This week, we'll be visiting my favorite opening themes from television. Unless you're following trailers or release spoilers, the opening theme is your introduction to the show. Think of it as a friendly handshake. If it's a solid handshake, you'll head into the show with a positive opinion and ready to carry on a conversation. If it's like a limp or sweaty handshake, you're probably looking to jump out as soon as it's convenient—which will be the next commercial break. If a show's opening theme is outstanding, you'll probably find yourself humming it or making it a karaoke favorite.
Standard 1990s Goodies
Star Trek: The Next Generation - http://youtu.be/HN-q09wRG70
Space—the final frontier. This opening is so simple, yet iconic. You instantly recognize accomplished stage and screen actor Patrick Stewart. You get a few shots of the screen, a wonderful score, and names of all the actors and actresses.
If anything, watching Star Trek: The Next Generation is fun in seeing how many future Apple products you can see in a single episode. But it's so much more than that.
It has Jean Luc Picard! Worf! The Borg! Lots of political problem-solving and level-headedness! Wesley Crusher, who went from generally loathed by the Star Trek fandom to having fans hanging on every tweet and podcast update.
Star Trek TNG recently went through a restoration that cleaned up the colors, took the standard definition recording to high definition, and made the show watchable. Seriously. Look at this!
Fresh Prince of Bel Air – http://youtu.be/hBe0VCso0qs
After he told us that parents just don't understand but before he welcomed aliens to Earth, Will Smith got his TV start as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Charming, handsome, and non-threatening, Will Smith befriended every teenager and made everyone in America feel chummy with the kid from West Philadelphia.
While Will Smith may have been the star, the family was an incredible ensemble cast. Uncle Phil could throw DJ Jazzy Jeff like an Olympian. Hillary played the perfect upper crust girl shell with a valley girl brain. And Carlton showed you how to cut a rug.
Back to the opening at hand, you know the entire story of Will's beginnings in Philadelphia and how took a cab with some dice in the mirror to his new home, to Bel Air! In less than 2 minutes, you know the character's entire backstory and you have a driving need to know how this fresh prince will reign over his new land.
The Simpsons - http://youtu.be/DX1iplQQJTo
The Simpsons opening hasn't changed much over the last 20 years. It's been cleaned up a bit, had a few seconds changed here and there, but overall it's the same song and dance. Of course, Bart's detention scrawling is different every week and the couch gag is episode specific. In a very special Simpsons opening, notorious worldwide graffiti artist/spraypaint hooligan Banksy dropped in for a guest spot.
Known for his political and consumer culture satire, the Simpsons opening starts out normally and then descends into a dreary, oppressive Asian animation sweatshop with child labor using toxic chemicals on the cells. Just when you think he's making a statement and using major media to make some protest, you're exposed to one of the sweatshop workers using a dead dolphin head to tape boxes of Simpsons merchandise and using a emaciated unicorn's horn to punch holes in the DVDs. So, is Banksy making a joke about consumer culture and the invisible, damaged hands that make the products, or is he making a comment about the exaggerated nature of consumerism's dissidents and the tales they tell of overseas manufacturing? It's eye of the beholder and will likely leave you pondering the message long after you've closed the YouTube window.
Batman: The Animated Series - http://youtu.be/lEx9r5enZsk
Batman followed an animation boom that came from the success of The Simpsons. The Simpsons were a big hit and Fox wanted to put more money into its animation lineup. Between its animation and its programming's cable-style crude humor, Fox was emerging as a big player to co-exist with CBS, ABC, and NBC.
Batman was coming off Tim Burton's smash success movie. Stylistically emphasizing Batman's history of a detective, the animators drew in a film noir style. Heavy, dark visuals and contrasting light played a big part in setting the mood and introducing children of the 1990s to Gotham City. A wholly instrumental opening, the opening of Batman: The Animated Series immediately displays that it's more show than tell. For the record, that's a good thing.
Two Comedy Options
The Walking Dead - http://youtu.be/a8z_dJoWjP4
Upon a successful first season, fans were wondering if The Walking Dead was going to take a more family friendly approach in Season Two. Growing Pains and the Kirkman comic couldn't be more different. No Kirk Cameron, no Leonardo di Caprio guest star. Nope, just walkers, severed limbs, and a body count that weighs the viewer down with an anxiety that warns against getting too emotionally close to any one of the survivors.
Japanese Spider Man - http://youtu.be/OvsgitUlUrA
If you watched children's programming from 1983 to, well, today, you know that super heroes and giant robots are two common selling points of the shows. I can only guess that Spider-Man didn't have the international audience of a blockbuster $821 million dollar movie back in the 1970s, but you have to plant seeds early in order to cultivate them later. To take his show worldwide, Spider Man left his place in New York to find a new home in Tokyo, Japan.
He instantly made friends and adjusted his swing to embrace his new land. Imagine you had Spider Man's powers, but you also had a motorcycle, cool 1970s hair, and a flying robot whenever things got too hairy for the web-slinger while doing battle with Professor Monster. Add in a sweet, classic Toei introduction and you've got Spider-Man!
Thanks to the internet, you won't have to hit up your local comic book guy for bootleg VHS tapes of this show. You can watch it on the Marvel page.
And finally, the greatest…
NBA on NBC – Roundball Rock - http://youtu.be/m-WA4xEal2s
Anybody who watched the NBA in the 1990s can tell you this is the definitive theme for all sports broadcasting. What they probably couldn't tell you is that it's written by John Tesh, a man better known for adult contemporary (read: elevator music) work. I don't think you'll find many NBA fans saying that John Tesh is "their jam", but this song is considered one of the greatest themes of all time and will be remembered forever. My own hope is to have this played at my funeral while a cardboard cutout of Michael Jordan soars in the air after pushing off on a cutout of the Utah Jazz's Byron Russell.
Now, if you liked these opening themes, you're probably itching to start watching the shows. If you didn't like them, well, then I probably saved you an entire half hour of watching a full episode. But, I think you're probably headed to iTunes to check out some episodes, so I won't hold you up. Enjoy!