The 100 Greatest TV Themes: 17 - 11

17. Neon Genesis Evangelion
"A Cruel Angel's Thesis"
by Yoko Takahashi

The theme song for Neon Genesis Evangelion is a cliff's notes version of anime. With the exception of lolitas in uncomfortably short skirts, the Neon Genesis Evangelion theme features every stereotype of the anime theme song. A rocking electronic j-pop intro, giant gundam robots, flashing lights and colors onscreen for roughly eight picoseconds, completely vague symbolism, lots of shots of the sky, people dramatically turning, and absolutely no connections whatsoever to the show's actual content.

16. Malcolm in the Middle
"Boss of Me"
by They Might Be Giants

In sitcom land, the family dynamic is rigid; adults have authority over the kids. Malcolm In the Middle offered a change. The theme song is smart and satirical by reflecting this idea, reconstituting a familiar playground taunt as children jeering authority figures. Mix in the everpresent jocularity of They Might Be Giants and you have a great theme song. What makes it top 20 themes great is the plethora of non sequitur visual imagery. When you were a kid, TV was an escape; you watched it, even if there was nothing worth watching. That awkward period of time every Saturday after cartoons, but before mom kicked you outside to play. The canting, static, saturated imagery evokes feelings of idle channel surfing. You kids reared on cable and satellite TV don't know how lucky you were.

15. Melrose Place
"Melrose Place (Theme)"
by Tim Truman

Remember everything I said about Beverly Hills 90210? Just repeat it here. I'm convinced they were the exact same show; the only difference being Melrose Place features 40 and 30 year-olds pretending to be 30 and 20 year-olds instead of 90210's 20 year-olds playing teenagers.

The theme song is an expression of musical theme and representation; I know exactly what this show is about without even watching the accompanying imagery. I can tell it's a soap opera, I know it's about young, fashionable people in a posh urban setting, I can sense there is much drama and exploitation stemming from sexual pursuits, infidelity, and treachery. Also catfights, but that's just extrapolating. The only thing I can't deduce purely from the music is the swimming pool.

14. Hawaii Five-O
"Hawaii Five-O Theme"
by Morton Stevens

While the show may be an antiquated relic by entertainment standards, one element of Hawaii Five-O remains relevant. If you can't guess what that one thing is by now, you have incredibly lousy reading comprehension skills. I'm talking about the theme song. Easily one of the best driving songs ever recorded, the music is a surf rock masterpiece, on par with anything written by Jan & Dean or The Ventures. The Hawaiian slideshow instantly transports us to the Aloha State, but the understated intensity of Jack Lord and crew tells us just how serious things can get on a Hawaiian beach.

13. Star Trek: The Next Generation
"Star Trek: The Next Generation Intro"
by Alexander Courage and Jerry Goldsmith

Space. The Final Frontier. The words carry such a deep cadence... Oh, right. I already said that about the original Star Trek. No matter. While Star Trek was a pinnacle of early science fiction, the changes demonstrated by Star Trek: The Next Generation detail the genre swing in a post-Star Wars era (combining Star Wars and Star Trek in the same article; aren't I daring?) The original Star Trek evoked a feeling of discovery; everything is new, captivating, scary or unprecedented, like 15th century sailors navigating uncharted waters. The Next Generation made the crew seem arrogant; confident, but constantly taunted by challenges, like explorers traversing unexplored jungles. As such, the ST:TNG theme takes a brash, adventurous tone, complete with sci-fi whooshes. When things go whoosh, you know you're in the future.

12. Mystery Science Theater 3000
"Love Theme from MST3K"
Composed by Charlie Erickson and Joel Hodgson
Lyrics by Best Brains
Vocals by Joel Hodgson (Seasons 1-5) and Michael J Nelson (Seasons 5-10)

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Or MST3K to people who hate typing all that out) was originally made for public access TV. The premise was simple: instead of just airing public domain sci-fi flicks, air public domain sci-fi flicks while improv comedians mock the low production values, plot holes and bad acting. The irony of a public access show mocking a movie's low budget was not lost on the cast and crew. The theme song is a tongue and cheek explanation of the show's absurd setup, characters and premise, featuring poorly constructed models and puppets, as well as the greatest handwave of inconsistencies in all of TV and science fiction: "Repeat to yourself: 'It's just a show, I should really just relax.'" The theme song evolved over the show's run, with lyrics swapped in and out to reflect casting changes, network changes, and other crucial plot elements. Nonetheless, the song remained endearing and alluring to b-movie fans everywhere.

11. The Adventures of Pete and Pete
"Hey Sandy"
by Polaris

The Adventures of Pete and Pete is one of my favorite TV themes, but fairly inconsequential on a grand scale. As such, I place it outside the top ten for objectivity's sake. But just barely. After all, I do love it so.

Pete & Pete was a mid-90's show on Nickelodeon, and describing it is no easy task. It was a slice-of-life show, but disconnected from reality. Everything seemed to exist in its own little universe, detached from all rules of logic and just shy of insanity. The theme features a garage band playing an indecipherable alternative tune on the lawn of Typical Suburbia, USA, surrounded with common accessories like lawnmowers, sprinklers and banana-seat bicycles. Intercut with the absurd imagery of the cast, and you know this show will be like nothing else you've seen before. All in all, that's a theme song's goal: Represent the show, and entice you want to watch the entire episode.

The Final Ten theme songs are up next. We'll be back after a word from our sponsors.


The 100 Greatest TV Themes: 25 - 18

25. Bill Nye the Science Guy
"Bill Nye the Science Guy Theme"
by Mike Greene

The spiritual successor to Mister Wizard, Bill Nye was a professional scientist who demonstrated scientific concepts to elementary and middle-school aged kids through experiments, explanations, sketches, and a blatant abuse of After Effects. The series' goal, and the theme song by extension, was to make science seem cool. The intro sequence achieved this by barraging the senses with scientific imagery, fluctuating sound bytes and an apparently narcissistic host. Bill's name being repeatedly shouted has turned the theme into an internet meme, and an enjoyable one at that. And check out this cover by Mudhoney.

24. Underdog
by W. Watts Biggers, Chet Stover, Joe Harris, and Treadwell Covington

Superheroes rely on two things: Their abilities and their reputation. Aquaman can command an army of sharks to rip his enemies to shreds, but nobody will take him seriously because he's Aquaman. This is why the Underdog theme is a thing of beauty. It turns an anthropomorphic beagle whose name implies he is a weakling, whose costume resembles an ill-fitting pair of footie pajamas, and who speaks only in rhyming couplets into an intimidating force of nature. And check out this cover by Butthole Surfers.

23. Alfred Hitchcock Presents
"Funeral March of a Marionette"
by Charles Gounod

Alfred Hitchcock was more than just a legendary director, he was a celebrity, equally famous as any actor or actress of the era. So much so, he lent both his name and image to the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents despite only directing 18 of the 363 episodes. Hitchcock knew the value of branding. The opening theme has become the synonymous lietmotif for Hitchcock's whole career and filmography. His opening silhouette is perhaps even more recognizable than his face. His trademark welcoming,"good evening," delivered in a deep, sloshing baritone sends unsettling chills down my spine every time. All of this has ensured the legacy of the great director will never fade. And check out... no, I'm not making that a running gag.

22. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
"Journey of the Sorcerer"
Composed by Bernie Leadon
Performed by The Eagles

Understanding British television is complicated when reared on the American model. In America, a good TV show will last around six seasons, producing around 114 episodes. A great TV series will last even longer. In Britain, most TV shows air for a single season, producing six episodes. The industry is different across the pond; writers, producers and actors aren't bogged down by a single project for a lengthy stretch of their careers. Americans are just happy for job security.

To the Brits' advantage, English TV shows don't have the handicap of padding out an entire season with filler. When the adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy came to fruition, the entire novel and most of its sequel were adapted without any concern. But no one cares about that, I'm supposed to be talking about the theme song. Journey of the Sorcerer greatly evokes the feeling of wonder and trepidation which come from traveling through outer space. What wondrous experiences would a novice intergalactic traveler experience? What perils would they encounter? How will they manage to keep a straight face amidst the malfunctioning robot head and shoestring special effects budget?

21. True Blood
"Bad Things"
by Jace Everett

In a world saturated by vampires, love stories and vampiric love stories, True Blood found a way to stay relevant and interesting: By being scary. Vampires are parasitic creatures of the night. They hunt humans and feast on their blood. The concept should terrify you, not titillate you. True Blood's intro reinforces these morbid feelings with a dark and looming country tune that sounds as if its echoing from a Louisiana marshland. The imagery reinforces this, showing contrasting and contextual imagery that evokes a gut feeling of unease. Even though this is standard southeast America, something smells rotten in the state of Denmark.

20. Justice League/Justice League Unlimited
"Justice League Theme"
by Lolita Ritmanis
"Justice League Unlimited Theme"
by Michael McCuistion

Justice League began in 2001 with a cast of seven, and remained that way for two seasons. In 2004, the cast ballooned to over thirty superheroes, and every episode focused on a different combination of cast members. Technically, it was the same series, but under two different names. Likewise, each incarnation had a different theme song. As such, I couldn't rightfully choose between the two. The original Justice League theme is a slow, majestic orchestration. It evokes the heroic deeds of warriors, on par with mythological gods and titans. Justice League Unlimited takes an alternate approach. It feasts on modern sensibilities, playing hard, fast and electric. The two themes are opposite sides of the same coin, and I'm clearly way too emotionally invested in superheroes.

19. Pee-Wee's Playhouse
"Pee-Wee's Playhouse Theme Song"
Composed by George McGrath, Mark Mothersbaugh & Paul Reubens
Performed by Mark Mothersbaugh
Vocals by Cyndi Lauper

Pee-Wee's Playhouse was a live action series which aired on Saturday mornings, a time slot normally reserved for cartoons. But watching just the opening sequence, it's easy to forget Pee-Wee's Playhouse isn't a cartoon. The colors are bright and vivid, Pee-Wee Herman is maniacally energetic and practically bouncing off the walls, and the theme song announces itself with energy like a hummingbird on a sugar high. The absolute ecstasy of this song careens into the nuttiness of the show, almost making you forget the surprisingly lengthy intro makes up nearly 1/9th of the runtime. If your 22 minute show has a three minute intro, it had better be worth it, and the theme to Pee-Wee's Playhouse certainly was.

18. The Amazing Race
"The Amazing Race"
by John M. Keane

The Amazing Race is not a reality show. I just want to make this clear. It is a game show with reality elements. First and foremost is the competition and the challenges. The contestants and their affairs/interactions are only there to fill in the cracks. The show is barely about foreign culture; the visited countries are nothing more than backdrops for troublesome physical challenges and mentally taxing activities, both of which make great TV. The show is about a race, which is a motif quite easily scored. The Amazing Race theme gets the blood pumping, it gets the adrenaline flowing, it makes you want to circumnavigate the globe at the behest of an omnipresent host from New Zealand. All while carrying a poorly intertwined product-placement garden gnome.


The 100 Greatest TV Themes: 34 - 26

34. My So-Called Life
"My So-Called Life Theme"
by W. G. Snuffy Walden

My So-Called Life was destined for greatness. Unfortunately, everything conspired against the show, dooming it to failure in its first season. Despite it's all-too-brief run, the show achieved legendary status thanks to a devoted fanbase and critical praise (reruns airing seven times a day on MTV also helped a bit). Listening to the deep emotional resonance emanating from the opening theme, it's very clear the producers knew they had a hit on their hands. They knew they couldn't saddle such a show with a halfhearted, cookie cutter theme. They pulled out all the stops, giving us a beautiful instrumental piece that could just as easily be included in an Oscar winning score. Meanwhile, the desaturated visuals tell a story all on their own; a story about a young girl trapped in the universally familiar yet equally alien realms of suburban teenagedom and high school. It was a masterpiece of a series with a breathtaking opening and damn the individuals responsible for its demise.

33. Gilligan's Island
"The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle"
Written by Sherwood Schwartz and George Wyle
Performed by The Wellingtons/The Eligibles

I didn't want to include the Gilligan's Island theme. Not initially. The purpose of this list was to establish a new, different, and fresh perspective on theme songs. I was tired of seeing terrible theme songs to old TV shows being heralded by everyone and their mothers (especially their mothers). These old theme songs weren't good. They were simply riding the coattails of nostalgia. Green Acres. Terrible theme. Three's Company. Terrible theme. All in the Family. Terribly terrible theme, even by terrible theme standards.

To quote Bill Watterson, nobody recognizes greatness until some authority confirms it. And since I'm kinda, sorta an authority (after all, you're reading this), I took the initiative to challenge the preconceived notion of what makes a good TV theme song. And that's why I didn't want to include Gilligan's Island; I wanted a fresh perspective. I took a very hard 'out with the old, in with the new' stance. But I couldn't go through with it. I just can't bring myself to hate Gilligan's Island. It is unhatable. It is a great theme, and it deserves recognition. It may not be the greatest, but it is certainly is a contender, even after all these years. But I still maintain WKRP In Cincinnati sucks and Cheers is overrated.

32. G. I. Joe
"G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero"
by Ford Kinder & Spencer Michlin
Narrated by Jackson Beck

When someone talks about great TV themes, you can accurately pinpoint their age because they always include cartoons from their childhood. This is the exception. G. I Joe was before my time, and I still think it's a great piece of music. The thundering chorus is intense by itself, but the overlapping harmonies accelerate it to new levels. Who cares if it's blatantly a toy commercial? Who cares if it promotes a military industrial complex? Who cares if a 1930's-era football player is firing a bazooka at point blank range? Who cares if every character is simultaneously firing a gun, but all bullets are replaced with lasers so as not to send out the message that violence has consequences? This theme kicks ass.

31. Beverly Hills, 90210
"Theme From Beverly Hills, 90210"
by John E. Davis

White people hanging out, having fun, looking pretty, and facing problems only upper-class white teenagers could face. Some of the oldest looking teenagers to ever walk the face of the Earth, I might add. Despite my misanthropy, the 90210 theme was a great way to introduce the series. It worked as sort of a beacon. When those opening notes played on Wednesday night, any teenager or young adult within earshot was socially obligated to make a b-line to the nearest television set. Luckily, I was young enough to not give a crap.

30. Spider-Man (1967)
by Paul Francis Webster and Bob Harris

How awesome is Spider-Man that he has two series on this list? The 1967 Spider-Man theme song is a loving ode to the webslinger with classic lines devoted to his heroic nature and his super abilities. By every measure, it should be considered campy and stupid, but it never quite reaches that level. Instead, the opening stays as authentic and genuine as Peter Parker himself (*spoiler*). It's an inseparable element of the Spider-Man mythos, going so far as to be featured canonically in each installment of the Sam Raimi film trilogy. Plus, The Ramones covered it, which is more than anyone's ever done for Batman.

29. Six Feet Under
"Six Feet Under Title Theme"
by Thomas Newman

A TV show about death. How depressing, right? Your mileage may vary. Six Feet Under's intentions were to make the audience think about death. It's all around us. It can happen to anybody, anytime, and will indeed happen to everyone eventually. We shove the notion of death to the back of our subconscious; it's the last thing we want to think about. But the Six Feet Under theme brings it to the forefront with it's chilling music and morbid imagery. Much like how a funeral home emits disconcerting, uncomfortable vibes, the Six Feet Under theme music alludes to the feeling of death without ever concretely making a connection. The funeral imagery, however, depersonalizes the experience so we can view it from a whole new perspective.

28. 3-2-1 Contact
by Tom Anthony

This is my dark horse. 321 Contact was a PBS series pop-science show targeted at middle schoolers, specifically focusing on the concepts of observation and analysis. It was produced in the late 80s, back before PBS gave up completely with children and focused entirely on the preschool demographic. But that's not important. What is important is 321 Contact boasted one of the most retro-fantastic themes I can remember. The whole thing sounds cutting edge if it were produced in the mid-to-late 70's, but for the 80's... well, PBS had a government grant, they didn't have to be hip and popular.

27. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
"The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"
by Will "The Fresh Prince" Smith

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme is the new Gilligan's Island theme. Anyone born after 1982 will undoubtedly consider this among the greatest of all TV themes. Most will have it in their top five, but I don't like it quite that much. The theme is entertaining and quirky; it compliments both the series and Will Smith's character But alas, that's also it's biggest downfall: Will Smith. I don't like Will Smith on a good day, but his music career really makes my head hurt. I can't decide whether he's trying to be goofy or if he wants to be taken seriously. His lyrics are unimpressive and poorly written, he takes himself too seriously as an artist and he never has anything important or worthwhile to say. I take his rap career as seriously as Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. That being said, the Fresh Prince theme song gets a pass since it was never intended to be taken seriously. Orange juice out of a champagne glass indeed.

26. The X-Files
"The X-Files"
by Mark Snow

The X-Files is a freaky show. On a weekly basis, FBI agents would confirm the existence of the supernatural, psychic abilities, extraterrestrial life, and an international conspiracy seemingly impervious to lung cancer and emphysema. The oft-terrifying adventures were expertly preceded by a haunting theme. The haunting whistling has become synonymous with the horror/sci-fi subgenre, complimenting the imagery of the so-called "conspiracies." It's one thing to imply monsters exist, but to make the monsters seem as though they're lurking in your backyard is a stroke of genius.


The 100 Greatest TV Themes: 42 - 35

42. The Ren & Stimpy Show
"Dog Pound Hop"
by Scott Huml, John Kricfalusi, Chris Reccardi and Jim Smith

Even though everyone unanimously agrees the show should simply be called 'Ren and Stimpy,' The Ren and Stimpy Show is a legacy in both animation and comedy. The high-energy insanity and repulsion-comedy that drive the show are classic trademarks, seen in abundance during the intro. Likewise, the theme song is equally recognizable; a 60's era swing number complete with bongos, double bass, and twangy electric guitar.

41. Dexter
"Dexter Main Theme"
by Rolfe Kent

While the music isn't particularly noteworthy or memorable (and don't flood my inbox in disagreement), I love the opening to Dexter because of its visuals alone. You would never expect to revel in somebody's morning routine, but as you would never expect to root for a serial killer, Dexter again does the impossible. The sinister imagery leads the black comedy, telling us everything we need to know about both the character and the series.

40. The Office
"Handbags and Gladrags"
Written by Mike d'Abo
Performed by Big George

I'm not here to debate the differences between the British Office and the American Office. Both are excellent shows with excellent casts. Both have distinct advantages and disadvantages, and both are worthy of your time. But the British incarnation does have the better theme. Not that there's anything wrong with America's piano and harmonica creation, but the English version just seems to fit better with the series. Woeful bluesy lyrics mocking the workforce during the closing, and imagery of soul-crushingly gray cityscapes during the opening. This was a sitcom.

39. The Muppet Show
"The Muppet Show Theme"
Written by Sam Pottle & Jim Henson
Performed by The Muppets

The Muppet Show is notable for being one of the few, if not the only, comedy/variety show to stand the test of time. The old-timey vaudevillian concept, complete with musical song and dance numbers of public domain standards really seem out of date and out of place on television. But somehow, when they're performed by felt pigs and frogs, they're hypnotically endearing.

38. The Kids in the Hall
"Having an Average Weekend"
by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet

Always bubbling just under the mainstream radar, The Kids in the Hall were a Canadian sketch-comedy troupe consisting of five guys referred to individually by everybody as "You know, that one guy from that one thing." And what better intro for an underground hit than a song heavily evoking college rock motifs and imagery that's taken from any second semester sophomore film class?

37. Amazing Stories
"Amazing Stories Main Title"
by John Williams

An adventure anthology series. Steven Spielberg at the helm. With a score and theme song composed by John Williams. The recipe for the most epic TV theme of all time, mired down by bad CGI and corny imagery.

I've looked and looked, but I could only find one intact manifestation of the Amazing Stories theme on the internet, and it's from the Spanish dub. Sorry about that. Still, the video-less version above would play great on your MP3 Player.

36. X-Men
"X-Men Theme"
by Ron Wasserman

The X-Men have a long and storied history, spanning many different comic book series, controlled by many different writers, each with their own interpretation of the characters and their motives. The X-Men animated series was considered a huge success for condensing such a massive universe into a single standalone entity, but also being extremely faithful to its comic predecessor. As such, the epic metal theme song doesn't seem the slightest bit ironic. Every time I hear that electric guitar battle with the synthesizer, only to crescendo with a single bell chime, I get goosebumps.

35. Saved By the Bell
"Saved by the Bell Theme"
by Scott Gale

Saved By the Bell is not a good show. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy every episode. I love the corny jokes, I love the stock characters taken right from a middle school creative writing class, I love the fact that it looks like 1985 despite being made in 1993. I love the show, but it's so stupid. It's the Plan 9 From Outer Space of TV shows. The intro is a great accompaniment to such a spectacle; a nonsensical barrage of color and clip art, with lyrics that were probably scrawled on a McDonald's napkin in traffic on the way to a recording studio. I also love how the theme was blocked on Youtube for copyright reasons, but The College Years and The New Class are both present. Even NBC doesn't care about the spin-offs.