Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
The best TV title sequences of 2018

The best TV title sequences of 2018

Screenshot: The Terror, Pose, The Good Fight, Dietland, Graphic: Libby McGuire

The state of opening credits and theme songs on TV in 2018 is one of contradictions: The 800-pound streaming gorilla in the living room encourages its subscribers’ impatience while at the same time those apparently disposable commodities are pored over and analyzed like any other element of television in the internet age, a specialized artform with its own roster of superstars and customs. (So many silhouetted stars in profile.) The age of the utilitarian title sequence is past; we’re well into an era of title-sequence-for-title-sequence’s sake, where grand premium-cable overtures jostle with visual rimshots and impressionistic backdrops for the names of the people responsible for the thing you’re about to see. As TV programming continues to slip the surly bonds of the half-hour and the hour-long, title sequences remain one of the medium’s rare spots where innovation spawns within limited time frames, an inspired realm where chattering teeth are anticipated (and imitated) and the familiar week-in, week-out comforts (and also regular nuisances) can get blown up real good. Here are the new and revised intros that The A.V. Club wouldn’t dare skip in 2018 or any other year—and the one outro that kept us from jumping directly into the next episode.

Best new titles

Aggretsuko (Netflix)

The central “joke” of Aggretsuko is that the longer you think about the show’s premise, the less funny it becomes. Retsuko, an adorable red panda created by Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty, should ostensibly be an avatar for pleasant, cute anime action. Instead, she has to deal with constant harassment from her (literally) piggish boss, late capitalist listlessness, and a deep sense of disconnection from other people—problems she can only cope with by singing death metal karaoke by herself, night after night. The opening titles of Aggretsuko aren’t the most visually stunning—they’re mostly Retsuko in front of a pink background, with the occasional black-and-white fade to her demonic karaoke persona—but Retsuko is animated with a constant, disquieting twitch, as if she’s a doll who can’t control her own movements. As sweet and fun as Aggretsuko can be, that’s uncomfortably close to the truth. [Eric Thurm]

A.P. Bio (NBC)

For a theme song to survive in an environment that’s become increasingly inhospitable to the species, it must work with great impact and efficiency. Those are two qualities possessed in spades by the Ramones, whose buzzsaw bubblegum and signature count-off slam into the tail end of every A.P. Bio cold open like a car recklessly driven by a disgraced philosophy professor (Glenn Howerton) hellbent on destroying his rival and not teaching Advanced Placement Biology. That wrecking-ball zeal could make the first season of A.P. Bio kind of a mess, but its opening titles foreground the sitcom’s surest virtues: The color palette of saturated greens and blues—glimpsed in classroom stills repurposed as textbook illustrations—countering the show’s jaundiced outlook. [Erik Adams]

Castle Rock (Hulu)

Castle Rock’s first season featured some of the best individual episodes of this TV year, even if the Hulu drama’s overall story didn’t fully cohere. Still, even the parts of the show that failed to land offered fans plenty to talk about, especially for all of those Stephen King aficionados out there who enjoyed hunting for Easter eggs. The opening credits gave a green light to the obsessives, with its collage of torn-up and marked-up pages and covers from King novels—some more potentially significant than others. Why so many references to The Shining and Misery? Why is the word “mouse” underlined on The Green Mile’s chapter page? Is the eclipse from Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game relevant somehow? Castle Rock-ers could—and did—spend hours speculating on which of these flashes and fragments were secretly clues. [Noel Murray]

Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina (Netflix)

If opening titles are the onscreen equivalent of a book cover, then Netflix’s Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina adaptation has some lofty examples to live up to: The moody, photorealistic images Robert Hack has scratched onto the front of the delay-prone Archie Horror series’ every issue. TV brings those illustrations to eerie, pulsing life, with the artist himself stirring likenesses of Kiernan Shipka her co-stars into a brew of milky-eyed ghouls, cloven-hoofed deities, and a Dan DeCarlo panel lifted from Sabrina’s original, decidedly less-chilling ’60s run. Backed by piercing theremin, the intro pays homage to horror-comic iconography—shades of the Misfits riffing on Chamber Of Chills, not to mention iZombie’s prior exercise in page-to-screen seance—while nodding toward things yet to go bump in Sabrina’s nights. It’s a sprint through a haunted gallery that does for Hack’s artwork what the Castle Rock opening does for King’s words. [Erik Adams]

Dietland (AMC)

It’s a bummer that AMC’s genre-defying summer dramedy Dietland never quite found its audience. Imagined as a female version of Fight Club, the series blended in-your-face storytelling with nuanced socio-political observations. And that’s all on display in its animated opening, which sees protagonist Plum Kettle climbing a literal mountain of dessert to reach an end goal (and a goal weight) that ultimately kills her. Plum’s animated avatar is a device used throughout the show, so the title sequence introduces that concept; even more so, it reinforces the idea that Dietland plans to take on every aspect of the female experience—not just body image issues, but commercialism, the beauty industry, sexualized violence, and patriarchy as a whole. Timely, subversive, and canceled too soon, Dietland at least received a worthy testament in the form of its title sequence. [Caroline Siede]

Lodge 49 (AMC)

Lodge 49’s opening titles set the tone for Jim Gavin and Peter Ocko’s extraordinarily delightful modern-day fable by being just as deceptively incongruous as the AMC drama. This otherworldly intro is tied together by a nautical theme—pool tiles turn to scales as drawings of bearded holy men and winged creatures wheel past, all while composer Andrew Carroll’s siren song beckons the viewer. The sequence is beautiful, but not striking; richly detailed but not overly expository, just like the show. And like Lodge 49, the opening titles reward repeat viewings—that hissing snake finds its place in the story, as do working-class schmoes turned knight and squire Ernie (Brent Jennings) and Dud (Wyatt Russell). [Danette Chavez]

Lupin III Part V (Crunchyroll)

The opening titles of Lupin III Part V have no right to be this good or fresh, 50 years after the debut of the master burglar’s manga debut. The sequence effortlessly balances the weight of the franchise’s history with a sleek, gorgeous look, largely by focusing on the heavily-stylized iconography of the series’ main characters while giving them each a moment in the figurative and literal spotlight: chain-smoking sharpshooter Daisuke Jigen, stoic samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII, femme fatale Fujiko Mine, the goofy, put-upon Inspector Zenigata, and of course, Lupin himself. Part V primarily focuses on the thieving protagonist’s creeping potential irrelevance in a world with advanced anti-thieving technology, a theme that the opening titles turn into one big, beautiful joke: Lupin, Goemon, and Jigen fly to outer space in order to install a camera in a satellite—so Lupin can use his high-tech innovation to check out Fujiko napping on a beach. Some things just don’t change. [Eric Thurm]

Pose (FX)

Based purely on visual appeal, it’s possible that FX’s Pose might still make this list. It’s simple, sure, but arresting, moving us from darkness to vibrant color in under 30 seconds (and with great style.) But that simplicity floats atop layers of meaning. We begin in darkness, with the sound of heels—high heels—clicking confidently into a dark room. A neon sign flickers to life with a familiar electric hum, as a voice (Billy Porter) welcomes us to the main event. “The category is,” he trumpets, as the camera rotates, moving us from backstage to our rightful place in the audience. Then the music kicks in, an invitation to the party, as Porter triumphantly hollers the categories into which the people of Pose are always entered, onstage or off. It builds and builds, culminating in an celebratory explosion of glitter, but the explosion isn’t destructive. The bulbs stay lit. The party goes on. We move from darkness to light, from one side of the stage to the other, we are asked to both observe and participate, and the climax springs from joy, not violence. It’s an invitation to come in, bear witness, and celebrate. That’s Pose—sorry, “Pooooooooose!”—in a nutshell. [Allison Shoemaker]

Sharp Objects (HBO)

It seems at first as though the title sequences for Sharp Objects function like those of many other prestige dramas: a series haunting visuals tied to individual moments and characters in the series we’re about to watch. Yet there’s a hell of a lot more going on. Each sequence begins with a needle drop, and one could be forgiven for not noticing that each week, a new song crackles to life. That alone is pretty cool; it mirrors both Camille’s (Amy Adams) playlist, inherited from poor, doomed Alice (Sydney Sweeney) who used music to escape from her own personal hell, and Alan’s (Henry Czerny) tendency to throw on a record and shut out the darkness seeping throughout his home. Neat, right? But even that’s not the final layer here. Director Jean-Marc Vallée and music supervisor Sue Jacobs use wildly different versions of the same piece of music (“Dance And Angela” from Franz Waxman’s A Place In The Sun score) in each of the eight episodes, echoing the show’s ideas of repetition and making even this element of variety just another prison, just another trap. The more things change, the more they stay (and sound) the same. [Allison Shoemaker]

She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power (Netflix)

Noelle Stevenson reimagined She-Ra: Princess Of Power from the top down, starting with the opening titles. Gone is the plot synopsis from the original intro, along with Adora’s voice-over and strangely Mid-Atlantic accent. And, as fun as it might have been for 8-year-olds to chant “Sheeee-Raaa-ahhh! SHE-RA!” in the mid-’80s, that nondescript theme song has been replaced with Aaliyah Rose’s galvanizing bop “Warriors.” She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power’s considerably more varied and exciting character designs are on full display, set in tableaux that hint at the dynamics among She-Ra (Aimee Carrero), the princesses, and the Horde. The result is a much more polished and piquant opening, one that shows rather than tells. [Danette Chavez]

Succession (HBO)

The best thing about Succession’s all-around captivating title sequence is Nicholas Britell’s score, which blends a classical piano sound with modern hip-hop beats and distorted strings. That catchy, eerie tune plays over a perfect little short film laying out the dynamics of the Roy family: Intercut with shots of their modern media empire is old home-movie footage detailing their wealthy, secluded youth, all well-dressed servants, elegant garden parties, elephant rides, and some supremely detached parenting. Save for a shot of the back of Brian Cox’s head, the title sequence exists as its own bit of self-contained storytelling with its own set of actors. Yet it tells you everything you need to know about the series, from the unnerving dynamics of its central family to the show’s satirical edge (“Why are so many of our older celebrities dying?” reads a cable news banner). It’s kind of remarkable it took us all so long to realize Succession was in on the joke. [Caroline Siede]

The Terror (AMC)

This fictionalized take on the doomed Franklin expedition could double as an alternative method of air conditioning; the opening plinks of Marcus Fjellström’s main theme alone are guaranteed to lower the temperature of any room. The visual accompaniment from the ubiquitous Elastic (it did the Pose intro, too) are wrapped up in going lower, deeper, beneath surfaces, where upstanding pillars of British society are no more than flimsy flesh and bone and there are living, breathing people behind the mysterious monuments dotting that landscape that’s ready to swallow Sir John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds) and his men whole. The sequence puts much of its black-and-white imagery beneath simulated layers of ice, an illusion that never entirely makes it clear if the subject or the viewer is above the surface—with the major exception that reenacts one of the miniseries’ most haunting scenes, where the question isn’t about who’s below, but rather what. [Erik Adams]

Best revised titles

Big Mouth, Coach Steve edition

Big Mouth’s opening title sequence set to Charles Bradley’s “Changes” didn’t change significantly in the show’s second season—it remains an animated visualization of the effects of puberty depicted alongside the changing season. But if you decided to use Netflix’s “Skip Intro” button throughout this year’s sharp investigation of teenage shame, you missed a tremendous variant: at the beginning of “Steve The Virgin,” the show turns its eye toward the sexual awakening of the frankly alarming gym teacher Coach Steve, and Steve himself lets us know that it’s him who will be going through changes in this episode before breaking into his own rendition of “Changes.” Beyond featuring a tour de force vocal performance from Nick Kroll and some fun meta-commentary, this adjusted sequence is also integral for preparing the audience to understand Coach Steve’s virginity not just as a joke, but also as a meaningful—if, yes, sometimes horrifying—part of the season’s larger themes. [Myles McNutt]

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend continues to break the mold and break the rules, changing title sequences as boldly as Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) changes plans. Through the years, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s theme song has put the focus on the titular crazy ex-girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, on the intensity of her affections, and on her emotional swings, while a season-three reprise of Rebecca’s “I’m Just A Girl In Love” from her stalker’s point of view drives home the sinister implications of her would-be adorable inner narrative. But in the fourth and final season, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend defies the series title with a credit sequence and theme entirely about Rebecca—not her exes or her instability, but her complicated, contradictory self. This season, we really meet Rebecca, and so does Rebecca. And almost every week, a stinger reveals that maybe Other Rebecca is kinda crazy, too… because aren’t we all? [Emily L. Stephens]

The Deuce (HBO)

For The Deuce’s second year, the credits mostly aped season one’s, with a montage of images from grubby 1970s Manhattan, interspersed with glimpses of sex workers, pimps, and porn. But season two’s titles made three big changes. More of the sexy clips come from the series itself—establishing how The Deuce’s characters were moving out of the shadows and into the mainstream. Also there’s less crime in the credits, and more shots of a boisterous New York nightlife, reflecting a gentrifying midtown. Most importantly, the title song’s new, replacing a gritty Curtis Mayfield number with Elvis Costello’s jittery new wave classic “This Year’s Girl.” There’s a twist though: This “This Year’s Girl” sometimes swaps out Costello’s vocals for Wild Belle’s Natalie Bergman. On this show—which has a refreshingly large number of women on its writing, producing, and directing roster—the lady’s voice is just as important as the man’s. [Noel Murray]

The Good Fight (CBS All Access)

In the first two seasons of The Good Fight, often-despairing protagonist Diane Lockhart has seemed representative of a certain type of privileged but principled liberal in the face of Donald Trump’s presidential victory. The opening credits reflected Diane’s ongoing horror about the new world she found herself in, as a jaunty classical tune turned menacing while ordinary objects from her life exploded in slow motion. And in the second season, that unnerving sense of a world off-kilter only increased. Instead of a gavel exploding first, a bottle of red wine does, and the crimson blast sets the stage for a credits sequence that is amped up in every way. Now, multiples of the objects explode, and TV screens showing the Charlottesville march, Putin, and Trump appear before shattering as well. Everything bad is getting worse, and the show has little comfort to offer Diane, or its presumably sympathetic audience. [Lisa Weidenfeld]

Special achievement in end credits

Homecoming (Amazon)

Amazon’s Homecoming opens with only a title card, but this doesn’t mean director Sam Esmail isn’t interested in using sound and image to orient the viewer: he’s just more interested in exploring the potential of the other side of the coin, developing extended sequences that play out through much of each episode’s end credits. Rather than following the comic book post-credits strategy of embedding new information (although there’s an example of that in the finale), Esmail’s formal innovation comes from ending each episode with a meaningful yet mostly static tableau, forcing reflection on the revelations that preceded it. Ranging from the atmospheric (a finicky motion-detecting light in an endless row of archives) to the comic (a bird let loose in Heidi’s office), the scenes make the transition between episodes—often so fast in the age of streaming—a space of contemplation, pushing back on our instincts to push the “Next Episode” button as quickly as we might otherwise. [Myles McNutt]