The 10 Best TV Title Sequences Of The 21st Century

The Americans

The Americans

Jarring if thematically rich, the opening titles to The Americans are focused on comparing and contrasting the American lifestyle with the Soviet one. The hysteria of the Cold War is present in the chilly, disorienting strings that sound like something out of a Bernard Herrmann score.

For those unfamiliar with FX’s terrific and underrated spy drama, The Americans could seem at first glance as a way to mash up the period detail of Mad Men with Homeland’s spy paranoia. The series focuses on Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys), a seemingly ordinary married couple with two kids. However, they are actually a pair of KGB spies sent from their homeland to take the guise of Americans in order to serve the USSR.

That shifting identity comes through in the brisk opening credits. (I have included a slowed down version of them below, so that you can inspect them with a closer eye.) Even though the USA and the USSR were enemies during this tense period, there are a lot of similarities between the countries, from the national colors to advertisements and posters. Look closely and you will see two men with large beards in this collage: Santa Claus and Karl Marx. The nations’ love of space exploration, fast cars and entertainment are all uniting factors – yet these two were pitted against each other.

The opening uses iconography that can easily be split into categories of American, Russian or both. A split-screen with Russian leaders, monuments and buildings on one half with a U.S. comparison on the other shows how closely both countries are mirrors of each other to a certain extent. (Atop this, the names of the actors in English redact the Soviet translation.) Meanwhile, ending off the sequence with an explosion indicates how this caustic relationship could have ended.