The 10 Cheesiest Sitcom Intros of All Time

This is something I’ve had kicking around for awhile. Those who know me would likely say three things about me. 1) I need to get some new clothes. 2) I’m not exactly balding, but the future prospects don’t look good. And 3) I love sitcom intros and theme songs. More importantly, I like cheesy, objectively terrible sitcom intros. Show me a new one I haven’t seen and I’ll react like a 12 year old girl seeing Justin Whatsis at the Mall. I can watch them on YouTube for hours. And of course, I minored in Sitcommery at Columbia, with a concentration in theme songs. So if anyone’s going to make a list of this sort, it should be me.

First, you should watch Strong Bad tackle the dilemma of sitcom themes here. I have to admit I have cheated a little. Here are my rules: Firstly, nothing from the 70s. Not being alive hindered my ability to keep on top of TV then, but from what I’ve seen on YouTube, it wouldn’t be fair to the other decades to include the 70s. Too cheesy. Secondly, I tried very hard to not allow my feelings towards the show affect my feelings towards the intro, but hey, nobody’s perfect. Thirdly, songs and visuals count equally. We may no longer be living in the golden age of sitcom intros, but they were really important for awhile. With that intro, join me after the jump for my picks for 10 cheesiest intros of all time, along with way too many words for a blog post of YouTube videos. Warning! Due to the vagaries of YouTube, the volume of these embedded videos varies greatly from one to another. Be careful!

10. Perfect Strangers

Here we are at number 10, and already we see a few of my hallmarks of a cheesy intro. The song is absurdly inspirational for a sitcom. Let’s be honest: this is a show about two guys living fairly comfortably getting into kooky mishaps that may or may not involve the Chicago Cubs. “Standing tall, on the wings of my dreams”? “Gives every dark street a light at the end”? If you squint and pretend Bronson Pinchot is actually Jesus, it could be a Christian soft rock song. The funny hijinks are not funny, by and large. Oh look, they can’t figure out a revolving door. Hilarity… On the other hand, the “America or Burst” gag is pretty good. The song isn’t as sickeningly sweet as some of the others on the list. Of course, shots of laughing actors with their names underneath their smiling faces is a sure sign you’re in for 22 minutes of hackery.

9. The Facts of Life

This one starts off on the wrong foot. Everyone hugging, laughing, looking at the camera. Stop trying to pretend you’re having fun, ladies. I’m not convinced. Also, if your characters are one dimensional enough that you can learn everything you need to know about them just from watching a 45-second intro, you may need to add some depth. Watching that intro, we already know this: There’s the motherly character, the rich preppy airhead, the tomboy, the fat goofy girl, and the cute black girl. As someone who only has the passingest of passing familiarities with this show, I can confirm that it really is that shallow. To drive home the point, we see several shots of the girls “at each other’s throats” in that uniquely sitcom way, where whatever problem they have can be sorted in half an hour. I don’t mind the kooky intro scenes, as long as they actually come from the show itself rather than an afternoon in a park with a camera. To be honest, I don’t think this theme song is that bad, since it’s mercifully short and only boilerplate corny, rather than imaginatively corny. But if you were worried a challenging thought might come from a show about teenage girls living together and learning the facts of life, don’t worry. As you can see, the tomboy will become a real lady at some point, by donning the ugliest dress in television history. No hints of lesbianism here, Moms! We promise! Only good ol’ fashioned girl problems.

8. Friends

Well, I have a feeling I’ve lost a few of you with this choice. But hear me out…

Look at them frollicking in a fountain, playing with umbrellas, dancing together. What fun they must be having! One of my tests for how cheesy an intro is is the ratio of staged goofiness filmed explicitly for the intro vs. scenes from the actual show. The higher it is, the cheesier it is. I don’t need to see these unrealistically attractive people splashing each other to know they’re friends. You already tipped me off when you called the show “Friends.” These outfit-coordinated shenanigans just make me feel like I’m wasting my time watching this intro.

And the song, oh the song… The fact it was popular enough to make the charts and get played on the radio says more about the mid-90s than about the song itself. Yes, there is a guitar being played, and the drums sound real, but let’s be honest. This song is just as cheesy as any on this list. I’ll be there for you, when the rain starts to fall (with an umbrella, presumably). I’ll be there for you, like I’ve been there before. These are meaningless cliches set to a catchy beat. But if anything defines popular music…

But for me, the worst part about this intro is the fact that it exists. Seinfeld proved once and for all that you don’t need an intro for your sitcom. Put the actors names on the bottom of the first scene and be done with it. You’re wasting the viewers’ time by introducing characters we already know. Any cuteness from the first viewing is leeched out over time, and by the 7th time you watch the show, you’re trying to time it so you miss the damn thing to avoid getting the song stuck in your head. It was supposed to by hip and fresh, but it aged just as fast as all these 1980s intros. There’s nothing groundbreaking or new. It’s just campy pointlessness. That said, at least it was slightly interesting for its time. And it’s not trying be soaring or uplifting. Just cutesy. And it does that aggravatingly well.

7. Growing Pains

Let me just say this up front: if this list was based on theme songs alone, I’m pretty sure this would be in the top three, if not the top of the list. This is the Platonic Ideal of cheesy sitcom theme songs. It’s uplifting in that family sitcom-y “life is shit once you have kids, but our once-a-month sex life and bimonthly nights out will stave off the Kirkegaardian sense of dread that comes with the alarm clock every morning.” Anytime you jump straight into “Show me that smile…again,” without even a hook to draw us in, you know you’re dealing with some serious parenting for the next half an hour.

That said, I actually think the intro itself is pretty good. The pictures through the years thing is cheesy, sure. But it’s not generic. It fits with the supposed theme of the show well, and it mixes well with the character intros and actor names. Yes, they start off posing and smiling in front of their house, but the cut scenes are from the show and not bad at all. But all good things must come to an end, and this may be the cheesiest ending to an intro ever. The family hilariously runs away for some reason, leaving poor, beleaguered dad Alan Thicke to mug for the cameras by himself for several seconds too long. “Isn’t my family wacky? God love ’em!” he must be thinking. Meanwhile, I just remembered I needed to go drive those nails into my skull.

6. Charles in Charge

It’s only the fifth intro, and already I’m starting to have trouble keeping them all apart. Charles in Charge is the first one on the list to break the rule “don’t sing about the show.” We also get the deliciously creepy line “I want Charles in charge of me” repeated multiple times, over shots of several underage girls. It’s not even subliminally creepy. The entire opening has sort of a dirty feel to it. Willie Aames looks like he’s having a good time, but it’s out of place. Scott Baio’s creepy half smile drives me crazy every time I see it. I guess he’s trying not to be as cheesy as the “full-grin, look down at your title” intro, but he just comes off looking wooden. The fun zaniness doesn’t even seem all that fun. It’s like Charles is in charge of teaching the family how to mail it in. We also see the first instance of that old chestnut, the fun, wise, old person. He’s kooky, but I bet he’ll teach the family a thing or two! Let’s tune in and find out what!

And can someone explain the 80s sitcom obsession with families posing together for some unseen photographer or painter (not to give anything away…)? It just looks uncomfortable. Then we see Scott break out his dead half-smile again while everyone else pretends to have fun, um, posing. How did people not realize how ridiculous this trend was? Did the producers not think we would get that it was a family unless they were all seen together at least once before the show started?

5. Family Ties

Yep, there’s someone actually painting a portrait of the family. At least it’s unique, I guess. The theme song is a wonderfully cheesy duet. And when they say “kiss” in the song, what do they show? Yep, there they are, actually kissing. Fan-tastic. This theme song is almost exactly like the one from Growing Pains, except it’s a little more subdued. The message is still the same though. As if it could be hard parenting a kid who goes back in time and a girl whose brother eventually takes over a family real estate business.

But if one word could some up this intro it’s this: Hugging. The amount of hugging in this intro is dangerously high. Affectionate is one thing, but this is just too much. 90% of the non-painting parts are shots of people hugging. They barely even have time for hijinks. I suppose shows like this are supposed to be more uplifting than something like Friends or Perfect Strangers, but I don’t think real families spend all day hugging. The painting is actually a cute way around the smiling at the camera silliness. Instead, we get to stare into the creepy, dead-eyed, unblinking representation of the family smiling like a group of zombies trying to sell you a car. The fact that this intro, with all the hugging and the overserious song and the zombie painting is only number five is just a testament to how cheesy sitcom intros can get. And in fact, the last four make the list so far look like Arrested Development crossed with All in the Family crossed with Seinfeld.

4. Who’s the Boss

This is one of my favorite intros of all time. I think this is the perfect amount of cheesiness in an intro. Any more and it gets painful. The theme song contains all the ridiculously hyperbolic schmaltz of Perfect Strangers, except the guy singing it doesn’t have his heart into it all. He almost mumbles through it. “There were times, I lost a dream or two. Found a trail, and at the end was you.” It doesn’t get much cheesier than that. They aren’t even connected thoughts. It’s a weaponized level of cliches we’re dealing with here. And how much of a chance are you taking by going to live in a middle class suburb, exactly?

While this amazing song is playing, we get to see Tony Danza with no shirt, vacuuming the drapes, changing a kid’s shirt quickly, and smiling a lot. Couple that with Judith Light buttoned up unnaturally, showing less skin than a Mormon in an igloo, and Mona, the wacky friend who’s not all that wacky, and you have a recipe for a sitcom intro that takes the “com” part out, conks it on the head with a small statue, stuffs it in a box, and throws it off a bridge. I’ve probably seen 2 episodes of Who’s the Boss, and I have no desire to ever watch it again. But I could go over the nuances of the intro for hours. Like at the end, when Tony and Judith are hugging and spinning, but uh-oh! Here come the kids, better not show affection! I wonder if 99% of the series will consist of uncomfortably sterile sexual tension? Or Tony Danza’s goofy face when he hugs Mona. Or when Tony and Judith put their feet on the coffee table at the same time. It’s like it was made by aliens whose only interaction with human beings came from old sitcoms intros, so they made a sitcom intro consisting of stereotypes from other sitcom intros. Add in two reliably mute, somewhat adorable children, and serve with a frontal lobotomy. 8 seasons and 126 episodes!

3. Full House

First of all, I apologize for forcing you to watch the full intro. That song was grating when they played the 25-second version in the later seasons. We have officially crossed the line from charmingly cheesy to hellishly cheesy. Two things apparently changed from circa 1988 to circa 1991: First, instead of making theme songs about how great the present is and the future will be, you had to make theme songs about how great the past was. “Whatever happened to predictability? The milkman, the paperboy, and evening TV?” I hate family sitcoms, but I especially hate family sitcoms that suggest that somewhere in our past is a time when families were stuck together like glue and moral fiber ran up and down this great nation from small town to small town. Unlike Who’s the Boss, where the singer didn’t seem all that married to starting a brand new life around the bend, ol’ gravelly voice really does believe that everywhere you look, there’s a heart (there’s a heart), and a hand to hold on to. Honestly, I want to punch him in the throat. The backup singers are just the icing on the cake. The lilting “aaaaahs” and “oooooohhs” are just ridiculous.

Secondly, these shows have to be completely relatable. So instead of actually setting the show in a city, it’s ok to just show one or two well known landmarks to set the tone, then pretend it takes place in Anytownston City, USA of Americaville. Perfect Strangers took place in Chicago, and you knew it from the intro. It may have been cheesy, but it was really the city. They’re interacting with landmarks, getting windswept, etc. Full House takes place in a San Francisco that never existed. We see the bridge and a streetcar, so we know that’s where it’s supposed to be, but it’s been scrubbed clean of all the things that make it unique. After all, we don’t want the family viewers upset by Gay Pride parades and marijuana and Nancy Pelosi.

The intro combines everything bad about sitcom intros. Smiling, shaking their heads at the camera, as if it just caught them in the middle of doing something. I guess it’s supposed to have a home movie feel to it, but it’s so polished it just comes off as uncomfortable. There’s planned wackiness, which I mentioned I hate, but this wackiness isn’t even wacky. It’s just people walking, playing soccer, driving. It’s mundane zaniness. The whole intro is so overdone that the cheesiness just explodes out of the screen. It’s hi-def cheesy.

2. Family Matters

Honestly, I originally thought this would be number 1. I mean, this is just ridiculous. The characters don’t even pretend to live in Chicago. We get a 2 second skyline shot and that’s it. The character intros are too inane to describe. Every single one of them looks at the camera and smiles. And they do it in a way that doesn’t even look like they were surprised. It’s like robots are doing it instead of actors. And of course they’re doing something to “characterize” them so as to make them as generic as possible. Dad is coming down to read the paper, Mom is standing up from a piano, Grandma is reading Rolling Stone (wacky old person alert!), Son is cleaning his car, Daughter is working in candy shop (maybe? I have no idea what it is. It could be a 1930s soda fountain), cute kids being cute, Urkel, and Auntie in an empty restaurant bringing a menu to an empty table. Each of the shots lasts just a fraction of a second too long, making it seems like it lasts 30 minutes. It’s no wonder Urkel was the most popular character. He’s the only one not from the mail-order sitcom family catalog. I swear, when the Son looks up from wiping the car and stares vacantly at a spot two inches behind the camera for an awkwardly long time with that dopey grin on his face, I lose it. You can see him counting the seconds before he looks up.

And maybe I’m reading too much into this, but the fact that a sitcom about a Black family has a theme song that talks about how it’s so rare nowadays for there to be any good news on the newspaper page is hilarious to me. With the white families, at least some horribly deluded people really believe there was a magical time when everyone lived like the Cleavers. I don’t know if anybody really thinks about the old days in the Black community the same way. I don’t think I would watch an episode where Carl and Urkel are set upon by police dogs for using the wrong water fountain. Other than that glaring abnormality, the theme song is just schlock, same as Full House. Families stick together, we’ll make it with love, towers of dreams, etc. It’s lofty, cheesy garbage. I think it’s even sung by the same guy as Full House. But a spicy undercurrent of racial ignorance bumps it over the top for me.

1. Step by Step

Oh. God. I can’t tell if this intro is trying to hide the fact that the show is a Brady Bunch knockoff set in Wisconsin or if it’s celebrating that fact. From the moment Patrick Duffy shakes his head and smiles at those darn kids of his, it’s on. Suzanne Somers sighs and smiles at the camera, looking like she was constructed in a Sitcom Mom factory. Of course tangerine blazers are proper attire for a theme park, Mom! Then we get to see the kids “having” “fun” at the park. The funny thing is, the characters were rigidly stereotyped on the show (the feminist, the chauvinist, the ditz, the nerd, etc.), but in the intro they are 100% generic. All we know is they enjoy smiling, giggling, and staring off in the distance or right at the camera while shaking their heads. Supposedly, they’re having fun. I don’t buy it. It’s a trap. There’s no way I’m going to have as much fun watching this show as they’re pretending to have at that theme park. Just judging from this intro, I think this family hates each other. I feel no affection at all.

And the song, oh the song. It’s weird. It’s sort of generically specific. We know it’s about second chances, and the show is about second families, but then it’s also about the same stuff as every other song. Except this time a gravelly voiced woman blurts out a few choice lines. It’s just ridiculous. The whole ordeal is punctuated by the bell ringing in the middle, which is just slightly off from when it happens on the screen. We don’t even know if the family is on the roller coaster together. It’s just a generic roller coaster. Plus, they haven’t exactly been hanging out together to that point. They haven’t had any shenanigans together. Maybe they need an 80s-style family portrait.

There you have it. The cheesiest sitcom intros ever. Someday, maybe I’ll write about what I think makes a good intro. In the meantime, why not listen to a swing medley of a few of these, as performed by Brian and Stewie Griffin?

4 Responses to “The 10 Cheesiest Sitcom Intros of All Time”

  1. Haha, I hadn’t watched these in a while and forgot how painfully cheesy a lot of these are. I was against you when you brought up Friends, but after watching it again, I’d have to agree. Your list goes crazy below #5, though. I thought Family Ties was way cheesier than anything else on there. C’mon, the fact that the family is being painted as the sitcom is progressing automatically increases the cheesiness by a factor of like 10.

    • fieldingmellish Says:

      Believe me, I wrestled with Family Ties for awhile before putting it at number five. In the end, the parts between the painting pushed it down for me. At least it’s unique, even if it is ridiculous. And the song is way better than the 4 above it. But it certainly belongs in the discussion.

  2. Susan Larson-Murphy Says:

    I listened and read and CHEESY, yes cheesy really does sums it up. Beware future song writers, this is what happens to you when you caught throw a hero up the pop charts! But what struck me was Johnny Mathais was singing the Family Ties theme song. Sad to think that is how he ended his career.

  3. marianne larson Says:

    very cute. but you left off the classic “Mary Tyler Moore Show where she tosses her hat in the air because she’s “gonna make it after all.”

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