A Modern Love Affair: Television Title Cards

Oh herro der, readers!

Before I get started on this super-fun new feature, I want to follow-up on a song I mentioned in my last Dunce Cap post (and featured prominently in this week’s mix). I’ve been listening to Ben Kweller’s excellently catchy “Hospital Bed” pretty much on repeat, and I keep getting caught up in the chorus:

(boy) “You be Betty!”
(girl) “I’ll be Betty!”
(boy) “I’ll play Joe!”
(girl) “You play Joe!”

Okay, innocuous enough, right? A bit about pretending to be someone else, or perhaps a cute li’l reference to Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” right? But that’s not what really strikes me.

Maybe I’ve been watching waaaay too much “Mad Men,” but every time I hear this song, all I hear is Kweller yelping,

(boy) “You be Betty!”
(girl) “I’ll be Betty!”
(boy) “I’ll play Joan!”
(girl) “You play Joan!”

and I love it. But, y’know, I don’t know which of the two to be on any given day. It’s like this: Betty gets to be married to Don Draper, the sexiest man with a false identity, well, ever, while Joan Holloway gets to be fucking Joan Holloway…and Roger Sterling and that (formerly Jewish) doctor with some fairly questionable jealous tendencies. Joan’s sultry and sharp in all the ways that Betty behaves as an immature dolt. So, yeah, you, the other in this song I’m belting out – you be Betty. I’ll definitely be Joan.

Okay, so, I’m debuting a new feature tonight called “A Modern Love Affair.” It’s a bit like the “No Brainer” series I did awhile back, which currently features a breezy piece on John Hodgman and an as-yet-unposted adoration column about Suri Cruise. It differs slightly in that it’s not about an individual. “No Brainer” pays tribute to a someone, while “Open Season” is an open letter to a person. “A Modern Love Affair” is about a something. And, boy, is it going to be fun.

So, without further ado:
A Modern Love Affair: Television Title Cards

Alright, here’s something you could probably have guessed about me: I don’t just love television and movies; I also love the small snapshots that give an audience a clue about each of the forms of media. I thus have a special place in my heart for both movie trailers and television title sequences.

Television title sequences aren’t a new phenomenon. Television has effortlessly combined artistry and advertising for decades to create seamless, entertaining, clever and telling title sequences, including those for shows like “Cheers” (damned if that song won’t stick with you) and “The Brady Bunch.” And the ’00s are no different. I’d argue, in fact, that the title cards from modern television are entirely innovative, capturing a show’s essence in under a minute while doing some pretty fucking good plot or character building.

A great title sequence can, for me, save a television show. ABC’s Matthew Perry sitcom flop, “Mr. Sunshine,” failed to captivate me (or other audiences, despite a guest appearance from the gorgeous Lizzy Caplan), but the title sequence, at a mere six seconds, was nothing short of brilliant. And a great title sequence can pique my interest in a show that otherwise didn’t strike my fancy. And a great title sequence can keep me watching long after I’ve given up hope for quality.

I’ve embedded a few of my more recent favorite title sequences below. There’s the aforementioned “Mr. Sunshine,” as well as that of its (far superior) ABC neighbor, “Happy Endings.” And then there’s the truly exceptional minute-and-a-half long opening of HBO’s “True Blood,” which manages to depict the seedy underbelly of the South and creepify it, a particular feat (this coming from a tried n’ true Southerner).


“Mr. Sunshine” (2011)


“Happy Endings” (2011)


“True Blood” (2008)

Other title sequences worth mentioning:

  • Weeds” (2005): The first season used its opening as suburban satire. The series has since gone downhill, though season seven features quick, often clever episode-specific title cards. Also of note: Later seasons featured covers of Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes,” the song you hear in this, the original title sequence.
  • The IT Crowd” (2006): 8-bit animation goodness.
  • Clone High” (2002): The animated series used a science textbook to characterize its cast, teen versions of famous historical figures. (@The Art of the Title)
  • Freaks and Geeks” (1999): Using Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” as the backdrop to fairly telling high school yearbook photos. James Franco’s dazed stoner face is absolutely hilarious.
And I know, I know, I’m going to be kicked out of the club for disliking this one. I just can’t seem to fall (no pun intended) in love with the title sequence for “Mad Men.” It’s surely an exceptional show, and the opening certainly works to set the stage for the incongruous deceit of protagonist Don Draper’s life, but it strikes me as a frustrating distraction from the show itself. I think the title sequence is the thing I detest most about this show (the insufferable but stunning Betty Draper, of course, notwithstanding). I don’t know. Maybe it’s the freefall of Draper’s silhouette, or maybe it’s the strange, stark images on the high rises, or maybe it’s just the eerie thumping of the music. Regardless, it makes me uncomfortable and nearly as wide-eyed and anxious as the bizarre inclusion of The Decemberists in the second season.


“Mad Men” (2007)

But the purveyor of all great popular culture, “The Simpsons,” does a pretty stunning “Mad Men” parody in one of its opening sequences, from Treehouse of Horror XIX (Season 20).

“The Simpsons'” “Mad Men” parody

And, of course, the brilliantly executed “Tik Tok” title sequence from Season 21. As always, Matt Groening’s beloved animated sitcom (which is older than I am) leads the pack.

“The Simpsons” do Ke$ha

For more title sequences, check out I Love TV Intros and The Art of the Title, which analyzes film and television title design in a very crisp and modern format. If any of you are still reading, leave your favorite television title sequences in the comments. I may do a similar post in the future regarding opening sequences in film.

For now, happy television watching. I’m off to the races for more “Mad Men.”

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One thought on “A Modern Love Affair: Television Title Cards

  1. First, let me say how much I love this post. I think opening title sequences can add a lot to a show, so the shortening/cutting that occurs these days makes me sad. I know the networks are giving showrunners shorter runtimes to work with in order to cram more commericals into the half-hour/hour and losing the opening sequence is one way to counteract that, but it’s a really lame alternative.

    Starting with the shows you mentioned here. The Mr. Sunshine title was the best i’ve seen in a longtime. It’s a shame the show was so bad compared to it. I’m a fan of the Mad Men opening sequence (especially the animation), though I expect it to get shortened/cut this season as AMC is requiring Weiner to cut a minute or two from episodes that air on cable (which I believe will be restored for OnDemand and/or the DVD). And Weeds has not been the same since they ditched “Little Boxes,” though I understand why it made sense creatively (I just haven’t agreed with a number of the story decisions since the show left Agrestic).

    For shows currently on air/just ended: I always liked Grey’s Anatomy’s (now absent) opening credits: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eayqqeVAZLg&playnext=1&list=PL1C09717E1AC5CA8B. The song was great and the images really fit the show. I was happy to see it return briefly, sung by Sara Ramirez, in the musical episode this past season.
    Parks & Rec and The Office are also faves. I actually had The Office theme song as my ringtone for a long time back during the show’s golden period (Season 2/Season 3). As is How I Met Your Mother’s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TPFgRP0JIY … and it actually has words beyond “Ba ba ba” (who’d have thunk it?): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqypUFDNDb0.
    “Better With You” was probably this past season’s most underrated show with a great theme song courtesy of Mr. Ben Kweller (I imagine you’d enjoy it): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1pxpYfM8Bc.
    And though not my favorites, both “Dexter” and “Shameless” are extremely fitting and reflective of their respective shows. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5WpxxJpL-g and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciFzoaZS7T8

    Past favorites: “ER” is my favorite show of all-time so it was always interesting to see how the opening changed as the cast did (that’s another one that got dropped towards the end of the show’s run, though thankfully not before Noah Wyle was able to take over the opening credit).
    The “Friends” opening is an undeniable classic, as is the theme for this little show about small-town Texas Football (I believe you’re familiar with it): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUIR7IPNDBQ

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