For all of television’s history in the 20th century, the title sequence was a treasured part of the small screen viewing experience. From 90s’ hits like The Simpsons and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to beloved classics like Gilligan’s Island and Cheers, opening credits weren’t just a fun way to name the talent involved – it was a integral part of the show itself.
Great sequences (like the aforementioned) didn’t just feature catchy theme songs, they were able to settle audiences into the tone and mood of the program, while also offering new viewers a quick primer on the premise of the series. They were functional, but they were also unique capsules of a TV show’s essence, distilled under a minute.
But with the advent of DVR and the subsequent popularity of online streaming, consumer patterns have changed. Skipping the intro is essential to efficiently binge buzzworthy shows these days, and even traditional network programs have cut back on elaborate credits once executives realised that they could use the extra airtime to sell more ads.
In this golden age of 21st century peak TV, intros are often an afterthought. But that’s not to say that all shows have abandoned this tradition. Many modern prestige dramas, acclaimed comedies and revered animes have even improved the formula. These 21st century opening titles have become gorgeous and ambitious pieces of of art unto themselves.
Honourable mentions: Dark, Westworld, Firefly, Full Metal Alchemist
Besides Grouplove’s theme being an earworm, BoJack’s aimless wander and freefall stupor through has-been Hollywoo vapidity offers surprising character insight.
A man with no identity descends into the ever-shifting landscape that is the advertising industry – perfect symbolism for Don Draper’s journey on the show itself.
An inviting postcard glimpse into the sordid world of the Colombian drug trade, representing the temptation to join cartel luxury, even as death and corruption looms.
Game of Thrones
What better way to introduce a complex and intricate fictional world than with a map? As a bonus, changing landmarks and cities also preview an episode’s locales.
Besides satirizing the cookie-cutter suburban drudgery the show’s pot-dealing housewife protagonist willfully rebels against – every episode featured a new version of it’s theme song, covered by a different artist/band!
A gorgeous preview of this alternate version of Edo Japan. Wonderful art, animation and titles combine with an amazing theme by Nujabes and Shing02 in anachronistic splendour.
As you drive out with Tony from the Lincoln Tunnel into Jersey, you’re immersed in the wiseguy’s gritty environment, painting a gray-soaked picture of ambition in transit.
Orange Is The New Black
Soundtracked to Regina Spektor’s “You’ve Got Time”, you glimpse close-ups of each inmate, from the soul in their eyes to the smiles on their lips, reminding you of their humanity.
Much like our Soviet spy protagonists, this sequence attempts to reconcile American and Russian values, showcasing how similar imagery can conflict due to underlying ideology.
By amalgamating modern technology with ancient religious iconography, this intense sequence introduces a surreal and chromatic world of man-made deities and devils.
Dexter Morgan’s morning routine offers a cozy snapshot of a serial killer’s methodical and tidy bloodlust, as household items like floss, utensils or fruit are macabrely recontextualized.
Season one’s ghostly and evocative credits plunges into the underbelly of Louisiana. Industrial infrastructure and lonely highways are haunted by fractured souls until the fire cleanses.
A simple yet tonally precise exercise in 80s’ pastiche. A cool synth track and an era-specific genre intro sequence complement it’s Benguiat typeface, chosen for its nostalgic association with Stephen King paperbacks.
Eerie and otherworldly – hellish tarot cards representing death, destruction and doom plunges deeper into newsreels of Great Depression poverty, Nazi fascism and unending war.
A homage to its roots, this unfolds like a motion comic-book, illustrating the show’s quirky premise, and themed cleverly to Deadboy and the Elephantmen’s “Stop, I’m Already Dead”.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
“Females are strong as hell!” Besides containing catchiest theme of this entire list, this vibrant sequence also explains Kimmy’s rescue from a cult and her unwaveringly sunny disposition!
This intro’s intoxicatingly risqué imagery captures the predatory sensuality, religious fervour, bigoted rot and sharp vampiric allegory of Alan Ball’s swampy, Southern Gothic tale to a tee.
Man Seeking Woman
Opening with a series of stream-of-consciousness, black-and-white animated doodles – this sequence bottles the vibe of the show’s absurdist romantic humour wonderfully.
Masters of Sex
A hilarious sequence of cheeky sexual euphemisms ranging from petting a pussycat to popping a cork, this opening has fun deconstructing taboo, much like the show’s researchers.
Ditching its religious overtones, season two’s new opening artfully depicts the personal toll of The Departure on average families through a montage of photographs, with the departed appearing as silhouettes, outlined by natural phenomena.
By combining fun German pop song “Major Tom” by Peter Schilling, with ominous historical imagery, this opening captures series’ view of pop culture and East/West German tension succinctly.