Posts Tagged ‘TV Themes’

TV Themes: The Big Bang Theory

January 31st, 2011 11 comments

It is difficult to reconcile the notion that the quite wonderful sitcom The Big Bang Theory comes from the same people who inflict upon the viewing public the hilarity-bereft smugfest that is Two And A Half Men. Both are Chuck Lorre shows, as was the utterly appalling Dharma And Greg, the slightly more tolerable Grace Under Fire (the title of which unforgivably punned on the protagonist”s name), and the mostly pretty smart Cybill, which featured the wonderful Christine Baranski, who in turn has a most welcome recurring guest spot on The Big Bang Theory.

The set-up for The Big Bang Theory, if it needs to be explained, involves two physics geniuses (Sheldon and Leonard), one of them evidently touched by some kind of autism and extreme OCD, their two fellow “nerd” friends, and the entirely ordinary aspiring actress with generous cleavage in the adjacent apartment (one might call it “Four Half Men”). Much of it is as derivative as Sheldon characterises Leonard”s research. We have the short straightman with dark curly hair and his socially inept flatmate who says inappropriate things living in the same building as blonde female company. Why, it”s Cousin Larry and Balki from the unlamented Perfect Strangers all over again! It even has that show”s laugh track (or is it a studio audience conditioned to laugh at anything, no matter how unfunny?).

What sets The Big Bang Theory apart from the legacy of traditional sitcoms which it draws from is the whip-smart dialogue and, above all, the character of Sheldon (and arguably that of diminutive Howard Wolowitz, whose sartorial style and Beatles hairstyle seems to manically draw from the Swinging Sixtiesm, and whose mother seems to be related to Estelle Costanza)). But it”s Sheldon”s show, and therefore Jim Parsons”. Parsons takes off the obnoxious edges of what really is an insufferable individual by investing his evidently gentle personality and melodious and precise elocution in his character. Rather than being an annoying and intolerable type, Parsons” Sheldon is almost cute in his deployment of pompous condescension (which is really a defence against a world which he doesn”t quite understand).  Alas, there are incongruous passages when Sheldon regresses into an inconsistent state of childhood, such as when he returns from Disneyland wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. It is here that the show appeals to sitcom denominators which one might have hoped to be extinct, at least in more discerning comedies such as this.

And therein resides the quibble with the mostly brilliant scriptwriting (and a set design which takes care to ensure that the formulae on whiteboards are correct science): consistency is sometimes traded for a quick gag. It”s an unwelcome throwback to the traditional sitcoms which preceded The Big Bang Theory ““ such as the criminally mirthless Perfect Strangers. But these are minor objections and easily forgivable when so much of the show is so delightful. The show deserves highest praise alone for the invention of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock, a soundfile I have prepared below.

Sheldon, by the way, has a most excellent collection of t-shirts. I would kill (not literally, of course) to have the TV test-card t-shirt pictured right. There is also a splendid t-shirt showing the evolution of man, from primate to robot.

The Big Bang Theory“s theme song is suitably quirky, by the masters of quirk: Canada”s Barenaked Ladies. In about half a minute it outlines the evolutionary history of the world: “Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,” the theme explains, “then nearly 14 billion years ago expansion started. The Earth began to cool, the autotrophs began to drool, Neanderthals developed tools, we built a wall (we built the pyramids). Math, science, history, unravelling the mysteries that all started with the big bang!” In 2007, a longer single version (still only 1:45 long) was released.

Another Barenaked Ladies song, Be My Yoko Ono, appears in the show”s second season, when Sheldon has an overbearing groupie (the John and Yoko gag is repeated in the current season, the fourth, when Sheldon has a likeminded female sidekick). Apparently Yoko once was asked whether she liked the song, which mocks her singing. She said she did, but preferred the band”s If I Had $1,000,000. It is indeed the better of the two songs, though the Barenaked Ladies” grand opus surely is Brian Wilson.

Theme from The Big Bang Theory
Barenaked Ladies ““ Big Bang Theory (full version)
Barenaked Ladies ““ You Can Be My Yoko Ono
The Big Bang Theory – Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock



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TV Themes: How I Met Your Mother

September 9th, 2009 1 comment

Take a pinch of Seinfeld, wrap him up with Friends, add a touch of Raymond and a little bitty bit of original ideas (apologies if this gave you an unwelcome earworm). The stew would give forth How I Met Your Mother, one of the finest current comedy series, admittedly at a time when there are not many great ones around.


Neil Patrick Harris, a teenage TV star as Doogie Howser MD, is the perhaps the funniest man on TV right now. As Barney Stinson, his comedic timing and delivery is impeccable. More than that, his physical comedy is exceptional as he deftly sidesteps the perils of exaggerating for effect. His character may be over-the-top, yet there is much subtlety in Harris” performance. It is perfectly judged (and, indeed, awesome). Few characters in recent times have given birth to so many catchphrases. True story.

How I Met Your Mother would be poorer without Harris, of course, but not entirely lacking in appeal. Some of the show”s best setpieces have not hinged on Barney”s character. For example, Robin”s “80s style music videos are brilliantly observed. The snag is that Robin had her solitary Tiffany-lite hit in the “90s. The scriptwriters get around that anomaly by having her explain that the “80s didn’t come to her native Canada until the mid-“90s. The absurdity of the notion illuminates the gag. The two-minute date sequence from season 3 shows the progamme”s big heart

The theme is very brief, just 11 seconds long. It”s an catchy chunk from a song by The Solids called Hey Beautiful, a garage band type of affair that really belongs in the “90s (perhaps the “90s didn”t get to The Solids until the “00s). The song was written by Solids members Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, who just happen to be the originators and writers of How I Met Your Mother, and on whom the series is loosely based. Minus the rock band antics.

The third track featured here (like the very brief theme, ripped from DVD)  is sung by Jason Segel, who plays Marshall Erikson in the show. Having won a bet, he has earned the right to slap the obnoxious Barney five times over any period of time. The third slap he saves up for Thanksgiving (or, as he calls it, “Slapsgiving”). Having visited the stipulated act of violence upon Barney, he sings a song he especially composed for the occasion (video).

Theme of How I Met Your Mother.mp3
The Solids – Hey Beautiful.mp3
Jason Segel – You Just Got Slapped.mp3


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TV Themes: The Golden Girls

July 8th, 2009 14 comments

You can imagine the initial pitch for The Golden Girls: “It’s like the Brady Bunch only they are 60 years older and without the boys.” It is quite amazing that any network bit. It took a great deal of courage, I think, to commission a show about four widowed or divorced women of a certain age (and then some). Not only that, but they still had S-E-X! As we know, the gamble paid off, and a sometimes very good sitcom was born. Of course, sometimes it was also very bad, especially when romantic liaisons interfered with the lives of our four heroines (hello, Witness Protection Guy). Or when the gay brother storyline impaled itself on the fence upon which it perched so delicately in a bid not to unambiguously condemn homophobia.


Still, generally the set-up worked well, through a finely aligned division of idiosyncrasies. Dorothy did the sarcastic, reasonable duty. Her mother Sophia was responsible for mad-cappery (often involving the hilarity of a 119-year-old woman having a libido); Blanche was in charge of general promiscuity (what would Big Daddy — or Beurg Durddy, I could never be sure — have thought of that?), and Rose headed the stupid department. And didn’t Betty White play the latter role well, never showing much frustration at her character exhibiting the erudition and cynicism of Big Bird after a few joints? Of course, she would have had little cause for complaint: she was tagged orginally to play Blanche, and Rue McClanahan (who had appeared with Bea Arthur in the latter’s hit show Maude) was supposed to be Rose. Fortuitously, the actresses swapped roles, to good effect.

So distinct in temperament were these women, they shouldn’t have survived living together in the same house. But they did and every episode ended with a group hug, literal or otherwise — unless a few minor chords in the soundtrack alerted us that the huggery would be deferred for a cliffhanger.

The Golden Girls eventually did split when the marvellous Bea Arthur — whose recent death at 86 set off an epidemic of celebrity croaking — left the show. With Dorothy married, the remaining golden girls vacated Blanche’s splendid house, for reasons I don’t care to remember, and took over a hotel instead. Alas, they forgot to pack the humour and charm of the original series. The Golden Palace starred a yet unknown Don Cheadle, playing the straight man to all manner of superannuated capers; the lack of comedy this afforded him happily directed him towards more dramatic roles, rather than trapping him in a Martin Lawrence career arc. Cheadle is one of the finest actors in Hollywood today. As for the show, it was dismal and got cancelled after only one season.


The future Buck Swope gurns his way through The Golden Palace.

Just as The Golden Girls could be at once charming and feckless, so was the show’s theme song. Written and released by Andrew Gold when the Golden Girls were still nubile — well, in 1978, as Gold’s follicular adventures on the Dutch single cover below clearly suggests — it had enjoyed some US chart success, reaching #25, though Gold is better remembered (though not necessarily fondly) for his hit of the same year, Never Let Her Slip Away, and for Lonely Boy, a hit in 1977.

andrew goldGold came from a family of musical pedigree: his father was movie composer Ernest Gold (whose credits include the soundtrack of Exodus); his mother was Marni Nixon. Nixon’s name or face might not be well-known, but her voice certainly is: she dubbed the singing for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, for Deborah Kerr in The King And I, and for Natalie Wood in West Side Story (unlike any of them, Nixon is still alive). And she was the angelic voices in Ingrid Bergman’s Joan Of Arc.

Gold later became one half of the ’80s duo Wax, with Graham Gouldman of 10cc (Bridge To Your Heart, anyone?). But none of this is as impressive as this: Andrew Gold’s is the first human voice to have been heard — in as far as any Martians were listening — on Mars when in 1996 when his rendition of the theme of Mad About You served as wake-up call song for the Pathfinder probe, presumably chosen because of its title: Final Frontier (NASA obviously aren’t great Donald Fagen fans).

Gold’s version of Thank You For Being A Friend is on the first mix of full TV theme songs.

As Golden Girls fans will recall, it wasn’t Gold that sang the theme song: the female singer bragging about bringing the biggest gift with attached card was one Cynthia Fee. See the titles here.

And, finally, a free Golden Girls theme song for the first caller who can identify the Elvis impersonator in white at the back from a Golden Girls episode entitled “Sophia’s Wedding” in 1988:


EDIT: Reader James got the answer. So as not to spoil it, I won’t give it here; see the comments section. And here’s Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley as a girl scout in an episode from 1987 (she also appeared in a 1989 episode of Roseanne)


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TV Themes: Welcome Back, Kotter

June 24th, 2009 7 comments

It took the crazy success of Saturday Night Fever and Grease to bring Welcome Back, Kotter to German TV, cashing in on cast member John Travolta”s rise to fame at about the same time as the series ended its five-season run on American TV in 1979. The happy upshot of this was that by the time the show had jumped the shark “” after the third season “” it was passé even in Germany.


As Vinny Barbarino, Travolta played the nominal leader of a quartet of high school underachievers in whom teacher Gabe Kotter, returning to his inner-city alma mater, recognises much of his younger self. His hope is that these four doofuses will complete their schooling and become successes in life, much as Kotter did. The teaching profession is indeed a noble and very undervalued vocation, but is the uniform of brown curdoroy jackets with elbow patches really an aspirational objective? The Sweathogs, as the school”s gang of remedial students are known, were founded by Kotter himself, so he has much empathy for the youngsters.

welcome-back-kotter-castAn unlikely premise rooted in cliché, clearly. Except that the main characters were based on people Gabe Kaplan “” Kotter in real life “” knew at school, with the names changed (except that of Arnold Horshack, he with the bizarre laugh). The notion of academic redemption resonates with me. For a variety of reasons, my underachievements in school would have relegated me to the Sweathogs, if there had been such a group. Alas, I had no teacher like Mr Kotter, so I made it my business to excel at failure, to meet what I thought were my teachers” low expectation and what I perceived to be their desire. Happily, I was able to climb out of that deep hole and eventually graduate from university.

The groovy theme song was written and sung by John Sebastian, who in the Mamas and the Papas” song Creeque Alley sat in The Night Owl with Zal and Denny, passing round the hat. The three and Cass Elliott and Jim Hendricks were the Mugwumps. Denny and Cass went on to become a Papa and a Mama, while John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky formed the Lovin” Spoonful (Hendricks disappeared from the scene). Sebastian”s theme song was a US #1 hit in 1976. The show itself, originally titled simply Kotter, was renamed in a nod to Sebastian”s chorus, which repeats the words “welcome back”.

More recently, Sebastian appeared on the Eels song Dusk: A Peach in the Orchard from the wonderful Blinking Lights and Other Revelations album. As for Gabe Kaplan, apparently he now works a commentator on televised poker. I”m sure the Sweathogs would approve.

John Sebastian – Welcome Back (Kotter)  (full version).mp3
John Sebastian – Welcome Back, Kotter  (title version).mp3


And watch this great clip from the series, which also features James Woods as a preppy teacher.


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TV Themes: Hill Street Blues

June 3rd, 2009 7 comments

During the recent Social Living Top 5 craze on Facebook (are you my friend yet. If not, click here), I was confronted with the urge to list my five all-time favourite TV series. Topping my list was Hill Street Blues “” not because it is intrinsically superior to my other all-time favourite TV dramas, such as The West Wing or Homicide: Life On The Streets, but because it was the first TV show other than Sesame Street I truly, deeply loved.


From the moment the female CB radio voice would dispatch the cops from the Hill Street precinct to another venue of malfeasance to the last note of Mike Post”s beautiful theme, I”d be mesmerised by the chaos and overlapping storylines.

Hill Street Blues did not invent the ensemble TV series, but it invested into the characters multi-dimensional complexity. Detective Neal Washington was my favourite character, but the most interesting of the lot was his partner J.D. LaRue (played by the late Kiel Martin), a man whose best attempts at being virtuous were undercut by his human frailties. Before Hill Street Blues, the viewer was not meant to root for flawed characters. But I rooted for LaRue.

Hill Street Blues could shock us, not only with its harsh depiction of the realities of urban decay, but also by the use of severe dramatic devices. When Joe Coffey (played by Ed Marinaro) died in the line of duty mid-series, it came as a sharp shock to the viewer. It was as unexpected to us as it was to the characters to whom we had grown close.

Every show has its moral centre. Hill Street Blues had several moral centres, all of them in some way or other flawed. Sometimes there would be conflicting moral centres “” often embodied by the lovers, Captain Frank Furillo and public defender Joyce Davenport. Furillo was not as complex as most of his underlings. He was a leader because he knew what he stood for. Of all TV characters, he reminds me of my father, not physically but in his exacting but essentially kind demeanour, honour and pragmatism.

The Hill Street Blues theme is also one of my all-time favourite title tunes. It was written by Mike Post, who scored several other Steven Bochco shows, including L.A. Law, NYPD Blue and the criminally underrated Murder One. He also wrote such great themes as those for the wonderful Quantum Leap, Magnum PI, Law & Order, The Rockford Files, CHiPS and Doogie Howser, MD. The distinctive guitar on the Hill Street Blues theme is by fusion musician and one-time Crusaders member Larry Carlton, who played the solo on Steely Dan”s Kid Charlemagne.

Mike Post – Hill Street Blues Theme (full version).mp3
Mike Post – Hill Street Blues Theme (title version).mp3

TV Themes

June 16th, 2007 4 comments

Here’s the last batch of TV themes, plus all the others previously posted.

Bonanza.mp3 (The all-time classic TV theme, probably. And a great series, too.)
I Dream Of Jeannie.mp3 (Or is this the all-time classic TV theme?)
The A-Team.mp3 (Insert your own joke about pitying the fool here.)
The Brady Bunch.mp3 (Oh come on, it is a wonderful TV theme, a sound that is of its time.)
E.R.mp3 (I’ve never watched E.R., but I do like the ’90s theme)
Dallas.mp3 (One to play when you come out of the shower)
Dynasty.mp3 (Stephen was one of the first openly gay TV characters. But, let’s face it, all the men in that show, except Blake, looked gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.)
Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo.mp3 (With Flipper, Lassie and Daktari, TV’s greatest show with animals.)
Full House.mp3 (The show that brought us the Olsen Twin and Bob Saget. Terrible show and a theme song that is so terrible it’s essential. One for the audio trivia quiz)
Pippi Langstrumpf.mp3 (A classic for for the German contingent. Anika was my first TV crush.)

And in previous episodes:
Magnum PI.mp3 (The cowboy from the Village People wanted his moustache back)
Diff’rent Strokes.mp3 (The worst show ever to have such a brilliant theme song. Cheesy, but quite excellent. Earworm ahoy)
L.A. Law.mp3 (Where I lived, Saturday nights began when the car boot slammed down.)
Perfect Strangers.mp3 (Will Cousin Larry be canonised for not bludgeoning Balki to death?)
News Radio.mp3 (Great, short theme. But is it better than WKRP‘s?)
Welcome Back, Kotter.mp3 (I had a friend who actually cultivated Horshack’s laugh. Signed Epstein’s Mother.)
thirtysomething.mp3 (The show that ought to have persuaded us to remain unwed forever.)
Hawaii 5-0.mp3 (The best TV theme of all time. Sampled to death)
Seinfeld.mp3 (Not that there’s anything wrong with it)
Quantum Leap.mp3 (Ah, the soundtrack to my mid-20s. Nice tune, actually)
WKRP In Cincinnati.mp3 (Video portrayed the radio star)
Three’s Company.mp3 (That intro! You’ll want to tag it under Porn Groove)
Derrick.mp3 (Long-running German cop show with another Porn Groove theme)
Sex And The City.mp3 (Did these women ever use condoms, I wonder?)
Star Trek.mp3 (Beam it up, Spotty. A ha ha ha ha and so on)
McGyver.mp3 (The file was broken. I fixed it with a spoon and a bit of candyfloss)
Hill Street Blues.mp3 (my all-time favourite police show)
Fraser.mp3 (I didn’t know Kelsey Grammer is a Republican. Tosser.)
Sesame Street.mp3 (I didn’t know Cookie Monster is a card-carrying ACLU member Democrat. Genius.)
Gun Smoke.mp3 (longest-running TV series ever, I think. Or was it Bonanza?)
Partridge Family.mp3 (Come on get happy. Especially for KP’s GF)
Who”s The Boss.mp3 (We know Alyssa Milano turned out hot, but is the little dweeb still a dweeb? Oh, and stupid Friends trivia: Which hit did Phoebe think goes: “Hold me closer, Tony Danza”?)

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