Why does science fiction television sometimes get a bad reputation? Oh yeah — because of cheesetastic opening credits like this one, from Jason Of Star Command. Here are a few dozen of the absolute scariest opening discredits in SF television.
I actually kind of love the Jason Of Star Command credits, for the whizzy spaceship and the friendly dragon, among other things. But it is pretty cheesetastic and insane. My favorite part: about 40 seconds in, we get a tight closeup of the evil Dragos, looking like Brian Blessed crossed with a Borg, and then it zooms out jerkily to show he's sitting with a bunch of coke-snorting lizards. And then we zip back to the tight closup on Dragos so we can learn his name. Awesome!
But that's not even the worst TV opening credits of all time. We'll save time and put that one first. The absolute weakest theme tune and opening montage almost certainly belongs to...
K-9 And Company:
The first ever Doctor Who spin-off: he's a sassy robot who likes to sing his own name! She's an alcoholic who sits around drinking! Together they, erm... get sloshed and sing off key! Yeah, that's it! Seriously, was everyone involved with this drunk the whole time?
A group of well scrubbed young people learn to harness their amazing abilities, guided by Dr. Smith from Lost In Space. And Peepo! Don't forget Peepo the friendly robot! This one has the best "explaining the show's premise" voiceover.
Running running running... And then smiling! Nice teeth! Warrior woman. More running! Gateway in space, and then cue the drum machines, because planets are flying at your head. Zoooom! I like that the planets get drum machines.
The voice of Landru narrates about pollution and waste. We're in a post-apocalyptic Winnebago — check out the long lingering shot across its side, to let you know it's a stretch Winnebago. Evil, scary flower of doom! But the best part is the bumper, where the guy carefully says everyone's name into the log, while their faces and names flash on the screen. Subtle!
Pain Killer Jane
There's only one type of pain she can't kill. Can you guess what it is? Anyway, dark gloomy city, then strippers! Then explosions! Then action! Then showering. Then bra! Then more montage, showing that these people shoot each other a lot, but they also smile and nod, and share a beer in their top secret lab. Ooh, back scars!
Okay, so it's more like fantasy, or maybe urban fantasy, but wow. This is the show that launched Rick Springfield's career, before he was a soap opera actor or a pop singer. The show is all about a young witch named Miss Tickle, but Springfield gets top billing. More importantly, check out the incredible psychedelic cartoon visuals:
It starts with the most boring lecture in history, full of vague stuff about "okay, so there was an advanced species, and we wiped them out, and then there's another advanced species, and now we're the prey. Except when we're not." Confused yet? Cue montage of spermatazoa and monkeys, with words like "EVOLUTION" and "SELECTION" wibbling onto the screen. Now it all makes sense!
If we end up doing a list of the best opening credits as well, this will most certainly be in there. It's easily among both the best and worst TV show openings I've ever seen. The weird typewriter exposition! The men hugging themselves and breathing deeply! The purple wigs and crazy cars! It's all just so great! And yet, terrible.
This one is sort of the opposite. Where UFO was kicky and jazzy, Project UFO is sort of austere, with the Jack Webb-esque voiceover and the slow, dull scrolling across unidentifiable drawings of spacecraft:
We grew to love this short-lived show, but its credits were part of why we had misgivings about it in the first place. Random years are flying over the Golden Gate Bridge! Now birds are flying backwards! It's Journeyman, the man with the power to confuse birds!
This one is pure groove, with the Peter Gunn-esque music, and the echo-y voice reading every single thing on the screen. "CMDF! Combined Miniature Defense Force!" If we're invaded by anything miniature, they'll protect us. Authority: TOP SECRET! HIGHEST CLEARANCE! And then there's Guru, master of mysteroius powers. Yeah. This is the sort of thing that fuels a million Adult Swim shows.
This one makes me sad, because Time Trax holds a special place in my heart. But these credits? So bad.
Electra Woman And Dyna Girl
This is another one that's great but awful — they move so stiffly, jumping out of their flying ship. And yet they're so awesome. They fight tigers! And spiders! With lasers! They shoot Sarah Jane Smith's wine glass, so she'll dry out and stop getting drunk when the Zarbi are attacking. They're hip women of today! And they have lyrics!!
Smallville season five
The posters over at Television Without Pity singled this opening out for particular badness, and it's not hard to see why. The weird dissolve-o people, the choppy montages, the cheesy video effects, it's all just a melange of badness.
Alias season four
Here's another one the TWOPers singled out. I used to love the techno music/deep purple mystery vibe that you got from this show's credits in the first couple of seasons, but this version of the opening credits slides over into ridiculousness, with the cheesy dance music getting too overhyped and the medley of Sidney's wigs getting over the top.
He's so cute and blue and glowy, and his little glowing bug flies around harrassing women! What's not to love?
There's a dolphin, and it's flying around the show's logo as if it wants to play, but then it gets tangled up in a net of too many clips from the show on screen at once, and the poor thing ends up mangled and destroyed. This is why we need dolphin-safe opening credits.
Code Name: Eternity
More awesome techno music. My favorite bit is at 0:12, where the hero sort of snaps his forearm up and raises his fist, so it looks like he's dancing, and then a defiant closeup of him smashes into the camera like he's striking a pose. But the whole thing is great — the screen being sliced up into vertical chunks, the sillhouette of a guy standing in front of his own wobbly face, the seasickness-inducing zooms. Rockage!
I wrestled with including this one, because Dollhouse really is a fantastic show in general, and I hate to criticize any aspect of it. And Jonatha Brooke sang a couple of my favorite songs of all time. But these credits? Not doing the show any favors. Whenever you try to get people to take this show seriously, they watch these credits and start giggling. The "la la la la" sounds unfortunately lobotomized, and Eliza Duskhu's magic power is changing outfits as she walks. Also, "Active Secure" as she does yoga — what? It's like a computer scanner is monitoring her yoga progress. Uh, no.
They're torturing the dolphin from the Seaquest DSV credits to make those "Chew! Chew! Chew!" noises.
Star Trek: Enterprise.
Both Deep Space Nine and Voyager had similar opening credits: the treacly instrumental music, the slow montage of spacey scenes, the terrible empty dullness. But at least they felt sort of epic. The Trek behemoth tried to set a change of pace, with this schlocky ballad from Diane Warren, writer of timeless gems by Michael Bolton, Mariah Carey, Chicago, Heart and many others. (Plus "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" by Aerosmith.) And they paired it with a totally cheesy video. Result: awesomeness! Here's the revised, boppier version:
The Invisible Man (1970s version)
It's the love boat, except with an invisible David McCallum. The way it zooms out when the effervescent Melinda Fee tosses her dice - like she's throwing the camera - is just special. And then there's just too much excitement, so the screen has to split into four cubes of awesome.
They're being flung at the camera through space again and again! This may actually be the best example of the "explaining the show's premise in the credits" phenomenon, especially with the lost Osmond brother talking us through the whole "red is for temporal wrongness" thing. Zippee!
What is your name? What is your quest? What is the wingspan velocity of an unladen sparrow? If you can answer these questions, you'll love these opening credits:
He's sort of writhing in ecstasy a lot of the time as he strokes his medallion — either that or staring into the camera with a crazed exuberance, like he wants to stick his tongue through our TV tube and lick our eyeballs. But we're viewing the whole thing through a flaming triangle, so it all holds together surprisingly well.
The Powers Of Mathew Star
He's a space prince! And he plays football. But mostly, we have Louis Gossett Jr. explaining the whole deal, and having Louis Gossett Jr. talking about how special you are is probably actually better than being an alien prince with super powers anyway.
Oh, Ernest Borgnine. He just loves to confuse his African American partner, with the help of his wacky android cop from the future. When Borgnine laughs, it's actually really scary - and that's the signal to launch into the 1970s action disco music. And funny pixelated graphics. Whee!
The greatest movie of all time (well, almost) spawns a really sad set of TV credits, with footage of the time-travel train interspersed with vertical wedges of the same bit of footage three or four times at once - because the time-travel train splits the world into simultaneous chunks of sameness! Don't you get it? People who we don't care about are talking, and all we want to see is someone policing. In time!
Another one that makes me sad - Star Cops is a vastly underrated show, a classic from the pen of Chris Boucher (Doctor Who, Blake's 7) but wow - this theme tune is horrible, sounding like Spandau Ballet had a horrible mishap. And the Earth gets squished and turned into a boot sole... why?
Another one with the screen divided up into squares, this time of different sizes... there's a lady walking, and we zoom in on a cat! The cat looks really bored — I can haz glowy portal? Oh, and Roddy McDowell is an android, or just a flasher.
"In a broken world, she is haunted by her past..." The worst thing that happened to opening credits in the 1990s was that technique that lets you have five different versions of someone's face blending into a swirly of awful, all at once. This is a particularly bad example of the multi-face overload:
Man From Atlantis
It feels like he's swimming around, half naked, for several minutes before he finally breaks the surface and we go into the traditional montage of people having Personalities.
Earth: The Final Conflict
Aaaaa it's Enya! I stumbled on this one, when I was searching for the season two credits of Andromeda, which have the overly caffeinated voiceover talking about how Dylan Hunt is the guardian of a dead civilization protecting the galaxy from everything. But this is almost as good: