25 Apr 19
It’s a hard truth, but in the days of binge culture, a lengthy opening credits sequence can feel like a burden for the viewer — if the point is to jump as quickly as possible to the next installment of a story, then two minutes of title cards and abstract imagery will more often than not have people reaching for the fast-forward button.
That might be why Netflix created the “Skip Intro” feature for its users — but it’s also why many of the shows on the list below have proven innovative in how they approach their opening sequences. By changing key elements of the opening credits each week, series are able to make watching them essential, while also adding additional insight into the show for attentive viewers. The below list is ranked based on both ingenuity as well as how much the changes enhance the viewing experience. The best shows, after all, make use of every moment to tell their stories.
18. “The X-Files”
It’s not the big changes that make us always pay attention to the opening credits of “The X-Files” — it’s the little ones: Specifically the tagline, traditionally “The Truth is Out There,” but for special episodes or the occasional fun gag swapped for some other mysterious catchphrase. Classic examples include “The Erlenmeyer Flask”: “Trust No One,” baseball-themed “The Unnatural”: “In the Big Inning,” and “Trust No 1”: “They’re Watching.” The changes, especially in the early days, felt like secret messages from the show’s creator, which only amplified the show’s innate feeling of conspiracy.
Over the past 14 seasons, “Supernatural” (originating on the WB, now airing on the CW) keeps things relatively simple with its opening credits — really, just a title card. But not only does the visual motif change every season to fit specific themes, special episodes switch things up, especially when the episode in question is riffing on a genre or pop culture staple, from westerns to classic sitcoms to “The X-Files” to “Scooby Doo.”
The modified title card approach, by the way, is one emulated by many of the Greg Berlanti-produced DC shows for the CW, with a special shout-out to our bonkers favorite “Legends of Tomorrow“, which has had more opportunity than most to have fun here, at the most random of times.
16. “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”
Blink and you might miss why the HBO weekly talk show has made this list, but every episode packs a number of fresh Easter eggs into the opening credits, using fractured Latin to redefine the most chaotic elements of our world. The biggest one, which always appears moments before John Oliver’s signature “WELCOME WELCOME WELCOME!” tends to reflect the most major cultural or political moment of the week: As of writing, the latest episode chose to spotlight Paas egg-dying kits, AKA “Paas Americana” — all too appropriate on a meta level, given it aired on Easter.
15. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
Between seasons, it’s not uncommon for a show to make some changes to the opening credits. But “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” took it to a whole other extreme by creating a brand new opening title number each year — one deliberately designed to reflect the changes in Rebecca’s (Rachel Bloom) life, and the show’s investment in her personal growth. Fierce debates have waged over which of the four sequences is the best (personally, “I’m Just a Girl In Love” is the most addictive earworm) but all of them represented the show’s unique point-of-view and lack of fear when it came to expressing our worst emotions… in a song.
14. “Jane the Virgin”
“Jane the Virgin.”
So the titular Jane (Gina Rodriguez) hasn’t officially been a virgin since the beginning of Season 3, but the writers of the CW dramedy found an ingenious way to reflect that while also holding onto their title: Each episode still opens with the title card “Jane the Virgin,” but then “Virgin” is crossed out with whatever phrase might best represent Jane that week: Happy Mom, Roommate, Flirt… It’s a simple solution, but one adds to the show’s best qualities: its meta-comedy, as well as the way in which at the core of the story is Jane’s personal journey to be defined by more than just one word.
Over the course of four seasons, the Starz historical time travel drama has spanned space and time, over the course of centuries and continents. And whenever the setting alters, so do the credits, especially in the music. The lyrics of composer Bear McCreary’s theme song change to French a brief time in Paris, while their American adventures are introduced each episode by a banjo-infused variation on the music. And coupled with the shifting visuals, each subtle shift proves to be a reminder that while things might change on the show, some things — like Jamie and Claire’s enduring love — never change.
12. “Silicon Valley”
The opening credits of “Silicon Valley” reflect a pixelated community caught up in technology, with plenty of tiny easter eggs packed into the corners of the frame to delight the nerdiest members of the audience. The blend of references to the show’s fictional entities, existing companies, and local industry issues is always changing based on the progress of the show and the progress of the industry it satirizes, and it adds wry dimension to the show’s ever-shifting developments.
Over his short tenure as the world’s greatest critic of life on Comedy Central, Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly) reviewed so many things. But not all of them are fully featured in the show — instead there are many that are just featured in brief moments during the short opening credits, which Daly told Vice was often an opportunity for the writing staff’s most random ideas to get a moment to shine. “Just when did these reviews happen, anyway? How come we don’t get to see them in full? Whatever logical problems are made up for by the fact that it’s fun to see these quick hits.” Daly is a comedic genius, and he happens to be quite right about that.
As “Archer” continues to reinvent its format every season, so goes its opening credits, mimicking the genre at the center of each new season. From noir to ’80s action to jungle adventure, the credits manage to be unique to “Archer” as a show, thanks to their Saul Bass-inspired silhouettes, while continuing to show that it’s not necessarily the same show you might remember from seasons past. We’re just on the verge of the new season, a sci-fi tribute designated as “Archer: 1999,” and whatever the show’s creators have planned should be dazzling.
“Community’s” opening credits went through a lot of changes over the course of its six seasons due to cast changes, but while the origami paper fortune teller was a relative constant, for special episodes the show would riff both on that as well as the show’s opening theme song, “At Least It Was Here” by the 88. This included a Claymation version for “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” a Dungeons and Dragons homage, a Saul Bass-styled Western tribute, and an 8-bit animated opening screen. Its high point, however, was the well-studied tribute to “Law and Order” that led off the Season 3 episode “Basic Lupine Urology.” The final shot of them walking down the hallway made it a classic.
8. “Broad City”
In 2015, illustrator Mike Perry told Art of the Title that his concept for the short animated sequences that kick off every episode of the Comedy Central favorite was “big, bold, and weird… and wiggly.” And that’s just what he delivered, with bright fresh colors, for each new opening sequence. While the actual animation might change with each episode, Perry’s unique style makes them all feel of a piece, representing the fun chaotic energy of the show in just seven seconds.
7. “The Dick Van Dyke Show”
The iconic opening was much like the rest of this 1960s series, as it was often ahead of its time. The earliest entry on this list only changed its credits a few times, but the ways in which Rob Petrie would arrive home to face his greatest nemesis — the living room ottoman — offered up solid pratfalls that still deliver slapstick charm today.
6. “Bob’s Burgers”
Every episode of Fox’s long-running animated sitcom finds a way to pack in as many puns as possible, and one reliable source for these comedy nuggets is the “store next door,” which appears to be a terrible place for a retail establishment because the business keeps changing with every episode. The list of store names is epic in length and full of delights, but here are just a few favorites: “Grindecologist Coffee Shop,” “Yadda Yadda Dada Jewish Surrealist Art Gallery,” “That’s What She Sawed: Tools For Women,” and “I Think Therefore I Jam Profound Preserves.”
5. “The Leftovers”
The Season 1 opening credits of the HBO drama served as a prelude to the show’s moodiest moments, with its orchestral score and gothic undertones. Season 2 switched things up with a brighter palate and heartfelt new theme song, “Let the Mystery Be” by Iris Dement. Season 3? This already crazy show took it up to the next level. Every episode featured some twist on the opening credits, from forgoing it entirely with the first episode to smashing the Season 2 visuals with an eclectic yet perfectly matched mix of songs, from Wu-Tang Clan to traditional Jewish music to A-ha. Each change represented yet another bold choice by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta, in a season rich with nuanced insanity.
“Fringe’s” opening sequence was on the surface relatively simple if packed with mysterious and bizarre symbols and phrases, including (in Season 1) “psychokinesis,” “dark matter,” and “transmogrification.” However, as the show evolved beyond its initial roots as a paranormal procedural and into the bonkers sci-fi drama it would eventually become, its opening credits became a symbol of this. First, in Season 2, Episode 16, “Peter,” the show’s flashback storyline was tipped off by a 80s-themed version of the original. Then, in the Season 2 finale, the color scheme shifted from blue to red to represent the characters’ travel to an alternate universe, and it just kept getting crazier from there, as the universes multiplied and the present gave way to a dystopian future — one that never explained just what the deal was with that six-fingered hand.
3. “Game of Thrones”
Even before it got a complete refresh for Season 8, this credits sequence proved memorable and eye-catching from the beginning. The visually intricate way in which the camera zooms through this miniature map of George R.R. Martin’s perilous fantasy world, and the way in which the map changes from episode to episode to reveal new kingdoms or the damage done to beloved homes, is perfectly paired with the ever-sweeping frame to establish the HBO drama as a true epic.
2. “The Simpsons”
For 30 seasons, “The Simpsons” has been the great-grandaddy of this tradition, packing its opening credits with regular switcharoos, including Bart writing lines at the blackboard, Lisa crooning on her sax, and then of course the infamous couch gag which often showcases the series at its most cartoonish. But while those weekly shifts would be enough to make sure this show made this list, it’s really the guest-directed opening credits which continue to dazzle us, with sequences helmed by artists like Banksy, Bill Plympton, Guillermo del Toro, and Don Hertzfeldt. “The Simpsons” is a show that’s easy to take for granted, but those who work on it seem continually interested in innovating.
1. “BoJack Horseman”
Of all the shows one should never “Skip Intro” on, “BoJack Horseman” stands out as one of the most important. Each credits sequence eases you back into the hazy mindset of the titular horseman, but while he keeps wandering through life, the details of his world are constantly changing around him. The biggest elements tend to remain somewhat constant over the course of the season, such as locations like film sets or movie premieres, but the emotional impact of watching people appear in BoJack’s life — and then, an episode or more later, vanish — captures the character’s waxing and waning loneliness and isolation like a gutpunch.