New Girl premiered last night. Here is the full theme song, written and performed by Zooey Deschanel, which you may know to be one of my favorite things (series stars performing theme songs, not Zooey Deschanel, though I like her a lot, sorry). What do you guys think of the show?
With this, we add to the series of the animated shows currently airing on Fox’s Sunday nights. This is the original opening sequence for American Dad!, another Seth MacFarlane creation. In season 1-3 there was a different topical joke used for the newspaper Stan picks up here. At some point (perhaps to correspond EXACTLY with the likelihood and then fact of Obama becoming the new president), the show became far less politically satirical and more character-oriented, which was a very wise move, as the show had accidentally developed a strong ensemble. As to a changing gag, the newspaper bit was replaced with Roger in a different costume each week, singing along. Here’s a terrible quality video of that.
Lyrically, this song is much less complex than those on MacFarlane’s other two shows. It is just the kind of thing you could imagine the characters humming along to, but doesn’t tell us too much about the characters, beyond the use of the term “American race.” Stan himself is far less cheerful on the show than he is in the opening credits, which is completely fine. It’s a good song, and fits the show well enough without actually being ABOUT the show. And it is aware that Roger is the best part of the show, which is good.
This past Sunday, a new Fox animated series premiered to try and stem the unstoppable growth of Seth MacFarlane Sunday. It is called Bob’s Burgers, and it was created by Loren Bouchard, who you may recall as an Adult Swim stalwart. He wrote the theme song for Bob’s Burgers, just as he cowrote the theme song for Home Movies (with Brendan Small).
This is a nice, uptempo ukulele tune (right? ukulele?) that is meant to contrast the action onscreen. Other than the introduction of a horn section (mostly just to keep the song loud enough to be audible over the sound effects), the ukulele stays stagnant throughout the opening, even as things change onscreen.
And as to that: what I find most interesting about the opening sequence is that we move first through space and then through time. We start close on a hamburger, then expand out to Bob, his wife, his kids, his store, and the stores next to his. Then, at about nine seconds in (when the horns kick in) we start moving ahead - the store’s opening, its reopening, and so on. I think the opening shot of a hamburger is meant to make us understand Bob’s priorities - burgers, then himself, then his family. Once we get that, we can see the prologue to our episode: this store is cursed. I am surprised that there would be a gag you’d have to read to convey this information in a show’s opening credits, but I suppose it worked for The Simpsons.
Is there any theme song more iconic than The Simpsons’, now renewed for a 23rd season? No. The answer was no. Composed, of course, by Danny Elfman, it is estimated that every human being in history has seen this at least once every day of their lives. According to scientists.
The tune is upbeat and fun and a bit repetitive, as per usual for Danny Elfman:
In this sequence, we meet a lot of the main characters and get a brief sense of their activities: Homer’s an idiot who works at a power plant, Marge is a housewife, Bart is a bad kid, Lisa is an overachieving saxophonist, and Maggie is a baby. We also meet some other people from around town, but a bit too quickly:
What Bart writes on the blackboard, Lisa’s saxophone solo, and the Simpsons Couch Gag all vary from week-to-week:
The sequence was animated primarily by Kevin Petrilak of Klasky-Csupo (with the rest of their crew), which definitely makes sense. You can see the expressiveness of design in their other projects (Rugrats, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, etc).
In 2009, with the show’s 20th season, it transitioned to HD, and so did its opening credits sequence. This allowed them to add more varying gags (e.g., billboard design):
…and more characters to the sequence:
What some maintain, though, is that with this transition came a loss of character. Compare here the change in movement, from the fun and jaunty and musical to the stiff and careful:
(Image via Amid Amidi of Cartoon Brew)
Jaime Weinman attributes the Simpson’s early freeness (in part) to Brad Bird, who also helped the digital images of Ratatouille to remain expressive even with the challenges (!) of superior animation.
According to Dane Romley, an animator who worked on the new version:
The reason why the show has stiffend up is because there was an era when fox would tell directors that we had to draw every pose we drew perfectly on model. No distorting of the forms of any kind. It has slowly been dieing down the past couple seasons but they still insist on making the show more about the writing and less about the looks. Every once in a while we’ll get let loose and we can do some fun stuff but on the whole don’t blame the artists please. Believe me all of us working there would love to express the characters in more ways but there’s just so much we can do.
What becomes of an opening sequence that is that iconic? Of course, it gets covered a lot:
Of the above four (and there are so many other versions to be found online), the first was the opening to The Simpsons Movie, with the song actually performed by Green Day (!). The second was commissioned to be directed by Banksy, fresh off the success of Exit Through The Gift Shop. The third inexplicably aired in May of this year. The last was made by the British channel Sky One (and directed by Chris Palmer) as a promo for the show, and eventually broadcast in the place of the opening sequence in a 2006 episode.
On a barely related note, I absolutely love live-action recreations of animated sequences, so here’s another one you should enjoy:
Days when you get to see monsters, drawn in the Simpsons style, redo the opening to The Office, are good days, even when it is not your favorite episode of The Simpsons, or even your favorite decade of The Simpsons.
Man what is it with youtube occasionally just not having theme songs on it? Shouldn’t they all be there, 100% of them? I think so, and so do you. AND THEN when they are there, embedding has been disabled by request, which is what happened here. So you can watch the House opening credits here, and listen to the song now.
The song is “Teardrop” by Massive Attack (REMEMBER THEM?). It’s kind of perfect for a theme song. The thumping base feels like a heartbeat, and the melody feels like one of those beep-beep machines that measure if a person’s still alive (what are those things called? You know what I mean). Then every now and then someone bangs on a piano, at exactly the right time to put an actor’s name on screen.
The sequence itself was designed by Dan Brown, Dave Malloy, Matt Mulder, and Jake Sargeant, and I think the combination of old-timey medical textbook pictures and aerial shots of Princeton work well to establish the show. Doctors! Princeton! You basically get the idea. Incidentally, according to Executive Producer Katie Jacobs, the name David Shore appears next to a picture of a neck because “He is the brains of the show.” They also wanted to include a shot of a cane and a bottle of Vicodin, but Fox rejected the idea, which is lucky. You really want to use that much totemic symbolism in your opening credits? (No.) But what I think is so wacky about this sequence is that it has yet to change, despite the fact that the cast has undergone a huge overhall.
In House’s fourth season, The Gang got split up and three new doctors joined House’s ragtag team of misfits. But guess what, suckers? Credits stay the same. Enjoy not being in the opening credits, Olivia Wilde, Peter Jacobson, and Kal Penn (this is probably the reason Penn’s character Kutner killed himself spoiler alert). The Office did something similar, and I find it pretty weird. Did you film the credits in some kind of visual mono? Can you not change the words on the screen? Come on, guys.
Firefly was just a terrific show, everyone. If you haven’t seen it, you should get it on DVD and watch it. It did, like not a small amount of Joss Whedon’s work, very poorly in the ratings. Now here comes a point of contention:
This theme song, written by Joss Whedon (you can actually hear him singing the song as a special feature on the DVD you should have), was performed by Sonny Rhodes (who is, as Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction would call him, “an old bluesman”), and is called “The Ballad of Serenity.” It’s slow, and bluesy, and sounds like the kind of song the characters might sing around the campfire.
Recently, Charlie Jane at io9 put together an alternate credits sequence for Firefly (there are a million “alternate credits sequences” to be found on the internet). Watch it:
So there’s no doubt this is cool. It also leaves out Simon Tam, which Works For Me. According to io9:
Firefly lost its mass audience within the first few minutes, thanks to its country fried, home town, soft hearted, sepia glowing, filk-tastic, credits sequence. It was, how you say, a little on the nose. Mind you, it’s not terrible (Enterprise, I’m looking at you) it just… well, to quote my brother “Yeah, we get it Joss, it’s a western in space.”
I don’t know that I disagree with Garrison Dean (the writer of that post) about the effectiveness of the original theme song, but I know that the reason I love it is the same as the reason io9 thinks it didn’t work. Firefly was, yes, a Western in space, but that’s a term worth interrogating here. It’s genre was pretty firmly Western in space, not space opera with cowboys. The show always emphasized the Western-y stuff, and that’s the stuff I liked best (like, what if Star Wars were all Han Solo? maybe bad example). But, as io9 suggests, the action/sci-fi elements may have been better to emphasize to catch on with an audience. Who knows? Watch the show.
David Schwartz did the music for Arrested Development, and he may be one of the greatest television composers working, based exclusively on his work on the show (he’s done a few other shows, which we’ll get around to). Remember Free At Last?
And what about Big Yellow Joint?
Schwartz’s talent is not just in emulating familiar sounds in his songs (Big Yellow Joint coming directly from Alice’s Restaurant - and it is a better song, in my opinion, SORRY HATERS; Free At Last is not a direct reference to any song I know of, but sounds just like a million stupid stock songs), but in creating moods with his songs. The theme song in particular relies on ukulele, which is a pretty inappropriate instrument for a story about the O.C.’s [don’t call it that] upper-crust. But it sounds just right because ultimately the whole show is a long, stupid, and trivial story. Michael’s efforts to save the company are existentially hilarious - this company is worthless, it contributes nothing to society, and only has meaning to his family, whose members are vapid and cruel. If this sounds like criticism, it isn’t. Like everyone else on the internet, I have nothing bad to say about this show, and that includes its excellent opening sequence.
This is part of the Animated Shows Created by Simpsons Writers series. It’s Futurama, in my opinion the best of the series, and often (SORRY HATERS) much better than The Simpsons. But we’re not here to discuss the quality of the show, are we? We want to talk about how freaking cool this opening sequence is.
It’s by Christopher Tyng (who’s done music for quite a few series), and it is a pretty clear rip-off (not meant pejoratively) of Psyche Rock by Pierre Henry and Michel Colombier. The song’s from 1967, and I highly recommend watching this video through:
Futurama’s opening sequence is so all about homage. Every episode has a different old-time cartoon playing on the screen that Planet Express crashes into. The show’s about the future, but it’s a future heavily informed by the past and present, where things are intentionally barely better, and technology has moved forward only to be marginally less convenient. I think the theme song, adapted from a trippy number from 1967, supports that. And, because I know you’re curious, here’s the opening to the Futurama movie “The Wild Green Yonder,” which has Seth MacFarlane singing lyrics to the theme song (turn your audio down, this is a terrible recording):
I mentioned it yesterday, so here is The Cleveland Show’s theme song. This actually belongs in a series entitled “Theme songs that are considerably better than their shows.” I don’t know who wrote it, but it’s sung by another Family Guy writer who thinks he can sing (BA-ZING), Mike Henry, the white guy who voices Cleveland.
For those among you who didn’t read the entire New York Times article I linked to yesterday (it’s cool if you didn’t), here is the most important quote:
Asked why of all his roles he would most closely identify with an African-American character, he said the answer might lie somewhere in his upbringing. “Although there weren’t many black people around,” he said, “I always felt black. I’ve always been a little bit of an outsider.”
Within this quote, I think, is the key to what makes The Cleveland Show a problematic show. Black people could be seen as “outsiders” as far as, like, white people go, but black people aren’t actually outsiders among, you know, black people. The Cleveland Show treats black people like this confusing community that exists primarily in sitcoms but has no real inner life.
This theme song follows the tradition of Family Guy’s theme song, and harkens back to an old style of theme song-styling. You’re supposed to think, “Oh! It’s the seventies! Just like Good Times and What’s Happening!” And as far as theme songs from that era go, I really enjoy it.
But here’s the secret buried in this song: At the very end, when Cleveland sings, “Everyone will know/My happy mustache face,” the original lyric went, “Everyone will know/My happy black-guy face.” You can actually almost make it out if you look at his mouth when he sings this. And this lyric, had it stayed in, would have been like the Rosetta Stone of the whole series: black people are weird.