I don’t think I’m the only one who tends to fast-forward through TV program intros or openings. My feeling, especially while binge-watching, is that I just want to mainline the actual content of the program.
But I’ve recently reconsidered my attitude about show openers. The good ones have a way of drawing you into the mood and the lore of the fictional world they aim to introduce. In order to capture the essence of a program in a way that is intriguing or haunting or memorable, the intro must provide a measured cinematic interplay between imagery and music. Here then are ten TV shows from 2016 that I think do just that.
Westworld’s haunting piano melody, complex instrumentation, and brief yet impactful climax match the slow-burning anxiety of the program’s plot and characters. The song’s more subtle layers, like the percussive guitar strokes, the background violin motif, and the synthesizer effects, further reinforce a composition filled with a beautiful tension.
Stranger Things’ intro finds a perfect balance of excitement, suspense, and font worship. The synth composition is as creepy as creatures from the upside-down. Its cardiac beat remains constant as the main melodies rise and recede, matching the suspense of the program. This opening excels in simultaneously setting a haunting, intriguing mood for the ensuing episode and being iconic for the series as a whole.
With intimidating Cold War propaganda images and world leader footage, The Americans’ intro captures the urgency of the Jennings’ espionage efforts and relationship crises. The song is appropriately upbeat as the imagery and music put the audience on the Jenners’ side, almost asking us to see the world through their perspective.
Man in the High Castle
The Man in the High Castle opens with a mournful rendition of “Edelweiss”, a song most famous for its use in The Sound of Music. With its depictions of World War II scenes laid over classic American imagery, the opening speaks directly to an audience that would be shocked by the provocative alternate reality offered in the program.
Making a Murderer
The superimposed landscape imagery in Making A Murderer’s opening reminds viewers of a part of America and its justice system that many are not familiar with. The tense music also drives the high stakes and impact of decisions made by various parties in the program.
When a TV show uses a song from an established artist, it can ground the program in a contemporary reality that is familiar to audiences. Balmorhea’s moody folk-gaze theme song for Rectify, along with the photo montage of the show’s backstory, furthermore provides a lane to merge into the hopeful melancholy of Daniel, the show’s protagonist.
The Expanse’s intro establishes a highly advanced science-fiction world through a time-travelling montage, which depicts relentless interplanetary colonization and commerce. It offers a primer for the overarching political drama of this series. Later, an astronaut floating outside the rings of Saturn highlights the human aspect of the program, that life is very fragile even in the advent of such amazing advances.
Game of Thrones
Though it is quite long in comparison to other show intros, I can’t think of a time when I’ve watched the Game of Thrones intro without putting on figurative royal court garments or layers of armor. Discerning viewers will carefully watch the soaring over of Essos and Westeros as if reviewing a table of notes before an exam, watching which important cities are or aren’t labeled and which are given the building-up graphics treatment.
By using a blend of old and original footage which demonstrate a history of humans’ interaction with robots and AI developments, Humans’ intro preps viewers for a world of advanced cybernetics and robot technology. Like the program, the opening sequence shows a hopeful progress in the technology but retains the anxiety of wondering how far is too far.
It’s hard to make a ukulele sound anything but cheerful and whimsical, but the minor key melody adds a slightly somber mood to Bob’s Burgers’ lighthearted but memorable opening. This works well for the show about the Belchers, a middle class family struggling with common issues like paying the rent, keeping romance alive while raising three kids, making friends at school, and so on, albeit in hilarious ways.
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