Archive for the ‘lists’ Category

“Best” Opening Credit Sequences, Part 2

July 25th, 2013 | Jonathan Gray



Continuing from the last post with my listing of some notable credit sequences, I now turn to Best Thematic Rendering. I’ve got a bunch to list, so let’s subcategorize:

  1. Best Showtime Credit Sequences
  2. Best One-Off Viewing
  3. Best Overall Thematic Introduction


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“Best” Opening Credit Sequences, Part 1

July 24th, 2013 | Jonathan Gray



Recently, Salon posted an odd list of the Top 29 HBO credit sequences by Daniel D’Addario. We know it’s odd for several reasons: (1) who does Top 29s?, (2) the rankings are rather absurd, imho, and (3) no, really, who does Top 29s?


I’m not going to re-rank them, in part because that would just seem snippy, in part because I’ve only ever had HBO when a cable company gives it to me for free, or when The Wire was finishing, so my HBO viewing has been spotty, and in part because I’m tired of HBO taking all the credit for credit sequences. But it did get me thinking about best credit sequences. And thus I thought I’d respond by trying to list (though not rank) some of the best credit sequences I know.


Unlike Myles McNutt, whose attack of Salon’s list first brought my attention to it, I don’t believe a list needs a criteria (“I like what I like” seems fair to me), but I do want to lay out some ground rules first:


1. I am not saying these are objectively, unequivocally the best. I am saying I personally like them. So to the inevitable objection of “How could you say X about Y, then not include Z?”, I simply respond, “Cause that’s what I feel.”


2. I am considering these as parts of their texts. While opening credit sequences can definitely be enjoyed in and of themselves, devoid of consideration of the show to which they’re attached, I am considering them as entities that are trying both to capture something important about the show and communicate it to newbies, and serving as a re-entrypoint for returning viewers, beckoning them back in and suggesting why they should do so. Thus, for instance, I think True Blood’s opening credit sequence is pretty lousy, to be honest, for while it’s brilliant in and of itself, it lies to me by suggesting a different tone. Okay, yes, it tells me we’re in the South and that we’re examining Dark Things, but it doesn’t adequately gesture (to my liking) to the tone, address, style, or pitch of the show.


3. Put the above two rules together and we arrive at a third: I can only list and discuss opening credit sequences for shows I’ve actually seen. I read impassioned defense of the Salon-maligned credit sequence for How to Make it in America on Facebook, for instance, but I’ve never seen this show. Also, I only moved to the US ten years ago, so I was at the mercy of what was exported and what wasn’t growing up, which means that I’ve not seen a great deal of older shows.


That said, let’s begin. I’ve broken them into three categories: Best Telling of Backstory, Love the Music But the Rest is Just Meh, and Best Thematic Rendering. The latter category will be in the next post, broken into yet more sub-categories. Read more…

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Best Characters — Lead Male

May 22nd, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

Whoops – I got busy for a while there. A long while! Let’s continue the lists, though, with my final entry. Honorary Mention to David Brent & Michael Scott, Chuck Bartowski, Larry David, Denny Crane, and Black Adder.

20. Greg House (Hugh Laurie), House

I’m a sucker for sarcasm, and Laurie delivers. I’m also not a huge fan of procedurals, and so whether it’s just me or not, I can’t help but feel that so much of his bile is aimed at the genre itself, and at the expectations of heroism, functionality, and so forth. If only the staff of Grey’s Anatomy had a date with Dr. House.

19. Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda), M*A*S*H

The womanizing is kind of pat and tiring, but behind it is a remarkable charisma. If people watched the show and did so for so long, I’d bet that a large reason is Alda’s ability to grab and maintain interest. He also managed to sell the hardship and tragedies of M*A*S*H with subtlety, never letting it become just another happy-happy sitcom even while being the source of such happy-happy-ness.

18. Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), Twin Peaks

MacLachlan manages a hard feat in Twin Peaks, playing his character in a way that makes him both a point of entry into the profoundly bizarre world of Twin Peaks, and someone who is no less profoundly bizarre in his own way.

17. Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens), The Pee Wee Herman Show

Simply put, is there any more fucked up character on television who is so enjoyable? A great hybrid between kids performer and drug-induced, crazed indy character, Pee Wee’s kind of awesome. Read more…

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Best Characters — Lead Female

March 7th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

Continuing on with my lists, let’s shift to leads:


20. Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer), The Office

In a show full of unreal characters, to even keep the semblance of a “realistic” style of camerawork requires someone identifiable, and that’s Pam. While almost everyone else is larger than life, Fischer does such a good job of being funny in a subtle, quiet way.

19. Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore), The Mary Tyler Moore Show

We can’t really have a top women on television list without Mary, can we? Mary Tyler Moore rocks, from The Dick Van Dyke Show onwards, and so it was nice to see her get to carry this show. She might just make it after all. Read more…

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Best Characters — Supporting Male

February 28th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

Continuing with my lists, below I tackle best supporting performance by a dude. Once again, there are some arguable distinctions between lead and supporting (which is John Locke?), but let’s get going all the same, shall we?


Best Supporting Male

Honorable Mention to Duquan Weems (Jermaine Crawford) from The Wire, Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) from 30 Rock, Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor) from The Larry Sanders Show, BA Baracus (Mr. T) from The A-Team, Gob Bluth (Will Arnett) and Tobias Fünke (David Cross) from Arrested Development, Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr) from Freaks and Geeks, E. B. Farnum (William Sanderson) from Deadwood, and Lee Adama (Jamie Barber) from Battlestar Galactica. It’s a deep category, as you can see. Read more…

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Best Characters — Supporting Female

February 25th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

Who are the best characters on TV, past or present? A couple of years back, I wrote a post giving a personal top 50. That post has received more comments and readership than any other I’ve written. I still get complaints about omissions, sometimes with great suggestions, sometimes with awful ones. So I thought I’d give it another crack.

But this time I wanted to break them down into four categories, parsing out leads and supporting characters. Also, since my previous list waxed more decidedly male, I’m dividing these into genders too. I admit to struggling a lot more to eliminate men than women when making the lists. Maybe that’s because television writers on the whole haven’t done as good a job of creating female characters, maybe it’s because I’m personally more drawn to the tales of masculinity, or a bit of both.

Anyways, here’s the first of four. A caveat — I don’t intend this to be a master list, like the AFI Top 100 Films or something like that. It’s the characters that I like at this moment in time. Some aren’t here because I don’t watch that show, or never watched enough of it to allow them consideration. (And since I grew up outside the US, I don’t know a bunch of older shows). Some aren’t because, hey, it’s my list and I do what I want. I also had to draw some odd lines regarding who is a lead and who isn’t, though I usually defaulted to who the advertising treats as the lead. But please, tell me who you’d put on your own lists, and tell me when I’m wrong.

Now, without further ado: Read more…

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All-Star Primetime Schedule

January 30th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

Oh, blog, I’m sorry I’ve neglected you so. But I promise to get you back up and running this year.

Towards that end, since seeing TV By the Numbers‘ invitation to create an all-time-best primetime schedule (sorry, I’d add a link, but I’m struggling to find it now), and in honor of the NHL All-Star Weekend, I’ve been playing around with my own “team”. And now, I present version 1.0 to you, with caveats and comments to follow:



8pm – The Amazing Race

9pm – Chuck

10pm – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

(a nice fun night, and a good way to start the week without too much doom and gloom, Buffy s.6 excepted. I like the flow, too, from international race to international man of mystery to tonally similar, fun, asses-must-be-kicked show)



8pm – Battlestar Galactica

9pm – Mad Men

10pm – Deadwood

(getting more serious tonight, as you can see. BSG doesn’t quite fit the other two tonally, but I thought it necessary to have something with a little action and thrillerishness in it before slowing down for Mad Men. Plus I like that it’s “different time and place night”)



8pm – The West Wing

9pm – Survivor

10pm – Lost

(too hard to resist putting Survivor and Lost next to each other. West Wing’s kind of stranded tonally, but so be it: CJ’s up to the task)



8pm – Bones

9pm – Dexter

10pm – The Wire

(crime and punishment night. I had to get at least one procedural in here, and Bones is worthy)



8pm – I Love Lucy

8.30pm – The Cosby Show

9pm – Modern Family

9.30pm – The Office

10pm – All in the Family

10.30pm – South Park

(and you thought I’d forgotten comedy? It’s just on the weekend, by which point I’m ready for it. We’ve got family life night here, working up from the more quaint to the more screwed up)



8pm – Arrested Development

8.30pm – How I Met Your Mother

9pm – Freaks and Geeks

10pm – Friday Night Lights

(I like the progression from HIMYM to FNL, with Jason Segel and that style of comedy segueing very easily from HIMYM to F&G, and then the high school line taking us to FNL. Arrested can go anywhere, it’s that lovely)



8pm – The Muppet Show

8.30pm – The Simpsons

9pm – The Dick Van Dyke Show

9.30pm – Seinfeld

10pm – Pushing Daisies

(the block of half-hours is self-reflexive comedy, so I think there’s good tonal flow. Then why not end the weekend with wimsy?)


General Comments

  • I started with only network primetime shows allowed, since I was thinking of this as a network schedule. I opened up to allow cable scripted shows, but felt it would be too hard to consider cable nonscripted too, hence the absence of Man vs. Wild, River Monsters, Iron Chef America, etc.
  • I also cut off at 11pm, hence the absence of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. For the record, though, they’re on every night at 11pm and 11.30pm on my schedule :-)
  • It’s a fairly contemporary-centered list, but when I got down to it, I realized that I’d much rather watch, say, an hour of Dexter than an hour of Quantum Leap, as much as the latter show was fun in its own way.
  • Some decisions were also based around scheduling. Indeed, exercises like this require some savvy scheduling. DVR Era bla bla bla: still way more people watch off DVR.


And now, let the abuse and recriminations begin. Or perhaps my long period of absence from my blog has lost all readers, in which case, let the crickets begin!


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Top Extratextuals of the Decade

December 24th, 2009 | Jonathan Gray

The lists for best films, TV shows, and music of the decade have already begun, but what about paratexts? What have been the best extratextuals of the 00s?

In no particular order, here are 14 of my top 20. I’m banking on having forgotten some biggies, so I’m hoping my readers will jolt my memory, and I’ll fill in the remaining 6 based on those. After the fold …

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The Best of 2008, 3: Film and Film Posters

December 31st, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

Somehow I went a full year without seeing many films, so the competition wasn’t all that steep, though I’m still relatively happy with most of my top picks. Remember that they count if I saw them in 2008, hence some of the 2007 entries.


10. Enchanted. Silly but fun, and ideal for the second 9 hour leg of a trip to Malawi.

9. Sweeney Todd. I like Tim Burton’s aesthetic. Odd, dark, kinda cool.

8. The Bourne Ultimatum. If only I could move and fight like Bourne, my subway commute would be so much less of a hassle.

7. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Admittedly, in other years, the movie that gifted the phrase “nuking the fridge” to movie criticism wouldn’t make the list, but it was fun, and it was great to see Harrison back in action. I spent a lot of playtime trying to be him as a kid, so he has a long leash.

6. Quantum of Solace. Not quite Casino Royale, but I’m intrigued by the decision to serialize the Bond films, and Daniel Craig is still easily the best Bond.

5. There Will Be Blood. By the time Daniel Day Lewis was drinking from the other dude’s milkshake, I was a little tired, since I also saw this on the way to Malawi, but it was gripping stuff. I wish I could’ve seen it on the big screen.

4. Cloverfield. A great ride. My sense is that New Yorkers liked this film more than others. I loved it. Wouldn’t want to own it or see it without a full theatre, but I really liked it.

3. No Country for Old Men. I have a real weak spot for totally dark, badass villains, so this movie hit all the right chords with me. And I love the Coen Bros. stuff.

2. Iron Man. Like Batman Begins, Iron Man has a brilliant first two acts, then falls quite flat. But its first two acts were really fun.

1. The Dark Knight. I know I’m not supposed to like it, because hype is bad, right? Well, much of Dark Knight‘s hype was really bad (a Gotham pepperoni pizza from Domino’s? Come on!). I think much of its marketing sucked. To the point that I was ready to dislike the film, and especially Heath Ledger’s performance. Instead, I really liked it. The IMAX screen helped, no doubt. But it was great fun. Let the haters hate, but I won’t. I’m even one of the only people I know who actually likes Christian Bale’s Batman voice.

Now for movie posters after the fold. Yes, I get to the extratextuals eventually …

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The Best of 2008, 2: Web Video and Music

December 31st, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

Continuing with my Best Of 2008:

Web Video

10. “Too Drunk to Fuck.” I had my vid watching orgy in late 2007, but one of Luminosity’s 2008 offerings helps explain visually why Family Guy will never rival The Simpsons: Lisa and Marge are just so much better than FG‘s women.

9. “Talk to Your Parents About Voting Republican.” I’ve already posted about this, in the context of its political message, but I’m also a fan of its parodic attack on the earnestness of Talk to Your Kids videos that assume older people know better.

8. “Piece of Me.” Obsessive24’s vid about Britney Spears is excellent, and a 3m21 essay on celebrity exploitation and obsession.

7. Fox News Calls Ohio. I saw this after the fact, but it’s a sweet moment, as Brit Hume and Karl Rove see the writing on the wall, and Lurch delivers the news to the bald master of evil.

6. “Yes We Can.”’s video defined viral, and though I still laugh at its inclusion of some pretty C rate celebs (“hey look, there’s Ashley from Fresh Prince of Bel Air!”), it laid down a gauntlet to Obama’s contenders that they’d have to deliver online. They didn’t, and they lost.

More after the fold …

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