Showtime continues on the path of building its roster of strong female-led series, greenlighting a new pilot, The C Word, starring too-many-to-count award nominee/winner Laura Linney who will also serve as an executive producer. Joining the ranks of Weeds, United States of Tara and Nurse Jackie (comedies treading on the darker side) The C Word centers around the emotional ups and downs of a suburban wife and mother dealing with cancer.
Setting the Mood – Part 2, The Comedies Strike Back
Comedies usually get the short stick when it comes to accolades, so as the funny shows are my go-to drug of choice I must give props to a few gems that have wonderful opening title sequences.
Top of the list is dearly departed Arrested Development. As the years go by it ticks higher and higher on many a list of greatest comedic series in television history, and rightly so. Even upon watching episodes for the dozenth time, the well-executed deliveries still make me laugh until it hurts and with the multi-layered writing and rapid-fire dialogue I’m continually catching new jokes. The opening credits are as fast-paced, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it amusing as every episode.
And speaking of departed, Dead Like Me was a fantastic short-lived series on Showtime from the mind of Bryan Fuller, creator of another fantastic short-lived series ABC’s Pushing Daisies (I wonder if he’s ever thought of shying away from the death-themed shows, seems almost a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point), where a young girl finds her untimely demise to be just the beginning of her life as she takes on the role of grim reaper, with a catch – she must continue to “live” in the world of the living, even holding down a temp job in order to pay for food and rent. The tongue-in-cheek premise is represented in its opening titles with a montage of death walking, working and riding the bus amongst us.
The opening for Weeds has an interesting history. In its first three years it had a full-length title sequence featuring theme song “Little Houses” and images that poke fun at how the cookie-cutter suburban life can be mind-numbingly repetitive.
As the show’s main character Nancy Botwin evolved away from subdivisions and soccer games, so has the title sequence. Nearing the end of its fifth season, each show has opened with a brief animated title card for the last two years, unaccompanied by music and only minor sound effects, the image pertains to something found within that particular episode.
Setting the Mood, or The Art of a Title Sequence
A sucker for a good awards show – although they quite often leave me underwhelmed well before the final winner is announced – the Emmys will kick off the season in September with golden bar standard, and personal fave, 30 Rock leading the nominee pack (record-setting 22 for a comedy series – who says women aren’t funny!?) and while anxiously anticipating how many statues Fey & Co walk away with, the real category of intrigue is one that I, admitting with great shame, had no idea was even a part of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences – Outstanding Main Title Design.
Perhaps this is one of the “technical” (aka, snooze-worthy-so-let’s-sex-it-up-with-this-year’s-It-starlet-announcing-the-winners) awards they give away prior to a telecast, but please TV Academy let’s give some primetime credit where credit is due to a category with an amazing history of well-deserved winners, most recently last year’s Mad Men.
Its return with the third season premiere on Sunday reminded me how a brilliantly-executed title sequence can immediately capture the mood of show. Here the orchestral, Hitchcockian music and style/color design and most poignantly the use of a faceless man endlessly falling Vertigo-style through era-specific advertisements that feature a bevy of scantily-clad women, tumblers of drinks and a final image of the “perfect” nuclear family that sets the stage for vice-indulging, secret-keeping ’60s family/ladies/ad man Don Draper. Those MADison Avenue men are proud.
Being a research-loving fact-finder, I’ve discovered that the Main Title Design’s category inception was in ’97 and since then the Academy has bestowed wins to a number of shows that top my personal list of favorite opening sequences (yes, such a list does exist along with favorite font — for the record give me something in a serif any day). In 2002 a little network called HBO received its first win in this category with Six Feet Under.
Haunting theme music from Thomas Newman and artful images (love those chiaroscuro hands) that highlight preparation for one’s eternal dirtnap (thank you HBO for showing me the embalming process) encompasses the juxtaposition of beauty and decay found in death, and life, that the series so adeptly captured.
For a series focusing on the cause in addition to the effects of death, Showtime’s Dexter has a title sequence befitting its dark yet playful world — turning the mundane, morning routine of cop and serial killer Dexter Morgan (the amazing Michael C. Hall’s 180 degree turn in character from his David Fisher on Six Feet Under) into a menacing montage.
Finally, jumping back to HBO/Alan Ball collaborations and the jewel of this year’s Title Design noms, True Blood‘s opening sequence is an amalgam of dirty, swampy, sexy, fire-and-brimstone imagery coupled with twangy rockabilly song “Bad Things” (by Jace Everett, a decent alternative to Chris Isaak) that encapsulates the soapy, southern gothic nature of the supernatural saga.
See the complete list of this year’s Emmy nominees here .