For a while there, it looked like the TV title sequence was headed the way of the dinosaur. For every Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire taking 75 seconds to visually distill a series while showing us the names of the people who made it, there were dozens of shows that just slapped names on the bottom of the screen in an episode's opening minutes.
This was largely about economics: As competition for our attention increased, broadcast networks in particular came to view extended opening credit sequences as a speedbump — an opportunity for viewers to switch the channel. Meanwhile, as the number of commercials per hour increased, creatives welcomed having that minute back for storytelling.
The streaming era has reversed this trend, with services like Netflix and Hulu borrowing a page from the HBO's of the world and giving producers all the time they need to set the mood for their shows with a lavish introduction.
While it's true that these same platforms provide viewers with an option to skip the intro, that seems to have only upped the ante for creatives, as there are quite a few title sequences that demand our attention, even mid-binge. Here are five recent examples of great opening title sequences advancing the form:
Created by Oliver Latta (an artist who also goes by the name extraweg), this astonishing sequence perfectly captures the disembodied world of the show about employees who have their work memories "severed" from their personal memories. Representing his daily routine as two people living in one body, the beautiful but creepy animation style makes Adam Scott's character Mark seem like a herky-jerky automaton who has maybe lost his humanity. That's an appropriate metaphor for the entire series.
The surreal images surrounding Mark have the same sinister edge as the all-too-tidy corporate office where Lumen puts its severed workers. This definitely includes the black goo, which oozes through several moments of the credits and is later hallucinated by John Turturro's character in the show itself. In that moment, it's like the metaphor of the credits has leached into the rest of the show.
There's something about the animation here style — the crisp colors, the paper doll quality of the figures — that feels nostalgic. As we take a tour of the Arconia, the show's titular building, it's almost like we're looking at a picture postcard of New York, and that gets at the series' off-kilter essence. Even though it's about murder and the entertainment products that spring up to fetishize it, it's also about the way that so many of us frame our lives to make them seem like adventures.
The immaculate design of these titles, created by Lisa Bolan and the team at the design firm Prologue, enhances that impact. And it's no accident that during the show proper, we see Selena Gomez's character painting a mural that looks like a still from this sequence. It reinforces the idea that all the characters are doing their best to force their lives into a shape they can control.
In the same way that people argue about whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich, there are people on the internet who love to debate whether Succession is a comedy. The show's opening sequence, created by Picturemill, cheekily prods that debate. On one hand, it uses home movie-like footage to suggest we're seeing the Roy children in an airless world of privilege. The implication is that this wretched past, overseen by the ominous presence of their father, is what made them into broken, venal adults.
But then, just when we think we've got a handle on the tone, the intro cuts to a clip from an ATN News broadcast. In each season, there's a new, ludicrous headline underneath the news anchor, and it reminds us that these poor little rich kids are also buffoons. Take season three, when the headline reads, "I smiled at her by the photocopier — now I'm facing chemical castration." A hot dog may or not be a sandwich, but that is definitely a delicious bit of comedy.
In less than 30 seconds, the Ted Lasso credits, created by yU+co, teach us loads about the experience of watching this show. There's the literal information: It's a series about soccer, and we see Ted (Jason Sudeikis) sitting in a soccer stadium. But the graffiti on the seats isn't random: From "Relegate Rebecca" to "Roy Kent Will Kill Your Gran!", these cheeky messages let you know the series has a whole community of people on its mind.
Then, of course, there's the final image, where Ted's name is spelled out in bright red seats while he sits alone. All that action and energy — the seats turning from blue to red, the graffiti — leads to an existential isolation. It's a perfect evocation of what's riding underneath the jokes in every episode.
This underseen gem pits science against the supernatural, as the characters in a small British village try to determine if there's a sea monster on the loose. The titles have the ornate quality of an illuminated manuscript, which supports the show's gothic period vibe, but as lush as they are, they also contain a vivid conflict. Images of animals and plants that you might see in a botany lesson morph into ominous snakes or falling apples that suggest the Garden of Eden. There's heat in these ornate visuals, and there's something similar in the show.
Mark Blankenship is Primetimer's Reviews Editor. Tweet him at @IAmBlankenship.