If you are at all like me — that is to say “a TV fan frequently haunted by half-remembered bits and pieces of televisual ephemera” — then you surely have a whole bunch of opening credits sequences you remember with almost perfect clarity, despite barely remembering the shows they are attached to.
That’s not strictly true for all of the title sequences below — in some cases, the shows those sequences were attached to are firmly affixed in my memory — but the following 11 title sequences should all be better known, in my opinion. The list is far from complete, and if y’all enjoy this, maybe I’ll do another.
Let’s get cracking.
I wrote about this lovely one-season wonder back in 2014 at The A.V. Club. It’s one of the shows that inspired the ‘70s sitcom boom (co-creator Allan Burns went on to co-create The Mary Tyler Moore Show), and its gently oddball sense of humor nodded toward so much of what would follow in TV comedy. Still, I am here to praise the opening sequence, which is like watching honeymoon slides from a couple that subtly wants you to know how much sex they’re having.
So when I said these should all be better-known, I didn’t mean they were all for good shows. The Duck Factory (also co-created by Allan Burns!) is notable for its blending of animation and live-action and its first big starring role for Jim Carrey. But the opening credits promise a far wilder and goofier show than the somewhat downbeat series that actually aired. Still, I love an animated title sequence.
I was recently trying to explain Foofur — one of my favorite shows as a kid — to a friend, and I could not remember anything about it. My initial guess was “it’s about a giant blue dog who solves mysteries,” which was true only in the particular of “blue dog.” It turns out to be about a blue dog who crashes in a mansion with his many ethnic stereotype pals and then… helps… other dogs? I’m unclear on that part. Anyway, I have had this theme song stuck in my head for over 30 years, because it sounds like it’s being sung by an animatronic figure in an abandoned theme park. (For extra fun, listen to it performed in German.)
I kind of love an opening credits sequence that sets up a show’s premise, and this opening credits sequence covers itself in flopsweat to tell us just how fairy tale characters ended up in the ‘80s. I would have accepted, “I don’t know, magic or something?” as an answer, but then we wouldn’t have the majestic strain depicted above. (When the show revamped its titles for season two, it did go with a much more simplified back story, complete with the sexist assurance that Snow White would love living in 1987 America because sometimes there would be a sale at the mall!!!!!!!!!)
This soap opera parody boasted an all-star cast and an incredibly sweaty premise about the class strata in a small town whose main industry involved making grand pianos. Anyway, I think about the first-season credits, which feature the cast singing the theme song straight to camera and Michael McKean playing air piano, all the time. In fact, they were the inspiration for this article. The series changed its credit sequence for season two, and the result was, not to mince words, an abomination.
Gary David Goldberg’s follow-up to Family Ties was a deeply nostalgic, deeply sentimental, incredibly Jewish look at 1950s Brooklyn that features one of my favorite theme songs ever written, as performed by Art Garfunkel. No snark here. This one is lovely.
I’ve never seen a single episode of this Linda Lavin vehicle (which was also an early big role for Patricia Heaton), but I came across these credits a few years back, and I love the way they feel like a series of paper boxes twisting and turning to reveal new images. I also like how they interplay with the cold open in the clip above.
I kinda adore this cheesy one-season conspiracy thriller, where a couple of attractive white people (eventually joined by a pre-Seven of Nine Jeri Ryan) try to foil an alien invasion plot. The series’ creators offered a winking argument that it was based on actual government files, and the eventual plan was to take the show from the early 1960s all the way to the dawn of a new millennium across five seasons of TV. I don’t know that this show really works, but I love its chutzpah (it had some great twists), and its Oliver Stone-cribbing title sequence.
If I were to tell you that teen me absolutely adored an eight-episode miniseries hosted by Robert Krulwich (later of RadioLab) about the future of humanity as a species, would you be at all surprised? I’m honestly a little upset that the above opening credits sequence (which frequently gets lodged in my brain) is all I’ve ever been able to find of this show online. This show was so pretentious/good! I loved it!
Compared to many of the shows on this list, I doubt United States of Tara will be a new name to many of my readers. But these Emmy-winning credits are a beautiful reminder of why this Diablo Cody-created series (about a housewife struggling with dissociative identity disorder) deserves to be remembered way more fondly than it is. Its second season, in particular, is masterful.
Let’s close this out with another unheralded 2010s drama and another show that won an Emmy for its title design. More people need to check this series about the development of the first atomic bomb out, as I have written on numerous occasions.
Talk back at me: Which obscure credits sequences are lodged in your brain? Tell me in comments! (Comments are only available to paid subscribers.)
(See what I did there?)
What I’ve been up to: Thank you, all, for putting up with a couple of weeks of repeats! I had a really helpful visit to the middle of nowhere, which helped me get perspective on my life and what it needs to be right now.
And then I came back to Vox and wrote a 3,000 word explainer on the firing of Gina Carano, hurrah!!! (I’m actually proud of how this piece turned out.)
Carano’s firing has started a larger conversation, driven mostly by political writers, about whether conservative voices are welcomed within the entertainment industry and if, perhaps, they are subject to a new blacklist. But that larger conversation butts up against a different larger conversation about abusive attitudes on Hollywood’s film and TV sets and creating welcoming workplaces there.
And both of those conversations butt up against a conversation we’re having writ large in America right now: How do we define what acceptable, mainstream political speech looks like when a sizable and influential political movement, one that has taken over one of the two major parties, is driven by virulent prejudice and baseless conspiracy theories?
Read me: I absolutely adore this Lauren Theisen piece on the novel Detransition, Baby and its overlap with being a trans woman who enjoys playing a sport from time to time. It’s really worth a read.
I’m having a hard time remembering if there were any sports I didn’t play when I was a kid. I learned to ice skate when I was 5, and with my tiny stick and miniature skates I did some early-elementary approximation of hockey. There was soccer, of course, because every suburban kid of that era played soccer. I played a year of tackle football when I was in fourth grade. That’s an inherently ridiculous sport for any kid at that age—these squeaky boys all grunting like they’re tough men as they wear shoulder pads like they would their dad’s ties—but it’s especially silly for someone who grew up to put on blue eyeshadow several times a week.
Watch me: I found this video of a British couple’s journey by train through the United States in early 2020 almost achingly nostalgic. I miss New York! I miss DC! I miss Chicago! I miss all of it! I want to go back!
And another thing… An AI tried to make a Beatles album. It… kind of succeeded? There are some bops on here, if you don’t mind the lack of recognizable English lyrics.
A thing I had to look up: Yes, technically, The Duck Factory was partially animated, but not in the way I initially said, which suggested the show had animated characters and actors interact. Instead, the show, about people working in an animation studio, routinely showed viewers what they were working on.
This week’s reading music: “All the Best Debts” by Fever Dolls
Episodes is published three times per week. Mondays feature my thoughts on assorted topics. Wednesdays offer pop culture thoughts from freelance writers. Fridays are TV recaps written by myself. The Wednesday and Friday editions are only available to subscribers. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox.
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