Has the “skip” option made main title theme songs redundant? Hardly if you consider how some of the top-shelf shows of the streaming era have married music so effectively with the tone of the accompanying series.
It’s not a new phenomenon. Hearing Alabama 3’s “Woke Up This Morning” is so evocative of its parent series, “The Sopranos,” that you feel as though you’re riding shotgun with Tony Soprano as he winds his way down the New Jersey Turnpike. Same goes for the eerie and multi-layered theme of “Six Feet Under” from Thomas Newman, an instrumental that seems to never get old, no matter how many times you hear it, nor does it even sound dated. This also applies to Ramin Djawadi, whose score work for “Game of Thrones” is not only award-winning, but essential to the opening credits of the series, which mapped out the areas of the fantasy world that would be featured in that particular episode.
But as streaming networks have become go-to’s for those inclined to binge, they too have yielded some powerful theme songs, like Regina Spektor’s “You’ve Got Time” from “Orange Is the New Black.” And without the constraints of broadcast, these tunes stretch longer and weirder than ever. Take these 10 standouts from the streaming era.
“BoJack Horseman” (Netflix)
The opening credit song is one of the most beloved components of this critically-acclaimed animated series. The creation of the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney along with his uncle, the late composer and saxophonist Ralph Carney, the instrumental originated as a way for the younger Carney to test out his new studio. He sent what he had to Uncle Ralph, who put some sax on it and formalized it a bit more. When the series’ executive producer Noel Bright approached Carney about a theme song, he sent this along, which has become the signature sound for the popular series — even as the visuals behind it mutate.
“Carnival Row” (Amazon Prime)
“Carnival Row” may not have been a critic’s favorite, but its main title theme music, composed by the award-winning Nathan Barr — who’s an old hand at main title themes (“The Americans”) — takes its cues from the Victorian fantasy world of the series. Barr centers the theme around massive 1920s Wurlitzer which is capable of creating a multitude of spooky sounds. Coupled with a violin, Barr’s theme signals the steampunk style and tone of the series before the visuals even begin.
“Cowboy Bebop” (Netflix)
The opening credits of the (now canceled) live action version of this classic anime series is possibly the greatest thing about it. Created by Yoko Kanno, the composer of the original series and performed by the Seatbelts, the part jazz, part ’70-style action television show the high energy and sassy sequence stays true to “Tank!,” the original opening theme of the anime series, both in sonics and in visuals. Unlike the bloated approach to the series, keeping the theme music tight and concise maintains its appeal.
“The Mandalorian” (Disney+)
The multiple award-winning composer Ludwig Göransson met the Star Wars challenge head-on with his theme song for the space Western, “The Mandalorian.” The “Tenet” and “Black Panther” composer, who has won two Emmys for his score for “The Mandalorian,” kept it simple when it came to the theme song choosing acoustic instruments to retain a classic Western feel while keeping the dramatics expected of music associated with Star Wars.
“Nine Perfect Strangers” (Hulu)
If the kaleidoscopic, psychedelic intro theme song to this limited series sounds familiar, that’s because you likely have heard Unloved, the group behind the song “Strange Effect,” on “Killing Eve.” Unloved rule the sonics of “Killing Eve,” both with their original songs and by heading up the music supervision for the series, but they seem custom-made for “Nine Perfect Strangers.” Soundtracking the saturated colors of the opening credits, and with lyrics predictive of the series’ mysterious nature, the song is actually a cover of an unreleased tune by the Kinks from 1965.
“The Politician” (Netflix)
The choice of the Sufjan Stevens’ song “Chicago” from his 2005 album, “Illinois,” seems like an odd one for the music-heavy Ryan Murphy series considering the first season is set in Santa Barbara, California and the second in New York City. Yet, the song’s soaring orchestration and complex beat patterns work extremely well with the Emmy-nominated outstanding main title design and the refrain of “all things go” are a smart match for the titular character’s conniving political ambitions.
The theme song for “Ramy,” sounds like a Middle Eastern take on electronic lounge. The work of Egyptian group El Masreyen (which translates to the Egyptians) and composer Hany Shnouda, the composition, “Music Laounga 79,” uses both modern studio elements and indigenous Egyptian instruments to accurately represent the titular character of the series, who is caught between the traditional ways of his parents, religion and his Western environment and lifestyle.
“Shadow and Bone” (Netflix)
Prolific composer Joseph Trapanese is in his element for this period fantasy series based on the YA novel series from Leigh Bardugo. He explores a mythical 19th century Russia in both its untamed grandeur and its gritty darkness with The Budapest Art Orchestra (“Shadow and Bone” is filmed in Hungary). For each of its eight episodes, a different, very brief snippet of Trapanese’s score is used, signaling the tone of that particular show, both majestic and foreboding.
“Ted Lasso” (Apple TV+)
Composers Marcus Mumford and Tom Howe have said their intention with their Emmy-nominated theme song for “Ted Lasso” was for it to represent both London, where the series is set, and Kansas, where the lovable namesake character is from. Mission accomplished as the “Yeeeeeaaaaahhhhh” in its chorus blends well with the football chants of the fictitious team AFC Richmond around which the series revolves.
The husband-and-wife composer duo of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez had their formidable creativity put to the test with the multiple, decade-based theme songs for “WandaVision.” They took their cues from signature sitcoms of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s into “Agatha All Along” to create almost stereotypical theme songs for each era. The songs are a perfect accompaniment for the opening credits visual styles and manage to retain the four-note theme of “WandaVision.”
Reese Witherspoon Becomes Latest Celebrity to Read a Bedtime Story to British Kindergarteners
In addition to Academy Award winner, Reese Witherspoon can add the utmost honor of becoming the first best actress Oscar winner to deliver a bedtime story for British kindergartners.
Witherspoon is set to read a children’s book for BBC children’s channel CBeebies, which targets kids aged six and under. The “Morning Show” star will read “Extraordinary” by Penny Harrison.
The CBeebies gig is especially on brand for Witherspoon, who’s something of a bibliophile herself. Through her production company Hello Sunshine, she launched Reese’s Book Club, which is curated by the actor and selects a book each month. The club has 2.2 million followers on Instagram.
“Extraordinary,” illustrated by Katie Wilson, shows how you can discover beautiful and wonderful things, wherever you look — if you just look closely enough.
Opening the story, Witherspoon reads: “Sometimes, when we’re busy, it can be hard to find time to notice the world around us. The things we see every day can seem a bit… ordinary. But if you stop, and look closer, you’ll see that our world is extraordinary!”
As she sends the young audience off to bed, the actor encourages them to look closely at something the following day that may at first appear ordinary and they might also discover something magical.
Witherspoon is the latest in a long line of famous faces to take the CBeebies hot seat. Past readers include Ryan Reynolds, Tom Hardy, Chris Evans, Regé-Jean Page, Felicity Jones, David Schwimmer, Alesha Dixon, Eddie Redmayne, Orlando Bloom, Sir Elton John and Dolly Parton.
“Bedtime Stories” airs every weekday at 6:50 p.m. on the CBeebies channel, and is also made available on catch-up service BBC iPlayer. Witherspoon’s episode will air on Jan. 28.
Cate Blanchett on Her Double Oscar Buzz, Skipping ‘Ricardos’ and New Pedro Almodóvar Movie
Cate Blanchett delivers two outstanding performances that are both in the awards conversation this year: “Don’t Look Up” and “Nightmare Alley.” The star shepherds grace and a hypnotic trance that has the viewer hanging on every single word she releases.
With another impressive turn in Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” Blanchett is a contender in what is easily our strongest field of supporting actress contenders in the last 30 years. Blanchett was shortlisted at BAFTA for “Don’t Look Up,” and also picked up a SAG Award nod for Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley.”
Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast recently spoke with Blanchett about her double dip in the awards arena this season, and having to turn down the role of Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos,” which ultimately went to Nicole Kidman. Plus, the Australian actor talks about her next project with Pedro Almodóvar and why she thinks it’s important to get back to movie theaters. Listen below!
In what was reported exclusively on Variety, Blanchett will next work with Almodóvar on “A Manual for Cleaning Women,” his first English-language feature, which she will star in and also produce.
She also discusses her other upcoming movies like “TÁR” from Todd Field, “Pinocchio” from Guillermo del Toro and “Borderlands” from Eli Roth. Another possible project in the works is Francis Ford Coppola’s “Megalopolis,” which she’s been rumored to be circling alongside other stars such as Oscar Isaac and Zendaya. Isaac was said to be in discussions to play Desi Arnaz in Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos” around the time that Blanchett was being eyed to play Lucille Ball.
“It became the movie it needed to be,” she says of what ultimately transpired with “Ricardos.” “Those things happen in the right way, at the right time. In the best possible way, you don’t always envisage the same thing; and then it goes on to become a different entity.” As for the possibility of working with Coppola she says, “When Francis calls, you just have to say yes. Because you’re on the epic, life-changing adventure ride. You’re on that roller coaster. I’m ready for that.”
“Don’t Look Up” is distributed by Netflix and is now streaming on the platform. “Nightmare Alley” is distributed by Searchlight Pictures and is now playing in theaters.
Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast is hosted by Clayton Davis, Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Jenelle Riley and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in movies. Michael Schneider is the producer and Drew Griffith edits. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.