An Ode to the Golden Age of TV Title Sequences

Hello, everyone! If you’re a fan of television, you might have noticed a fascinating visual trend emerging over the past decade. I’m not talking about the new Golden Age of Television, which has served as inspiration for a thousand TV critics, but the new Golden Age of Title Sequences. Where once a television show was prefaced by a cheesy montage of “candid” footage and a catchy tune, the modern title sequence has become a genre unto itself. Imaginative, artistic, and innovative, these title sequences do more than give credit where credit is due: they set the scene and tone, functioning like a window into the story to come. Below, you’ll find some of my favorite title sequences, none of which include Game of Thrones, because while I find it incredibly visually impressive, it eventually got tedious. These are the ones that are too good to skip.

Mad Men // Created by Imaginary Forces

Of course, I had to start with one of the most iconic title sequences of our times. In some ways, I think this classic Saul Bass inspired sequence ushered in the golden age of sequences we see today. What I love most about this sequence is how the simplicity of the design belies the complexity of the story, while also showing the viewer exactly what is to come. The layering of the man’s silhouette over the landscape of print advertisements plays with the viewer’s perspective of shape and space and forces us to find meaning in fleeting images of ads in the same way that the protagonist Don Draper attempts to draw meaning from the commercialism surrounding him. It’s a perfect 30 second synopsis of a seven season show.

True Detective Season 1 // Created by Elastic

Another iconic sequence, but one that relies more on mood and atmosphere than on storytelling. This sequence has spawned a million memes and parodies, and even inspired one of the title sequences for Key and Peele, but memeification aside, the merit of this title sequence lies in how expertly it combines color, imagery, and music to create a piece that perfectly evokes the melancholy of the Deep South, the horrific events of the upcoming season, and the sadness inside the main protagonists. Would True Detective be where it is today without this unforgettable title sequence? The failure of Season 2 says…no.

American Horror Story // Created by  Prologue

It’s a sequence that tests the mettle of even the most grizzled horror fans and part of the reason that AHS earned its place as an actually scary horror show (at least for the first 2 seasons). What makes it so frightening is its dedication to the art of montage. Old pictures of Victorian babies and b-roll of jars wouldn’t cause anyone to bat their eyes, but once they’re jerking across the screen to the soul-chilling beat of some weird song that Charlie Clouser cooked up in his basement, they become the stuff of nightmares. For all the goths and horror nerds (myself included), this sequence was also the food for our wonderfully terrifying dreams.

Hannibal // Created by Momoco

The Hannibal theme is so simple, and so brief, that it might seem like nothing more than a cool display of 3D artistry. But like many of the best title sequences, its meaning becomes more clear with each passing episode. Once the viewer starts to unravel the hidden motives of each character, the message of the title sequence takes on a chilling weight. Not to mention, composer Brian Reitzell’s eerie strings set the viewer on edge just in time for the gory feast awaiting them.

Cursed // Created by Momoco

I’m gonna write another post about how much I love this show at a later time, but I need to share my love for its title sequence. It’s a kitchen-sink style of hand-drawn art, textured shading, and wood-cut imagery, and it’s both too much and just enough. The hard rock meets Celtic crooning theme shouldn’t work, but it does. Everything about the title sequence seems like its trying too hard, yet this earnestness and passion, as well as the clear display of gorgeous artistic skill, makes the sequence worth watching, especially as a way to search for easter eggs of the forthcoming plot.

Big Little Lies // Created by Mark Woolen and FAKE Digital Entertainment

Big Little Lies could have been a soapy drama, but the haunting cinematography and emotionally-charged editing made it into the critically-acclaimed mood piece it is today. At first glance, the title sequence seems to be nothing more than a prosaic montage of setting and character. I remember hating it on first watch. But as the show progresses, and the viewer is drawn more into the complicated lives of its protagonists, the title sequence becomes heavier and heavier with imbued meaning. The layered images of sea and sex, backed by Michael Kiwanuka’s melancholy “Cold Little Heart,” become transcendent, evocative of much more than the mundane task of school drop-off. While many shows have title sequences that evolve with each season, it’s rare for a title sequence to seem like it has emotionally evolved within the space of one season. Like a mirror, it begs us to project our own feelings into its imagery and easily reflects them back.

Bob’s Burgers // Loren Bouchard and Bento Box Entertainment

Whimsical and always fresh, this title sequence introduces us to the Belcher’s warm family dynamic while also giving viewers a taste of their zany hijinks and constant problems. The sequence understands that brevity is the soul of wit and doesn’t intrude too much on the episode’s already zippy 23 minute running time. It’s a memorable sequence because each iteration introduces a new joke, and by ten seasons, I’ve started to wonder how they keep making them (though I know the Simpsons has been doing it for longer!). There’s something to love about a title sequence that is cute, funny, and gets to the point, and the Bob’s Burger’s title sequence checks off every box on that list.

Intrigued about title sequences? Take a look at The Art of the Title, a fantastic website that takes an in-depth look into the making of some of the best title sequences and even has interviews with their creators. I hope you’ll become as obsessed with these beautiful pieces of 30 second storytelling as I am.

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