Home > awards > Extratextuals’ 2007 Awards Extraordinaire, Pt. 3

Extratextuals’ 2007 Awards Extraordinaire, Pt. 3

January 15th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

Just before I start with our third installment, this one on TV opening credit sequences, I wanted to give a shout-out to Michael Newman’s fantastic blog post on the best of 2007 across media. His list makes no distinctions between media, and thus is chock-full of good extratextuals. It also preceded ours significantly, so don’t let my belated link suggest we got there first.

Anyways, kudos offered, let me proceed. The best opening credit sequences ready you for the program, performing the careful act of transferring you from your world to the show’s world. The best ones also bear out multiple viewings, becoming a favored announcement of the show, and a generator of anticipation. Think of the orchestra’s hum of tuning instruments before a performance, of the grand curtains being lifted at a theatre, of the “Let’s get ready to rumble” before a boxing match, or other ritualistic intros. Hence I divided this category into newer shows and long-running ones, since it’s something special when an older show can still do the business with its intro. First, the new recruits.

Best TV Opening Credit Sequence: Newer Show

Runner-Up: Chuck. One of my favorite new shows, and it has a very playful opening credit sequence that captures the silliness and fun of the show as a whole. Stick man spies seem to capture exactly what Chuck is. And the first spy falling out of Chuck’s nose cues the irreverence: Chuck doesn’t take itself seriously, and this is made clear from the very beginning. It’s perhaps worth noting, too, that the action is all shown to occur within the barcode on Chuck’s shirt lapel, appropriate for a program whose title character has a massive spy computer in his brain. The theme song’s fun, too. Moreover, it cues following an opening scene that sets up this week’s spy issue: very James Bond, yet clearly not James Bond at one and the same time.

Winner after the fold…

Winner: Dexter. It’s creepy and puts me on edge everytime I see it. Indeed, each time, something different creeps me out. Two times ago it was the pork, then last time the coffee, and now the slicing of the egg. But it’s a creepy show, and so in true Genette fashion, this paratext is a perfect airlock to the show – it readies you for it. The brilliance lies in how the sequence takes a completely normal morning routine and renders it deeply disturbing, through tight close-up, which is of course what the show does, focusing on a seemingly totally normal individual, yet using tight close-up to show us the horrors that exist in his head. Furthermore, just as the show disturbingly finds aesthetic power in a serial killer, the opening sequence aestheticizes creepiness. And the clincher is the final scene, as he walks outside, smiling directly at us, rendering us complicit.

Worst: I’m blanking, probably because the bad ones are infinitely forgettable. Thankfully.

Best TV Opening Credit Sequence: Older Show

Runner-Up: CSI: Miami. Roger Daltrey’s scream kicks off one of the best opening sequences on TV. And though I’m sort of cheating here, since this isn’t the song itself, the requisite introductory Horatio Caine cheeseball line is a great part of the ritual. See here for a fun fanvid collection of said lines, with screams aplenty. Who would’ve thought that ritualized cheese could be so fun? But it is. Meanwhile, the tempo, raw sound, and mixture of rock and a bit of synthesizer admirably welcomes the Miami Vice lovechild with style. It showcases the CGI and photography that make the show such eye candy.

Winner: The Amazing Race. I don’t imagine myself ever looking back on this intro with nostalgia, as one might the opening whistles from the theme song to The Andy Griffith Show, so it’s not immemorial. Nor is it funky, like The Sopranos‘s opening credit music (which could also be a worthy winner). But the show is one of the only reality shows with some life in its song (sorry, but Survivor’s silly tribalesque “yolee-olee” ditty doesn’t pass muster with me). The tempo is catchy, and draws you along with it, into the race. Meanwhile, the editing is excellent, introducing you to all the teams, giving you a quick image to introduce their characters, and throwing in lots of shots of the world, to remind you that the show is a travel program as much as a competition. Elimination-style reality shows must be darn hard to do intros for, especially with large casts without star quantities, but this one is really good, proving that good reality television is an editor’s art.

Honorable Mention: Lost. For daring not to have an opening credit sequence, the show deserves kudos. It’s a genre-mix of a show, and the withholding of an opening credit sequence plays a huge role in denying us a theme song or sequence of images to return to as characteristic and indexical. Smart move.

Worst: Partly due to utter fatigue with the show beyond episode 4 of each season, let’s go with American Idol. It’s a show about new talent, right? So how about they write a new signature piece of music and show some talent themselves?

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  1. January 16th, 2008 at 10:52 | #1

    Is Chuck any good? I must confess that it didn’t even hold me past the first episode. By comparison, I got 2.5 eps into Bionic Woman before giving up.

    Re: Lost’s minimal signature opening (the swoony music paired w/ crazy tilting track-in and focus pull), I agree it’s part of the show’s genre-guessing game. But it’s also part of a minitrend in which certain shows’ title sequences get pared down to an absolute minimum — a single visual “hit,” like the flickering digital readout that announces 24. Sometimes, as with Lost and Grey’s Anatomy, the logo-ization of the opening credits is paired with a teaser so extended that it basically becomes a first act in itself.

    I suspect that these calibrations and blurring of boundaries are part of networks’ continuing struggles to hold audiences over from one show to another — an evolution of the hot lead-ins that became common some years back.

  2. January 16th, 2008 at 22:00 | #2

    I was the other way around: BW lost me about half way through the first ep, when I realized I’d rather clip my toenails than watch the screen ;-) But I really like Chuck — it’s frivolous and silly and often melodramatic, but gloriously so in all of the above.

    And re: Lost, two responses: (1) if you’re right, it still works brilliantly for the show, since it doesn’t provide a little decoder ring for getting the preferred meaning and tone of the show; and (2) I’m not completely sure that axing the opening credit sequence is industrially beneficial. Maybe some producers might think it is, for the reasons you suggest, and maybe they’re right, but given how important theme songs are for cueing and catching our attention, to turn one’s back on a theme song is as potentially risky or even foolish as it is beneficial.

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