This has been done before, but it’s never been done correctly.
Mad Men is in the midst of a very fine fourth season, and each Sunday night we’re treated to one of the best opening credits sequences/theme songs in TV history. But where does Mad Men rate among the all-time greats?
To rank on this list, a show must have a great credits sequence both visually and musically. A great theme song isn’t sufficient. The best ever:
8. Get A Life
Any TV show that uses an R.E.M. song is probably going to find a way to get on this list. Speaking of which, there are some missed opportunities out there: Wouldn’t 30 Rock (or the CBS Evening News, for that matter) be better off using “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” Shouldn’t Jerry Springer use “New Test Leper”? “Orange Crush” for The Jersey Shore?
7. L.A. Law
Ahh, that’s so ’80s it makes me want to bury my face in a mound of cocaine. Deserves inclusion solely for the opening sax riff and the car trunk slamming shut to show off the “LA LAW” vanity plate.
6. Family Ties
Mock if you must. And you probably must. But the Family Ties theme are credits are the paragon of a pervasive style — the cheery family sitcom theme song played over a montage of warm, amusing clips from the show. No one’s done it better. Sha la la la indeed, motherfuckers.
5. The Sopranos
Almost as revolutionary as the show itself, The Sopranos’ credits tell a complete story and provide the ideal introduction to the show for the uninitiated. They don’t rank higher only because the credits’ length, and the song’s eventual evolution into an irritant, deter repeated viewings.
4. Miami Vice
The first truly great marriage of credits and theme song? Perhaps. We forget how important a show Miami Vice is, probably because of the terrible acting and ridiculous plotlines. But still…
3. Mad Men
Mad Men’s visually arresting credits are a perfect match for the show itself, in terms of feel and style. And the theme song, by RJD2, sets a tone that is haunted but not without a trace of humor.
2. Friday Night Lights
Depressingly, YouTube doesn’t have FNL’s opening credits, so you’ll have to make do with this random set of screen shots set to the show’s theme song. And you’ll have to watch yourself so you believe me that the sweeping images of “Dillon” fit the music like football fits Texas.
1. Twin Peaks
Perfection. There’s never been a better match of credits to show. Haunting, mesmerizing and rewatchable, and guided by Angelo Badalamenti’s legendary score, the credits somehow tell you more about Twin Peaks than watching a full episode without them.
…and, as a bonus, the worst opening credits sequence ever:
- Misuse of one of the world’s great songs
- The use of cracking, thin ice as a metaphor