As I was collecting thoughts for this section of our Comedy March Madness bracket, it struck me just how many of the shows’ themes were getting stuck in my head. It’s not particularly surprising that great shows would also have wonderful opening (and in some cases closing) music. While the art of the TV theme is not dead, it has definitely been in decline. However, that hasn’t stopped some recent shows from realizing the value of a memorable entrance (and in some cases exit). We will do a side vote on #GBOAT on Friday or Saturday, but here is my ranking of the theme songs of the 16 songs in this section of our tournament.
There’s also ANOTHER CHANCE TO VOTE at the bottom of the page, right after an interesting bit of trivia about the number one theme on this list.
Ok, it’s not that its opening is not iconic, it’s that there is almost literally no there there. The theme was a shuffle of hip songs of the moment. Hey, it definitely fit the show’s vibe, but at four seconds and no set song, where else can we put it. And even with the flashing fonts, well, just look at how The Kroll Show took the same concept and took it to another level.
15. Happy Endings
And here’s the same concept yet again, and while at least there is a set theme, it’s less a song than it is a chord played multiple times. There’s nothing really wanting, but the theme was clearly an afterthought here.
Man, these quick cuts and music stings were popular in the late-Aughts. Alex Eckford’s jangly indie pop flourishes are genuinely earworm-y, but it’s still barely a theme song.
13. Beavis & Butt-Head
Extra points for Mike Judge doing his own theme music, but it’s not particularly memorable. Given that music is the focus point of this MTV program that was essentially about two doofuses watching MTV videos (or an alternate world MTV where the station has better musical taste), it’s not really meant to be special. That said, it does work perfectly in the intersticial bumps which separated the sketches from the couch scenes.
12. Nurse Jackie
This one’s a slow burn, but it’s a true theme song at least–and by Wendy & Lisa no less. It plays more to the darker side of the program, even if it does get a sufficiently funky by its end.
11. Keeping Up Appearances
Nick Ingman’s jaunty march with classical trills fits the show perfectly, as it’s the sort of regal, classy Upstairs, Downstairs-y tune a, well, proud woman like Hyacinth Bucket would have playing on a constant loop in her head as her own internal soundtrack.
Who is that singing the jazz-blues nonsense song “Tossed Salad & Scrambled Eggs” as the Seattle skyline fades? Why that’s Frasier himself of course. When would Mr. Kelsey Grammer give up a chance to showcase that he’s a man of many talents. It’s memorable (somewhat), but… meh!
9. Designing Women
Long before The Wire had multiple artists warning us about watching our step when going to the garden, this classic sitcom used three different versions of “Georgia on My Mind” (including the number one hit version by Ray Charles). It’s about as on-the-nose as they come for one of two shows in this tourney where Atlanta is a character. That it’s this low is really more about how this is a strong group for classic themes.
Christopher Tyng’s bombastic, yet jazzy pastiche of clangs, whistles, and apparently “Rapper’s Delight” is unmistakeable and announces Matt Groening’s weirder show as nothing to be trifled with. It’s an unsubtle theme for a show that goes nowhere near subtle (and as with Hyacinth, one could imagine this running non-stop in Philip Fry’s subconscious.
7. Parks & Recreation
I’m rating this simple musical opener high simply for the unbridled joy it brings, especially in the rare times Parks & Rec rolled out the extended version. Gaby Moreon & Vincent Jones’ peppy creation would not be out of place in the background of a political rally, but also captures the pleasant joy at the show’s heart that helped make this one of the most beloved TV shows of all-time. It’s an underrated aspect of the program.
6. The Daily Show
Speaking of themes that are underrated as related to their importance on the show. OK, I’ll admit to being a bit of a hypocrite for dunning Miranda and Happy Endings for their one-or-two bar themes, but They Might Be Giants created one hell of a hook and even the most casual fan could hum you this to you on cue. It’s short and repetitive, but undeniably iconic.
I hated this song sooo much at the time and I haven’t particularly come to like it over time. It’s so syrupy and paint-by-numbers (The Rembrandts forgotten previous trip to the Billboard Top 20 is a much better song). That said, it was a number one radio hit for a reason and if you think of Friends, you think of this song. What more can you ask for in a theme.
4. Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Schooly D’s hip-hop intro where the old-school legend hyped up ATHF‘s three lead characters is a bite of demented nonsense. But when those three leads are a narcissistic milkshake, a warlock box of french fries, and Meatwad, what else would you expect. While it’s not as brilliant as Mastodon’s contribution to the opening of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (…with a linoleum knife), it gives you an idea of what to expect from the Adult Swim classic, that you could not know what to expect.
3. Bojack Horseman
This mix of jazz, calypso, psychedelica and who knows what else somewhat surprisingly was penned by the Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney. It’s hard to explain the appeal of the less than a minute of music, but let me just say if I saw my dearest friend was watching the show on Netflix and made use of the “Skip Intro” button, that person would likely be dead to me. It gets (maybe unfairly) bonus points for its often changing meta closing credits song by Grouplove. I’ll never be able to say “back in the ’90s,” without singing “I was in a very famous TV show” right after.
2. It’s a Living!
And talk about earworms! “Life’s not a French riviera…” This peppy and over-the-top theme was the epitome of the 1970s & ’80s network theme song that Too Many Cooks was right to mock. However, it’s also a show that 40 years later, any person who was a fan of this cult classic will remember every line of the spry tune right down to the subtlest vocal inflection.
No other song on this list could possibly be at the top but Bob James’ softer-than-soft smooth jazz. Here’s an interesting factoid: James’ “Angela” was not the original theme; James composed the track as incidental music for the third episode, in which Judd Hirsch’s lead character, the mensch-y Alex Rieger is set on a blind date with a woman named Angela, played by Suzanne Kent. The producers became so enchanted by the gentle melody they made it their central
Kent actually shows up as a guest in at least five different shows in our tournament (and Becker) over an almost 50-year career, yet, sadly, as far as we can tell, she has never been in the main cast of a TV show. That’s a shame, but she is also the inspiration for one of the most whistled themes in TV history, and that just might be a larger feather in her cap.
Here’s a ballot if you have yet to vote in the tournament and thanks for reading!