There was a meme being shared yesterday (there’s always a meme being shared) that basically went like this: ‘Netflix needs an option where you can skip the opening credits’. As far as I can remember, this sentiment was heartily agreed with by most who came across it. Which was the first (of approximately seventy-five thousand times) time this year when I worked out that I’m old, and out of touch. Because I’m completely the opposite: I love the opening credits of any programme, even if I’m in the middle of a boxset binge, mainlining eight episodes one after the other, I’m perfectly happy to sit through the opening credits of every. Single. One. I don’t even use that time to nip out and make a cup of coffee. I’m so seduced by the opening credits, I’d rather hit pause, do my stuff, and come back and watch the whole thing. See? Old and out of touch.
I even get mildly annoyed when the opening credits are altered slightly, like when Friends lost the last few lines of the opening ‘I’ll Be There For You’ sequence from about season five (or whenever) onwards. Actually, that’s a lie. Obviously. I didn’t get mildly annoyed just because a sit-com lost roughly three seconds from its opening theme song. No, I got actively annoyed: it messed with my whole idea of what the opening of a show should be.
Could I be more annoyed?
Part of it is unashamedly pavlovian: particularly for someone of my age, there’s much joy to be had from the delicious anticipation set up by the opening theme of Tales Of The Unexpected or The Twilight Zone (and, yes, I’m acutely aware that both those programmes are anthology genre shows). It’s part of the make-up of the entire show. There are increasingly shows that don’t have opening credits at all, just the show’s title flashed up quickly, before the programme gets on with the business of telling you the story. Now, that trend hasn’t actually increased all that quickly, but it’s interesting to note what kind of programmes do. The most recent example I can think of is Fleabag, which would have an opening scene, ending with a uppercut quick gag, a very swift, almost invasive wallop of the show name, before immediately punching back to the narrative. It was quick, economical, almost savage. As a (very fast) follow on to the opening joke, the title credit (singular) served as a very visual exclamation mark. A similar purpose is served by the opening credits of Friends, albeit in a warmer, cheerier – yes, friendlier way. By contrast, the opening credits of Jessica Jones are languid, richly painted, and all about world-building: the tone and intention of the music alone changes course at least three times in less than a minute. And it’s in shows like Jessica Jones, or House Of Cards, that are made specifically for streaming services like Netflix, and therefore presumably designed to be binged on in whatever volume you desire, that I suppose the presence of opening credits is most contentious: if you’ve committed to spending ten hours with Luke Cage (settle down), then do you really want to be interrupted every fifty minutes by the same theme tune?
It’s quite rare to have an opening title sequence these days that’s artwork, as opposed to filmed footage or still photographs.
And, yes, I still think you do. I think the opening (and to an almost equal degree, the closing) credits serve as punctuation. A beat, a breath between the opening sequence and the inner sequence. The opening credits are the doorway, a moment of world building. It also means that the writer (and director) can be more creative about their hooks: it means that you can open on a deliberately oblique moment, or an argument, or whatever, in order to grab your audience, and then use the opening credits to give yourself some breathing space, or to back away before returning to the plot via another route. Almost no other form of story telling gives you this option.
Or maybe I’m just old.