The opening credits set the tone for a TV show – or, at least, they should. In the history of television there have been a lot of impressive opening sequences; ones that hint at the show’s themes and tone and get the viewer excited about what’s to come. But there have also been others that just, well, suck. Sometimes it’s the music that makes or breaks a TV credit sequence. A song can really drag down the vibe, especially if it’s one we’re going to have to hear every week (or every hour, in the age of binge-watching). Other times, it's the visual. Either way, it can be a divisive subject, which is why we've compiled a definitive list of the best and worst in recent TV history
From the somber, ominous instrumentals to the gray, black, and red palette, the Mad Men title sequence hints at impending doom – a sensibility that is solidified by the image of the falling man. Everything about the series is embodied here: the ads, the New York City buildings, the suits, the cigarettes, even the tempting cleavage and long legs of the many women to cross paths with Don Draper. Plus, it’s short, simple, and not annoying to watch on repeat. Perfection.
Game of Thrones
We’re willing to admit that this title sequence is slightly long (nearly two minutes, in fact), but for anyone who watches Game of Thrones and can’t keep all the kingdoms and characters straight, it doubles as a sort of mini-primer for the show. The creative use of animated 3D maps covers every major locale, complete with landmarks that help you remember just what the hell is going on, while also underscoring the epic scape of the series. Also, the font is just plain cool.
The opening to The Simpsons has shifted over the years, but the show’s initial gag, in which the family joins together on the couch, is one of the most iconic in the history of television. In fact, the opening credits have even become a reason to tune into the show, with hidden messages, famous guest directors, and topical cultural references incorporated from week to week. The versions used in the yearly "Treehouse of Horror" episodes are always particularly amusing, but the best? That time the Simpson family ran into the living room to find no couch at all.
Again, the opening credits to The Sopranos were a little long (is this an HBO trend?), but the simplicity of Tony Soprano driving along the New Jersey roads was nearly perfect. Each shot is a glimpse of Jersey from a moving car window, as he passes by things both mundane and scenic. And all the while, Tony is cruising, smoking a cigar, and probably plotting something devious. By the time he arrives home at the end of the credits you’re (sort of) ready for whatever the episode throws at you.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air probably had the most memorable theme song TV credits ever – or, rather, the most memorable in a good way. The cartoon-ish imagery and over-the-top reenactment of Will Smith’s lyrics was somehow funny instead of obnoxious. You can’t hate it no matter how hard you try. Will pretending his spray paint is spray-on deodorant to a cop? Classic. Ah, the ‘90s.
At first, the moody, ominous opening to Homeland seemed sort of interesting – even artistic. But after more than one viewing, it becomes tedious and overwrought, and the idea that we’re peeking into Carrie Mathison’s bipolar brain is almost as irritating as the perpetual quiver of her bottom lip. It’s pretty heavy-handed to include such somber political imagery and sound bites (including direct references to 9/11), but even more so to plop in surrealist images of a maze to give it some not-so-subtle higher meaning. If you go through and break down the individual elements of the title sequence, the only real mystery is how it made it to air in the first place.
Did you have The Rembrandts’ song “I’ll Be There For You” stuck in your head for almost decade because of this godforsaken show? Did you wish you could cut out your eardrums so you’d never have to hear it again? Because that pretty much sums up our main objection to the Friends opening credits: no one wanted to hear this damn song again. Not to mention how ridiculous the actors looked splashing around in that fountain (which was pointlessly intercut with shots from the actual show that changed each season).
Again, with the annoying song. Again, with the dumb images. It was borderline clever to incorporate each actor’s name into a tangible piece of the Hollywood landscape, but all the Sunset Strip flashes and the expensive car rolling down the street thing make the credits way douchier than the show actually was. For proof, please refer to season 4 of the the Arrested Development reboot, in which some of the characters go visit a club named “Jeremy Piven,” thus riffing on these lame credits and reminding us of what a mockery they were.
If you can make it through this shimmering title sequence without laughing, you are probably dead inside. The images of the Henrickson family joining together on a snowy lake – on ice skates! – is like the opening of a daytime soap, except more melodramatic and more ridiculous. Bill Henrickson and his wives all join hands, repeatedly, before the ice splits, which is presumably a metaphor for the drama of their lives. It is endless, cheesy, and just generally the worst.
Orange is The New Black
The opening to Netflix’s Orange is The New Black was hotly contested when the show premiered last year, with fans split on whether Regina Spektor’s “You’ve Got Time” and the close-up images of women’s faces worked. We’re not mad at the song, but after binging through Season 1 and watching this opening over and over, we’ve had enough. It might work better if the women in the shots were actually characters on the show or if these credits didn’t feel endless. Jenji Kohan created an interesting, evocative series, but the credits just don't do it justice.