When it comes to picking main title themes this season, Emmy voters are heading toward either FX’s “Feud” or Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” Both tap Hollywood musical nostalgia in depicting the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (nominated Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, respectively) in the early ’60s and ’80s sci-fi in the Duffer Brothers’ creepy thriller.
On the other hand, HBO’s “Westworld” has a haunting theme, National Geographic’s “Genius” offers a brief but adrenaline-pumping opener, Masterpiece’s “Victoria” contains a feisty bit of classicism, and “The Good Fight” gets explosive in the debut launch of CBS All Access.
“Feud”: Bette and Joan” (Mac Quayle)
Composer Mac Quayle (last year’s winner for the “Mr. Robot” score) took a deep dive into ’60s Hollywood movie scores to evoke the anger and pain between Davis and Crawford during their competitive stint co-starring in “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” But his main title theme mostly recalls the Hitchcockian noir of Bernard Herrmann.
The theme delivers a combination of whimsy and sadness, with Davis and Crawford caught in the cruel Hollywood game of survival. And Quayle adroitly steps away from his popular synch-driven work to experiment with a fittingly retro orchestra sound.
“Stranger Things” (Michael Stein, Kyle Dixon)
For a show steeped in ’80s sci-fi nostalgia, composers Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon (from the Austin band Survive) went all out in an analog synth love fest for John Carpenter and “The X-Files.” It’s minimal but effective in its dissonance.
The theme for the series was culled from an old collection of upbeat demos that the Duffer Brothers liked. But it was open-ended and needed more structure, and the duo added a nice bass sound for foundation while expanding the melody to give it a hook.
“Westworld” (Ramin Djawadi)
Composer Ramin Djawadi (“Game of Thrones”) got to delve deeply into the existential divide between humans and androids in the acclaimed sci-fi western. While his score combined an acoustic quality for the park and a synth sound for the center, his main title theme needed a little something extra.
Fortunately, the nominated main title design provided the answer with a robot actually playing the piano. So Djawadi focused on the player piano, which took the melancholy music in an unexpected direction.
“Genius” (Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe)
How do you capture the genius of Albert Einstein in a 50-second theme? For Hans Zimmer, who’s looking for his first Emmy, it was about going Germanic in honor of Einstein (Johnny Flynn and nominated Geoffrey Rush) and his country before the rise of Hitler.
And for that, Zimmer created a rousing melody performed by the 65-piece Vienna orchestra, featuring a frenzied violin solo, which payed homage to Einstein’s passion for the instrument.
“Victoria” (Martin Phipps)
From the very beginning, it was clear to composer Martin Phipps that he wanted to write a Hallelujah as the main title for the story of the diminutive, teenage Queen Victoria, played by Jenna Coleman (“Dr. Who”). After all, she was a feisty monarch, and polite strings and piano just wouldn’t do.
So Phipps provided a big sound with attitude, heart, and joy. At the same time, he also utilized the Medieval Babes singers, who added plenty of rawness and edge.
“The Good Fight” (David Buckley)
For David Buckley’s first main title composition, he wrote a series of escalating musical explosions to complement the exploding objects in the office for this sequel to “The Good Wife” about fighting police brutality in the courtroom.
Playing off the same neo-renaissance/baroque sound-world Buckley created for “The Good Wife,” the result is a friction between the show’s modern setting and retro musical undercurrent. It’s terrific over the top fun.
Will Win: “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Could Win: “Stranger Things”
Should Win: “Westworld”