Best Deaths in Pilots

Inspired by i09’s Death Week* and more specifically, their re-posting of Charlie Jane Anders‘  Ten Coolest Death Scenes in Science Fiction History, I got to thinking about how many characters bite the big one in pilots. Death often marks a beginning — often for the survivor learning to carry on, but sometimes even for the dead getting on with the afterlife. So, going to the great DVR in the sky makes a good event for a first episode. Here are some of my favs, in no particular order.

Major spoilers after the jump.

*Conveniently the week that saw the death of science fiction icon Ray Bradbury. Coincidence? io9’s tagline is “We come from the future.” Continue reading

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The Munsters

Growing up, I’m sure I caught reruns of The Munsters now and then but they didn’t make much of an impression. I basically thought of them as the other Addams Family. The two shows actually ran during the same two seasons (1964-1966). Guess they were the Once Upon a Time and Grimm of their day.

The show was produced by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, creators of Leave it to Beaver. They seem to have drawn on their background with that show, preserving the familial love, but hightening and spoofing it.

The premise for The Munsters doesn’t need much explanation; it’s about a family of old horror movie-esqe monsters. As the pilot opens, we first meet Marilyn (Beverly Owen), a normal, pretty blonde young woman, kissing her date goodnight on the front porch. Marilyn explains that the couple she lives with are her aunt and uncle, with whom she has lived since she was a baby. She frets about introducing her date, Tom, to her family, and Tom invites all of them to a party his parents are throwing. Continue reading

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

Continue reading

Birds of Prey

With excitement building for the Wonder Woman reboot this fall, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at some other DC Comics heroines, the ladies of 2002’s Birds of Prey.

In a nutshell, a blonde, a brunette and a redhead live together looking hot and fighting crime. The pilot is the story of how they got together. The show, or at least the pilot can be appreciated at face value, if the viewer has no previous knowledge of the characters. It could even be accused of ripping off Charmed, with its story of three powerful women joining forces and a suspicious cop on their trail. But there is ton of back story—at least 40 years worth of comic book lore.

Alfred, of Batman fame, narrates the opening. The story is set in New Gotham, and Batman has disappeared from its crime-ridden streets. The voiceover lends a storybook feeling, a bit like the tone of Pushing Daisies.

Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer), formerly Batgirl, is confined to a wheelchair since The Joker shot her. She now lives in a clock tower—a set that looks like the same one Smallville used—surrounded by computers. By day she works as a school teacher. Living with her is Helena (Ashley Scott), the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. She was raised by her mother, killed by a henchman of The Joker while her daughter stood by, helpless. She has grown up to be The Huntress, a hero who runs across building tops by night, fighting crime while The Oracle oversees from her tower. In the comic world, The Huntress had completely different
origins, but did turn to heroism following the murder of her parents. (This according to The DC Comics Encyclopedia.)

As these two women experienced their personal tragedies, a third girl dreamt their pain. She is now teenage Dinah (Rachel Skarsten), and she has travelled to New Gotham to seek out the women from her dreams. On her way to find them, she witnesses a man being hit by a bus. She runs to his side and, when she touches him, she sees a vision of him being attacked by rats. Her power, it seems, is the ability to share people’s thoughts or fears. The comic book Dinah became The Black Canary, though that name isn’t mentioned in the pilot.

The man’s death sparks the women’s investigation into a series of related murders disguised as suicides, which leads them to some dockyards and the lair of the killer. Among the three of them they get to combine supernatural, or metahuman powers of an X-man with the high tech gadgetry of Batman.

As the women investigate these deaths, the police are also on the case. Detective Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore) is one officer who believes that something bigger is happening beneat the surface. He’s the “the truth is out there” character of the show. Sums up what may be the message-of-show with the awkwardly worded adage, “Myths are just the truth a few generations later.”

Another significant introduction in this pilot is that of Helena’s psychiatrist, one Harleen Quinzel (Mia Sara – remember her, Sloane Peterson from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?), whose name reveals that she’s an enemy-in-waiting.

With its roots in death and destruction, this pilot promises a fairly dark show. There are small doses of humor, with lines like, “This place is supposed to be a secret. That’s the whole point of a secret lair.” Barbara and Helena argue about lighter things, too, like being out of groceries. There’s also a quick Superman/Smallville reference: “There’s been some really weird stuff with meteor showers.”

This pilot does a nice job of tying together the episode plot with a longer-term plot, when Harleen interacts with the episode villain at the end. There’s both resolution and reason to keep watching.

UPDATE 2/17/2012: In case you’re a big fan of the Black Canary character, you may like to know that Katie Cassidy has been cast to play her in the forthcoming Green Arrow series on The CW. And, in case you haven’t been paying attention, that Wonder Woman reboot never happened, but I’ve since blogged about the pilot of the 1970s series.

Pushing Daisies

Pushing Daisies KeyartWe know in an instant that Pushing Daisies is going to be an unusual show. The first image we see is of an endless field of bright yellow flowers capped by an impossibly blue sky. A narrator with a deep, storyteller voice tells us that the little boy and his dog running through the flowers are Ned and Digby, along with their ages, down to the minute.

Digby is dramatically run down by a truck, but when Ned touches him, more with curiosity than sadness, the dog jumps up fully alive. Ned, we are told, has the ability to bring dead things back to life. Now pay attention. His mom is struck dead by on the kitchen floor by an aneurysm. Ned brings her back to life. Exactly one minute later, the man across the street drops dead. The dead guy’s daughter is Chuck, the apple of Ned’s eye. When Ned hugs his mom good night, she dies. Again. It’s a complicated gift, and if you missed this first three minutes, I doubt you would make much sense out of the show later on. One touch brings someone back to life, a second kills them. If the person is kept alive for more than one minute, someone nearby dies is his stead.

Fast forward to present day. Ned (the adorable Lee Pace) owns a pie shop. Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), a customer and a private investigator, has recruited Ned to help him investigate murders. It’s a big—and refreshing—leap from the normal cop-with-an-unusual-partner show. Kristen Chenoweth plays the pixie-like waitress Olive, who has a thing for Ned.

Soon, we see Ned and Emerson in action, as Ned sets his watch alarm for one minute and wakes a dead guy to find out how he got that way. Bam, the mystery is solved, and the audience has a sense of how the show will go.

Things become more complicated, however, when the next murder victim turns out to be Chuck (Anna Friel, kind of a British Zooey Deschanel–that’s a good thing), Ned’s childhood crush. He wakes her; she’s spunky, she’s charming, and reveals that the two of them were each other’s first kiss. Awww… Ned can’t bring himself to re-kill her, so after a minute, she is stuck between life and death for good. What really sucks is Ned has found the love of his life and he can’t touch her. Great dramatic tension, if difficult to believe.

The rest of the pilot (titled “Pie-lette”) involves solving Chuck’s murder, and protecting her aunts, Vivian and Lillian, from the killer. The aunt’s back story is that they are former synchronized swimming stars until one lost an eye, and now they are agoraphobics with a penchant for cheese.

To love this show requires buying fully into the premise. You have to treat it like the beautiful storybook that it is and not over-think reality. The characters talk at Gilmore Girls speed, and plays on words fly back and forth like ping-pong balls. Every detail matters. There is a sort of 1950s aesthetic in both the language and the look. Color in this show is a character in itself. Everywhere there are brighter-than-life hues, from the bulbous cherry red lamps in the pie shop to Olive’s floral print wallpaper and matching pajamas.

As with creator Bryan Fuller’s other shows, Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls, not enough people apparently got it. It was, however, nominated for several Emmys, winning for Directing, Editing, Music Composition (2008), Art Direction, Make-up, Costumes, and Best Supporting Actress—Kristen Chenoweth (2009). Honestly, it was one of those impossible to sustain premises, much like in the aforementioned shows, that couldn’t work forever. But the Pie-lette is delicious.

Lamenting Cancelled Shows

Image from Cheezburger.com

There are lots of lists floating around out there of TV shows that were cancelled before their time, but it does seem that Fox is responsible for a disproportionate number of them. Family Guy has alluded to this trend at least twice (I expect they’re already writing jokes about the cancellation of The Cleveland Show, but more on that later.) Topless Robot recently posted their list of the 20 Greatest Show Cancelled by Fox Before Their Time.

I have not seen all of the shows on the list—I don’t even remember a couple of them—but that’s part of the fun in lamenting cancelled shows. You feel a certain sense of ownership when you can say you just loved a show, and most people have never heard of it. Case in point, Wonderfalls, which ranks #7. This was a brilliant, clever, funny show by the guy behind Dead Like Me and Pushing Daises–other brilliant, cancelled shows. (Oh, Bryan Fuller, you’re so misunderstood.) Given that it only aired for four weeks before being pulled, it’s understandable that it is little remembered. There were 13 episodes filmed, though, and they are available on DVD. A post on the Wonderfalls pilot is high on my to-do list.

I have to wholeheartedly agree with Topless Robot’s # 1 and 2 picks, Firefly and Futurama, respectively. Both had fantastic pilots that pulled the viewer into a whole new world. Both lived beyond cancellation, Firefly as the film Serenity, and Futurama in a series of straight-to-DVD movies and a forthcoming reincarnation on the Cartoon Network. And any Comic-Con attendee can tell you both of these properties inspire mad loyalty from fans. So check back here in the future for posts on all three of these kickass shows.