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When Bad Title Sequences Happen to Good Shows (and Vice Versa)

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I’m really enjoying ABC family’s Bunheads this summer, but to appreciate it, you have to get past the beginning. I don’t mean the pilot or the premise (though more on those in a second); I mean the opening title sequence.

First, there’s the show’s title itself—a slang term for ballet dancers—which is a trifecta of badness. It’s poorly descriptive to someone who hasn’t yet watched the series (is it a reality-competition show about bakers?). It’s slightly misleading if you have watched the show (it suggests the show is mainly about the ballet students, who have a large but supporting role). And also: well, it’s “Bunheads.”

All that’s underlined by the title sequence, scored to a variation on “The Nutcracker” (so it’s a Christmas story about bakers?), a soft-focus opening that doesn’t get across the sharp wit that’s the show’s trademark (and which more than one commenter has likened to a tampon commercial). Again, the sequence gives more screen time to the teenage dancers, ignoring that the show’s central relationship (so far anyway) is between Michelle and her mother-in-law Fanny. (We do get Michelle, who closes out the credits being illuminated by a ribbon of color thrown at her by the dancers, as if she’s the leader of a really friendly afterschool witches’ coven.)

That may be a lot of picking to do on a 20-odd second sequence, but you have to sit through this every damn time the show airs. And it also puts front and center some of the weaknesses of this disarming, sweet, funny show. There’s conflict, for instance, between its telling the story of two mature women and its brand duties as a series on a channel that specializes in girls and young women. And it reflects some of the tonal issues the show has, putting a dissonantly sugary face on what, you remember every now and then, is a dramedy about a young widow and a mother mourning the recent death of her only son.

None of which will keep me from watching the show, but it is the prime example right now of the TV series with a jarring quality gap between the show itself and its titles. Before Bunheads, my top candidate was Nurse Jackie, with its way-too-literal drugs flying through the air and its dated late-’80s-sounding theme music:

The other night on Twitter, I put out a call for other examples of Title-Show Disequilibrium, and several people suggested the opening credits of The Newsroom. The “disequilibrium” depends on how well you like the series. But they’re terrible credits: sappy, hamhanded and literal in a way that makes you wonder how they ever got on HBO (which you could say is actually fitting for a show that really has more in common with broadcast-network drama than most of HBO’s subtext-heavy dramas):

But it especially stood out to me that so many people cited The Newsroom, because HBO is usually the network you can count on for the opposite kind of disequilibrium. Even its most disappointing shows usually have knockout credits. How to Make It in America was a hit-and-miss show, but its title sequence was one of the best minutes of video/photocollage on television. It’s not just the visuals, not just the killer Aloe Blacc song, but the way the two work together. The images themselves—and the way they’re patterned and syncopated on the screen—have rhythm:

And while True Blood’s ratings show that plenty of people disagree with me, I got bored a long time ago with its love pentangles, hyperventilating melodrama and softcore sexyblood. But I’ve said it before: if anybody ever made the kind of drama that True Blood’s titles implied–lurid, sultry, haunted with passion and supernatural ecstasy–I would watch the hell out of that show. (You’ll notice, by the way, that there are a lot of cable examples here, because the broadcast networks have largely eviscerated their opening titles to make room for ads.)

The champ of title-show disequilibrium for me, though, remains John from Cincinnati. The series itself had some incredible high points and confounding, meandering lows. But the titles, free of the responsibility to make literal sense, are simply a poem, and they still give me a chill (RIP, Joe Strummer):

I’m sure there are plenty of examples I’ve missed, so I want to hear yours. When does the wrapping not match the present?

33 comments
dreamlife613
dreamlife613

I hate the Boardwalk Empire opening credits.  Nucky Thompson standing on the beach and liquor bottles washing up at his feet?!  The music doesn't match the style of the show and it is way too literal.  I fast fwd every episode.

I agree that Homeland and Bunheads have terrible openings.  

Great shows that got the opening credits right (from music choice to visuals):

-Game of Thrones 

-Carnivale

I wish more shows would use opening title sequences.  Shows that I think could really use them: -Supernatural (a show with as much action, comedy, and classic rock as this show and no opening credits?!  Come on!)  

-Lost 

kpy85
kpy85

I love the opening title sequence on The Newsroom! I'm shocked people don't like it. The music is outstanding. And I like the Nurse Jackie visuals in the opening theme but not the song.

mearsfan07
mearsfan07

I have three shows that I love the opening sequence of...Hawaii 5-O, NCIS, and CSI:

I like that they brought back the classic song for H5-O's open.... NCIS is just up beat and catchy, and CSI:'s opener is an example of a song that fits a show..."Who are you?"

geomill
geomill

There's another HBO show with a really subpar intro — "Veep." Just really bland and a waste of everybody's time, like they forgot to delete the placeholder sequence. (Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... )

Kyle Bird
Kyle Bird

The worst thing about the Bunheads sequence? The utterly obnoxious "Amy Sherman-Palladino Presents..." credit, as if she were some mega producer instead of someone who has one modest success to her name (and one ungodly flop). Get over yourself, Amy. Aaron Sorkin, you're not. Hell, you're not even up the successes of Shonda Rhimes.

ikkarus17
ikkarus17

I've often cringed and skipped through the Nurse Jackie credits.  My least favorite current titles belong to Showtime's Episodes -- Completely lame and uninspired.

Favorites (current) go to: Parks and Recreation, Fringe(!), American Horror Story, True Blood, and Game of Thrones.  Though I loved Rubicon, Six Feet Under, and Battlestar, too.

DerekATC
DerekATC

I recently started watching True Blood (only a few episodes in) and that title sequence is too damn good. I wasn't expecting that. Also agree with How To Make It in America

Luther also has a title sequence that I love... If there is one thing that screams neo-noir, it's trip-hop.

And I'll throw in American Horror Story, really just for the typography

Shoot the Critic
Shoot the Critic

I always tend to skip right past the credits, so I prefer title sequences that are very short, like just a title card. But some I enjoy leaving on, from time to time, like Mad Men and Louie. One show whose titles doesn't really match its content, not necessarily in quality but in tone, is Twin Peaks - but it's a kind of unevenness that plays to the show's strengths. So I enjoy it. - Shoot the Critic, http://shootthecritic.com

PAS
PAS

I would personally chalk the original Mr. Bean series up as a good show/bad title choice. The Latin chant seems to be appropriate for the absurdity of the show, and it's certainly humorous if you know the translation (Ecce homo qui est faba/behold the man who is a bean), but the whole Mr. Bean dropping out of the beam of light seems to suggest that he's some sort of alien, which doesn't have anything to do with the show itself save the fact that both the title sequence and Bean are absurd. If there were other allusions to his being an alien in the series, I wouldn't mind it much. But as a young kid growing up, I was always, always confused about whether he was an alien or not because of the title, so for that reason I would call it "bad" because it's misleadingly ambiguous. Oh, and not to mention that the "special effects" look dated and clunky even for 80's British TV.

danaatoz
danaatoz

I've seen this show touted as having good open but with recent rewatching I just can't stand the Big Bang Theory intro...

Emily Stephenson
Emily Stephenson

I always want the Bunheads opening to end with the four girls closing in fifth position. I like the sound of their feet scraping the floor. I don't like anything that comes after.

Brian @ PWYJudges
Brian @ PWYJudges

The opening credits for 'Friday Night Lights' and 'Battlestar Galactica' stick out as two of the best examples of "when great title sequences happen to great shows."

M. Carens-Nedelsky
M. Carens-Nedelsky

 But surely there are plenty in this category. Dexter comes to mind - I often fastforward but just because it's so damn creepy.

ghstfce30
ghstfce30

Completely agree about Friday Night Lights. It is one of the few shows that I don't fast forward through the opening credits when I DVR it. Along with Game Of Thrones, The Wire, and The Sopranos.

The Hoobie
The Hoobie

I'd add Veronica Mars to that list. Can't beat that Dandy Warhols song!

Allison Ehrich Bernstein
Allison Ehrich Bernstein

The quality of the short-lived "Dollhouse" is debatable, but I could never stand its title sequence. The dreamy vocalazations didn't mesh with the show's dark themes or even its rhythm, and the focus on Eliza Dushku and not any other actor was a mistake (in the show itself as well as in the title sequence, come to think of it). 

On the other hand, all of Joss Whedon's other shows have managed to acquire spot-on title sequences--moody organ combined with rock music scored over fast-cut clips of action and humor for "Buffy"; moody violins with an old-timey feel for "Angel"; and of course the original "folk song" that, combined with shots of spaceships and horses and fonts that switched from script to serifs, told you exactly what you needed to know about the world of "Firefly."

Luke Sweeney
Luke Sweeney

For me the titles and theme music of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" are pretty stunning, and then the content often ends up being really disappointing. That's annoying - I hear The Roots and assume the rest of the show will be as good...

Zitherbell
Zitherbell

Bunheads has a plethora of issues; the characters all speak in the same Amy Sherman Palladino voice, poor Fanny slips into Emily Gilmore like she has multiple personality disorder, they can't decide if Fanny and Michelle are rich (they have a beachfront spread!) or poor (Fanny can't pay her bills) or rich (they own half of Paradise!) or poor (they have to flirt for free carpentry).   When Fanny does get to be Fanny (and not Emily Gilmore) she is a delight; Kelly Bishop gets to be saucier and funnier than I've ever seen her.

It's taken 4 eps for Michelle to finally face that she has to teach at Fanny's dance school-did the writers think we wouldn't see that plot twist coming ?  Why devote a whole ep to that when it was inevitable? I wish Bunheads were more dramedy and less sitcom in it's plot twists; the last four eps had plots so thin they could have been condensed into one episode. Characters like Boo and Fanny make the show worth watching, and Sutton Foster is fantastic, if the show was just called "Sutton!" it would be a hit.   Boo is the only young dancer that can hold the screen as well at Michelle and Fanny so I hope the producers are paying attention and making casting changes.  Last nights Boo/surfer boy scenes were terrific.

truphtooph
truphtooph

Rubicon.

The show was good, its opening credits were fantastic.

Good titles should bring you into the show's world and get you excited for what's coming.

The jumpy text played across images of newspaper cuttings, crosswords, and redacted paperwork: it suggested the"All the pieces matter"-ness of The Wire and even got one hoping that this show's intricate mysteries might even fill that Lost-shaped hole.

The soundtrack nailed it too. The subdued bassline implied inevitability and as it gradually upped its tempo, became gleefully threatening. Meanwhile, the organic strings brought it all together by suggesting there might be a a natural, ordered beauty to the info-chaos visuals. Ending with the tumbling electro-beep? Ah yeh boy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

rhys1882
rhys1882

This probably doesn't count because it wasn't really a "good" show, but the opening title sequence to Star Trek: Enterprise was an atrocity of unrivaled proportions. I found the show to be a mixed bag, with some decent stuff at times, but that title sequence was mindbogglingly bad. To take the long tradition of soaring classical music intros from previous Star Trek series and turn it into a soft rock ballad was horrendous. Many people semi-facetiously contend that the title sequence was one of the reasons the show failed.

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

 You son of a b****, why did you make me remember that?! (Apologies to Alan Alda in the MASH series finale.) Seriously, that may be a contender for worst TV theme song of all time.

Eric J.
Eric J.

 Actually, the Mirror Universe episode titles I think proved that the idea behind the images was actually great, it was really just that damn song.

Jess_Witt
Jess_Witt

I hate to quibble over the title sequence of Happy Endings because it's only 10 seconds long but I don't think it pairs well with the show. The montage of random photos unified only by the word "happy" and the faded unattractive sky blue title screen make Happy Endings seem like it's less of a surprisingly good ensemble comedy than it actually is.  Overall, I'm just glad it's so short.

Michael Stromenger
Michael Stromenger

I know some people enjoy it, but the opening to Homeland is something I have to skip every time. I get the music choice, but the visuals, while probably purposefully creepy, just do not work for me (and I absolutely love the show itself).

Billie_Dawn
Billie_Dawn

It's not the music or the visuals for me; it's the snippets of dialogue from the first episode randomly popping up in the audio. I can't even put my finger exactly on why they bug me so much, but I would enjoy the titles so much more if they weren't there.

The Hoobie
The Hoobie

It's not that I hate the Homeland titles exactly, it's just that they really are kind of odd and disturbing. One thing that always gets/unnerves me is when the image of President Obama inverts itself for a second. Creepy! (And it's a little strange that his picture should be there at all, because, and correct me if I'm wrong, Obama isn't president in the world of Homeland, anyway. Huh.)

Michael Stromenger
Michael Stromenger

Agreed about the dialogue. At first it felt like an added "Previously on Homeland' type thing and it became less and less relevant as the season went on. Hope that choice goes away.

otterface
otterface

 I fast-forwarded past it every single time, just because I felt no need to see footage of 9/11 when I was settling down to watch a fictional TV show.

Klaus Gepp
Klaus Gepp

Best title sequences (of current shows):

Mad Men

Parks and Recreation

Luck

The Newsroom (I don't like the show, but I actually like the titles)

Louie

As for Bunheads, how about having Sutton Foster pirouette out of a window while A Beautiful Mine plays? If it worked for Mad Men....

 

truphtooph
truphtooph

Agreed,  Parks and Rec is great!

If you like The Newsroom's titles, what's your take on The West Wing?

Klaus Gepp
Klaus Gepp

I think West Wing's were good, but I somehow prefer Newsroom's. I'm mystified why everyone hates the titles on Newsroom, which I think are one of the few good things about the show.