Our Love Affair with Gritty Theme Songs

Lots of things have changed about the way we watch TV in the age of the binge. I wrote about our collective case of the gimmie-gimmies a few years ago: I begged us (myself) to slow down and process and enjoy shows instead of devouring them over insanely short periods of time. Verdict? I just rewatched all seven seasons of Game of Thrones in a handful of weeks, so I'm no role model.

Anyway, where I'm going with this is that the way we watch television has changed the television we watch. For one, televsion is more prolific. For two, it's definitely darker, dirtier, more profane (four-lettery-er?) than it used to be. And, the opening credits to shows are getting shorter and shorter.

My husband and I were watching Ozark last night, a great Netflix original show with an exceedingly short opening credit sequence. Literally, the credits are one frame, a sort of shield of little hieroglyphics that loosely spell out the word Ozark. And every episode, it changes.
Ozark: Season 1, Episode 1.
So, this is kind of a brilliant modern-day opening, right? It takes up no time since they know you're just going to fast forward through it, and it changes every time so you actually pay attention. And if you really pay attention, you can puzzle out the next episode of the show. (Spoilers on reading the codes here.)

We got to discussing this and how Game of Thrones still gets away with a super-long opening. Yes, the maps are important to the plotline, but my husband suggested that GoT can do it because people still watch HBO live on Sunday nights. If people tune in live to sit through your opening, then it makes more sense to have an opening. By virtue of being a Netflix show, you know people are going to skip through it. So, thinks Ozark, let's make it so short they can't reach for the Apple TV remote.

I get it, but I had to stand up for some openings that I really enjoyed. (I'm the kind of person who has favorite opening credits, sorry haterz.) I cited my all-time favorite credit sequence, HBO's True Blood. It was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Main Title Design, which is apparently a thing. True Blood, of course, is an off-the-rails fantasy about vampires set in a small Louisiana town; it's Southern Gothic if ever there were. The creators shot much of their own footage on Super 8s and other old cameras. The opening never overtly shows vampires; instead, it takes on True Blood's deeper allegories for religion and racism and exclusion and otherness. The opening moves from daytime to darkness while bodies writhe in pleasure or pain. Death is spliced in in the form of sped-up time-lapse videos of decomposing animals. Oh yeah, and they literally dripped blood on the actual film stock. (Here's an in depth analysis of the opening and interview with the creators because it was painstaking! Painstaking = vampire pun! Ahahahah!)

Of course, the theme is nothing without its perfect theme song, "Bad Things," by Jace Everett, which makes the whole thing brilliant:


So we talked about that for a while and then we watched Ozark and that was it. But then this morning, I was catching up on some Portlandia and I see this!  

And I'm not sure if it makes me basic or it makes all these shows basic or it makes television super basic or what, but I'm pretty sure I'm not cool anymore because I watch all these shows. (I've blogged on True DetectiveBloodlineBreaking Badand The Jinx.) And if True Blood was once cool because they started this, then is it cool but everyone who copied it not cool? Maybe only Portlandia is cool? But also they had to watch all these shows to be able to know this so maybe they're basic but not quite as basic as me because they called it out? (Also on a scale of 1 to basic I'm hella basic and Fred and Carrie are like a -100, so that's not it.) All I can say is, touché, Portlandia. Touché.
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