The best shows captivate us from the very first episode.
Generally, pilots are used to introduce us to the show’s format, the characters, and the overall vibe. Some pilots are special, though. They stand out, even against the rest of the show. Sometimes the rest of the series can’t even compete with how well it started out.
These are some amazing pilots you might want to watch on repeat.
Well, life on the outside ain’t what it used to be!
Superjail! is a weird show. The creators are lucky they can ride on the coattails of Ren and Stimpy and South Park so that they may gross out and sicken their audience and still have an audience left. The characters are often hideous, like Alice. The intros are guaranteed to be violent. It’s something to be observed, for sure.
Unfortunately, the show got more and more coherent as time went on, and that was its downfall. It’s meant to be abstract, and when you take that away, you take away a very important component of the show.
The pilot was perfect in that way. It promised such a weird, interesting series. It was unique and bizarre and horrifying. It seemed to be made without a huge budget – the sound effects were generic sound bits, the animation was obviously hand-drawn, and the voices often seemed out-of-body, as if the best the sound guys could do was record the voices then slap them over the animation in a couple minutes. All these shortcomings worked, though. They let the Superjail! pilot come across haunting and strange.
Certainly, those ten minutes of pilot will leave your stomach queasy, between, the violence and the weird sound effects and the floating eyeballs.
Have fun trying to find it, though. It can be hard to come by unless you want to buy it off Amazon.
4. Breaking Bad
What makes Breaking Bad incredible is that it can be appreciated by your everyday TV viewer, but it can also be raved about by film students. There are a lot of ways and many different reasons to think it’s a spectacular show. Certainly, the pilot does a perfect job of displaying this.
The introduction, and the way the events of the episode unfold is beautiful, giving suspense, withholding information and giving it to us in tiny little bits. The audience feels for poor Mr. White, but easily sees his shortcomings. Viewers could easily list things they’d change about him, but he’s certainly a likable, intelligent guy. There’s a lot of set-up, and some things are resolved in that episode, and some aren’t, and some things seemed like they were resolved.
There are also a lot of artistic things the audience is introduced to. Anyone with a critical eye would pick up on tiny details in this show, and certain extremely subtle things are established. The colours that represent characters are my personal favourite : Skyler wears blue, Walter wears green, and Heisenberg is represented by the colour black.
The pilot is so well-choreographed, there’s so much on the line, and there’s so far for these characters to go. It’s dynamic and thrilling. It seems unlikely that anyone who’s seen it wasn’t glued to their seat.
3. Freaks and Geeks
Not a whole lot of people saw Freaks and Geeks the first time around, but it’s gained a cult following – enough to make the DVD boxed set overpriced, even if it comes with tons of goodies and extras.
The show’s relatable in ways that TV about teens wasn’t allowed to be – sex and drugs and dropping out of the Mathletes. They even touch upon mentally disabled students. Many real topics were dealt with, and many of the circumstances were taken from the writers’ actual high school experiences. It’s also renowned for perfectly encapsulating high school in the 80’s.
The pacing could be weird, often awkward, and the pilot lets audiences adapt to that while getting to know the characters and themes.
There’s also the moment where the protagonist, Lindsay, tells her brother, Sam about their grandmother’s final moments, which she witnessed. There are many striking moments throughout the show’s very short existence, but this very first instance is the most powerful. Throughout the episode people wonder what’s wrong with Lindsay, why she’s changed, and the revelation is haunting. It takes the show to another level, showing its dark, brutal side.
And it’ll never be that bad again. No other episode is quite as dramatic, there is never a moment quite so pivotal again (though surely there would have been if the story had been allowed to progress beyond that one season).
It’s this one incredible moment, as well as the way the writers were able to dictate its message, that made this simple pilot stand out so much.
2. The Simpsons
It was hard to decide what qualified as the first episode of The Simpsons – a Tracey Ullman sketch? The first full-length episode that aired? The first episode they had completed?
“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” is what will qualify for today, since it doesn’t really matter which of those episodes we look at. The point here is seeing just how far The Simpsons has come.
The beginnings were so humble for the show – crummy little drawings done last-minute by Groening, silly voice-acting, and loose animation. There was so, so much to that first episode, though. It’s the story of a family that loves each other no matter what, despite all their weird issues and failures. Some people may tell you that they’re still fans of The Simpsons, and that it’s not that bad in its 25th season, but nothing holds a candle to the original several seasons. After all, if Homer’s messed up on Marge all those times, is he really worth staying with? If Bart’s such a troubled kid, doesn’t the matter suddenly become serious? “Simpsons Roasting” is the furthest thing from what Simpsons episodes are now; it’s simply mind blowing to see how different the series has become.
What’s more, imagine how people felt, watching this for the first time back in ’89. This was a rude show, where the son is obnoxious and the father is an idiot – and it was a cartoon. Not only are our minds blown nowadays, re-watching it, but those who watched its premiere were surely confused, and possibly mortified. Swearing children, disobeying their parents, but not learning a nice, neat little life lesson from it, and all while being animated. This was not a show meant for kids, and it was going to take people a little while to understand that it was okay to watch it as an adult – but that you should probably only do that after the kids were tucked in bed.
“Nothing amazing ever happens here.”
FLCL – Fooly Cooly – Furi Curi – there are a lot of names for this anime. It’s weird enough that having multiple titles doesn’t come as a surprise.
In just six episodes, FLCL absolutely explodes in the audience’s face, giving life lessons about coming of age and the difference between sexual feelings and true affection, making phallic representations using robots that explode out of little boys’ heads, breaking into manga scenes and even parodying South Park at one point. It is a hurricane of a show, and it’s confusing to boot.
A series like this needs a literally perfect pilot to keep audiences hooked.
The pilot does an incredible job of giving a full explanation of this very bizarre show, and yet explaining nothing at all. The pacing is set, the slightly abnormal (in that there’s only one performing artist) soundtrack is put to use, the relationships between characters are revealed, and yet nothing’s truly explained. There’s a very small introduction of the where-and-when through the protagonist’s narration, and then it’s off to the races.
Of course, a person would be lucky to know what’s going on in FLCL after the fourth or fifth time they’ve watched it (though I find the manga explains a lot), but the pilot sets viewers up with as much of an understanding for the absurd show as a person’s ever going to get.
As long as you like the pilot, you’ll most likely get through the entire show in one to two sittings, because the entire three hours of the show are awesome.