Day 27 - Best pilot episode
Ah, pilot episodes. They have to introduce a new ensemble of characters, deliver enough of a good story to get you hooked with the promise of more to come, and are usually written without the writer knowing which actors will pay the parts, and whether or not the proposed series is actually going to get even one season, let alone several. I have some favourite shows with pilots that make me cringe when I revisit them, shows with pilots that I would never use to catch a newbie, where I in fact recommend the newbie in question should not watch the pilot until she or he has clocked a season or several and is already a fan. (Pilots that fall into this category include: the original B5 pilot The Gathering
, which isn't even on the s1 dvds for a reason, the ST: TNG pilot *CRINGE TO THE MAX*.)
And then there are the good pilots: not as good as the shows are going to get later (and since shows improving are better than shows declining, that's a virtue), but already full of promise, doing an excellent job of intriguing you and introducing the cast. Some of the characterisation might not completely fit with the later shows because they're a work in progress, after all, and usually you can tell that the writing and the actors adjust to each other over the course of the first season and the characters might change somewhat accordingly. (For example: the Buffy The Vampire Slayer
pilot does a good job of setting up the show, but there are continuity gaps if you go back to it after having actually watched the entire series and its spin-off: notably regarding Jesse, who gets introduced as Xander's and Willow's best friend who shared their childhood and adolescence and never gets mentioned again, but also with the Darla characterisation - not just the personality, but that she doesn't appear to know about Slayers - which is hard to reconcile with Darla as presented later. Or: Alias
has a great pilot, certainly for my money the best of any J.J. Abrams show, Sydney's personality and her central dilemma are there from the get go, ditto for Jack Bristow, but you can tell Abrams hadn't yet worked out the length of the backstory between Arvin Sloane and the Bristows yet.)
...and every now and then, a pilot is so good that it does not only do its exposition delivering, audience wooing job but holds up when revisited years later even compared to the glories to come, not because the show never improved but because the characterisation was certain from the get go and some threads were developed so well that new details, suddenly looking like foreshawing, may emerge. Three of the best pilots that come immediately to mind for me are:
a) The one for Dexter
: which had the considerable task of selling you on the "main character is a serial killer of serial killers" premise while also selling you on the fact his sister, girlfriend and workplace colleagues all are unaware of this without making them morons, deliver a solved case and set up the season long case to boot. It managed all of this, used the Miami location well, has lots of good acting and has no moment where in retrospect you think, okay, that doesn't fit with what we find out later. I may be critical of the show post s4, but that doesn't mean I don't still appreciate what it used to be, and that pilot is fantastic.
b) The one for Six Feet Under
: meet the Fishers (and Brenda Chenowith). About the only thing that the show later ditched completely were the fake commercials for undertaker products. Otherwise, we get a great introduction to the cast here, the death of Nathaniel Sr. which kicks off the plot has repercussions throughout the show, and the tone in its mixture between drama and satire, tragedy and comedy, is right there from the start, too. And just when you think the show is doing the expected, there is a turnaround: I'm thinking of the funeral scene where Nate has his outburst about the fakeness of American funerals versus the reality of emotion (he brings up the Greek woman he once watched), which I had expected... and then David has his counter outburst about having been the one to deal with the corpse of their father (intimately) so Nate's lecture on how funerals are all about not admitting the reality of death and wanting to keep our hands clean suddenly looks incredibly naive. This, I had not expected. (Nate seemed so clearly set up as the hero of the show until this point, the one in tune with his emotions etc.) The thing is, the show makes you understand where both
Fishers are coming from, and that keeps being true for its entire ensemble throughout the series.
c) The one for Breaking Bad
. I rewatched it after having marathoned through the first four seasons
and was amazed that it was in fact better
than I remembered. So very well done, again, with the selling of the difficult central premise, introduction of the characters, and use of cinematography. My absolutely favourite thing, though, is how a lecture high school teacher Walter White gives to his bored students turns out to be basically the key speech for the entire show. "Chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to think of it as the study of
change. It is growth, then decay, then transformation."
...and the winner is: could be any of these three, in my estimation, but today I'm going with the pilot for Breaking Bad
. Show, when is your mid season hiatus over again? ( The rest of the days )