The opening title sequence of Mad Men, with a Don Draper-esque black-on-white cutout tumbling perilously to his doom, may be remembered much longer than anything the Draper character does in the program’s seven seasons. After all, how many cigarettes can he smoke, whiskeys can he guzzle, married women can he bed, before it all blurs together like a carousel going endlessly round and round?
There are episodes of The Walking Dead so embalmed the only good thing about them was its credit sequence, a creepy montage of dystopian detritus; the found footage remnants of a world eating itself alive; capped by the terrifying telephoto of a lone zombie in a sunlit field, relentlessly stalking your nightmares.
And in the criminally under-seen and now defunct post-Katrina series Tremé, the opening title sequence consisted of the water-damaged photos of a storm-tossed scrapbook, real pictures of the busted homes and broken lives of New Orleans dwellers intercut with hurricane video and the rolling party that is a second line bop, set to the insanely danceable jig of John Boutté’s title song.
These are my favorite title sequences in this golden age of series television we find ourselves in. So many programs, so many channels, so many intriguing ideas. If you judged most of these shows based on their credit sequences alone, you’d think they were all masterworks. So why not skip the actual programs and just watch the credits, provided here by Vulture magazine in this roundup of the Ten Best TV opening credits of 2014.
The breathtaking water-borne imagery from The Affair is their number one pick;
followed by the haunting decapitated super-impositions of True Detective;
and the chilling frescoes of The Leftovers (in third place), a program that, apparently, no one liked except me.
Some shows on Vulture's list I’ve never even heard of: Manhattan, Black Sails, Marco Polo. Others seem like they’re trying too hard. Halt and Catch Fire is nothing but some digital streaks of color.
Penny Dreadful treats us to bleached close-ups of insects.
But Outlander’s title montage is a total turn-off, playing like one of those ghastly PBS Celtic song specials plunked onto an abandoned backlot from Lord of the Rings.
If a show about wind-tossed tresses flapping to a Gaelic wail is what you’re after, this is definitely your ticket.