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When you can't ‘skip intro’

A great opening credit sequence can set not just a tone for the series but lay down the vibe—for both viewer and characters to follow

A still from the opening credits of 'The Flight Attendant'
A still from the opening credits of 'The Flight Attendant'

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I first boarded The Flight Attendant reluctantly. The HBO Max series (both seasons streaming in India now on Amazon Prime Video) hadn’t impressed me with its trailer or its airport-read premise — of a stewardess in the stew — but soon as I clicked on the first episode, I was hijacked by the opening credits.

Blake Neely’s jazzy, percussive score is an immediate, urgent throwback to old-school cool (imagine Catch Me If You Can hopped up on MDMA) and the animated credits — which feature women with deer-heads and trolley-bags, giant rabbits and characters diving headlong into alcohol — have a definite Saul Bass vibe, swift and swoosh-y and desperately compelling. I enjoyed the silly, fun first season (lead actress Kaley Cuoco is mega) but these sensational opening credits were what kept me going even when the show flagged or got repetitive. They reminded me of what the show was going for, and that show of intent made me stick around.

Also read: The problem with Persuasion

A screenwriter friend claimed not to be enamoured of Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story (SonyLiv) as a series, but so persuasive and insistent proved Achint Thakkar’s theme-tune that my friend, on finishing an episode, would start up the next one just to get to the unquestionably groovy title track again — by which time he’d invariably get lulled into the show, and end up watching another episode. (How perfect it is that in a series about scams, even the credits can hoodwink the viewer.)

A powerful opening credit sequence can set not just a tone for the series, but lay down the vibe — for both viewer and characters to follow. This is how serious we are, how cool we are, how scary we are. Now here’s a minute to get into our zone.

Some credits demand volume. Like in Game Of Thrones (Disney+ Hotstar) when we’d all turn up the television and bop along to those grand Raimin Djaiwidi credits while exotic kingdoms were gradually unfurled to us. (By the time that disastrous last season rolled around, of course, the credits were the only epic bit of the series.)

Similarly in Succession (Disney+Hotstar) the opening credits function like vulgarian Logan Roy clearing his throat — a warning before the show assaults us with a fusillade of foul-mouthedness. All we see is home video footage of wealthy kids, but now that audiences know (and love) the wealthy wretches they’ve grown into, we watch, riveted. Nicolas Brittell’s exquisite theme music is one of television’s very finest, immediately plunging us into this sick rich world with Pavlovian force.

My top new show this year, Severance (Apple TV+) — which I have gushed about here earlier — has a frightening title sequence, featuring a decidedly off-kilter 3D-approximation of Adam Scott, the lead actor we know so well, but this is a funhouse-mirror version of a funhouse-mirror version, unnerving because Scott is recognisable — yet not.

Theodore Shapiro’s music is absolutely haunting, and there is much weirdness on display (my favourite bit involves one tiny Adam Scott sitting inside the severed head of a larger Adam Scott, tinkering with controls, before they are all sucked up through an injection) that serves to mystify the viewer, while thematically giving them so much as if to almost spoil the series — if only we knew what to look for. Watching the credits after watching the series displays just how masterful the Severance creators have been all along.

Clues are also dangled in plain sight during the opening credits of the delightful and increasingly ludicrous Only Murders In The Building (Disney+ Hotstar), where the New Yorker-magazine aesthetic makes room for illustrations by Lisa Perez, showcasing the occupants of a tony Manhattan building — which is to say, the suspects — and keep offering telltale hints to audiences guessing along. Each episode, in fact, features a different easter-egg for keen-eyed viewers. (In keeping with the show’s drollness, the credits in the very first episode feature an actual Easter egg.)

Last year’s breakout hit The White Lotus (Disney+ Hotstar) began each episode with florid wallpaper, the kind of exoticised cliché the show displays and satirises. The series was a feat and with this look at tigers and plants (and, unforgettably, pineapples) on elaborate, expensive wall decor, the suggestion was that — egged on by the propulsive rhythms of composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s theme, an anxiety-triggering theme punctuated with gasps and shrieks — the creatures on the wallpaper might spring to life as we looked at them. The credits set the mood, heightened anticipation, but, in the end, nothing came alive — instead, we saw flora and fauna rot.

I make no claim to be an opening-credits purist — unlike end-credits, which I always make it a point to watch, primarily as a doffed hat to the creators of something I have just enjoyed but also because in good shows, end-credits are occupied by songs (or silence) that pair wonderfully with the last scene of the episode. It’s a mood. When it comes to openings, I hit the ‘skip intro’ button often. It’s pure math. For those of us bingeing this much, each skipped minute adds up to more episodes. Yet, surrounded by more options, I now find myself slowing down instead of speeding up, trying to savour shows that really hit a nerve, to stay in that mood a minute longer.

Interrupting a binge by watching opening credits — a repetitive pause that reminds us what the show is aiming to do, complete with a smart theme tune — can feel like coming up for air. Take a minute.

Streaming Tip Of The Week:

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, one of the finest films of last year, is finally streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Starring two lovely and unlikely young actors, it is an odd, inappropriate, magnificent and unruly film, one that colours outside the lines with exuberant 1970s joy, and I recommend it hard.

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