Favorite Pilots of 2016

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.braindead

  1. 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. Continue reading

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A Few Recent Pilots

I haven’t been blogging much these past few weeks, but there has been plenty to watch. Here’s just a quick look at a few pilots I’ve caught recently.

Alcatraz

In case you haven’t heard, this is the latest J.J. Abrams tale of alternate realities. It tells the story of what really happened to all of the prisoners who were in Alcatraz when it was closed down.  The pilot came with a bonus second episode on the same night. Two episodes were enough to worry me that show is just another procedural. If it’s just going to be about searching out the murderer of the week, we don’t care. Even if said murderers haven’t aged since 1960-whatever. Basically, it’s a cop-with-an-unlikely-partner show. The partner in this case is a comic book store owner (Jorge Garcia), so there’s tons of potential for geek jokes. Continue reading

Veronica Mars

This is hard for me to believe, but I had never seen the pilot episode of Veronica Mars in its entirety until today. I started watching in prime time with episode 1.2—with a healthy dose of cynicism—when I was assigned to write about it for a local paper and interview Enrico Colantoni. I had written it off in advance as another Dawson’s Creek-type teen drama. But I fell in love. VM ended up being the first show I can remember that I made sure not to miss, and re-watched episodes, and talked about to friends and co-workers. I worked as an extra on it twice, and an episode was taped where I work. I love this show. And I love pilots. So I have no logical explanation for why I’ve never seen episode 1.1 until now. I write about it with full knowledge of who killed Lily, and all the other secrets that will be revealed, which makes the early hints that much more exciting.

Right away, the theme gritty song, “We Used to be Friends,” grabs you. (Hated when they remixed it for Season 3.) Veronica gives us a succinct and color introduction to Neptune, the town where she lives. It’s populated with the over-privileged and those who work for them.

She’s tenacious: She alone steps forward to help a boy who’s been taped, naked, to a flagpole in front of the high school. She’s smart: She demonstrates thorough understanding of the assigned reading even though she’s dozing in English class. She’s a smartass: When cops come to search her locker, she’s comfortable telling their dog to back off. She’s bitter: Her family isn’t rich and important like the others in town. The bitterness continues as Veronica explains how she used to be in with the cool crowd. Now it looks like her only friend is the new kid, Wallace—the one she freed from the flagpole. There a couple of blue-tinged flashbacks to reveal what her life used to be like, full of parties and BFFs.

After life at school, we see life at work; Veronica’s dad’s P.I. office. Her dad, Keith used to be the town’s Sheriff. (There are lots of “used-to-bes,” in keeping with the theme song.) Currently, V. is trailing Jake Kane on assignment from his suspicious wife. Veronica used to date their son Duncan, and her best friend was their daughter Lily. Lily was murdered, Keith accused Mr. Kane but couldn’t prove anything, was removed from office by recall, and V.’s mom left them. To add insult to injury, people believe it was Keith who leaked a video of the crime scene all over the internet.

The new sheriff immediately found evidence incriminating a Kane employee, and the matter was put to uneasy rest. Also, Lily’s boyfriend, the rich, spoiled bad boy Logan Echolls really, really hates V. In another subplot, V. reveals that she lost her virginity while roofied at some party the year before. This won’t be unraveled until the end of Season 2, but clues are revealed in several episodes along the way. I love when a show asks for a viewer’s long term commitment for payoff.

But wait, there’s more. V.’s mom appears to be shacking up with Jake Kane. The Veronica-Wallace friendship is a little sappy, but it lets the audience see that V. still has a heart, and gives us a look at her mad P.I. skills and twisted sense of humor. She ends up with the local biker gang in her camp, defending her from Logan. It’s a delightfully tangled web. Every little detail will come back in later episodes. Of course, you don’t know that. But the kicker: Keith is still investigating Lily’s murder. That alone lets us know there are plenty of juicy revelations to look forward to.

V. leaves us with this declaration: “I will find out what really happened.” Rest assured, she will.

Weird note: I once saw the first 10 minutes or so of this episode online (in French) and the scene where V. is camped outside the Camelot Motel in her car was the cold open. Here there is no cold open, and that scene takes place mid-episode. Hm.

Here’s an article I wrote about this show early in its run, including an interview with Enrico Colantoni.

UPDATE 8/14/10: For a more thorough analysis of this blog then you probably ever dreamed of, check out this blog.