- I never, for a second, bought Robin and Barney as a couple. They had no chemistry. She had played witness to too much of his debauchery. Even with his vow to never lie, how could she trust him? Although I love Barney as a character, I would never wish a marriage to someone like that on a woman I cared about. I actually wanted her to run out on the wedding, but I’ll take this outcome just as well.
Now, I consider myself far from qualified to determine what are the best pilots of all time because 1. Of all the pilots ever made, I have seen only a small fraction of them, and 2. All time is long a time, and implies that it encompasses the future, too, and I haven’t figured out time travel yet. (Where are you, Dr. Tom?) I previously made a list of My Five Favorite Pilots of All Time, which is probably due for an update, but for a broader view, I decided to comb the interwebs.
The following is a list of links to various sources, written over the past few years, listing the best of the best in pilots. Continue reading
Just in case you’re not one of the reported 10 million people who tuned in for the much-ballyhooed premiere of New Girl last week, here’s the deal. It’s terrible. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but as someone who loves most of Zooey Deschanel‘s work going back to Almost Famous, I found this show to be a huge disappointment. You can pick apart whether the jokes are cliche or the characters are likeable, but I don’t generally expect much from network sit-coms in that regard.
My main problem: Why Dirty Dancing? What is the fascination with that movie? And is Zooey’s character Jess even old enough to remember it?? It came out in 1987, and she’s probably supposed to be 30, tops, so what exactly is her attachment to a trite film about a skeevy old guy (no disrespect to the late Patrick Swayze, who played said skeevy old guy) preying upon an idealistic teenager wearing Keds? Continue reading
Some pilots want nothing more than to convey to the viewer what the creators imagine to be the unique style and tone of the show. Breaking In, which debuted last night on Fox, wants you to know it’s for geeks. They really, really want you to know it. I can just hear the pitch meeting: “It’s a show about smart geeks who work together to foil security systems and have a crazy boss. It’s like Chuck, meets Archer, meets The Office! With a dash of The Big Bang Theory!”
I won’t rehash the entire plot since there are any number of reviews out there. Basically, a smart but understated guy named Cameron (Brett Harrison of Reaper and The Loop) is not so much recruited by as coerced into working for a security company. The gang at the company, led by Christian Slater as Oz, pull off creative and highly challenging heists for a living.
Star Wars references seem to pop up in everything these days. How I Met Your Mother and Bones incorporate them really well, making you believe the characters think of Star Wars as part of their lives. (Marshall will cut a Thanksgiving turkey with a light saber one day.) In Breaking In, the character Cash (Alphonso McAuley) is introduced wearing a Han Solo costume. His first joke wraps up a nerd joke with a race joke–about how black guys don’t always have to play Lando. It would have been funnier if he just went around dressed as Han Solo with no explanation, leaving it for the audience to notice. (Does it matter what race he is? Meg played a freaking worm in Family Guy’s Star Wars universe.)
That bit is quickly followed by one in which Cash references Avatar then asserts that he speaks Klingon. We get it-you’re a geek!
As the New York Times points out, Christian Slater’s leering coercion of Bret Harrison looks an awful lot like the goings-on on Harrison’s previous geek-friendly show Reaper. Another more subtle geek reference, and one of the episode’s bright spots, was the appearance of the nearly-unrecognizable Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville’s Lex Luthor) as Dutch. He is hilariously doofy in his trailer trash-duds and monster-sized truck. When this show crashes and burns, he could have a future on Raising Hope.
It’s not that this pilot wasn’t entertaining or have it’s funny moments. It just seems like it’s trying way too hard to tell us what it is and what it is not, without allowing us to figure it out over a few episodes. It wants geeks to know they’re the intended audience, but it doesn’t know how to talk to them.
I feel pandered to. Raise your hand if you feel pandered to.
Pilots, when well executed, make the viewer want to come back for more. However I’ve noticed that pilots fall along a continuum in terms of how they leave you feeling at the end. Some just get the action going, and then abruptly end. They leave you chomping at the bit for episode 2 because you just have to know what happens next. Some shows, say 24, couldn’t work any other way. (That show is such an obvious example it’s not worth listing below.)
Other pilots are more self-contained. Sure, they introduce characters and situations and, ideally, make you want to keep watching. Yet, they wrap up neatly and can be enjoyed again and again like mini-movies.
Still others lie someplace in between. Here are five of the best at either end of the spectrum. It’s by no means an exhaustive list; as I’ve said before I don’t claim to have seen every pilot, or even every great pilot out there! (BTW, spoiler alert.)
What else should be on the list? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
Best Pilots that Leave You Hanging
Veronica Mars – So. Much. Stuff. Happening in this pilot. We just get a taste of the Lily murder, which will keep us guessing even after it’s solved.
Heroes – Again, this pilot just scratches the surface of everything that is set to happen. Absolutely no questions are answered.
Jericho – The ending of this pilot scared the bejeezus out of me. You see the map of the U.S. with all these pushpins marking places that were nuked and ask, “Just how bad is this disaster?”
The Walking Dead – Did the sight of Rick in that tank and the sound of the voice over the intercom not make you just want to hit the fast-forward button to the following Sunday?
How I Met Your Mother – This leaves you hanging not for a week, but for… well, it’s been five freaking years. How did you meet their mother for f’s sake?
Best Pilots that Can Stand Alone
The Simpsons – It’s a Christmas special. Need I say more?
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – This was so good, it is inexplicable why the series went so far downhill. It was a prodigal son (or sons) story that wrapped up beautifully.
Friends – It’s a happy ending to a story about a woman who walked out on her wedding. It offers possibility—will Ross get Rachel?—but it’s a happy ending.
Glee – This necessarily had to be good all by itself because it aired way before the season actually started. And it wildly succeeded.
Dead Like Me – This pilot delves deeper than it needs to, explaining the whole back story of the character plus the rules of the show’s world all in one go. But even with all the change she’s just faced, George gets a sense of closure by going to see her mom.
It used to be that you watched a show if you happened to be home with nothing else to do on the right day at the right time. There was the VCR in the 80s, but how reliable was that? Now that shows are available on DVD, and can be easily recorded with DVR, and are often available online, there is no reason not to watch shows from beginning to end (if a show warrants it). We are aware of continuity among episodes. As a side note, prior to the 90s, did anyone know the titles of individual episodes of shows, or that episodes even had titles?
As a result I think that television producers and writers have become more concerned with season-long or even series-long plotlines. Rather than each episode being its own one-off story where everything goes back to normal at the end (a recurring joke on The Simpsons) things change from episode to episode. I would venture to say that Friends pioneered this concept for sitcoms. Perhaps CSI did it for dramas, although I cannot claim extensive knowledge of that show or its spinoffs.
But I digress… How I Met Your Mother has a clear story arc. It’s right in the title. I took notice of this show part-way through its second season and quickly recognized that it needed to be viewed from the beginning to be fully appreciated.
The pilot opens, in the year 2030, with a voice telling two uncomfortable looking teens on a sofa that it is about to regale them with the story of “how I met your mother.” So we figure, that’s what the pilot is going to be about. Boy meets girl. Boy goes on date with girl. Boy professes love for girl way too soon. So is she “your mother”? For that matter, is the narrator “your father”?
Toward the end, Ted (the aforementioned Boy) tells Robin (aforementioned Girl), “if some hypothetical woman were to bear with me through all this, I think I’d make a damn good husband.” So our heads are dancing with visions of what the future will hold for this 20-something, good-looking, idealistic New Yorker. In his longtime friends Marshall and Lily, who have just gotten engaged, we see the possibilities. And in his smooth-talking, suit-wearing wingman Barney, we see the opposite possibilities. But we have possibilities.
The episode ends with the narrator telling the kids, “That, kids, is the story of how I met your Aunt Robin.” Irritated teenager: “I thought this was the story of how you met mom!” Narrator: “Like I said, it’s a long story.” How could you not keep watching after that?