Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Top 10 Favourite TV Themes

Ah, the TV theme! A blissful minute or so of "Pep Rally Programming" (a term I have just now coined) that lets you get psyched for the episode ahead, after a day, a week (or possibly even some months) without your favourite programme and its loveable characters.


Well...not always.

Anyway, the sad fact is that a lot of contemporary TV shows choose not to carry a theme tune because it takes time away from screentime you could use to be telling the story. Heroes, Supernatural, Lost and How I Met Your Mother are all privy to this. In a way, it makes perfect sense as the viewer is getting the most bang for their...TV licence fees. But it's sad to say goodbye to the era of pompous, fourth-wall breaking, grandiose music blaring TV openers.

So, without further ado, I present my favourite TV opening themes.

10. Police Squad

Everything I love about the three hours of sublime, impenetrable comedic ecstasy that is Police Squad! is found right here in its theme tune. The mock sincerity of everyone involved is hilarious and in a way it's even funnier that people in the early 80s just didn't get it and changed the channel before the machine-gun barrage of jokes could mow them down like cheap counterfeiters. I really wish the series had lasted a whole lot longer than it did, though.

 9. Spider-Man 1967

The ditty to the endearingly crap original Spider-Man cartoon from 1967 (just a few short years after the character's creation); it says an awful lot about the effectiveness of a cartoon's theme tune when kids are still humming its lyrics (which are deceptively clever, explaining exactly what the character does in a way that's cool and exciting) forty years later, even if most of them have never even seen the show.

8. Batman Beyond 

Easily my favourite of the DC animated series themes because it's just so visually engaging and different from the others, as well as having a theme tune that trades in the usual mix of choirs and timeless instruments for a contemporary heavy metal sound that grabs you by the balls and keeps on a-twistin'. I also love how this theme tune accompanied a show that was created to make Batman more accessible to kiddies. The bleak, tech noir feel of it is practically the animation team giving the middle finger to the WB execs who made that suggestion. Even my own mother exclaimed "Why are they dancing like that?!" when she first saw it, ten years ago.

7. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

Right so, you've definitely noticed that this is getting pretty superhero heavy at this point. Whatever, sue me. Superheroes are given the grandest entrances and this show is no exception (unfortunately the superior Season One intro isn't letting me embed...). I love how this show was so unapologetic in its approach and you get that straight away from the theme tune. It's funny, quirky, dramatic and dashing and it pumps you up for what's to come. Most importantly, it sounds nothing like any of the other Superman theme tunes (which tend to all just sound like rehashes of the movie's music). Hearing this theme always reminds me of Saturdays in my old house, in my pyjamas. The Big, Big Movie on RTE One, followed by this and the RoboCop show on Network Two. Juvenile Bliss.

6. South Park Season 6

It won't let me embed this unfortunately, but it simply can't not be on this list (click on Butters' cunning disguise to be brought to the video in all it's glory. I specifically love the intro for Season Six because it includes Timmy in the at-that-time "permanently dead" Kenny's place. Timmy was more effective than Kenny and every time one of these episodes comes on (which is probably my favourite season overall), I'm already laughing during the opening credits. Butters pathetically proclaiming the show to be "The Butters Show" at the end makes it even more endearing.

5. Father Ted 

If you could somehow transfer the feeling of a bewildered sigh into a piece of music, you'd probably come up with the Father Ted theme (later adapted into "Songs of Love" by Divine Comedy, who wrote all the music for the series). The theme perfectly evokes all of poor aul' Ted's feelings of grudging acceptance with the awful Parish he's been forced to reside in and the fake smiles he puts up for everyone, when really he'd love to leave the place in the dust. The visuals wonderfully capture the atmosphere of the lovably pathetic Craggy Island and every time you hear those opening bars, you know you're in for a divine 30 minutes of comedy no matter how often you've seen the episodes (has it really been 14 years since the show ended?!).

4. Smallville

Specifically the first season and a few after that, before the show got up its own ass and started breaking the fourth wall with the actors smiling sexily at us. Those early openings are indicative of the show's stronger seasons, when that song actually meant something, when it was a story (that was actually going somewhere) about a young man discovering his destiny while still learning about the world around him, in the hopes that he could maybe do something good with the god-like abilities he was given. It truly was a show about how Clark Kent became Superman. Unfortunately, when the show lost its way and went on and on and on and on for years, it just became a show about sexy young things with superpowers that's completely unlike any Superman origin I've ever seen or ever wanted to see. It's shown flickers of promise in the 9th season of being able to reclaim its former glory, but I don't think I can hold my breath any longer.

3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The opening theme for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was nothing short of a stroke of marketing genius. The producers clearly realised what a weird and potentially disastrous concept they had on their hands, so they just went for broke and pitched the whole premise of the show to the viewers, as quickly as possible. In just 59 short seconds, the song explains to the viewer who and what the characters are (as well as outlining their two dimensional personalities) why they're ninjas and that they aren't at all willing to cut the evil Shredder "no slack". Basically, the theme tune summed up why the Turtles are awesome. Upon seeing this, every child saw fit to go out and spend all of their hard earned allowance on Turtles merchandise and a billion dollar franchise was born.

2. Beverly Hills 90210 

Wonderfully, intoxicatingly, deliriously 90s. And characters breaking the fourth wall to smile and pose fashionably at the audience is totally fine when they're this awesome.

1. Friends

A no-brainer. Like Father Ted, there's something very comforting and relaxing from this opening, which I've seen hundreds and hundreds of times. It perfectly sets up the characters and each and every season is excellently timed to the beat of the catchy theme song with sight gags from the episodes. It's also great how well the footage of the Friends dancing around the fountain (which my good friend Parker believes to be the site of a modelling shoot Joey invited everyone else along for) works even in the later episodes where the actors have aged noticeably. I really doubt I'll ever get sick of hearing the Friends theme.

Special Mention!

Jay Gruska's Supernatural End Credits Theme

This one doesn't count because it only features in the closing credits (Supernatural is one of the many contemporary shows that has a two-second title-screen instead of an opening credits sequence) but the music captures everything I love about this show. Rock n' roll, hard-hitting badassery and epic twists. Unfortunately, this theme only appears in about 40% of the episodes because whenever the other composer Christopher Lennertz composes an episode, he uses his own theme tune which isn't as good.