Once a venerated institution in the TV industry, theme songs have fallen out of fashion in recent years. Many current series resort to a forgettably quick jungle over a title card or forego having a theme altogether. While we applaud those shows with the wherewithal to defy this unfortunate trend, we don’t just want more theme songs; we’re picky enough to want good ones.
Last week we ran down our list of Top 10 original theme songs for current TV shows. This week, we’re calling out 10 of the worst. We could easily fill a list with reality and basic cable shows but our critical ears found a plethora of sources of theme song wretchedness. A bad TV theme is a drag on a good program. It’s an anchor chained around the neck of lesser shows. These are the original theme songs for current shows that have us reaching for the mute button every time.
If the unholy illegitimate musical love child of Enya and the Cocteau Twins recorded a soft-core porn lullaby, it might sound something like this. I find myself sitting up at the end of the titles and asking, “Was I asleep?”
“America’s Next Top Model”
The incessant refrain of “Wanna be on top?” is part come on and part taunt but no part call to modeling excellence. For a 40-second theme with lyrics, the “ANTM” opener pulls off the unlikely feat of becoming annoyingly repetitive by its halfway point.
Both the Food Network and its audience have become more sophisticated in the 10 years since “Good Eats” debuted. More than any other theme on our Worst list, we have difficulty separating the theme from the accompanying visuals for this one. What was once charmingly amateurish now sounds — and looks — horribly dated.
Kristen Bell is great, but for many reasons the actual Gossip Girl device remains among our least favorite aspects of this show. “GG” might have a successful short opening if not for Bell’s needless voiceover. We maintain hope that the show’s titular scandalmonger/all-too-convenient lazy plotting device — as well as her presence in the theme song — will just quietly disappear as the show matures … er, ages.
“NCIS” and “NCIS: Los Angeles”
The rather lazy and predictable “NCIS” theme by electronic outfit Numeriklab sounds like a low-budget video game soundtrack juxtaposed with an Eastern European disco beat. If you’re thinking, “I’m sure it’d be better if they got someone like Ministry to remix it,” be thankful you haven’t heard the official soundtrack album. Al Jourgensen takes the not-hot mess and just makes it messier. Freshman spinoff “NCIS: Los Angeles” starts each episode with a crime–bringing the same musical sensibility to a new locale.
For the theme of a show about singing talent to feature synthesized vocals — or real ones so heavily processed they sound as if they’re synthesized — is as lame and fake as the group ostensibly behind it, the Idolatry Pop Orchestra. Starting each episode this way is a reminder that talent isn’t so essential in the age of vocal pitch correction software and push-button singing.
When “90210” premiered last year it featured a fairly uninspired update of John E. Davis’ original “Beverly Hills , 90210” theme. For the second season, the theme took a surprising new direction–one brazenly lifted from another show. The current version is an unapologetic imitation of the opening for superior British teen angst drama “Skins,” right up to the echoing final notes.
“The Jay Leno Show”
Five nights a week, band leader Kevin Eubanks leads the Primetime Band through this lifeless number that sounds as if it would be a better fit for a local affiliate morning show (in a small market). It’s a wonder the seasoned professionals onstage settled for something so unenthusiastically bland and instantly forgettable.
“The Cleveland Show”
When classic 1970s sitcoms “Maude”and “All in the Family” spun off into “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons” respectively, the results were two of the greatest TV theme songs of all time. When “Family Guy” spawned “The Cleveland Show” this season, we got a dud. The “Family Guy” theme song made our Top 10 list by simultaneously satirizing and paying homage to TV culture, but the “Cleveland” jam offers little more than a disco-lite beat behind lyrical exposition. It’s lackluster and unfunny to anyone except maybe the few fans so enamored of the character that his every utterance has them in stitches.
“Two and a Half Men”
It somehow took three men to write this doo wop ditty and we’re pretty sure two of them — show creators Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn — were responsible solely for the lyrics. The popularity of the Emmy-nominated theme for “Two and a Half Men” is as inexplicable as the show’s. The intent is probably irony, humor or cuteness but the result is a little creepy and weird. The song’s only redeeming quality is that the part mouthed by Angus T. Jones is actually sung by Elizabeth “E.G. ‘Valley Girl’-Pee-Wee’s-girlfriend-‘Better-Off-Dead’-Buttercup” Daily. If we want to watch Jon Cryer lip sync, we’ll watch “Pretty in Pink.”
In the unoriginal songs category, the Rosenberg’s “Birds on a Wire” is a fine enough power pop tune yet CBS comedy “Accidentally on Purpose” has reduced it to one neurotic declaration for its theme, “I can’t be anything without you.” Nine seasons of Remy Zero begging and whining for someone to “Save Me” on “Smallville” has been more than enough. In the unoriginal original category, the popular Barenaked Ladies theme for “Big Bang Theory” is undeniably similar to a superior nerd rock science anthem, They Might Be Giants’ 1993 version of “Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas).” For the over-referential Barenaked Ladies, it’s probably more of an extended humorous musical allusion to the TMBG rendition than, say, an unmitigated rip off. Barenaked Ladies, like Ramen noodles, is one of those things you should be slightly embarrassed for liking after college.
“Big Bang Theory”
They Might Be Giants, “Why Does the Sun Shine?”