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What Is the Best TV Theme Song for a Show Airing in 2016? — IndieWire Critics Survey

Did "Stranger Things" make the cut? From "Luke Cage" to "Kimmy Schmidt," TV critics select the best theme songs.

Mike Colter in "Marvel's Luke Cage"

Mike Colter in “Marvel’s Luke Cage”



Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: What is the best TV theme song for a current show that aired in 2016?

Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), HitFix

If we’re talking pre-existing theme songs of shows that aired in 2016, then the obvious choice for me is “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” whose funky ’70s cop show riff often provides the biggest joy I get out of my viewing week, especially when paired with all those great visuals (Gina dancing, Charles injuring himself). In terms of theme songs brand new to this year, I go with one that I actually had to make an effort to watch with each episode: “Luke Cage.” Another ’70s throwback, it perfectly sets the mood for everything that follows, even though the title sequence itself (like the ones for Netflix’s other Marvel shows) would be pretty tedious without it. Netflix’s interface skips past the theme songs of episodes that don’t have a pre-credits sequence, so as I binged my way through later “Luke Cage” episodes, I found myself actually hitting rewind so I could hear all those glorious strings and horns come together another time.

Gail Pennington (@gailpennington), St. Louis Post-Dispatch

If I love a show, from “Game of Thrones” to “The Great British Bake Off,” the first few notes of the theme are music to my ears, because I know what’s coming. But I feel as if an actual “theme song” needs words, and there aren’t that many of those today. The obvious choice is “The Big Bang Theory,” and yes, I sing along (and in fact looked up the words to make sure I got the “built a wall, we built the pyramids” part right). Because it’s not original, though, it can’t really top the awesome earworm that is the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” theme song. All right, now it’s in my head. The thing is alive, dammit.

READ MORE: The Best Overlooked Shows of 2016

Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox

There can be only one pick for the best theme song of the year. I speak, of course, of Carly Rae Jepsen’s magisterial reimagining of the “Full House” theme song, “Everywhere You Look,” for that series’ spinoff “Fuller House.” From her vocalizations meant to approximate the original theme’s opening faux-sax to her sly dismissal of “evenin’ TV,” Jepsen takes an American standard and puts her own stamp on it. The great American songbook has resisted expansion for decades now, but Jepsen makes a case for “Everywhere You Look” taking its place alongside the classics of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. Those tears in your eye you’ll feel at the end of this theme aren’t just the creeping existential despair at the notion that you, like Kimmy Gibbler, will never escape the tendrils of the “Full House” universe, no. Carly Rae Jepsen will have earned those tears. (What? Somebody had to not write about “Stranger Things”!)

"Fuller House"

Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider

I think the mark of a great theme song is one you don’t ever want to use as your snack break (or feel the urge to FF past). Though the trend of the last few years has been heading towards shorter intros, some of the longest ones remain the best. I’ve always been partial to “Outlander” and “Game of Thrones’” epics for changing with the themes of the show (musically, in “Outlanders’s” case, and visually for “Game of Thrones”), as as well “Poldark’s” sweeping symphonic crescendo that puts viewers in the perfect mood for the romance and drama to come.

But ultimately I have to choose “Rectify’s” “Bowsprit” as the best of the best. Like the show itself, it’s pared down, minimalistic, and unhurried while also being unique, deeply emotional, and unmistakably southern. Hearing the first plucked strings of “Bowsprit,” by the Texas group Balmorhea, immediately transports me into the show’s world in a way that is hopeful, wistful, and reserved in a beautifully tender way.

Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter

Whether it’s actually on TV or not, the best theme song is, of course, The CW’s “Farmer Wants a Wife.” It may (or may not) be the Golden Age of TV, but it’s surely not the Golden Age of TV Themes and it’s just a few outliers whose credit sequences I watch every week, be it the enthusiastic horns of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” the plot-teasing bombast of “Game of Thrones” or the haunting alt-world manufacturing of “Westworld.” But I assume most people will praise those. So I’m going with the paralleled synth blooping and blorping of Netflix’s “Stranger Things and AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire,” each establishing the ’80s tone of the show and each accompanied by shaping forming red script. They’re basically the same theme song and credits and once you realize they’re echoes of each other, you won’t be able to see one without thinking of the other and there’s nothing wrong with that.

June Thomas (@junethomas), Slate

These days network shows rarely get more than a few bars of music (or a few clicks of a camera shutter), and in comparison premium cable and streaming themes seem interminable. (Regina Spektor’s “You’ve Got Time” is a fine song that’s an apt match for “Orange Is the New Black,” but by the 13th repetition over the course of a weekend, it seems like torture.) And this year we were robbed of one of the good ones when “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” changed its tune. Still, there are a few standouts — “The Americans’” thematically perfect Russia-meets-America theme, “Stranger Things’” ’80s-evoking music, and “The Mindy Project’s” quack-quack-quackery. The best, though, is “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — even by the 13th episode, I’m still singing along. Dammit!

"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”


READ MORE: The Most Shocking TV Twist of the 21st Century — So Far

Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire

If we’re being strict with the rules, then I’ll go with the fairly obvious choice of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which introduced a new, excellent theme song — “Just a Girl in Love” — to replace a fan favorite from Season 1. But if I’m allowed to choose a song that truly came to represent its show, then Herizen Guardiola’s “Set Me Free” from “The Get Down” has got to be the pick. Netflix’s six-episode musical built Mylene’s disco-gospel blend into an anthem for its characters as well as a way out for its two lovestruck protagonists, and no song this year — created for TV or film — proved as addictive outside the viewing experience. “Set Me Free” expanded the reach of a show in need of a bigger audience. What better theme could you hope for?

Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), TVGuide.com

As a product of the ’90s, I grew up on theme songs and opening credits, and it bums me out that they’ve fallen to the wayside the past decade so we can see Jennifer Garner shill for Capital One. I love the themes to a lot of shows — “Stranger Things’” haunting synth waves, “UnREAL’s” jarringly eerie tinkering — but if I’m going to be literal here, the best theme song is “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s” infectious, empowering earworm. Bring theme songs back, dammit!

Erik Adams (@ErikMAdams), A.V. Club

“Halt And Catch Fire” — but I need to have headphones on. There’s such a satisfyingly resonant percussion noise that happens when the beam of light splits the black square into the Windows logo (apologies to the title designers for reducing their imagery to such broad terms), but it’s totally lost on my TV’s speakers. I think we’re supposed to watch the intro sequence like Cam would: At a computer, headphones clasped to our ears, volume blaring, shoulders hunched, the “Mission: Impossible” tick-tock beat counting down to one impending deadline or another.

Liz Shannon Miller (@Lizlet), IndieWire

There’s nothing like the dreamy hypnotism of the “BoJack Horseman” theme to get me in the spirit for our favorite series of 2016. It somehow manages to capture the show’s haunting ennui with just enough life in it to keep us watching. It’s a credits sequence I watch every time (and I am notoriously quick to start skipping or muting them, especially while bingeing), and one that really exemplifies just how special this show really is.

Mackenzie Davis, "Halt and Catch Fire"

Mackenzie Davis, “Halt and Catch Fire”

Tina Rowden/AMC

Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*

A: “Rectify” (8 votes)

Other contenders: “Younger” (1 vote), “Incorporated” (1 vote)

*In the case of streaming, the show must have premiered in the past month.

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