Last week at around 9:59 p.m., I was frantically scrolling through the TV listings trying to remember what channel Showtime was on, because the last time I watched TV on an actual TV was like, a month ago. Besides making me feel hopelessly incompetent (I decidedly do not live up to my millennial reputation), live TV always makes me consider the title sequence (the same cannot be said for those awful Subway Halloween costume commercials). In this case, I stumbled onto Showtime (340!) just in time to catch “The Affair” ’s pretty, if not cliché, montage of enigmatic aquatic shots set to Fiona Apple’s “Container.”

As streaming continues to take over a larger share of viewing habits, the title sequence seems a relic of the old days when TV was an event you showed up for instead of expecting it show up to you. Indeed, it is an artistic conceit to think us millenials are actually listening to Regina Spektor’s “You’ve Got Time” 13 times in two days while we binge watch “Orange is the New Black.” Listen, Spektor, we’ve got time, but not for title sequences.

The same goes for Angelo Badalementi’s ethereal score in “Twin Peaks,” the kind of song that makes time unfold under the tranquil gaze of the namesake town — until that is, Cooper wakes up from a dream and maybe knows who murdered Laura, and suddenly we don’t have the patience to linger in Twin Peaks’ many bucolic charms.

For what is lost in streaming, live viewing restores to title sequence, at least if you are a better planner than I am and get there in time. The title sequence has a long cinematic history, first becoming popular in the late ’50s by graphic designers Saul Bass and Maurice Binder — Bass’s title sequence for “North by Northwest” is often cited as the earliest example, with its striking use of kinetic typography (moving text) and geometric rhythm. And Binder of course loaded the iconic gun barrel sequence that triggers all James Bond films with “Dr. No” in 1962 (though his laudable skill for including a harem’s worth of naked lady silhouettes without ever tipping the movies out of PG territory should not be discounted).

Cinema has continued its rich relationship with the title sequence since then, but only in the turn of the millennium, i.e. the dawn of Cable Glory, have TV title sequences inherited the across-the-board sophistication of their big screen counterparts. In 1999, a young network decided they needed a title sequence to wield some cinematic heft for their second original show, “The Sopranos.” Unlike the precursors of the ’90s, which usually recycled greatest hits type clips and set them to a big, recognizable song (think “Friends” and “Will & Grace”), “The Sopranos” used original footage and was free of anachronistic gimmicks like freeze frames or color manipulation.

It was deceptively simple, just Tony Soprano driving to his New Jersey home from New York while Alabama 3’s “Woke Up This Morning” played. But there is much beneath the surface: first it literally drives home the notion that New Jersey is Tony’s turf, not the concrete sprawl of the show’s predecessors it pays homage to (just look at “The Godfather”-esque logo). The camera also slices Tony into piece-y close-ups — showing his arm, then his chin and eyes, etc., which as the show developed, became a metaphor for the fragmentation of Tony’s identity.

“The Sopranos” ’s title sequence remained unchanged through its six season run, only removing a shot of the twin towers after 9/11 (which according to David Chase, was only to preserve narrative cohesion). Other shows, though, rely on a seasonal tinkering with opening sequence. Take, for example, “The Wire,” which varies its clips depending on which thematic bones it’s going to pick that season. Clips related to prostitution, the education system, police force, drug trade and other various institutions are tossed in its deck of cards and shuffled around.

A more modern example of this is “American Horror Story,” whose creepy title sequences have become one of the show’s crown jewels. Like “The Wire” ’s “Way Down in the Hole,” “AHS” keeps its own jolting score season to season (though for “Freak Show,” it got some carnival tweaking) but creates a different hodgepodge of the bizarre and the surreal that even Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí could envy. At least for viewing experience, “The Wire” and “AHS” types of sequences build on engagement — they’re an adjoining puzzle handed to the obsessive fandom for dissection and scrutiny.

Of course, now, I need to return to “The Sopranos” ’s sequence (and its ilk), which serves a distinctly different purpose. These sequences are visual epigrams, standalone notes that suggest theme rather than narrative. I think of “Six Feet Under” here, whose somber, sepia-hued shots of death play against a springy score. The montage splices together sacred and profane — a ritualistic shot of pair of hands washing themselves against a stark black background fades into a toe-tag on a corpse under a morgue’s harsh fluorescent light. The show itself is packed with the same kind of simultaneous mystification and demystification of death, with a handful of black comedy for good measure.

For original streaming, the consensus choice seems to be a subpar version of aforementioned epigraphic title sequence, perhaps because they understand even the most sophisticated opening loses its gloss four back-to-back episodes in (though the exact number is highly debated). Indeed, the title sequence tune out is an inevitable symptom for every binge watcher.

Look at “House of Cards,” for example, whose dull opening montage of Washington montages belies the show’s addictive mix of smart political intrigue and sexual politics — or perhaps Amazon’s “Transparent” ’s whose twinkling credits grow cloying by round two. The exception to this is Netflix’s under-watched “Lilyhammer” where spritely bag-piped theme song and interesting cinematography are a breath of crisp (Norwegian) air.

Regardless, writing this article constitutes the most attention I’ve ever spent on this as a form. While now increasingly relegated to fast-forward territory, consider the title sequence — the best television reveals a clockwork meticulousness that orders and drives it, and evaluation of such extends to its oft-overlooked opening.

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