We’ve been talking all kinds of heavy-duty topics lately, haven’t we? Rape, anti-gay violence, fistulas—the kinds of things things that you might not want to bring up at your family’s dinner table. (Speaking of which, having family dinner conversation about your day can be a bit strained when one parent is a prosecutor who focuses on murder, child rape, and sexual assault, and the other is a journalist drawn to social injustice and evil deeds generally. “Hi, honey, how was your day?” “Saw some autopsy photos. Dude smashed her face into a zillion pieces with a mallet. And you?” “Oh, learned more about that Sierra Leone story in which four-year-olds were kidnapped for American adoption. A presidential commission confirmed the birthfamilies' stories. Please pass the tater tots.” Umm, nope.)
So today I want to offer up a far more serious topic: television shows’ credit sequences. We’ve discovered Game of Thrones, and are now midway through the second season. The prosecutor likes the wars and murders; I like the evil intrigue and hints of weird magic. And I’m bored out of my mind with the credit sequence. Of course, I get it: spinning wheels within wheels, complicated gears turning, everyone’s all busy trying to win power. It was cute the first time. It was okay the second time. But I’m done with it.
I’m not an omnivorous TV watcher; I tend to come to a television series after everyone else has raved and ranked it, which means I end up watching in huge gulps, staying up night after night, greedy for what happens next, the way I used to read Dickens or Tolstoy. (If I remember correctly, James Atlas wrote a Times Magazine piece a couple of decades ago contending that TV dramas have in large part taken the place of those baggy social novels; for the most part, that’s where our culture now collectively absorbs an artist’s ambitious attempts to trace an entire society in fiction.) If you watch a credit sequence every night, you develop feelings about it. Or at least, I do.
The Wire (insert ritual genuflection here to the Greatest TV Series Ever, a brilliant sociological dissection of a decaying urban world) had a great song. I loved it. When I first realized that he was changing the rendition every season, it irritated me. But I came to love that too. The same-song-different-rendition was just another illustration of Simon’s brilliant and cynical theme: No matter whether your organization is dealing drugs, policing the streets, trafficking humans, running a political campaign, or loading containers at the docks, they’re all singing the same tune, just with different emphases here and there.
Aside from that, The Wire used a familiar device: the credit sequence included intriguing highlight scenes from the season. Eventually, watching it, I would play the same game with those scenes that I had played with Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s credit sequence, whose goofy action-hero theme song I loved: Have I Seen This Scene Yet? (Insert ritual genuflection here to Best Feminist Hero Ever and Wittiest Mockery of High School Drama Ever.) By season’s end, when I could check them all off, I felt a sense of completion. (And Buffy could kick Twilight's ass. So there.) Rank that acceptable, if not innovative.
I’m behind the rest of you in getting through Mad Men, but I have to say I love the credit sequence more and more every time I see it. When I first saw it, I thought it was clever enough, but hardly notable. Now I love how it encapsulates the series’ theme brilliantly, a little animated movie of a man falling helplessly (if glamorously) through the thin fabric of his socially-constructed and yet powerful desires. The more Don Draper deteriorates, the more powerful the credit sequence seems.
But to my mind, The Sopranos’ credit sequence wins the award for all-time best. As Tony Soprano drive from work to home, you saw his world, and his attitude toward his world, flowing along beside him, in harsh and jarring bits. It was gritty and riveting. You couldn’t get the urban ugliness out of your mind by the time he walked into that castle-like McMansion. That tiny movie summed up the entire series. “Woke up this morning, got yourself a gun.” I never skipped it.
I could go through more—for instance, True Blood's song is brilliantly catchy and I end up singing the chorus to the wife at, um, the appropriate times -- but I have really mixed feelings about that sex-and-death sequence of weird imagery --but this is a long enough post for such a weighty topic.
What are your nominees?