It was not long ago when most streaming sites began offering a “skip intro” option for TV show content. Hell, it seemed some intros to the Netflix, Hulu and Prime content began intentionally making their original openers short and sweet so that viewers could get all the info they needed as quickly as possible.
These were welcome changes for most binge watchers who sometimes watch entire seasons of their favorite shows within a day’s time not wanting to waste time on seeing the same names on the opening credits over and over again.
(Yes, God damn it! I’m a slave to the stream!!)
Though this has been convenient for myself more than a few times I for one enjoy the artistic quality of a good TV show opener. It’s part music video, part amalgamation of everything stylistically and tonally you need to know about a series and a truly great opener can hook a fan to a show for life.
There are many shows, no matter how many times I watch them, I’ll never skip the intro too because they sum up everything I love about the series in a single 30 second to minute and a half long video and hey some of those songs really do “slap” as the kids say.
So, let’s talk a little bit about some of my favorite intros and why I love them so much in this week’s top 5.
Note: This isn’t just a discussion of the music used but the opening credits and imagery used to accompany it.
5. Cowboy Bebop
There’s a long list of truly great anime openers out there from the Karaoke-friendly J-pop tunes of “Neon Genesis Evangelion’s” “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” to the classic 80s vibes of Akira Toriyama’s “Dragon Ball” and “Dragon Ball Z.” But only one anime is going to make the cut for this list and that’s “Tank!” from the 90s classic “Cowboy Bebop.” It’s truly unique in the anime landscape as its one of the few that features Jazz and an opening that doesn’t overly rely on the tropes of more traditional anime drawing its influence instead from 60s and 70s spy movies and aesthetics. Fans of “Archer” will likely notice similar motifs in that shows own opening and Bebop’s “Tank!” is all about exuding this “cool” vibe of its show’s primary characters the fun and often dangerous missions they get involved in. It’s a hip, unique take that stands out distinctly in its genre and a truly un-skippable tune during a binge watch.
4. Star Trek: The Next Generation
I think the first time I truly fell in love with a TV opener was watching the show I gained my namesake from.
Yes, I’m named after Wesley Crusher.
I know, I know.
Anyways, there’s something special about this intro and it’s not just its nostalgia or classic Star Trek vibes but the hopeful adventurousness of the music’s tone. “Star Trek” has always been about an optimist’s view of the future, a world where people of multiple creeds, backgrounds, races, species in this case come together not to fight but to explore the furthest reaches of the cosmos.
The music always got me in the mood to watch Captain Picard, Data, and Riker to go do there thing whether it was as banal as negotiating a dispute in the neutral zone, fun and often weird times on the holodeck, or taking on the dreaded borg. The music accompanied by the venerable Patrick Stewart’s brilliant voiceover and the sprawling, albeit dated, graphics of space helped make TNG iconic and I’ll never consider skipping it on a binge watch.
3. Penny Dreadful
Though it’s later seasons never held up nearly as well as its first I became instantly hooked on Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” largely because of Abel Korseniowski’s brilliant score, particularly the intro he wrote for the show.
Korseniowski’s use of classical and gothic tunes helped bring viewers back to horror’s more Victorian roots in the best of ways with an opener that felt touching, somber, emotional and chilling all at once. The images splashing across the screen of various classic monsters, arachnids, and ghouls as the haunting soundtrack played immediately drew me into the story in the same way the young Dr. Frankenstein in the show could not look away from the horrors uncovered in the narrative. It perfectly captures the ghoulish, dramatic charm of the show and though its later storylines don’t hold up as well it’s another intro that is undeniably un-skippable.
2. Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
Bear McCreary is probably my favorite composer of all-time and his work on the Battlestar Galactica reboot is a big reason why.
Though he wasn’t the initial composer on the two-episode mini-series in 2003, the themes, motifs and tones he took from Richard Gibbs work he quickly made his own and created a unique outlier in the science fiction music landscape that has defined his style ever since. The opener is a big reason why his work resonates so much with me because it captures much of the these unique tones and styles not just of the music but of the series’ story itself.
It begins slow like the opening crawl to a great mythical odydessy and tale of survival as we see the last days of civilization play out across the screen. As spaceships begin to caravan across the screen we get a sense of the desperation of the story’s heroes and the stakes they are up against and as it begins to close that’s when the percussion goes into full gear. The use of taiko drums in the soundtrack is brilliant and none more so than this opener as its speeds through frenetically the events of the episode giving us only passing glimpses of the action that is about to take place. It might feel like a spoiler for the narrative but it gave each episode that extra jolt before stepping back into the story and I enjoyed it every single time.
1. Black Sails
I knew I was going to love “Black Sails” the minute the opening credits began.
The scratchy, aggravating yet hypnotic tunes of the hurdy gurdy playing over the creepy, blackness of the ocean gave the series an immediate dark and unique tone I wasn’t immediately expecting when I began watching the series. I had heard bits and pieces about the show’s plot; a sort of prequel to “Treasure Island” and an edgier take on the prototypical Pirate story is all I knew about it going in but the opener lets you know pretty much immediately this isn’t your typical tale of swashbuckling buccaneers. Like a twisted sea shanty mixed together with a pirate themed rock bank, “Black Sails” intro is dare I say a banger that has you howling along to the righteous vocals of music in the most epic of ways.
But the music truly captures the tone and theme of the story in more subtle ways as well. Like an itch you can’t scratch the music tell it’s viewer and listener of a rage lingering deep beneath the surface of the waves of its main characters, one that’s barely being contained as the music hits these powerful offbeat notes between the electric guitar play and the offkey piano drops. As the series progresses you begin to understand more who and what it’s describing it makes the series that much more memorable.
It didn’t surprise me in the least that Bear McCreary was the man behind the brilliance of this piece and it makes each episodes’ opening a must watch.
So, what are your favorite intros? What music paired with a unique and captivating opening title crawl captured your imagination and emotions the most? Let’s hear it!
Me in my car to any of these songs. All the time…