Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

Retro Weekend: Best TV Sitcom Theme Songs (Instrumental) July 11, 2009

TV show theme songs have been on my mind lately, so this weekend I am kicking off a new mini series of posts in which I will attempt to identify the best tv show theme songs in various categories. To begin with, I will have separate posts for sitcoms and dramas, as well as for the “instrumental only” vs. “with lyrics” in each of those genres. Also, I am staying within my realm of knowledge, which is shows since 1980. If you know of any great pre-1980 theme songs, please let me know!

Before I get any further, I must share a link to an awesome website that also happens to be an excellent time waster. It also helped jog my memory on these theme songs, though. Basically, it is an archive of almost every tv theme song ever made:

First up: best instrumental sitcom theme songs. Without any lyrics to guide the audience in what the show is about, we rely on the tone of the music to set up our expectations. These songs aren’t necessarily the best musically speaking; perhaps it’s better to say that they are the best at conveying the essence of the shows they introduced. Looking back on some of the classic shows on this list, there is also a certain amount of nostalgia that influenced my selection process. It would have been too difficult for me to rate the best of the best, so instead I’ve just listed them in roughly chronological order. Without further adieu, here are my “Top Ten Instrumental Sitcom Theme Songs.”

Best Instrumental Sitcom Theme Songs

  • The Cosby Show (Bobby McPferrin version from 1987) – I remember being irritated how every season this show had a different opening theme and sequence. I have always thrived on familiarity! But looking back, Bobby McFerrin’s jazzy performance is the one that seems quintessentially Cosby to me. It has a fun vibe, and (pardon me if this is cheesy) some nice harmonies that reflect the family togetherness that the show represents.
  • Doogie Howser – “Da da da da dada, da da da da dada…” I can’t think of a more distinctive opening to a theme song than this one for the boy genius who becomes a doctor as a teenager. The robotic sounding opening notes are reflective of Doogie’s (at the time) high tech computer journal, on which he recorded his thoughts about his experiences in both the world of medicine and teenagedom. I was reminded how much I like this theme song when Neil Patrick Harris appeared on SNL awhile back and performed it with a full orchestra for a Digital Short. The SNL version sounded much better, but the original opening theme isn’t too bad either.
  • Designing Women – What better song for a show about four southern women than “Georgia on My Mind”? The song was classy, just like these (mostly) sophisticated interior designers. I especially loved Julia (Dixie Carter) and Mary Jo (Annie Potts). There have been few tv shows that I can think of that show a smarter side to the South. We aren’t all backwoods hicks, you know.


  • Roseanne – Roseanne was the polar opposite of most family sitcoms of its time. It represented life for a working class family, and Roseanne and Dan weren’t raising clean cut, perfect kids like the Seavers or the Huxtables. The gritty, bluesy theme song was perfect as an introduction to the daily lives of the Connors.


  • Night Court – The jazzy, saxophone-infused opening theme to this courtroom comedy was a perfect fit. Most of the show’s events took place at night, and gave us a glimpse of some bizarre misfits through the cases that Harry presided over. In addition to it having the right tone for the show, this song is simply fun to listen to.


  • Kids in the Hall I couldn’t find a video of this opening on YouTube, but you can listen to it on the provided link. Like the Night Court theme, this one is fun to listen to, but it also has a quirky, fun, slightly irreverent tone, which is just what the guys on this show were.
  • The SimpsonsThe opening to this longest running animated show is almost as entertaining as the show itself. Epic in scale, the music builds and builds as we meet the various members of this strange little family of yellow people.
  • King of the Hill – I really love this opening theme. It is so catchy and perfect for the show, with its guitar driven melody and fast pace. Sometimes I liked the opening sequence more than the show itself!


  • Seinfeld – I haven’t always enjoyed listening to this theme song, mainly because I had a boyfriend in college who thought it was hilarious to frequently imitate the bass guitar section of the song after saying something he thought was funny. (It wasn’t.) But this song is so strongly connected to the show and the characters that I couldn’t imagine seeing Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer without it.


  • The Office – Oh, how I love this opening theme. There are so few shows anymore that have a fun opening sequence, so I always watch The Office intro, where we see various employees of Dundler Mifflin going about their daily work. For me, this song represents how pointless many of the hours spent in offices are (the tedious tasks, the office politics over things like who didn’t brew a new pot of coffee when they drank the last cup, etc.), and how the employees just have to make the most of them, and make their own fun.

Like I said before, I limited my list to shows since 1980. I am sure there are some worthy contenders from before then. One that comes to mind is The Andy Griffith Show. And so, I’ll leave you with that theme song, so that you’ll have something fun to whistle all day. (Hmm… does whistling count as an instrument?) What other comedies with instrumental theme songs are your favorites?

Stay tuned next weekend for the next installment of “The Best TV Theme Songs.”

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A Recipe for Comedic Success November 19, 2008

Comedy. Funny awkward? Funny ha ha? Funny bizarre? Funny means different things to different people, and so there are many varieties of comedy in today’s entertainment world. Before I list my picks for Best Comedy TV Show on Hulu, let’s take a look at the dictionary definition of comedy, followed by characteristics that I look for in a successful comedy.

From dictionary.com:

Comedy aims at entertaining by the fidelity with which it presents life as we know it; farce at raising laughter by the outrageous absurdity of the situation or characters exhibited; extravaganza at diverting by its fantastic nature; burlesque at tickling the fancy of the audience by caricaturing plays or actors with whose style it is familiar. Generalized sense of “quality of being amusing” dates from 1877. Comedian “comic actor” is 1601; meaning “professional entertainer who tells jokes, etc.” is 1898

That definition covers the main characteristics of comedy, which leads me to a few points I’d like to make:

  • The term “comedy” originally referred to plays that had happy endings, as opposed to the tragedy. Now we use the term “comedy” to apply to stand-up routines, movies, tv shows, etc. There are, of course, many categories of comedy now: dark/black, romantic, satire, parody, slapstick, deadpan, tragicomedy, lowbrow, highbrow, etc.
  • Bottom line: Comedy is intended to be funny, whether it be in a dark, sarcastic, ridiculous, or generally amusing sense.
  • For something to be funny, there must be some thematic elements the audience can relate to – Dysfunctional family relationships, awkward interaction with coworkers, meddling in-laws, etc.
  • Comedic actors exhibit certain traits that make them funny: physical comedy (i.e. Kramer bursting through Jerry’s door, or Elaine shoving someone while proclaiming “Get out!”, on Seinfeld), deadpan delivery of lines (i.e. Bob Newhart, Ray Romano), intonation of voice (Jerry Seinfeld’s incredulous, high-pitched yelling, Matthew Perry’s overemphasis of “be” on Friends – “Could this be any more awkward?”), subtle changes in expression (Jim’s glances at the camera on The Office), etc.
  • Of course, the actors would be limited in their ability to entertain were it not for the writers. Comedic writers have a knack for writing clever, humorous dialog and scenarios. Who knew that losing a car in a parking garage could be so funny – until Seinfeld’s writers created an entire episode about it. Or that a single phrase could become a source of endless hilarity – until “serenity now” (Seinfeld) and “the rural juror” (30 Rock) and others came along? Other times it’s more about witty, fast-paced scripts, as with the dialog and accompanying narration by Ron Howard on Arrested Development (“Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. It’s Arrested Development.”)
  • Aside from the acting and writing, audiences connect with comedies because they allow us to escape (doesn’t everyone wish they lived carefree lives in a fantastic New York apartment like the characters on Friends? Or wouldn’t you love to live in a world where you used a supernatural ability to solve a crime and then sit down to eat some delicious pie, like on Pushing Daisies?) or they focus on situations that we find familiar. Though in real life these situations may be less than enjoyable, a comedy can turn them upside down to find the light-hearted, amusing, whimsical, warped, or ridiculous underbelly. Waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant for what seems like an eternity. A husband refusing to unpack his suitcase, which remains sitting at the foot of the stairs while spouses’ pride gets in the way. An inept boss who means well but only creates awkward situations.
  • Two characteristics of comedies that I value most are running gags and inside jokes. If a show possesses these traits, it is evidence that the writers value their loyal audience, and want to provide them with “easter eggs.” For example, on a Halloween-themed episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander was transformed into a soldier, and from that point on throughout the show’s run, he would occasionally draw from his knowledge of combat and weaponry, a holdover from his short stint as an army man. This inside joke was rewarding for viewers, and it also fit well with Xander’s character development on the show, as he always felt out of place on the team of gifted and talented Scoobies. At least he always had his soldier knowledge to fall back on. As for running gags, perhaps the best current example is Barney and Marshall’s slap bet on How I Met Your Mother. How many slaps are left now – is it two or three? 30 Rock and Arrested Development probably have more inside jokes than any other shows, and usually they involve the shows taking aim at their respective networks. 30 Rock, in particular, doesn’t hold back in turning NBC into a running joke, whether its highlighting the network’s head-spinning organizational structure, or taking reality shows to the limit with “MILF Island.”

Those last two characteristics, running gags and inside jokes, are high on my list of necessary ingredients for an award-worthy comedy. They are evidence that the show runners have carefully planned and written the show. Other important ingredients include smart writing, outstanding acting, memorable characters, and, simplest of all – something that makes me laugh. The more, the better! There’s nothing worse than sitting through a sitcom and not laughing once. What’s the point? Another trait that puts a comedy low on my list includes relying on lowbrow humor or sexual innuendo for most of its laughs. There are a lot of funnier things to focus on, but often it seems like shows take the gross out and/or sex joke route because they are the easy way out.

So, now that I’ve laid out my idea of what is required to have a successful, classic, hilarious comedy, I will review the nominees for this category of the Hulu Awards (Best TV Comedy Show), and then announce and defend my proposed nominees. Stay tuned.

  • Click here to view the list of and cast your vote for the proposed nominees for Best TV Comedy Show.
  • Click here to view all the categories currently open for voting in The Hulu Awards.
 

From Sesame Street to 30 Rock: A TV Viewing Timeline June 1, 2007

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My earliest memories of watching TV include images of Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, and Snuffleupagus (back when he was Big Bird’s “invisible” friend). I’ve waded through many shows since then, of varying degrees of quality and appeal. Here’s a glimpse into what my TV viewing was like at various stages of my life. I am sure I will leave some things out, but these are the shows that left the biggest mark in my mind. And a special thanks goes to wikipedia for having such clear and detailed information about every U.S. network television primetime schedule since 1946. Craziness!

Click here to peruse Wikipedia’s Primetime TV Schedule Pages

Early 1980s

  • Sesame Street – I loved the time I spent on Sesame Street with The Count, Oscar the Grouch, Maria, Bob, and the whole gang.
  • Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – The Land of Make-Believe. The trolley. The fish tank. Need I say more? Mister Rogers was a great tv neighbor for kids everywhere. There is no one like him for today’s kids.
  • Today’s Special – Remember this one? The concept sounds disturbing, but somehow I loved it as a pre-schooler: a mannequin in a department store comes to life at night when a magical hat is put on his head. He is joined by a store employee named Jodie, a puppet security guard, a giant mouse, and a talking computer, and together they have fun and learn new things. If you would like to do some more reminiscing, check out this very thorough fan site devoted to the show: Today’s Special Fan Website

Mid-1980s

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  • The Cosby Show – I watched the Huxtables through most of their tv lives, and enjoyed watching all the kids grow up while I did.
  • Who’s the Boss – This was one of my favorites during the ’80s. Who didn’t love Sam, played by cute little Alyssa Milano? I even had a poster of the cast hanging up in my room!
  • The Dukes of Hazard – Ah, the Duke boys. I don’t remember much about this show except for the General Lee (someone in my hometown had an exact replica that they proudly parked in front of their house) and the winding roads of the chase scenes. There was a winding, dirt road (at least that’s how I remember it) that we would take as a shortcut to my babysitter’s house, and often as we drove on it, I imagined that I was being chased by Boss Hogg. Based on what I have seen of this show in reruns, there wasn’t much more than cars and chase scenes to remember.
  • The Love Boat/Fantasy Island – I had to keep these two together here because they have always been linked in my memory. That makes sense, since they aired back-to-back on Saturday nights. As a 6 or 7 year old, I really didn’t know what was going on, yet I remember the opening sequence of each show very well: “The Love Boat” theme song playing while a cruise ship sails across the ocean, and Fantasy Island’s Tattoo shouting “the plane! the plane!” while ringing a bell. These were some of my very first television dramas, along with Simon and Simon, and Knight Rider. 24 and Lost seem so far removed from all of those – and so much better!

The Late 1980s

By the late ’80s, I was almost exclusively watching sitcoms – there were so many to choose from! I think I can safely say that I watched more tv during this phase of my life than I have at any time since, which is why I had to divide shows by days of the week. In my quest to jog my memory, I found a tribute to a fantastic collection of primetime sitcoms, with links to their opening sequences on YouTube. Enjoy!:

Click here for classic sitcom fun

Monday nights: ALF, The Hogan Family, Murphy Brown, Designing Women

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  • ALF – We watched a show about an alien who was played by a puppet? Maybe there’s hope for the new Cavemen sitcom after all…
  • The Hogan Family – My favorite thing about this show, besides the fact that it starred Jason Bateman (future star of Arrested Development), was that its name was changed so much. It went from Valerie to Valerie’s Family before settling on The Hogan Family for the rest of its run.
  • Murphy Brown and Designing Women – These shows marked the beginning of my viewing of a string of shows geared toward an older audience. I think the funny, distinctive characters drew me in. I even watched Newhart sometimes, for the same reason.

Wednesday night: Growing Pains, Head of the Class, The Wonder Years, Doogie Howser, M.D.

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  • Growing Pains and the Wonder Years have the two best theme songs of all time, in my opinion. They were both so catchy, and so in tune with the feel of the show. Growing Pains was another show where I enjoyed watching the actors grow up. And I still remember Kevin and Winnie’s first kiss on The Wonder Years. As for Doogie Howser – the adventures of a brilliant teenage doctor – there’s another ridiculous show concept that actually worked. It’s nice that after so many years, Neil Patrick Harris has finally found another memorable sitcom character to play. Now when I see him, all I think is “Barney” – not even a trace of Doogie is left.

Thursday night: The Cosby Show and A Different World

  • Of course I watched the Cosby Show spin-off!

Friday night: And so began TGIF – Perfect Strangers, Full House, Mr. Belvedere, Just the Ten of Us

  • And the catchy theme songs/opening sequences just kept on coming. I’m pretty sure now that none of these shows was really very funny, but those Olsen twins sure were cute, and I always found it a challenge to keep all eight of Coach Lubbock’s kids straight on Just the Ten of Us.

Saturday night: More “old people” sitcoms! – 227, Amen, The Golden Girls, Empty Nest

  • More catchy theme songs! To this day, I still break out in “Thank you for being a friend, travel down the road and back again…” from time to time. We are really going to miss those theme songs when we look back on today’s shows in 20 years. Theme songs and opening sequences are becoming obsolete.

The Early 1990s

As I moved into my pre-teen years, I moved away from sitcoms and toward hour long shows. I still watched some of my old favorites, and added a couple of new ones, like Night Court, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Blossom, but the early 90s shows I have the fondest memories of are the dramas.

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  • The Young Riders – Lots of cute guys riding around on horses delivering packages to people. I’m sure I wasn’t the only tween girl who watched this show.
  • The Commish – How interesting it is that when I watched this, I thought that Michael Chiklis, who played the title character, was like 45. In fact, he was only 28! He looks younger now, 15 years later, playing Vic Mackey on The Shield. The most upsetting thing that happened on The Commish is when my favorite character, police officer Stan, was killed in a car bombing. 😦
  • Quantum Leap – My clearest memory of this show is the last image of the series finale: “Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home.” That caption appeared on an otherwise black screen, and I cried. That seemed like such a hopeless, sad ending.
  • Twin Peaks – My family being the strange people that we are, we would all sit down and watch this strangest show EVER together. Log Lady, One-armed Man, Dancing Dwarf, no problem. We were all fascinated by the bizarre characters, storylines, and mysteries.

The Mid-1990s

In theory, my tv-viewing should have become drastically reduced during this time period, because this is when I got my driver’s license, which would have enabled me to find other diversions besides tv. Let’s have a look at what kept me glued to the tube:

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  • Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – Dean Cain was so cute as Clark Kent and Superman!
  • Party of Five – a pre-Lost Matthew Fox, and a cute teenaged Scott Wolf. Plus, this show made me cry every week. What more could a teenage girl ask for?
  • Friends and Seinfeld – It took me a couple of seasons to catch on to both of these classic shows. I preferred Seinfeld over Friends, and still think it is the superior show. But, during my high school years, they both gave me lots to laugh about.

The Late 1990s

By fall 1996, I was in college, which meant I had my very own TV and VCR on which to record my favorite shows while I was off studying or enjoying my newfound independence. So what shows were worthy of my VCR’s recording capabilities?

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  • The X-Files – This sci-fi procedural remains one of my all-time favorite shows. Mulder and Scully’s investigations into the paranormal were interesting, sometimes creepy, and always entertaining.
  • Ally McBeal – I was lured in by dancing babies, toilet flush remotes, and pet frogs – in other words, by the quirkiness of this show.
  • Dawson’s Creek and Roswell – And so began my love affair with the WB. Finally, a channel had arrived that catered to people my age! I would no longer have to depend on geriatric entertainment like Golden Girls and Empty Nest. Now I had shows about high school students. Sure, some of them were aliens, but I could still relate to them more than the previous characters I had been watching for so many years. Wednesday nights meant heading over to my friend Leah’s house to watch these two shows with a group of friends – a vanilla cream soda and popcorn in hand – with follow-up discussion of the episode always a given.

The Early 2000s

Now I had graduated from college and moved to Alabama to go to graduate school. I didn’t know anyone in my new city, so my tv kept me company. I added a few new show to ones like Dawson’s Creek and the X-Files that I was still watching.

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  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel – I actually started watching Angel about two seasons before I started watching Buffy, which is unusual, since Angel was a spin-off of Buffy. In the end, they both captured my heart, and I still enjoy watching them in reruns even now.
  • CSI – This original version is the only CSI I have ever enjoyed watching. And although I started watching it with an extreme case of skepticism (due to my dislike of producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s formulaic action movies), I quickly had to admit that Jerry had uncovered a gem with this one.
  • Smallville – The first season of this show was really interesting, but after the first few seasons I lost interest amidst the continuous “Lana in peril” storylines.

The Mid-2000s
And then came 2004, which as I recall, is when I received my very own TiVo for Christmas! With that gift came a golden ticket to any tv show I wanted to watch, and I took advantage of it.

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  • Arrested Development – There are so many classic moments on this show about the dysfunctional Bluth family, but one of my favorites is a scene where they give their various impersonations of a chicken. Who knew there were so many ways to do that?
  • Alias – This show was highly entertaining and had several likeable characters, including Francie and Will, Syd’s closest pals. The later seasons suffered from them not being there anymore, but I still watched to the lackluster end.
  • Everwood – I loved this show and still miss it.
  • Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars – Two shows focusing on young female heroines, and they both got cancelled this year. I enjoyed them while they lasted!
  • 24 – It’s like a rollercoaster that lasts for 5 months!
  • Battlestar Galactica – It’s not just for sci-fi geeks! It’s an excellent character drama that happens to take place on a space ship. The upcoming season will be its last, and I will savor every moment of it.
  • The Office and 30 Rock – I can’t think of any other comedies like them. They are both unique, quirky, and hilarious.
  • Heroes – Very epic. And I like the comic book touches.
  • Friday Night Lights – Love it. The characters seem so real, the story lines so touching. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!
  • Grey’s Anatomy – I have thoroughly enjoyed it until now, but it has gotten too soapy and annoying, so my plan is to not rejoin it in the fall.
  • Lost – The best show on television. It will be tough waiting until February ’08 for new episodes.

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So there you have it. Nearly 30 years of tv viewing. Some of it better or more memorable than others. Although this is an extensive list, it doesn’t even mention the after school and Saturday morning tv shows that I watched growing up. I’ll save those for another day. At some point I will also make a list of the best and worst shows I have watched over the years, but until then, I hope you have as much fun checking out the wikipedia primetime schedule pages as I did!

Click here to peruse Wikipedia’s Primetime TV Schedule Pages

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