In the spirit of year-end lists, which I love, I offer my own mini-list. I’m calling this “favorite” rather than “best,” considering there are probably lots of great pilots out there I have yet to see. Inspired by other “best of 2016” lists, I’m eager to watch Search Party, Insecure, and Westworld. But for now, here are my faves.
- Stranger Things
Do I even need to explain? The pilot featured Dungeons & Dragons, heart-warming humor, heaps of nostalgia, a hint of government conspiracy, and a scary-ass kidnapping scene. By the end of the episode, you still don’t know quite what you’re dealing with, but you know it’s something special.
2. The Expanse
This was also a game-changing work of science fiction, but for entirely different reasons from Stranger Things. Where the Netflix series taps into properties from the past, The Expanse looks forward, to where sci-fi — and SyFy — are headed. It’s gorgeous and well written. Of course, the pilot included a zero-gravity sex scene, because it probably seemed like the best way to hook viewers. Honestly, it was the least interesting part of the episode.
3. People of Earth
I’ve watched this pilot three times: once at San Diego Comic-Con and twice when it premiered on TNT. It’s that good. The show is kind of like if a bunch of side characters from Parks and Recreation existed in the same universe as Men in Black and bonded in the way the characters from Community did. I would also weave in a comparison to Go On, but no one watched that. I adore Wyatt Cenac.
4. Master of None
The best description I ever read of this show was “It’s like Louie CK for nice people.” (Apologies to whoever wrote that; I don’t remember who it was.) Aziz Ansari is so damn charming, even when he’s just sauntering down the streets of New York. The opening scene of the pilot is shocking and uncomfortable, but not for the sake of being shocking and uncomfortable. It appears to introduce a one-off character and a situation that exists only for the pilot… but it’s going somewhere. It’s not until a few episodes later that it pays off.
If all of these pilots have something in common it’s a “WTF” quality. Each one of them surprises you and defies categorization. BrainDead (image above) surprised me most of all. It looked like it was going to be a political drama with a hint of wacky humor (which it was) but then — BAM — space bugs! This was the best show of the year that apparently nobody watched.
Honorable mention: The Good Place
This wasn’t amazing as a pilot, but the show features a great premise. Like People of Earth, it marries different genres to birth a result that’s hard to classify. And it has a Cincinnati joke that makes me laugh out loud every damn time I hear it. I needed to be convinced, over ensuing episodes that Ted Danson fit his role, but Kristen Bell nailed it from the start.
On the flipside, I watched several pilots this year that didn’t hook me enough to keep watching. Among them are Atlanta (I know, I know), Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Timeless, and Preacher.
What were your favorites?