There was a while there when we thought TV opening credits were dead and gone. In favor of more commercial time, the networks were content to give you a few seconds of “previously on,” an opening scene and then a title. But then came quality cable series, and along with movie stars, explicit sex and a lot of gore, they brought fancy fonts, theme songs and computer animation that elevated the opening titles to the kind of art form we love to geek out over (and, of course, parody). We thought about just listing our favorites here ( the Breaking Bad sequence and all those chemistry symbols! Orange Is the New Black’s Regina Spektor song!), but that’s been done. Instead, here are the ones that make a knot form in our stomach in anticipation of the coming hour’s drama.
No, neither the show nor its theme music are particularly creepy — especially thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch’s and Martin Freeman’s affable takes on Holmes and Watson. But the diorama illusion effect on the London crowd scenes in the opening credits make you feel like you’re watching the world through Sherlock’s probably sociopathic eyes: Humans are just mechanical parts buzzing through the larger machine; murders are merely puzzles to be solved. The thought just sends shivers down your spine.
9. Mad Men
It’s quite heavy handed in its symbolism — a Don Draper stand-in falls from a building, and instead of watching his life pass before his eyes, he watches the false-feeling glossy ads he’s helped to create. But the falling notes of the music, plus the fact that we never see him hit the ground, makes us feel like this downward trajectory will never end.
This looong opening sequence (1:19 minutes!) has been panned almost as much as the show has been praised, but you can’t deny that the dissonant jazz — and the girl in the maze with the lion head! — makes you squirm in your seat like you’re about to be interrogated by the CIA.