The first decade of this millennium is frequently viewed as a renaissance for American television dramas.
The catalyst of this era, or at least the grandfather of it, was arguably HBO’s tremendous hit, “The Sopranos.” Premiering in 1999, “The Sopranos” set the formula for the modern TV drama that is still used today both on premium channels, like HBO and Showtime, and on basic cable.
With the creation of shows like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” as well as often under-appreciated series like “Deadwood” and “Carnivale,” HBO cemented itself at the start of the decade as the home of a new type of storytelling.
Suddenly, HBO wasn’t airing episodes per se, but rather 60-minute installments of a single cohesive story. They began to respect the viewer enough to present character arcs and plot lines that would take several episodes or even whole seasons to resolve. Once it was clear that TV audiences could appreciate a higher level of programming, basic cable threw its hat in the ring with outstanding shows on AMC and, to a lesser extent, FX. In short, television began to assert itself as a serious art form.
However, despite the innumerable improvements that television dramas have made over the last decade, I have found that one aspect gets all too frequently overlooked. Whether it is due to a finicky DVR or an itchy channel finger, I have found that people sometimes miss the end credits of their favorite TV dramas.
Don’t get me wrong, I know it might seem boring to read who the show’s “lead grip” was during production, but skipping the credits also skips the closing song of the episode. Shows like “Mad Men,” “Deadwood” and “Boardwalk Empire” use the closing credits to treat us to songs from their respective eras, further immersing us in the setting and giving us a greater understanding of the characters.
Just as we hear songs every day that speak to and connect with us emotionally, the closing credit songs remind us what tunes our beloved characters might have had stuck in their heads, whether they are from the 1960s or the 1860s.
As poignant as the last scene of any episode may be, it is always the final song that has the last word. Some shows take a straightforward approach to it, like the mournful singing of a heartbroken ’60s crooner after a sad episode of “Mad Men,” while other shows like “Breaking Bad” often feature surreal and sometimes folksy ballads that add layers of meaning to the events of the episode.
As one particular episode of “Breaking Bad” fades to black with one of the main characters on life support, the beep of the heart monitor is all that remains during the closing credits until it gradually shifts into a psychedelic remix of hospital sounds that drives home the unsettling nature of the scene.
These dramas are so rich with talent that even the sound department’s final song choice is a master stroke on the canvas of the episode.
If the modern drama is a work of art, then the closing credit song could be considered an epilogue. Just as a reading of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” would be incomplete without the inclusion of Puck’s famous epilogue speech, skipping the closing credits of your favorite TV show removes an entire level of complexity to the episode.
So the next time your TV fades to black, remember that in great storytelling, every minute counts, and the last two minutes are no exceptions.