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Best & Worst TV Pilot Episodes

post #1 of 65
Thread Starter 
All the talk of the flawed Dollhouse pilot got me thinking about how hard it is for a show to burst out of the gate with an amazing first episode. It seems that we often give poor pilots a pass since we know it takes a while for some shows to get their shit together, but there are a select few that deliver from the start. The question then becomes whether they can live up to their amazing pilots.

What are some of the best and worst pilot episodes you can think of?

Best: People deservedly heap a lot of praise on Lost for its wonderfully cinematic opener, but my favorite pilot of all time belongs to Alias. I can't imagine anyone watching that and not being immediately hooked on the show. It's fun, packed with some surprises, and brilliantly sets up the complicated premise of the series. I also love the way Abrams structured the script.

Other greats: Pushing Daisies, Battlestar Galactica, Spaced, Freaks & Geeks.

Worst: Veronica Mars is one of the rare shows that I ended up loving despite a rather crappy pilot. I'd also say The Office started off rather weak with an unimaginative remake of the British pilot. I'm sure there are numerous other shitty pilots I haven't seen, so get listing.
post #2 of 65
Best- The A-Team, Airwolf, Glen A. Larson's Battlestar Galactica

Worst-Ron D. Moore's...Battlestar Galactica, Galactica 1980, Roseanne
post #3 of 65
Good: The Shield. Sets up the characters not by following them through a routine story, or by showing us when they met, but by focusing on the worst day of their lives, the day on which their ultimate doom was assured. It took many years to get to the end of the end, but the beginning of the end was right there in episode one.

Bad: Six Feet Under. Lame jokes, inexplicable characterization, and a general messiness of style bring this pilot down in spite of a compelling story and some good acting. If you go back and watch this pilot now, it'll be obvious that this was before the show found its footing (which, IMO, was about episode six.) Even though that footing is somewhat based in the dreaded "quirk," it's still what held the Fischer's shenanigans together and served as a base for the later greatness, and the early episodes really hurt for the lack of it.
post #4 of 65
How can The A-Team be one of the best pilots? Dirk Benedict wasn't even Face yet. Outrageous.

The Shield and The Sopranos are a given.

Love the pilot for Miami Vice. Poor Jimmy Smits.

The one for Seinfeld, when it was The Seinfeld Chronicles, isn't too hot.
post #5 of 65
The West Wing had a great pilot as well.
post #6 of 65
Although I love the show, I remember being less than impressed by the pilot episode of The Wire.
post #7 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric Cordo View Post
Although I love the show, I remember being less than impressed by the pilot episode of The Wire.
Maybe, but the way The Wire works, the entire first season should be seen as the pilot.

I'd say Arrested Development had a damn impressive introduction. I've read its screenplay a couple of time recently, trying to figure out just how they done it. It's quick and efficient and so clever.

The Simpsons and South Park both started off weak, in pilot as well as first season (though I guess I didn't realize it at the time).
post #8 of 65
Arrested Development had a very sure hand on what kind of ship they were running right out of the gate. The characters and relationships were all pretty well lived-in, and it's damn funny. Although the show did continue to improve.

True Blood, I heard, got quiet good. But I don't know, because after sitting down three times to watch the pilot and getting bored/irritated, I gave up. The pilot for the Sarah Connor Chronicles dumped a big bucket of ice water all over my interest in that series.

EDIT: Damn you, Beageal
post #9 of 65
Best Pilot is definitely Lost. It was instantly addictive.

Another good one was Star Trek: The Next Generation. It not only had to be good but also convince Trekkies to give the show a shot.

I don't have any worst pilots per se but rather the whole idea of a backdoor pilot annoys me. Especially in regards to spinoffs. The one that comes to mind was that Cosby show episode that had the Huxtibles in it for all of 3 minutes and then we're stranded with these social worker fucks we know nothing about for the rest of the show.
post #10 of 65
Best: Lost, Twin Peaks, Arrested Development, Deadwood, Curb Your Enthusiasm,

Worst: Simpsons (really only because in comparison to the level the show ended up reaching, the pilot is crap), Fringe
post #11 of 65
Do you mean The Simpsons Christmas special? I wouldn't exactly call it great but it was a pretty solid start. The Tracy Ullman shorts were rough going though. Almost no relation to how the full show would develop.
post #12 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by dynamotv View Post
Do you mean The Simpsons Christmas special? I wouldn't exactly call it great but it was a pretty solid start. The Tracy Ullman shorts were rough going though. Almost no relation to how the full show would develop.
I really don't dig much of the first season at all, other than from a nostalgia/historical perspective. But again, it really doesn't deserve a title like "worst pilot." Sub par, maybe. Not "worst."
post #13 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeypants View Post
But again, it really doesn't deserve a title like "worst pilot."
What about the title Worst. Pilot. Ever.?

post #14 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by duke fleed View Post
Worst-Ron D. Moore's...Battlestar Galactica, Galactica 1980, Roseanne
If you're referring to the first episode of the Battlestar Galactica series and not the mini-series, I have call bullshit. "33" is one of the best episodes of the show to date, and set the bar very high for everything to come after it.
post #15 of 65
The miniseries was pretty damned good too.
post #16 of 65
Not to be a complete Sorkin whore, but I also thought the pilot for Studio 60 was very good. Hell, the opening segment had the best moment in the shows run.
post #17 of 65
The Sopranos and Twin Peaks are what immeadiately come to mind for best.
I don't know how anybody can say South Park had a weak pilot. Cartman Gets an Anal Probe is still one of my favorite episodes of that show.

Worst? That's a bit harder. I'm actually going to say Buffy, I remember it took up until about Episode 7 ("Angel") for the show to catch my interest and convince me to not just walk away from it.

Also I recently re-watched the Dawson's Creek pilot and spent most of the airtime trying to puncture my own ear drums. That's probably a case of it not aging well though.

EDIT: I can't believe I forgot The Shield for best.
post #18 of 65
Thread Starter 
The pilot for The Wire didn't give me much of a desire to continue with the show, though I know I should go back and give it another shot. It seems like a perfect example of why you can't judge a show from one episode.

Another good one: Breaking Bad.
post #19 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by nork View Post
If you're referring to the first episode of the Battlestar Galactica series and not the mini-series, I have call bullshit. "33" is one of the best episodes of the show to date, and set the bar very high for everything to come after it.
You just called bullshit on duke fleed. Lost's was no doubt the best in my mind. The first few episodes had some amazing lighting and camera work for a tv show before it settled into looking like a weekly show.

You have to keep in mind that the pilot cost like 10 million dollars and got the man who passed it though fired.
post #20 of 65
Yeah, I read about that in Desperate Networks. Interesting to read how JJ Abrams got involved with the project.
post #21 of 65
Scrubs also had a pilot where right off the bat everyone was comfortable in their characters, dynamics are set up, and it sells the show's central conciet--JD and his inner monologue/daydreams--stuff normal sitcoms take half a season to really get strong on. Plus, the moment I got sold on the entire show for life:

Elliot: I bet I can guess what you're thinking.
J.D.'s Thought: Your ass looks like two Pringles hugging.
J.D.: No you can't.

That, and the thrill of the very first Dr. Cox ass whipping. That's when you knew this show was onto something special.
post #22 of 65
The Shield, you know a pilot is awesome when it ends with the protagonist popping one in a fellow cop.
post #23 of 65
Futurama came out of the gate almost fully formed. Watching the first episode now, it's comparable to their best, with none of the uncomfortable settling in that The Simpsons had to do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dynamotv View Post
Another good one was Star Trek: The Next Generation. It not only had to be good but also convince Trekkies to give the show a shot.
Oh lord, are you serious? That was my candidate for worst. Not just one of the worst pilots I've ever seen, but one of the worst single episodes of anything ever. Just absolutely, painfully godawful in practically every department. If it hadn't been called "Star Trek", it never would have survived that first episode. And how do you imagine that Trekkies had to be convinced, anyway? They'd have watched an hour a week of an emergency broadcast signal if the words "Star Trek" were scrolling across the bottom of the screen. And you can argue that point if you like, but I'm proven correct by the fact that they kept watching that dreck no matter how bad it got.
post #24 of 65

Global Frequency

I quite enjoyed the "Global Frequency" pilot. Pity it didn't go past that point.
post #25 of 65
Yeah, pretty much nothing good came out of the first season of TNG. It's a prime candidate for how a series can get better later on in life, but that pilot is embarrassing. Not even Stewert could figure out what tone they were going for.
post #26 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg David View Post
Futurama came out of the gate almost fully formed. Watching the first episode now, it's comparable to their best, with none of the uncomfortable settling in that The Simpsons had to do.
What's even better is how they managed to keep going back to that first episode and revealing things that were there all along (like Nibbler's shadow under the desk), so you can actually re-watch the pilot and find it funny on a whole other level from the first viewing.
post #27 of 65
Yeah, even though it eventually went on to be a fairly great series after the abysmal Season Two, the TNG pilot is painfully bad, especially when you go watch it now, knowing how the series evolved.

TWIN PEAKS is probably the most mind-blowingly amazing pilot I've ever seen. If only the series that followed had maintained that level of quality.
post #28 of 65
Yeah Twin Peaks is the hands down winner in the Best Pilot Ever contest. There was no way in heaven or hell that you could not watch what followed that one.
Beautiful stuff. The first twenty minutes or so is greatness.
Second the vote for Breaking Bad, a property I feel doesn't get anywhere near the love it deserves. Best new show of the last few years for me.
The Heat Vision and Jack pilot was fucking gold but I'm kinda glad it never went further than the pilot; cant really imagine that one working any further than just a one off joke to be honest.
post #29 of 65
Lost, Arrested Development, the Shield...just like everyone else says.

Studio 60 really made me love the show. Then the rest of the series destroyed that hope.

Rescue Me sold me from the first episode. Freaks and Geeks has a damn fine pilot. I knew I would be there weekly after Burn Notice's pilot.

As much as I love the Wire, that first episode is rough. I don't know if it counts, but the miniseries for the current Battlestar Galactica, while not terrible, is super long and a bit of a chore to get through. However, the first episode is great. The American Office's first ep. was weak, but that could be because I'd seen the Brit version.
post #30 of 65
Definitely agree with the US Office pilot. Pretty much verbatim of the British one really didn't work. And yeah, Seinfeld was dodgy but I'd say most of the first season for that is quite spotty overall anyway.

Aside from Baldwin's dramatic entrance, I didn't laugh much at the 30 rock pilot. Really didn't like Jenna and Tracey in it and I was only watching for Fey and Baldwin till about the third episode when everything starting clicking for me. Kinda the same thing with Curb your Enthusiasm and Larry Sanders for me though.

Entourage had an appalling pilot. I just wanted to fucking slap the lot of them.
post #31 of 65
One not yet mentioned: Garth Marenghi's DarkPlace. Amazing pilot, and best episode of the season.
post #32 of 65
Although it's pilot wasn't bad per say, 30 Rock definitely started off a bit..."Meh."
post #33 of 65
It's already been mentioned, but the premier of "Deadwood" was aces. Such an amazing introduction to the characters and this lawless mining town.
post #34 of 65
'NYPD Blue' had a great pilot episode. It did a great job of introducing the main characters and setting up their initial dynamics. The ending was fantastic.
post #35 of 65
Moltisanti, I hate to break it to you, but...The Expendables has some similarities to the pilot ep of...The A-Team. The Expendables has Mercs trying to take down a South American dictator...while in The A-Team...Mercs try to rescue an American Reporter while trying to take down a Mexican dictator and a drug lord. While It is true that Dirk Benedict is far superior to Tim Dunigan as...Face, the pilot was brilliant in it's depiction of The A-Team's colorful leader...John "Hannibal" Smith.
post #36 of 65
The West Wing was the one I would have mentioned, glad to see someone already did. Seemed like every characters was pitch perfect from the start. And Bartlett's introduction may be one of the best ever in television.
post #37 of 65
Cheers was pretty much greatness right out of the gate.

The early MST3K episodes have growing pains. It doesn't really catch fire until the second season.
post #38 of 65
I really love the pilot for the UK version of Life On Mars. The characters are set-up right from the beginning, both the case-of-the-week and the show's overall arc were dealt with really well, and there's Bowie. LoM was a show I never thought I'd like, but it's now one of my favorite series.

The US version's pilot isn't bad, either.
post #39 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ratty View Post
The early MST3K episodes have growing pains. It doesn't really catch fire until the second season.
Did you ever see the really early episodes? The ones that were produced for local MN television are REALLY raw compared to the first syndicated season.
post #40 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ratty View Post
The early MST3K episodes have growing pains. It doesn't really catch fire until the second season.
You talking about the first Comedy Channel season or the very first season on KTMA? The KTMA ones can be a little rough.

EDIT: Booth, outta my head!
post #41 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Dickson View Post
EDIT: Booth, outta my head!
'Being Richard Dickson'
post #42 of 65
I remember being incredibly impressed with The 4400 but quickly losing interest after the pilot.

Bad pilot? another vote for the Simpsons as well.. I was firmly convinced during the first season that it was a "one good joke a show" series.

I guess MacGyver has to get thrown under the bus too, because he like shoots a gun and stuff. OMG!
post #43 of 65
The worst pilot I've seen recently is the one for Leverage on TNT. I guffawed for an hour. In that sense, it may be one of the best comedy pilots I've ever seen.

Otherwise, the usual suspects for best: Deadwood (I made a point to buy the box set based on that first episode), Lost, Freaks/Geeks, AD

And while The Wire's first episode might not be the best ep of the series, it's nowhere near the worst anything.

The first season of The Simpsons is different from the way the show is now, but it's still damn funny. I personally miss the more touching family moments.

The early episodes of Seinfeld are sort of painful and terrible, but it certainly got better. I wish they'd go back and retroactively cut out all of the standup clips, however.
post #44 of 65
One of the best, Homicide: Life on the Street
post #45 of 65
Not necessarily of the same rank as shows like "The Sopranos" or "Lost" or "Deadwood", but "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" had a great first episode: "The Gang Gets Racist".
post #46 of 65
I imagine it's easier to name great drama pilots rather than comedy pilots because the rhythem isn't quite down.

Although Arrested Development's pilot pretty much laid out how things were going to go.

And ER had a fantastic pilot at the time.
post #47 of 65
I thoroughly enjoyed the Friday Night Lights pilot. I loved how it was essentially the first half of the movie in 40 minutes but hit all the right moments and set up pretty much the entire first season.

Twin Peaks has a spectacular opener, just fifthing that one.
post #48 of 65
"The Facts of Life". Despite no Jo Polniaczek in the pilot, twas here with these golden girls primetime television blossomed. (little cutie Molly Ringwald makes up for a lot and Oh, how we loved to hate Blair) Sure, the show got bigger and bigger as it went along, teaching a generation how to 'take the good and take the bad...", but the magic was there from the start.

Worst: "Silver Spoons"-take your silver sppoon and stick it, Ricky! Discreet charms of the bourgeoisie my ass!

Honorable Mention: "Homicide: Life On The Street"/"ER" (Thanks, Ed!)

*"The Simpsons" was great from the start. I love how Homer was basically Walter Matthau
post #49 of 65
'Married: With Children' got off to a great start. The first season, when Al was still pissed off at everything, is still the best.
post #50 of 65
It's been said already, but yeah, the BSG miniseries is a bit rough, and contains a lot of elements the writers probably wish they hadn't been stuck with (glowing spines, anyone?) It also looks different from the show--the lights are brighter and everything's less murky. However, "33" is brilliant.

I think the pilot, and the whole first season, of Buffy gets a bad rap. No, it hasn't started to do the cool multi-part arc stuff that made it great, but the characters, banter, and clever riffs on the high school experience are all in place. Also, the production values--stunt work and special effects especially--are at a significantly higher level in the first two seasons of Buffy than later on.
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