We all have our favorite and least favorite tropes. From love triangles to slow burns, tropes are often the best ways to showcase great characters and storylines. They can also be frustrating and make you question why it is even a trope at all. In this bi-weekly column, we’ll take a deep dive into some of the most classic television tropes.
We’ve all experienced it.
You get home from work after a long day and can finally watch some television. The problem is you have no idea what to watch. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend too much time scrolling through Netflix or Hulu than actually watching a show. Maybe you choose a show that everyone has been talking about. Or maybe it’s a show you’ve been aching to rewatch after not seeing it for a while. No matter the choice, the next eventual step is watching the show’s pilot episode.
Now, technically this isn’t a television trope as it is literally in every single television show. But series pilots, to me, have always been one of the most fascinating aspects of a television show. So much is at stake in one single episode of television.
Theoretically, a pilot of a show must be good to entice a viewer to continue to keep watching the show. This is especially true knowing that most television show go through what is known as “pilot season” in order to become an actual series that gets shown on air. Pilot season essentially means that every show shoots a pilot before continuing with the rest of the season. That pilot then gets shopped, before it lands a season pick-up.
This process alone must mean that every pilot of a television show is good, right? Otherwise, the show would have never been made. Oh, but how wrong that assumption can be.
As I said, I love pilots. It’s probably the episode of a series I have seen the most of. Perhaps it is just because I love seeing where everyone starts off and compare it to where they are in the current season/episode of the show. Watching the pilot of One Tree Hill, for example, gets me so emotional when I take into account how far Nathan, Haley, Lucas, and Peyton came, compared to where they initially started.
This sort of comparison can become very sad when watching the pilot of The Walking Dead knowing that Rick and Morgan are the only two in that pilot still alive in the universe. I’m sure the same can be said for Game of Thrones, and other shows that have lost many characters along the way.
When the pilot of a show is good, it can really set the trajectory for how the series will be perceived. I remember when This Is Us first premiered in 2016, it was all the buzz. I mean, if there were still water coolers in offices, This Is Us would be what everyone would talk about when they were trying to get away from their work responsibilities.
I actually just rewatched the pilot of This Is Us the other day and it reinforced the hype that has surrounded that show since it premiered. That pilot was fantastic, not just because of the jaw-dropping twist at the end, but because from start to finish it kept your eyes on the screen. It was emotional (as everyone episode of This Is Us is) and set the tone for the rest of the series.
But here’s the thing, just because you have a great pilot does not mean that the rest of the season is necessarily going to be great. The pilot of This Is Us was great, but what made that show a big success was that each episode from then on delivered just as powerful a punch the pilot did, which reeled everyone in.
There are a bunch of shows that I have watched the pilot and a few episodes after and haven’t been very satisfied in my watching but also not dissatisfied enough to stop watching. The pilot of The 100 was beyond cheesy and even the executive producer of the show has said that it took a few episodes of the show before they were really able to find their groove. Emily Andras of Wynonna Earp has said essentially the same thing.
These two shows, sure don’t have the strongest pilots, but they also happen to be two of my favorite shows. I must’ve have liked their pilots enough to keep watching, as I have quit shows not even ten minutes into a pilot if I wasn’t interested.
I will admit that compared to the back half of season 1, the first few episodes of Wynonna Earp are alright. The same goes for The 100. But these pilots had their merits because they were able to, within an hour, introduce us to the wonderful worlds we became so engrossed in for seasons.
On the flip side, series pilots can sometimes be considered the best episode of a series. The pilot for Lost (part one and two) is often regarded as one of the best episodes in television history. Actually, if you look at any list of the top television shows of the decade as many outlets are sharing those these days, most of those shows have very strong pilots. But strong pilots aren’t great pilots.
Shows that are given straight to series order (meaning they skip the whole pilot season throw-down and go straight into popping out a season) sometimes don’t have the greatest pilot episodes ever, but are still critical darlings. Typically, these are cable or streaming shows which I often find to have good pilots but not the best. It’s those pilots that flow very well with the next couple episodes but aren’t necessarily a standout episode themselves.
I just watched the first season of The Crown. While excellent television with fantastic performances and writing, it’s not like the pilot of the show particularly stood out. It paced very well with the following episodes, but it also didn’t have me completely captivated either. I could just blame this on Netflix, seeing as they usually do straight to series orders, but one of their very first series that was given a straight to series order was Orange Is the New Black and I loved that pilot. Nearly a perfect hour of television, if you ask me.
While I’m sad that the 2010s are coming to a close, I at least can appreciate all the brilliant pilot episodes of television it gave us. Friday Night Lights, The OC, Grey’s Anatomy, Pretty Little Liars (this is a great pilot okay), and even Glee’s pilot had me choked up when they started singing “Don’t Stop Believing” at the end.
Though apart from This Is Us, I can’t really say that many shows recently have come out with amazing pilots. There’s also a bunch of television I have yet to see and hopefully, when I do, their pilots will be the force that drives me to stick with the show.
What about you? What’s your favorite Pilot in television? Share with us in the comments below!