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Introductions Necessary: the Best TV Show Intros

The term "golden age of television" is thrown around a lot in reference to the shows of the 1950s (many of them done live), but in my humble opinion, we're really in the golden age right now. Shows like Mad Men, The Wire and The Sopranos (which kind of started it all, intro-wise as well as show-wise) are proof that television is allowing itself to be smarter; shows like Lost that TV is allowing itself to tell more complicated, ambitious (even baffling) stories; shows like Arrested Development that TV can tell jokes not everyone in the audience will get. The best shows aren't talking down to audiences anymore; they've stopped caring about catering to the lowest common denominator, and in doing so they've elevated the whole art form.

Maybe that sounds a little highfalootin', but heck, even looking at the intros to these shows will tell you that we're dealing with a new kind of animal. Sopranos fans with TIVOs: how many seasons did you find yourself watching the intro every week, even though you could skip through it? Here are some of our recent faves, and a few classics thrown in for good measure.

The Sopranos

Let's start with the one that started it all: The Sopranos. The intro feels so loose and improvised, and slowly it dawns on you that's it's more than a travelogue, it's a story: Tony's going home. The song makes all the difference, and in keeping with the improvised nature of the intro's visuals, it's appropriate that creator David Chase simply heard the song on an LA indie radio station one day (KCRW), called the station to find out what the song was called, and licensed it.

Weeds

I've never seen an episode of Weeds (I'm told it's great), but I think the intro speaks for itself: it sets the delicate, ironic tone of a show about a woman selling pot to raise her kids in a "perfect" suburban community -- without showing any of the characters, without hitting us over the head. "Little Boxes" is a 1962 song by Malvina Reynolds, who was inspired to write it while driving through suburban Southern California. Cleverly, the show asked a number of other musicians to cover the song, and has used versions of "Little Boxes" by Elvis Costello, Death Cab for Cutie, Regina Spektor and others.

Six Feet Under

Another modern classic. Six Feet Under is a show with a really tricky tone: it's a drama about a funeral home but it's not unrelentingly morbid, and the song here reflects that. It's quirky and hypnotic without being creepy. That every image in the intro is about death is actually pretty subtle (save the tagged toe): the hands coming apart cutting to the blue sky; any more heavy-handed and this would've felt like overkill; any lighter and it would've blown away in the breeze.

Mad Men

This intro doesn't tell a story, like some do, but some of the themes of the show are here: the "protagonist" of the intro (Don Draper?) is literally inscrutable -- he reflects no light -- as befits a character harboring a dark secret; he lives in a world made of mix-n-match clipart; he's in freefall, which can only end in disaster. (If you watched all of season one, you know what I'm talking about.) And I'm ready to put the music on endless repeat in my iPod.

Mystery!

How often does Edward Gorey animate an TV show intro -- or anything, for that matter? So charming, so classic -- perfect.

Carnivale

I didn't love the show, but this intro blows me away. Do they give out Emmys for intros? They should.

Heatvision and Jack

This hilarious show starring Jack Black as an astronaut made "smartest man on Earth" by exposure to "inappropriate levels of sunlight" and his talking motorcycle/former roommate (voiced by Owen Wilson) is one of the funniest TV show concepts I've seen. Too bad it never got picked up -- but the first episode, and its hilarious intro, will live on forever. It owes a clear debt to The Six Million Dollar Man and its ilk. (But let's face it, I just like saying "ilk.")

The Simpsons
You've all seen it so many times, posting it here would be redundant. At the same time, not mentioning it would be a sin.

The Twilight Zone

Nothing set the mood like the intro to the Twilight Zone. Even if the episode to follow was cheezy (as many were), the intro always gave me goosebumps.You may now argue with me in the comments.

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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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holidays
Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)
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For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, UglyChristmasSweater.com sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.

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