Though network shows have opted out of elaborate title sequences in recent years, cable dramas still indulge in these often beautiful sequences which, when done right, you don’t want to skip past no matter how many times you’ve seen them. Yet for every piece of brilliance (“Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men”), there are duds which hang around like a bad stench (“Homeland,” “Orange is the New Black”). With a new series premiering basically every week, it’s time to look at my take on this year’s best new TV title sequences:
1. True Detective
The first season of HBO’s anthology crime drama is rightly hailed as one of the best pieces of work the small screen has produced in years – even in the current ‘golden age of television’. The show’s title sequence is up to that standard too, a stunningly dark piece of double-exposure photography-inspired work which blends people’s bodies and silhouettes with often industrial imagery from the uglier Gulf Coast side of Louisiana. Chuck in The Handsome Family’s “Far From Any Road” and it’s just a beautifully evocative piece.
2. Black Sails
It begins with Bear McCreary’s off-kilter, hurdy gurdy-played sea shanty. Then comes the stunning CG visuals which create an incredibly intricate stone sculpture portraying battle and pillage between armies of men and skeletons. It’s a deceptively simple and yet excellent mood setting piece for this darkly humorous, adult drama tale of politics amongst high seas pirates. Its only fault is that it runs a little too long for its own good.
3. The Leftovers
No matter how you feel about the show, the title sequence is one of HBO’s best. Helped greatly by a simple but effective piece of “post-classical” music from Max Richter, the credits portray various different groups of people impacted by the Rapture-style event in which millions have suddenly vanished. What makes it work though is that it’s done in the gorgeous style of an animated Renaissance cathedral fresco, suggesting a religious angle without making it specifically so. It’s a surprisingly emotional piece telling multiple stories purely through imagery.
4. Halt and Catch Fire
Portraying the birth of personal computing in the 1980s, the makers appear to have taken that mandate literally – delivering a kind of electronic take on a sperm fertilising an egg (or in this case a chip) and thus giving birth to a PC. It’s fun, short, and oh so 1980s in look and feel with a punchy synth sound from Trentemoller, along with glitchy crimson digital approximations of the key characters forming the background.
Simple, elegant, classy. The credits for Starz’s “Outlander” are basic, taking their time to unfold along with an arrangement of the Scottish folk tune “The Skye Boat Song”. It’s a number perfectly suited for this 18th century Scotland set romantic adventure tale. They don’t just rest there though, the imagery evokes key moments and elements from the book, but does so without fixating on the character’s faces.
6. American Horror Story: Freak Show
Despite the changing settings each season, the “American Horror Story” credits are often a messy and affair, edited to within an inch of their life so ultimately it just looks like a bad music video for some indie goth band. Not so with this year’s ‘Freak Show’ which seems relatively relaxed by comparison, instead opting for a beautifully macabre stop motion animated sequence with some delightfully disturbing imagery.
7. Silicon Valley
Super short, super quick, and sells itself right away. In ten seconds, a 3D stop motion model reimagines all the biggest tech conglomerates into a couple of blocks and even depicts the fall of Napster and SGI and the downsizing of MySpace. It’s very geeky and yet perfect for the show.
8. Marco Polo
The show itself may have underwhelmed, but the beautiful ancient Chinese ink painting-themed credits did not. Designed by Mill+ and set to period-appropriate music with a modern arrangement, the swirling imagery starts out abstract and ultimately morphs into depictions of scenes of both natural world beauty and sinister war imagery with Khan’s armies and impaled bodies.
Blending domesticity with urban planning and nuclear physics in a series of increasingly complex diagrams, WGN America’s period drama “Manhattan” is a brief but clever animated sequence designed by Imaginary Forces. Juxtaposing Los Alamos itself with more innocuous 1940s suburban life, it’s cute, has a distinct look, and fits well with the time period of the show.
Using one of the oldest tricks in the cinematic book with a split-screen mirror effect, Leviathan’s credits for Starz’s drama from executive producer Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson quickly sets the tone of what to expect. Boasting his track “Big Rich Town,” the high-contrast black and white visuals blend New York iconography with objects of the wealthy and the criminal. And just when you get the hang of it, they play with the effect a few times – breaking the mirroring to show similar yet contrasting items.
Special Mention: Doctor Who
With each new Doctor comes a whole new title sequence, and after some decidedly lacklustre ones during the Matt Smith era, Peter Capaldi’s is a fascinating departure. Inspired by a Youtube fan-made creation and then tinkered with by the BBC graphics guys, the result ditches the psychedelic CG wormholes of previous years in favor of a clockwork motif. It’s a great new look, though sadly the new take on the iconic theme song isn’t as well done.
“The 100,” “BoJack Horseman,” “Cosmos,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” “Penny Dreadful,” “The Red Road,” “Salem”.