Pilot Titles

How well do you know the titles of episodes of your favorite shows? Do you even give them a thought? Some shows get pretty creative. Some naming conventions are discussed here.

Pilot episodes are usually just called “Pilot,” possibly because the creators don’t know quite where the show is headed. But some shows have really cool pilot titles. Often, titles are added after the fact, possibly when the show is released on DVD.

Here are some of my favorite pilot titles I’ve come across. See if you can guess what shows they belong to. Answers are after the jump.

  1. Chuck Versus the Intersect
  2. Welcome to the Hellmouth
  3. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
  4. Pie-lette
  5. Genesis
  6. Days Gone Bye
  7. Space Pilot 3000
  8. The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate, a.k.a. The First One
  9. Sex and Violence (actually a second pilot, whatever that means)
  10. Everybody Lies

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Spin-off pilots are their own breed. In some ways they have it easier than regular pilots, already having a waiting audience. For Joss Whedon creations, this effect is even greater. In other ways, they have it harder, since fans can be demanding. The pilot for a spin-off has to balance enough familiar information to let existing fans feel like they’re in on something, but still lay out the exposition and character introductions needed to get the series started.

In Angel, we’re reintroduced to the title character (David Boreanaz), now living in Los Angeles. He brings us into the setting with a few words describing the City of Angels (pun not spelled out but certainly implied), while he sits somberly in a dive bar. We get that the city is going to be as a much a character as anyone. Angel is drunk off his ass, and we could open a whole discussion on the chemistry of vampire intoxication, but not here. He is slobbering to the unwitting barfly next to him about the girl who got away, without naming Buffy. (For some reason, there is a giant rainbow flag hanging in the bar, but there is no other indication that it’s a gay bar. Or why Angel would be in a gay bar.)

Within moments our hero is dispatching with some evil vampires about to feed on some nubile young clubbers. It’s a big, bad comic-book style brawl that leaves Angel jonesing for blood. He heads home, to his dark basement apartment, to find a half-human Irishman named Doyle (Gleen Quinn) waiting for him. Doyle fills us in on Angel’s origin story and the Buffy-Angel relationship. Doyle is some sort of psychic with migraines. He’s got an assignment for Angel, to go meet a woman at a coffee shop who is some kind of trouble.

The girl is being hunted by a wealthy investor who turns out to be a powerful vampire named Russell. Angel tries to protect her, but she gets herself killed, and Russell decides to lure Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who is now an aspiring actress, into his lair. And some other stuff happens.

It’s best not to think too much about the plot. Everything happens a bit too easily: Doyle just pops in and Angel obeys without question, then Angel just happens to be at a party where Cordelia is, then the same vampire that kills the girl in the coffee shop just happens to have his sights set on Cordelia as his next victim. Angel, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer before it, succeeds more on its wit.

For all its action-packed mellowdrama, this pilot is full of laughs. Even Charisma Carpenter’s painful acting is saved by some great one-liners. My favorite is, when she calls Russell out as a vampire, she accuses: “I’m from Sunnydale. We had our own Hellmouth.”  Another one is, after Cordelia babbles on about her fabulous life and then walks away to talk to more important party-goers, Angel remarks, “It’s nice to see she’s grown as a person.” Other bits are more subtle and surprising. Angel jumps gallantly into his convertible to chase after bad guys only to realize it’s not his car.

David Boreanaz’s social awkwardness is just adorable. Lest we forget how beautiful he is, the writers remind us at least twice in this episode. As a character he is oblivious to his own hotness (vampires don’t have reflections, remember) which makes him that much more appealing. Darn it, he just wants to do the right thing.

So for Buffy fans or the uninitiated, this pilot is super entertaining. And it ends with a beginning, the launch of Angel Investigations, so it keeps the viewer coming back for more.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Welcome to the Hellmouth”

There have been numerous articles in the last few years declaring that geeks are now cool. Shows like Big Bang Theory and Glee are held up as proof of this trend. It’s not the Marcia Bradys or the Mike Seavers we want to root for anymore. We love outcasts and braniacs. ComicCon isn’t just for Trekkers anymore. When did the tide turn? My first answer would be with Veronica Mars. But thinking back, there was Freaks and Geeks—short-lived as it was. But, wait. Even before that, there was Buffy. She may have been the original cool social reject; it helped that she was hot.

So imagine it’s 1997. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a campy film starring Kristy Swanson that you may remember from earlier in the decade. Joss Whedon is not a name you hear regularly, if at all (did you know he was a writer on Toy Story?), and you’ve certainly never heard of a Whedonverse.

The stage, complete with eerie horror movie music, is set when a horny teenage couple break into the high school, apparently to get it on, but—oops—the perky blond chick is a vampire who changes and brutally kills the guy. (Sucks to be that actor. Congratulations, you landed a part in what promises to be a hit teen drama. But you die in the first two minutes.)

For those not familiar with slayerism, the opening credits and voiceover give the gist; in every generation, there is a chosen one, etc., etc. Here, Buffy is the fresh-faced Sarah Michelle Gellar, known mainly as a soap actress.

Buffy’s mom drops her off at her new school in fictitious Sunnydale, CA, where she has apparently transferred following the events of the film. And wouldn’t you know it? Sunnydale is smack on top of the Hellmouth, a portal to all things occult. On Buffy’s very first day, a body turns up in a locker with telltale bite marks on its neck. But we’ll get back to that…

In addition to introducing Hellmouth-adjacent life, the pilot takes as its storyline a typical teenage tale; Buffy’s attempt to fit in with the cool crowd, only to find that she is destined to walk among the outcasts. She approaches her new school with hope for normalcy, but nevertheless carries a sharpened wooden stake in her bag. (“Pepper spray is just so passé.”)

She first befriends the self-centered beauty queen Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who picks on the brainy Willow (Alyson Hannigan). Meanwhile, charmingly awkward Xander (Nicholas Brendon) can’t keep his eyes off of Buffy. Willow likes Xander. Mr. Giles (Anthony Head), new librarian in the apparently deserted school library, seems to already know all about Buffy’s slaying ways. So she goes to him when she learns about the locker body.

Vampires live under the city and are gearing up for some huge revolt, called The Harvest. So Buffy’s going to have a busy sophomore year, what with cheerleading, homework, and ass-kicking.

Oh, and I did I mention there is a dark and mysterious, and ridiculously hot guy trailing Buffy around town? We don’t get a name, or much information at all, except that he knows what’s up with the Harvest.

So the pilot gets us off and running with plenty of action, love triangleism, and more on the mysterious guy (who will, of course, be introduced later in the series as Angel), to look forward to. It’s a bit dark, often funny, and has enough eye candy to get addictive. And this is all despite the fact that, objectively speaking, it’s kind of bad. The acting, the dialogue… but stuff can be bad and still plenty entertaining. Just look at the original Star Wars.

For added fun, there is an unaired version of Welcome to the Hellmouth floating around the ‘net.

Memorable quote: (Said all SoCal bitchy) “God, what is your childhood trauma?”