25 of TV’s best opening credit sequences

25 of TV’s best opening credit sequences

The Simpsons (1989-present)

You peek into the clouds as a heavenly chorus sings the show’s name. Jaunty orchestral music begins as Bart writes a different clever joke on the chalkboard every time. A frenzied tour of the town ensues, ending at the home of Homer, where the family races to pile onto the couch, creating more unique-each-week colorful mayhem. You are primed. You are smiling. You are home. —Dan Snierson

Game of Thrones (2011-present)

Almost as long as a regular episode and covering twice the distance, the Emmy-winning opening sequence of HBO’s fantasy flagship is an epic movie in and of itself and as close to an all-inclusive cruise of Westeros as any of us will ever get. Even if you don’t know some of the mind-blowing details behind the mechanical credits (courtesy of design firm Elastic), those sweeping strums and powerful drums create an evocative signal that Game of Thrones is marching near.

Westworld (2016-present)

Another brilliant partnership between HBO and design firm Elastic, Westworld opens its weekly doors with an eerie, elegant mood-setter that takes viewers through the uncomfortable process of humanoid robot synthesis. Haunting, evocative and also a skeleton plays the piano.

All in the Family (1971-1979)

What better introduction could there be for Archie and Edith than this improbably tender duet? Wry and shrill in their delivery, respectively, Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton’s strange harmony in the sequence was as pitch-perfect as their comedic chemistry playing the grumpy bigot and the bighearted dimwit on Norman Lear’s groundbreaking sitcom. Those were the days. —Mary Sollosi

Mad Men (2007-2015)

Mad Men’s moody opening titles are as enigmatic as its dapper protagonist. The 40-second clip, unfolding against RJD2’s “A Beautiful Mine,” visually references the opening of North by Northwest and the poster for Vertigo as it hints at the dramas of Don Draper: Images of sex, alcohol, and family, brightly commodified in midcentury style, set the backdrop for the endless freefall of a faceless businessman in silhouette. Perhaps most indelible, though, is the final frame — we dissolve into a relaxed image of the ad man from behind, lounging on a couch, smoking what we can only assume is a Lucky Strike. Maybe he’ll be all right after all. —Mary Sollosi

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)

Every episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air opened with a hip-hop prologue laying down the premise of the sitcom in a sequence brought to life, in brilliant neon, by an energetic Will Smith. The iconic theme song (don’t even pretend you don’t still know the words all about how his life got flipped-turned upside down) was created in just 15 minutes by Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff; maybe that’s why, even after all these years, it still sounds so artless, so spontaneous, so very fresh. —Mary Sollosi

Sex and the City (1998-2004)

The splash. The sax. The twirl. The tutu. We can’t help but wonder whether SATC would be the same without its iconic opening credits, which perfectly introduce the sexy, stylish world of Carrie Bradshaw — only to characteristically undermine our inventively dressed heroine just as she sees her own face on the side of a bus. —Mary Sollosi

Alice (1976-1985)

Linda Lavin stars in — and croons the theme song to — Alice, a sitcom about a widow who moves to Phoenix and finds work as a waitress. Like many opening credits of the era, you learn everything you need to know about the characters just by watching the intro. (The smart one! The goofy one! The sassy one!) Lavin’s early-season rendition of the theme song is soulful and poignant; unfortunately latter seasons suffer a bad case of jazz-handsiness and 80s synths. (Random Buffy The Vampire Slayer connection: Tom Whedon — father of Joss — was writer on the show!) —Henry Goldblatt

The Sopranos (1999-2007)

There’s no worse crime than skipping the opening credits on an episode of The Sopranos (other than basically everything that happens after the opening credits on an episode of The Sopranos). Tony’s drive down the New Jersey Turnpike may be decidedly unglamorous — in stark contrast to the decadence of his mob movie predecessors — but set to Alabama 3’s impossibly cool “Woke Up This Morning,” it perfectly sets up this singular world and the strange appeal of its antihero. —Mary Sollosi

Shameless (2011-present)

Perhaps initially most memorable for its bookending shot of Justin Chatwin’s buttocks — okay, at least for this writer — Shameless’ title sequence has always perfectly captured the show’s spirit. Checking in on the Gallagher clan (along with a few friends) as they enter the small, grungy family bathroom, it manages to capture a grittily hilarious vibe while also snapshotting a big ensemble in brief but revealing moments. —David Canfield

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015–2019)

Nothing but respect for Rachel Bloom & Co. shaking things up every season, but in this case, nothing beats the original: a dreamy fantasia tinged with mania that sums up the wild premise in one ridiculously catchy theme song. (“That’s a sexist term!”) Describing what makes this wild, complex show great might be a fool’s errand, but show the unfamiliar this sequence and they should get it pretty quickly. —David Canfield 

The Good Fight (2017-present)

The Good Fight’s opening title sequence begins with a calm baroque melody that accompanies shots of stately objects (most items associated with the powerful): legal books, a fancy vase, a tea set, a glass of (likely expensive) wine. But then this sense of order is blown up, literally. Wine glasses, coffee cups, pricey purses, phones, and so much more gleefully explode as composer David Buckley’s expands and crescendos. It’s purposefully operatic. This is the Trump-concerned show’s way of telling the audience this isn’t your typical legal drama; this is actually a series about order being disrupted and all the hilarious absurdity that follows. —Chancellor Agard

Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000)

Brandon’s fist pump, Dylan’s eyebrow raise, sexy beach volleyball games, Donna and Kelly’s dance twirl: Our friends from California knew how to live it up in their opening credits. This was #squadgoals, before we even knew what they were. —Henry Goldblatt 

Friends (1994-2004)

Fountain-frolicking, coordinated umbrella-opening, and that New York City skyline make the whole “skip intro” Netflix function massively unnecessary. Don’t deny it, you know you sneak in four quick claps every time you start a new episode, and those lyrics will be there for you until the end of time (or at least permanently lodged in your memory). —Ruth Kinane

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

She could turn the world on with her smile, and when she did she created TV’s most essential, enduring image of a single girl in the big city. No matter how much the rest of the opening credits changed over the course of the series’ run, the sequence always concluded with the happy, hopeful, now-iconic shot of Mary Tyler Moore twirling in the street and tossing her hat in the air. She’s gonna make it after all. —Mary Sollosi

Melrose Place (1992-1999)

A perfect antidote to the grunge sounds of the early 90s: MP’s buoyant, pulsating pop-rock theme plays over dewy, aspirational photos of beautifully lit, ridiculously pretty people frolicking around L.A. (Seriously, how gorgeous are Josie Bissett and Andrew Shue?)  This one also gets points for a wink of irony: Heather Locklear remained a “special guest star” for six-and-a-half of the show’s seven seasons. —Henry Goldblatt

True Blood (2008-2014)

The singular True Blood titles don’t evoke classical vampires or even Southern-gothic notions of the bloodsuckers à la Anne Rice. Instead, episodes of the horror drama open with a jarring sequence of images suggesting, sex, filth, nature, predation, decay, religion, racism, evolution, and ecstasy, all intercut with shots of the fictional Bon Temps. By the end of the 90-second clip, you can practically breathe in the heavy Louisiana air — and smell blood. —Mary Sollosi

The Real Housewives franchise (2006-present)

The very first season of the Real Housewives franchise opened with candid lines from the show as an introduction for each of the OG OC ladies (including Vicki Gunvalson’s mid-Botox cry of “I don’t want to get old!” and Lauri Peterson’s iconic “Are the police involved?”), but the careful crafting of the perfect Housewife tagline has since been elevated to a high art. One of the best lineups of bons mots came from the legendary RHONY season 3, which included Alex’s ominous “To a certain group of people in New York, status is everything;” LuAnn’s very telling “I never feel guilty about being privileged;” Ramona’s baffling “I like making my own money, I find that an aphrodisiac;” and of course Queen Bethenny’s “New York City is my playground.” Indeed. —Mary Sollosi

The O.C. (2003-2007)

The O.C.’s opening credits aren’t anything revolutionary — more so just images of beautiful people in beautiful settings — until you factor in the theme song. Phantom Planet’s “California” is not only the perfect fit for the series lyrically, but its opening notes will forever remind viewers of their time spent with the Cohens. —Samantha Highfill

The Brady Bunch (1969-1974)

Here’s the story of a title sequence…. At this point, both The Brady Bunch’s theme song and it’s family-grid opening credits have become such pop cultural institutions, there are more parodies on YouTube than there can ever be boxes on a screen. In related news: Wakanda forever. —Mary Sollosi

American Gods (2017-present)

A truly trippy introduction kicks off Starz’s series about the clash between new and old gods in modern America, manifest in a haunting neon totem that iconizes everything from pills, power, and cars to Buddha and Hanukkah.

Masters of Sex (2013-2016)

Every dirty euphemism in the book — plus a few creative ones you didn’t even realize were naughty — get treated with tongue-in-cheek celebration with mid-century style in the euphoric, playful opening to Showtime’s 2013-2016 sex-history dramedy.

One Day at a Time (2017-2019)

Netflix’s (prematurely canceled) reboot of Norman Lear’s classic sitcom gave the original theme song as much of a fresh spin as it did the show itself. Gloria Estefan recorded the track, a new arrangement of the original with Cuban styling, which plays against footage of contemporary L.A., family photographs, historical images, and shots of the cast. Honoring the original while also creating something new, with great affection and cultural specificity, the sequence accomplished just what the series did. If only it would have another chance to do more. —Mary Sollosi  

Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)

In this case of theme song trumping style sequence, the cherished li’l sitcom kept its intro short but sweet, clipping along with a bouncy ditty (written by Gaby Moreno and Vincent Jones) that perfectly matched the buoyant, bubbly personality of the show.

Even Stevens (2000-2003)

Sibling rivalry gets the stop-motion treatment in the beloved Disney Channel series’ kinetic opening sequence, which ends, as most sibling conflicts do, with a TV-remote lightsaber battle. —Mary Sollosi

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