10 Catchiest Wordless TV Theme Songs

For years, instrumental TV theme songs were de rigour. Then, sometime in the mid-to-late 60s, somebody realized that you could sum up the entire premise of the show in a one-minute, three-verse song. Writers didn’t have to add in any exposition! Keep in mind, this was before the age of a two-minute “previously, on ____” preceding every 42-minute program. Viewers needed some way to know what they were getting into.

As time wore on, more generic theme songs took hold, usually about themes like friendship (Golden Girls) or family (Full House, Family Matters). By the mid-90s, tv themes had become chart toppers in their own right, and I still get a little giddy when the Friends theme pipes onto the radio.

Commercial breaks expanded, and run times contracted. Networks had to cut something from their shows, and theme songs were the first to go. By season 9, the Friends theme was about 12 words long. Other themes were reduced to a single line, followed by a nonsense word (Friendship is family forever…. toodles!). Don’t believe me? The Mike And Molly song is 17 seconds long. 10 words.

In tv theme songs – as in fashion and politics – the pendulum always swings back eventually. Instrumental theme songs are it again. I’ll be damned if they aren’t darn catchy, too.

Mad Men

A great title sequence calls for a great theme song. There’s a bit of a tense, Hitchcock-y buildup, so you know there’s going to be drama. But then the cymbals kick in, so you’re pretty sure there will be fun times and laughs, too. Who needs three verses explaining Don Draper’s back story when you have that? (I would actually benefit from three verses explaining Don Draper’s back story).

The Simpsons

I started watching The Simpsons almost as soon as it aired, even though I was barely a toddler. My mom didn’t approve of Bart’s attitude, but that didn’t mean we weren’t allowed to watch it. It just meant that my brothers and I had to go upstairs to do it. This really typifies my parents’ child-rearing philosophy. Like, my room could be messy for a while, but my door had to be closed. Hi, I’m half Irish Catholic, if you couldn’t tell.

Anyway, the most exciting part of the show when I was 4 or 5 was “the couch” – the sight gag at the end of the credits when the family piled onto the sofa. To get to it, you had to sit through a rollicking tour of Springfield. Danny Freakin’ Elfman, you guys. Genius.

30 Rock

Totally jazzy and New York-y. Oddly, more of an early-60s feel than the Mad Men theme. Jeff Richmond is without a doubt one of the great tv composers of our day. His wife’s pretty cool too I guess.

Parks and Recreation

Upbeat and spirited, this is like a theme song for optimism itself. Will Leslie Knope prevail? Of course she will. You don’t write a theme like this for someone who’s anything less than triumphant.

Boy Meets World

I have so much trouble finding people who remember the original Boy Meets World theme. We all remember the generic 90s tune of the later seasons (when this boy meets world — boy meets wor-or-orld – travelin down this road that we call ly-eeef –). But, do you remember the synth-y yet magestic tune of the first season? Extra bonus, the entire title sequence looks like it was created on Microsoft Paint, pre-Windows ‘95.

Because we all still  love the Boy Meets World cast, enjoy this behind-the-scenes info from the filming of the later title sequence:

Law And Order

I don’t know if it’s the solid bass backbeat, the twangy guitar, or the — is that a clarinet?? — but if you blindfolded a person who had never seen Law and Order, played this sequence, and asked them what this show was about, they’d be like “police procedural set in a big city? Early 90s?” I like the moment about 50 seconds in when you think that it’s over, then the music kicks back up, like “just kidding!” Am I overthinking it if I think that’s supposed to evoke the moment ⅘ of the way through the show when you think they got the bad guy but it was a different bad guy? Yeah, I thought so.

Batman

This doesn’t all-the-way qualify, because they say Batman a crazy number of times. By the end of it, it’s like when you repeat a word multiple times and it stops sounding like a word. I also notice that the way kids sing “na na na na na na na na na na BATMAN!” doesn’t sound much like this. See, I find that children are terrible at most things because they haven’t been alive very long.

What’s amazing is that even though this is a superhero cartoon, it kind of sounds like 1960s beach music, too. Except for the part where they won’t stop saying Batman.

Doug

I think in this context, “do” isn’t a word.

Babar

Oh, Babar. The show I always saw 20 minutes of because it was on HBO right before I had to leave for church in the morning. Babar was a gentle, sweet show (about colonialism), so this lovely little melody fits perfectly. Unless, that is, crazy, terrible shit always started to go down in the final 10 minutes.

Leave it To Beaver

    When you listen to this peppy, spirited little tune, you just know that for the next half-hour you are going to be in a world where the biggest problem is an 8-year-old with a slingshot. If only that darn announcer would just shut up.

Honorable mention: Clarissa Explains it all

Just a cheerful, energetic number featuring a 14-year-old girl dressed like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I had to DQ it from the list proper because there were a few too many words in there.

Honorable mention: Andy Griffith Show

This theme song is iconic and completely evocative of the show. I’m not denying that. Here’s the thing, though. When I was in elementary school, our music director decided to debut a sung version of this song at the spring concert. It wasn’t even my grade doing it, but all I can think of when I hear this song is 40 eight-year-olds with recorders trying to squeak out the melody, then putting them down to sing about a fishin’ hole.  It was actually way more cute when Andy Griffith sang it than when two classes of third graders did it, who would have thought?

Also, I know this makes me sound like a dour and joyless person, but I can’t stand when people whistle, and this song just encourages it.

Characters I Would Not Hate If They Were Played By Different Actors

You know when you’re sitting at home, watching one of your regularly schedule programs, and enjoying every minute of it, until this one person shows up on your screen and ruins everything? Like, everything about your TV watching experience? My boss and I both love Parenthood, and agree that it’s one of the best dramas on the air right now. However, we greatly differ on one thing: Lauren Graham. He hates her. He can’t stand her acting, and he can’t stand her character, so put it together, and you get this 40-something year old guy ranting about how he has to mute it when she comes on or wants there to be a plot line that kills her off.

Now for those of you who don’t know, I love Lauren Graham. If I had to pick my favorite actress ever, it would be a tie between her and Amy Poehler. I’m a huge Gilmore Girls fan, so naturally I adore LG. I love her personality even more – have you seen her interviews with Ellen? Anyways, the point is that my boss always says Maura Tierney would’ve been such a better Sarah Braverman, and he would probably like her much better than LG now (if you didn’t know, Maura Tierney was originally cast as Sarah, but she was diagnosed with cancer and decided to leave the show, and they cast LG, and had to reshoot the pilot).

So in saying that, here are some characters I think would probably be much more tolerable if it was a different actor playing the role.

Jason Stiles – Gilmore Girls

Ah, Digger Stiles. Out of all of Lorelai’s boyfriends, you were the worst. And I’m including coffee shop Alex who made plans with Lorelai to go fishing, but it was Luke who taught her how to fish instead, and now he’s the main guy on Revolution. I really try not to judge a book by its cover, but with Jason, I am. He is a 4 compared to Lor’s 10. I mean she ended up with one of the manliest hottest men ever, Luke. How can you even compare him to Digger Stiles? His character was just not her type at all, so add an unlikable actor to that, and it’s not going to be well received by the fans.

Ellis Boyd – Smash

not an actual quote from smash

I found that picture from an article called “The Most Hated Character on TV?” I’m not the only one. For anyone who watched the first season, you know that this was the one person on the show who you could just picture yourself crawling into the TV and smacking him upside the head. I’d say hating Ellis is 50% hating the character and 50% hating the actor, played by Jaime Cepero (and coincidentally used to work in the Boston theater scene). He was just the absolute worst assistant would would literally do anything to get further in his career. But luckily for him, it looks like he’s not really missing anything since he’s been MIA after the first season and the show is doing horribly.

Dr. Erica Hahn – Grey’s Anatomy

This bitch. She came in and swooped in on Dr. Burke’s cardiothorassic legacy, leaving his gf and Seattle Grace’s fave doctor, Cristina Yang in the dust. Not only was she mean to Dr. Yang, but she also macked on Dr. Callie Torres, making them the first same-sex couple on the show. But there was always something off about her, and it’s probably the fact that when I look at her, I feel like I’m staring at a cold, damp, cement wall that is stationed somewhere in the middle of Russia. I don’t know why, but that’s what I feel, ok? She didn’t last long, because word on the street is that ABC execs didn’t like her either and forced Shonda Rhimes to kick her off the show.

Mark Brandanawicz – Parks and Recreation

ugh your face

More like “Mark Brandanaquitz!” Am I right, ladies? Long before Ben and Leslie liked and loved each other, she once pined for this guy. Who in my opinion, looked like a potato. He was just there. The fact that Leslie, one of, if not the most, strong-willed female characters on TV, was still harboring feelings for this guy who she hooked up with a long time ago is beyond me. He also dated Ann, which again, we’re back to the Jason Stiles complex, if it had been a better looking guy (so sorry, Paul Schneider), I might have believed their romance? But, I didn’t get it. No chemistry between any of them. Hell, Leslie and Ann have better chemistry with each other than he did with either of them.

Ivy Dickens – Gossip Girl

I still can’t tell you why Ivy was brought in as a new character in season 4. Maybe it had something to do with Serena’s grandma and the fact she was bribed to make the VanDerWoodsen clan believe she was their long lost cousin, ugh I don’t know. I can’t even really tell you why I kept watching Gossip Girl after season 2. But there was just something about Kaylee DeFer’s acting AND her voice that bugged the shit out of me. Like, just stop talking. No.

Pete Campbell – Mad Men

Pete CampbellPete Campbell is the epitome of a character you love to hate (see: 30 Reasons why you love to hate Pete Campbell). He’s WASPy, an ass, immature, and as of last season, an adulterer. And on the other hand, you have Vincent Kartheiser. He is a weird dude. In an interview with The Guardian, these words literally came out of his mouth:

“I don’t really go anywhere to buy things. In fact, I have been in a slow process of selling and giving away everything I own… Like, I don’t have a toilet at the moment.”

This is the man who is marrying Rory Gilmore IRL. But the thing is, you’re not really sure if he’s actually an asshat or of it’s just some ruse he does for the media. And if he is really a douche, then he’s perfect for the role of Pete. I’m so torn but I can’t not put him on this list.

Whatareyoudoinghere: Unexpected Guest Stars of Veronica Mars

I was one of those latecomers that only got into Veronica Mars when was available on Netflix Instant a year or two ago. I was immediately hooked, and scolded myself for judging the show by its name (Veronica MARS who lived in NEPTUNE??? Def some kind of sci-fi show I wasn’t interested in). But fast forward to my Netflix marathon days and I watched eps nonstop, then proceeded to purchase the DVDs once they took it off instant.

Anyways, from the beginning, I noticed that a lot of random celebs appeared on VMars. Some were famous before the show, and some reached their fame after their appearance. The obvious one is Amanda Seyfried, who played Lilly Kane, Veronica’s bestie, Duncan’s brother, and Logan’s main boo. Oh and she was mysteriously killed, so pretty much the all of season one and season two focus on her murder. Ugh Harry Hamlin.

Because of the future Mamma Mia star, I proceeded to make a list of some notable names who I was surprised to see in Neptune.

PS: gold star and +50 points if you got the Californians ref in the post title.

Paris Hilton

Season 1, Episode 2

Props to Paris for signing up to be a guest star so early on in the show. Although she probs would’ve taken any role she was given money for, so nevermind. I will admit that I was super jeal of her because she played Logan’s new GF. Logan *sigh*

Jessica Chastain

Season 1, Episode 7

Jessica was recently on Jay Leno recalling how although it seems like she’s an overnight Oscar nominee, she graduated from Julliard and was in various TV shows – including V Mars. She played a character involved in one of the darkest storylines ever done on the show, a pregnant woman who lived next door to Veronica, who went missing. Turns out her stepfather raped her, and just as she was going to shoot him in self defense, Veronica’s dad shoots him to safe her life. Srs business, y’all.

Aaron Paul

Season 1, Episode 11

Before he was a maker of meth, Jesse Pinkman was accused to being a serial killer. So I mean, he has a history of playing troubled characters (RIP Gale).

Leighton Meester

Season 1, Episodes 14 & 21

Spotted: Young B playing Carrie Bishop, queen of the rich ’09ers (sound familiar?). She accuses Veronica’s favorite teacher, Mr. Rooks of having an affair with her, so VMars sets out to prove that he’s innocent. She finds out that not only did Rooks have an affair, it was actually with Carrie’s BFF, who got preggo from the scandalous tryst. So Carrie decided to press charges against him for herself.

Adam Scott

Season 1, Episode 14

Oh, BTW, the guy who played teen predator Mr. Rooks? THIS GUY.

Ben Wyatt/Knope, I still love you. Even if you were a creeper.

lit’rally took me forever to decide which pic to use because i love him so much

Lucas Grabeel

Season 2, Episode 14

The High School Musical alum played Kelly Kuzzio, a baseball jock who was secretly gay. Not like he’s ever played a gay guy before.

Kristin Cavallari

Season 2, Episode 14

Kristin, the only villain who looked sane next to Speidi, made her scripted TV debut and she played a cheerleader. Oh sorry, a LESBIAN cheerleader. It was great. I mean her acting wasn’t but just the entire thing it general was great.

Zachery Ty Bryan

Season 1, Episode 15 & 17

Usually the middle child gets the shaft, but on Home Improvement, I always thought eldest kid Brad got the short end of the stick. I mean the middle child was Jonathan Taylor Thomas, like how do you compare with that? I remember as much about Brad’s plot line as I do of his brief stint on VM. Which is that he played basketball and drove a car.

JTT

Season 1, Episode 18

Speak of the devil. I was never one of those girls who fawned over JTT. I didn’t get it. Still don’t. Which is why that although I appreciate his rare TV appearance on a UPN show in 2005, I remember his guest starring role mostly because this was the first episode where Veronica and Logan kissed. I mean he played an ATF agent who went undercover as a high school student, so that was cool, I guess. But VERONICA AND LOGAN!! They had an epic kind of love, you know? One that  spanned years and continents. Lives ruined, bloodshed, epic.

Rider Strong

Season 3, Episode 2

Good old Shawn Hunter played an asshole classmate of Logan and Wallace in a college class, where they participated in some prison experiment. IDK, basically he made the kid from Freaks and Geeks pee his pants.

Matt Czuchry

Season 3, Episode 4

Logan Huntzberger from my fave Gilmore Girls uses his reporter skills as he pretends to be Logan Echolls’ half-brother just to get a story. Whoa, that got confusing even for me. Again, forget about Matt for a sec because this was a great episode for Jason Dohring who got to show his dramatic side after he found out he still didn’t come close to getting to know his half-brother.

Dianna Agron

Season 3, Episodes 5, 15, & 19

Incidentally, Dianna played a college kid in VMars, and then went on to play a high school cheerleader/wheelchair bound/walking Yale student miracle on Glee.

Paul Rudd

Season 3, Episode 17

The great Paul Rudd is actually BFFs with show creator Rob Thomas, which explains his involvement with VM and with Rob’s follow up show, the hilarious Party Down. Paul plays a washed-up rock star who’s playing at Hearst College, and is a drunk nut job. One of my all-time lines from the show comes from this episode, as seen above.

Max Greenfield

Recurring character

I saved the best for last. Before New Girl was New Girl, I saw promos for the show, and put it on my list immediately because Max Greenfield was in it. At the time, he was only Deputy Leo to me, the handsome, smiley, police officer who Veronica canoodled with in the first season. Unfortunately their love dwindled, but only because she was falling for Logan. And I was ok with that. But now, he can’t be anything else but Schmidt.

Logan TYFYT

‘Parks And Recreation’: A Love Letter To The Hometown

After I graduated law school, I found a job in the legal profession (!) … in my hometown. Here I am, back where it all began.

English: City of Rochester, New York.

I hope you like that bridge because it took about 10 years to finish. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am from Rochester, New York. There are far worse places that you could live. In fact, as a pretty humble city, I suggest that Rochester adopts “there are far worse places that you could live” as its slogan. It has less violent crime than Detroit (Detroit has many fine attributes, like motown), lower average yearly snowfall than Anchorage (AND ten other U.S. Cities!), and, with over a million people in the Rochester metropolitan area, is by far the largest Rochester in the United States. George Eastman (founder of Kodak), Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Kristen Wiig have all called this city home. (A Marie Claire profile of Wiig referred to Rochester as a “suburban backwater,” which was a little harsh for a city with so many fine cultural institutions.)  Did I mention that the National Museum of Play is here, too?

But this piece isn’t about Rochester, this is about hometowns, and living in yours as an adult — whether you’re from a mid-sized city, a mega-metropolis, or a small town. There’s a tendency, I think, to feel like if you live where you did at 14, maybe the rest of your life has become stagnant, too (you know, like a suburban backwater?). It’s easy to fear becoming that former varsity athlete who works at the same gas station he did senior year, reliving his glory days. Luckily for me, I was never very good at anything in high school, so that’s not really a danger. I don’t think appearing in the chorus of high school musicals and playing second doubles in tennis counts as “glory days” by any standard.

One bright spot if you find yourself back in your place of birth is the NBC series Parks and Recreation. It is a love letter to the hometown. The protagonist, Leslie Knope, is proud to be from Pawnee, Indiana, and is proud to live there still. As you watch the series, you can’t help but fall in love with Leslie’s enthusiasm about Pawnee, and hopefully you can catch some enthusiasm about your hometown, too. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from everyone’s favorite mid-level municipal employee:

(1) Nobody insults your hometown but you. And maybe you shouldn’t either. You will never see Knope more angry than when residents of nearby Eagleton snub Pawnee. Eagletonians are jerks, though: “When a tornado went through Pawnee, we asked Eagleton for help, but they claimed they weren’t home. The whole town said they weren’t home.” Your hometown is like your siblings when you were a kid: you might have complaints about them, but you would not put up with that kind of talk from anyone else. So when people make fun of your city’s downtown crow infestation, you should either remind them that at least that means the city’s secret uranium store didn’t kill them all, or take a cue from Leslie Knope and shut the whole conversation down:

(2) First in friendship, fourth in obesity. There are negative things about every city. Maybe the local sweets factory has contributed to a full-blown obesity bonanza. Maybe teen girl battles have compromised the municipal transit system. Despite its flaws, there are certainly plenty of wonderful people in your hometown. There’s something great about friends you have known for decades. But, some of Leslie’s best friends are not native Pawneeans. Remember that just because you grew up in your city, doesn’t mean everyone you meet there did. Be friendly and welcoming to newcomers, and they just might fall in love with your hometown, too. Ben Wyatt thought he was just passing through Pawnee, but the wonderful locals (well, mostly Leslie) changed his mind.

Cover Illustration of The Wonderful Leaps of S...

This guy leaped off of waterfalls nationwide, but he died in OUR waterfall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(3) Lil’ Sebastian Makes Everything Better. In one of Leslie’s greatest triumphs, she brings hometown hero Lil’ Sebastian (a winsome, elderly pony) back to the Harvest Festival. One of the best things about living in your hometown is being familiar with the local shorthand and in-jokes. Someone from Indianapolis or Eagleton might not understand the appeal of a geriatric pony with a heart of gold, but Pawneeans do. My city has a flagpole strung with lights instead of a municipal Christmas tree, a laser light show about an ill-fated 19th century daredevil and his pet bear, and our must-try cuisine is called a garbage plate. I love them all, because I grew up with them — except for the garbage plate, anyway.  It is hard to understand these hometown heroes if you aren’t actually from the town – I remember the locals getting all fired up about “spiced wafers” when I lived in Philly, and I just didn’t understand it because they taste like a grandmother – but when you are from there, it’s magic.

(4) Success starts at home. Living in a small town doesn’t mean that Leslie Knope has given up on her dreams. Instead, she believes that she could be president one day. More importantly, she takes steps to achieve her dreams while she’s still in Pawnee, running an impassioned campaign to become Pawnee’s next councilwoman — just see her closing argument in “The Debate,” where Leslie suggests that maybe true success involves making a difference right where you are:

I love this town. And when you love something, you don’t punish it. You fight for it. You take care of it. You put it first. As your City Councilman, I will make sure that no one takes advantage of Pawnee. If I seem too passionate, it’s because I care. If I come on too strong, its because I feel strongly. And if I push too hard, it’s because things aren’t moving fast enough. This is my home, you are my family, and I promise you, I’m not going anywhere.

(5) If all else fails, just slisten to Amy Poehler. Here is Poehler’s take on her character’s life in Pawnee: “I think there’s something very romantic about people deciding to be in love with your own small town. There’s a lot of arc in art and literature about moving to the big city, and there’s something really sweet about moving to a small town.” Whenever she talks about her character, Poehler respects Knope’s tenacity, and never acts like Leslie is at all pathetic for living in her hometown. And neither are you. Just ask Leslie Knope (…unless you’re from Eagleton).