I was watching FX (the cable outlet/network, not the 1986 movie starring Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy). If you've spent anytime on that channel, you've seen the ubiquitous commercial for their new series, JUSTIFIED, featuring dramatic music comprised of a driving hip hop beat, dark rapping, and slide guitar/bluegrass twanginess.
FX always uses compelling theme songs that set the tone for their shows, so let's explore the channel's other shows and what music they're using to introduce us to their very specific worlds.
It should be noted that the fashionable thing these days is to use extremely abbreviated theme songs and roll opening credits through the teaser/cold open (Lost, Community, and Cougar Town). FX and Showtime still appear to care about their theme songs (see Weeds, Dexter, Nurse Jackie).
Outside of 30 Days, each FX show features characters who operate both in the dark and in the light, which establishes a clear brand on their part, but most importantly, makes for riveting storytelling and addictive television.
Enjoy the breakdown in alphabetical order.
Unscripted reality show chronicling Supersize Me's Morgan Spurlock and his exploration of someone else's life over 30 Days.
Theme Song: "The Messenger" by Iggy Pop off of the seminal record, Lust for Life (1977)
Why it works: Classic track. No explanation necessary, but this song has been also used in Jarhead, Up In The Air, The Weather Man, and CNN's Anderson Cooper 360.
Listen: iTunes anyone?
Animated (using real photos of cast + Adobe Illustrator) dysfunctional spy comedy featuring voice talent of H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, as well as Arrested Development Alums, Jessica Walter, Judy Greer, and guest appearances by Jeffrey Tambor.
Theme Song: Opening/Closing instrumental theme by Scott Sims.
Why it works: This Spacy, noiresque track sets up that this not your every day cartoon or spy show. In this case, nothing is going to be normal.
Set at a law firm in NYC, this series revolves around Patty Hewes (played by two-time Emmy-winner Glenn Close) a clever, yet merciless lawyer and a young lawyer, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) who has lots of problems with stuff.
Theme Song: "When I'm Through With You" by VLA.
Why it Works: U2 (Edge-like guitars) meets Iggy Pop (Vox Croon).
The chorus says it all, "When I'm through with you, there'll be nothing left." Glenn Close epitomizes this sentiment in everything she does on the show, leaving a wake of tragedy behind her.
Watch & Listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIOTeIix-2c
IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA:
A group of manic Philadelphia schemers will do anything to get ahead…of one another.
Theme Song: "Temptation Sensation" by Heinz Kiessling from Coloured Strings, Dream Concerto.
Why it works; In contrast to the themes at FX, this theme uses irony as it's easy listening tone replete with soaring strings and woodwind flourishes works is in direct opposition to the shows extremely dark comic tone. Makes me laugh every time.
Set in Kentucky, show follows Marshal Raylan Givens (Elmore Leonard's creation), soft-spoken federal lawman, enforcing his brand of justice that conflicts with both sides of the law.
Commercial only: "On The Run" by Gangstagrass featuring T.O.N.E-Z.
Why it works: Give you an idea of setting, as well as the tone of the show…gritty, Southern, violent.
*Rumor has it that on March 16th there will be a different song for the theme. I hazard to guess that the theme will be in the same style as the commercial track.
Set in Chicago, a mix of scripted and improv comedy sitcom about a fantasy football league. Cast comprised of several noted stand-up comedians and hot comedic actresses.
Theme Song: "Chelsea Dagger" by The Fratellis.
Why it works: Garage rock meets Brit Pop anthems (they're Scottish). Fun!
Follows the medical and mostly familial and sexual exploits of Sean McNamara and Christian Troy, two morally opaque plastic surgeons. Set in both Miami and LA.
Song: "A Perfect Lie" by The Engine Room.
Why it works: The haunting female vocals mixed, the cool atmosphere, driving electronic beat, and lyrics that ask to be made beautiful and reach perfection fit perfectly with the show's theme of how far people are willing to go to be beautiful, powerful, rich, and loved.
Watch & Listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwachX8lv4o
Denis Leary as a firefighter with problems, either with booze, women, or dealing with post 9/11 NYC.
Theme Song: "C'mon C'mon" by The Von Bondies.
Why it works: Driving garage rock mixed with post punk drive and and plaintive male vocals. "Things were good when we were young…" The song exemplifies the bitterness and darkness of the show. Picked by Dennis Leary's son. You can even download and play it on Rock Band
Watch & Listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ChoDZuRqdQ
Shakespearian Sopranos on Harleys set in Charming, a not-so-charming town in Northern California. Follows the activities of SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original) and it's reluctant first son, Jax Teller.
Theme Song: "This Life" by Curtis Stigers & The Forest Rangers
Why it works: As a fellow jazz musician, I have been a fan of Curtis Stigers for years, so this was a surprise to find out that he was the man behind the voice, music, and lyrics. (Justified is treading in this territory very closely, musically) "Riding through this world". The driving beat mixed with the twangy guitars…references the word "crow" as well, alluding to SAMCRO. Very tied into the show's tone.