Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

What’s a great TV show with a terrible theme song?

Illustration: Nicole Antonuccio
AVQ&AWelcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences.

Last week, we asked you about a TV theme song you liked despite disliking the show itself. This week, we’re asking the reverse:

What’s a great TV show with a theme song you can’t stand?

Caitlin Penzey-Moog

Granted, I’m not caught up on the latest season, but I very much enjoyed Orange Is The New Black’s first four seasons. It has that perfect bingeable formula—except the overlong opening Regina Spektor croon. I lunge for the remote when it comes on, because it got super annoying after about the third time through. It’s over a minute long, and it just never seems to end. I like the artistic ambitions behind it, admire that the women shown are not actors but people who were formerly incarcerated, and get what the whole song is going for. But between Spektor’s braying voice and the uncomfortably close shots of peoples’ mouths—and did I mention how long it is?—I can’t stand it.


Sean O’Neal

Thanks to the wonders of DVR, I’ve heard the Justified theme song, Gangstagrass’ “Long Hard Times To Come” exactly twice during its run: once in the pilot, where it very nearly dissuaded me from watching past the cold open; then again in the series finale, the sole episode I watched live. Listening to it again that second time, I was struck by how much my ability to just pretend the theme song didn’t exist had greatly facilitated my enjoyment of the series, and how if I’d been subject to it every week, I very well might have bailed. Look, I know that, thematically speaking, a fusion of bluegrass and hip-hop should theoretically suit the show’s tales of hard crime in hillbilly country. I am aware that Elmore Leonard himself is a fan of the song and of Gangstagrass in general. I also know it was nominated for an Emmy. That doesn’t change the fact that “Long Hard Times To Come” sounds like it was written by a guy whose sole musical influence is Everlast’s Whitey Ford Sings The Blues, or that its mookish, arm-swinging rap refrain feels utterly at odds with the sly, sophisticated noir it was appended to. And if it weren’t for the fast-forward button, I might never have stuck around long enough to know that.

A.A. Dowd

In terms of attracting potential fans, New Girl really did itself no favors by teasing its weekly dose of superb screwball shenanigans with that cutesy Zooey Deschanel theme song. One small annoyance of the series since the start has been how it sporadically finds ways to indulge its star’s moonlighting singing career, shoehorning in opportunities for Jess to dust off a ditty. For a few seasons, that tendency was teased right up front, with a twee credits sequence that never seemed to fit the smarter tone of the show—and which may have done an even greater disservice to it than that whole “adorkable” ad campaign. Thankfully, creator Elizabeth Meriwether and her showrunners seemed to figure that out as the series went on, offering an increasingly abbreviated version, before eventually scrapping the whole sequence and preserving only the melody, albeit applied to a kind of clumsy montage of still images. Apparently, some folks seem to prefer the original, higher-concept intro, but I maintain that it promises something much dopier than what we thankfully really get.


Kyle Ryan

I watched every episode of The Wire, but I can count on one hand how many times I listened to its theme song. It fits that I’m also not a Tom Waits fan, because each season presented a different take on his “Way Down In The Hole” for its opening credits. (Listening to the original right now, though, I don’t mind it so much. Growth?) The Wire, as everyone knows, was an incredible show that, yes, you should definitely watch if you haven’t already. But feel free to skip that interminable 1:40 opening.


Alex McLevy

Since Kyle took my first answer of The Wire and “Way Down In A Hole,” I’ll have to move to another deeply beloved show with an opening song I would fast-forward through every time: The Sopranos’ “Woke Up This Morning,” by Alabama 3. I finally got around to watching all of The Sopranos just a couple of years ago, and when I picked it up again, I realized one of the things that pushed me away the first time was that opening song. Meant to sound like a dark, bluesy, smoky threat wedded to a hip-hop beat, it feels like the definition of trying way too hard to emanate menace and low-key cool. From the Howlin’ Wolf sample to the gospel-choir sing-along chorus, it just feels like an example of more-is-more bombast attempting and failing to disguise itself as elegant old-school swagger. In that sense, I can see why David Chase chose it, as that’s not a bad allegory for the characters on his show. But it doesn’t mean I have to endure it—I discovered it’s actually pretty enjoyable, if you have the means, to hit the #x speed but leave the sound on, delivering a goofy rapid-fire version that’s way more entertaining.


Danette Chavez

I’ll admit it: I like Star Trek: Enterprise just fine. Well, parts of it (mostly just Porthos). But Enterprise had its moments. I liked how “First Flight” took us back to the beginning of the beginning of space travel, and the Dr. Soong mini-arc was enjoyable (I love Brent Spiner, sue me). But even if I found the time to rewatch episodes of this middling entry in the Trek franchise, I’d be hard-pressed to sit through that damnable theme song even once. Diane Warren’s “Faith Of The Heart” goes from earnest to cheesy at warp speed, and having Rod Stewart provide the vocals doesn’t help matters. I get it—it’s supposed to recall simpler times—but if you ask me, the crew of the Enterprise NX-01 would have been better served by reworking the original fanfare once more.


William Hughes

I finally broke down and binged The West Wing last year, giving in to its voice of political idealism and hope in what I can only assume was my brain’s last-ditch effort to survive the chaos of the 2016 election. I would have gotten into the show a lot sooner, though, if not for its theme song, which highlights all the worst aspects of the series’ occasional holier-than-thou attitude. Look, I know the thing won an Emmy, but every time I hear those Aaron Copland-wannabe horns, all I get is, “This is important, duh-duh-duh, such an important show.” It’s so goddamned serious, belying the parts of the series that actually move and affect me, the very human relationships—and snappy Aaron Sorkin dialogue—that matter way more than “the dignity of the office” and all the other high horses the series only occasionally screws up by hopping atop.


Erik Adams

The TV work of Joss Whedon possesses an unrivaled pop culture savvy—so why do these shows have such terrible taste in music? (Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s show tunes aside.) When I finally caught up with Firefly a few years back, I’d find myself absentmindedly singing its theme in a slack-jawed approximation of Sonny Rhodes’ dusty drawl, rendering the track and its lurching tendency to emphasize every THIRD word into MARBLE-mouthed “Terk ’ER jerbs!” nonsense. No offense to the prolific bluesman—re-listening to “The Ballad Of Serenity” now (serenity now), I think it’s the fiddle that really sticks in my craw. It’s the very same instrument that made me dread the opening of every new Angel, whose string-based theme I’m also guilty of mockingly warbling from time to time. Maybe the next time Whedon makes a TV show, someone can introduce him to a nice brass band.


Matt Gerardi

I can’t stand “Let The Mystery Be” by Iris DeMent, otherwise known as the theme from season two of The Leftovers. Sure, its folksiness and country twang made sense for the series’ trip down to Texas, but I always rolled my eyes at how on the nose the lyrics were for a show that I could usually count on to be at least a little nuanced and frustratingly vague. If I’m being honest, though, and it pains me to say this because it feels shallow and petty, I just don’t like DeMent’s singing voice. My partner and I were obsessed with this season of the show and all its wild supernatural twists, but this song became an inside joke that we almost always fast-forwarded through while doing our best terrible impressions of DeMent’s high-pitched cracking voice. You could imagine how annoyed we were (and a little bit tickled, I admit) when it showed up again during season three’s theme-song rotation.


Share This Story