The 20 Best TV Credit Sequences of the Last 20 Years

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friends-widePhoto: Courtesy of NBC Universal.
On Monday, our friends at Vulture published a story called “When Bad Credits Happen to Good TV Shows, and it got us thinking about the power of all credit sequences. Even the most mediocre show can wow (and dupe) you with a blazingly smart, well-designed, and catchy opening. We asked the R29 edit team to share their picks for the best TV intros from the past 20 years (so remember, shows like Cheers and The Brady Bunch won’t be in this round-up — but please do reminisce about them in the comments). Here are the 20 shows that will forever stand out in our minds — at least for the first few minutes.


Dexter
Without being overly bloody or gory, the opening credits to Dexter provide the viewer with the exact visceral, sensory experience that’s in store. All he does is go through his morning routine, yet you just know this is not a typical Miami resident’s life.


Friends
“Oh, how I love the Friends opening credits. The Rembrandts tune, recorded specifically for the show, is catchy as heck. And, the scenes featured in the credits align beautifully with the musicality of the song. Those scenes, a few of the most hilariously memorable moments from the show, were updated often (sometimes more than once within a single season) to reflect the events of the current episodes. So the opening credits become a synchronous time capsule as the seasons progress. The Friends intro has also proven to be the gift that keeps on giving, with photo collages and fan remakes galore. It’s always there for us...when the rain starts to pour.” — Samantha Yu, editorial assistant


Friday Night Lights
"There are few things as perfect in this world as the opening credits to Friday Night Lights. It's a mix of Tim Riggins, people almost as beautiful as Tim Riggins, and a soundtrack of triumphant football music. Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose, baby." — Vanessa Golembewski, associate news and entertainment editor


Big Love
"I really loved Big Love...the ice skating scene with the Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows' playing over it was BEYOND." — Christine Barberich, editor-in-chief


American Horror Story
“I hate scary movies (I'm a total wuss) so this is about as extreme as I get in the horror genre, which causes a love/hate relationship with the opening credits. The creepy music causes my heart to race, and the choppy sequence of images completely freaks me out — but I kind of like it. Since the show's characters, theme, and location changes with every season, there's always something different to spot in the credits. But, the music remains the same — and will forever haunt my nightmares.” — Bari Lieberman, fitness and wellness editor


Fringe
Fringe was a show that prided itself on its absolute mindfuckery, and the opening credit sequence paid homage to that with a creepy exploration into the different ‘fringe’ sciences, such as teleportation, precognition, and pyrokinesis. What was interesting about that credit sequence was that it was a direct reflection of what was happening on the series. In season two, when we were introduced to the alternate universe, the title sequence shifted to red and reflected the "sciences" of this new bizarro world we were introduced to. When Peter's (Joshua Jackson) alternate timeline story played out, the sequence shifted to amber.

The words being displayed were meant to denote something foreign and strange, so in Season 5's dystopian, Observer-run world, the concepts that flash across the screen include things like community, joy, private thought, free will. And, for a little levity, the retro title sequences, used for the episodes set in the '80s featured such far-fetched notions as laser surgery, genetic engineering, and personal computing. The credits just served to immerse us even more into this wacky world that J.J. Abrams had created, which for me made the whole thing that much more enjoyable and easy to get wrapped up in.” — Megan McIntyre, beauty director


Beverly Hills, 90210
“I'm absolutely powerless to the '90s glory emanating from the Beverly Hills, 90210 opening credits. The mock turtlenecks, the dance moves, the West Coast surfbort babes — I can't even handle it. And, don't get me started with Brandon Walsh and Dylan McKay. Be still, my beating heart.” — Alison Ives, editorial production assistant


Game of Thrones
“You’ve battled your way through the day and arrive home crumpled and world-weary. But then you fire up the HBO GO, hit ‘play’ on the next episode of Game of Thrones, and you are transported, swooping over the clicking, whirling gears and cogs of a 3D-animated topographical map of another world. This world is confusing. It’s helpful to have a refresher on its geography before you delve into all of the ways all of its characters are screwing each other over. And the cinematic soundtrack reminds you that even if your day was boring, life can be pretty exciting.” — Hayley MacMillen, wellness assistant


The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
“‘Now this is a story all about how...’ Try starting off a conversation with that and not have it spiral into an impromptu sing-along. This is maybe the most universally known (and loved) TV theme song out there (in my humble opinion, of course) and it never ever gets old. The only thing better than the actual song is the visuals. It's maybe Will Smith's best acting job to date and who doesn't love '90s fashion?” — Taylor Bryant, beauty production assistant


Weeds
Weeds...where does one start? From the beginning of the first season, when the sweet, old-timey voice of Malvina Reynolds softly sings about houses made of ‘ticky-tacky,’ I knew I was going to love this show. The intro mashes up imagery that feels like it's straight out of that Disney show So Weird, mixed with American Beauty suburbia melancholy, and a serious stench of marijuana giggles underlying the whole thing. it also took me two seasons to realize that the singer performing the song changes, so, uh, blame it on the bong? But really, this intro was great. Now, if only the show continued to be as good, maybe I could've held on a bit longer." — Larissa Green, social media editor


Lost
Lost was the master of the chilling, seemingly unrelated cold open that left you feeling exactly as disoriented as the out-of-focus title card and discordant sound that followed.


The Simpsons
Even if you’ve never seen the show in your life, you can probably sing the tune of the the only lyrics (“The Simpsonnnnnssssss”) as you envision the clouds parting over Springfield. From there, you’re off on a rollicking adventure through town as Homer tries to get home from the power plant, Bart finishes up detention, Lisa jams her way out of band practice, and Marge and Maggie drive home from the store. Finally, the whole family reaches 742 Evergreen Terrace and the pièce de résistance of every Simpsons episode opener: the couch gag. It’s different every time, and the show even gets huge icons like Banksy to craft them (see above).


The Sopranos
“Not only are you treated to some of New Jersey’s finest locales during the opening credits of The Sopranos — the turnpike and the Linden refineries, to name a few — you’ve got Tony Soprano as your personal tour guide. As for the song played in the background? Alabama’s 'Woke Up This Morning,' is perfectly befitting this Italian mobster series. Fuhgeddaboutit!” — Ellen Hoffman, editorial assistant


Sex and the City
Not every credit sequence tells a complete story; in fact, most of them are montages of images and names with nary a "plot." With the SATC opener; however, you know exactly what type of flawed-yet-fashionable heroine Carrie Bradshaw is. She's the gal who steps out wearing something straight out of Vogue, only to have a bus with her own picture on it completely destroy it. She is us, and we are her. Plus, those interstitial shots of the show’s unofficial fifth main character (NYC), are downright iconic.


Freaks and Geeks
What’s the best way to meet and pass immediate judgment on a bunch of high schoolers? Look at the yearbook, of course. How do you make classifying new characters into their various archetypes even easier for viewers? Watch the behind-the-scenes footage from school picture day, of course, and score it perfectly with ‘Bad Reputation’ by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. This show, I tell you. Gone too soon.


The Wire
The Wire shifted its focus for each season of its five-year run. So it's fitting that the credit sequence evolved from shots of street-level drug dealings to shady closed-doors dealmaking to the front pages of a newspaper. The only constant element is the theme song, a Tom Waits tune called ‘Way Down in the Hole,’ which was performed by a different artist (including a version by Waits himself) each season.” — Chris Kaye, executive west coast editor


Clarissa Explains It All
“The show itself was literally the epitome of everything I wanted my life to be like in the '90s: cool clothes, rebel best friend, annoying sibling, and being way too witty to handle. Looking back now, these are actually pretty stylish opening credits. Simple white background, pops of color, with simple, yet dynamic typography. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Clarissa was ahead of its time, the show explained it all.” — Michael Brown, community manager


The Walking Dead
"Critics of this show like to say it's just about zombies. But, it's really about the people and how they function in a world gone to shit. Well, I've never been more convinced of the apocalypse than in the opening credits to The Walking Dead. The music is menacing and there are close ups of bugs. WE ARE SCREWED, YOU GUYS." — Vanessa Golembewski, associate news and entertainment editor


The West Wing
"The whole theme song and opening sequence just make me proud to be an American — if America were actually a democracy led by Martin Sheen and his team of witty liberals, that is. Plus, composer WG Snuffy Walden gets bonus points for A) having an amazing name and B) also composing the theme to My So-Called Life." — Amelia Edelman, content editor


My So-Called Life
“The theme song to My So-Called Life was little more than ambient tones punctuated by emotional wailing and a drumbeat that echoed of the earnestness of a high school sophomore. In other words, it was absolutely perfect. This song remains untouchable in its ability to capture all the high-octane, complex feelings of being 15, combined with the aimless gravitas and vapidity of…being 15.” — Kelsey Miller, senior features writer


Bonus throwback: Tiny Toon Adventures
“How can you not love Tiny Toons? Everyone loves Tiny Toons. The intro is like its own little episode, introducing all the characters and setting you up for the absolute gleeful insanity that was about to follow. Also, once you hear that theme song, it's stuck in your head FOREVER. ‘We're tiny, we're toony, we're all a little loony...’ Sorry, I had to do it.” — Megan McIntyre, beauty director