…is a little off. And, as you’ll see from his morning, even the most routine of tasks can be a violent play-act to revel in. From the opening draw of blood and upturn of his lips (thanks to a mosquito, rather than a murder), to him masticating his toast and ripping apart his well cooked eggs, we get the sense that things in Dexter’s life don’t just happen, he allows them to happen.
The cinematography is nice and the mood is perfectly twee, giving us a pointedly violent mundanity.
Bonus points: When the shirt flicks Michael C. Hall’s lip at the very end…UNF.
2) Mad Men
Has there ever been an opening so slick and cool? The answer, obviously, is no, there has not. The Mad Men opening drips with sexy, cool, cavalier pain.
The ad man sits in his chair, cigarette in hand, imposing and confident. This is only seconds after we watch him free-falling to his demise — consumed by his work and grandiose beliefs of himself. The images in this opening are gorgeously reminiscent of the golden age of advertising and rife with symbolism — the ad man, falling to the wills of his work, the form of a woman, and a glass of liquor. Brilliant and beautiful, this sequence will always top my list.
1) Game of Thrones
Like Jaime Lannister has silently wrestled with some of his decisions, I too have struggled. This opening, the Dexter opening, and the Mad Men sequence have all been nearly touching each other in rankings for me. But, I’ve made my choice. The Game of Thrones theme wins best title overall.
Not only is this theme accompanied by an melodic and melancholy stringed song, it’s also got animation, a slight steampunk element, and purpose. The animated and interactive map illustrates for us the politics of Westeros — as one city rises, another falls in ashes. This sequence is beautiful to watch and listen to, but also hints to the audience how far they’ve come and where they might go since the fall of Ned Stark in season one.
A list of 10 is hard to contain, so I’ve included a couple honourable mentions. These openings are gorgeous and masterful but I haven’t personally watched the shows, so I didn’t include them in my list.
This is a really beautifully animated opening. Set up as a picture pop-up book. A pristine 50s domesticate ties a lovely apron bow behind her back. It’s not until her multi-tiered cake comes out of the oven that we see there is something hidden inside.
2) The Simpsons
I mentioned the word iconic — this probably comes close to being one of the most iconic openings after being a staple of many family living rooms for 20 plus years. You’re lying if you say you’ve never tried to see how much Maggie costs, or read Bart’s after school punishment.
Most weeks, if you were lucky, and if you ate all of your supper you’d get to see a new ending in the couch scene. It takes an amazing amount of time to animate anything, let along a full episode per week of an entire show. For the animators to go to the trouble to animate a new bizarre living room situation for the Simpson family shows just how much creativity and passion the writers and animators had for this show. When they hit their 20-year milestone, they animated a new version of the opening. The video below compares them both.
Bonus points: Lisa sticking it to the band teacher in the new version
3) American Horror Story (seasons 1-3)
If you didn’t pee yourself from fear from number two in my list above, you certainly will now. These opening sequences are legitimately creepy. My favourite moments in season one — everything (why are old pictures so scary?!) , season two BACKWARDS WALK UP THE STAIRS – WHY DID I WATCH THIS, WHAT HAVE I DONE? The upcoming season looks like kids playing in a park compared to that one second from season two’s opening, but nonetheless my favourite part is the witches here at 0:48.