7 Best TV Pilots

Get the kids in bed and the dishwasher loaded up, because one by one, our favorite shows are starting to come back to prime-time television. To our dismay, there are always one or two series that haven’t been renewed or that are replaced by pilots hoping for a chance to last beyond that first episode. Every so often, though, one of those pilots is so good and so well-executed that the show ends up lasting for years.

Here is a look back at some of the best pilots that ended up turning into spectacular shows. Can you remember catching these first episodes and falling hard for the series?

7. Sherlock

When Sherlock begins to break down the crime scene using his incomparable deduction skills in “A Study in Pink,” it is nearly impossible not to get chills from the excitement. This pilot gives viewers everything they could hope for in a televised version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Holmes is as smart, clever, and pretentious as you think he should be, and Benedict Cumberbatch is exquisite in the role. Even though the pilot is an hour and a half long, it seems to fly by and leaves you salivating for more. Now fans of the show eagerly wait years from one season to the next as Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson) shoot their other projects.

6. The Sopranos

The premise was so absurd that it might just work. And did it ever. Here we had a mob boss from New Jersey facing his biggest nemesis of all: anxiety. And the solution that he has to resort to? Going to therapy. What a beautiful start to a series with the potential for countless things to go wrong. We fall for James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano and can’t get enough of Lorraine Bracco as the no-nonsense therapist, Dr. Melfi.

5. The Walking Dead

In the first episode of this series, all of our worst (mostly unfounded) fears of the zombie apocalypse come to fruition: a guy wakes up from a coma in the hospital, and the world has gone mad (or undead, as the case may be). It is gross. It is creepy. And it is awesome. In the overhead view of Atlanta when we see the countless “walkers” roaming around, we get a sense of the severity and hopelessness of the situation. While the outlook is bleak, the show delivers week after week from that point on.

4. Breaking Bad

On the surface, we’re presented with a high school chemistry teacher who decides to bail and start cooking meth to make some money. But we’re presented with a desperate man in a desperate situation who decides to do anything he can to support his family in the face of his terminal diagnosis. While the stakes are high and the scenario is unlikely, we are forced to ask ourselves if we would do the same thing as Walter White, if necessary.

3. Game of Thrones

Aptly titled “Winter is Coming,” the pilot of this epic series is absolutely a sign of the marvel that is to come with the rest of the show. While the various characters and their relationships can get a little confusing, the first episode is extremely well-crafted and beautiful to watch. Sure, there is a helluva lot of death (but isn’t that always the case in this show?), but from the word “go” we can’t get enough of Ned Stark, Tyrion, and Daenerys.

2. Lost

In what looks like a full-blown movie, the pilot for Lost is epic. We have an entire plane, crashed on a beach, with scared, confused, bloody people trying to make sense of the whole thing (and others being sucked into the giant jet engine). While the rest of the series uncovers countless things that aren’t even mentioned in that first episode, the grandeur that marks the beginning of our time on this desert island is indicative of the greatness of the show overall. What a way to start things off.

1. Twin Peaks

Who killed Laura Palmer? With this one episode, David Lynch pulls us into his bizarre, creepy world in which Laura Palmer was a beloved and adored teenager. In every moment, the viewer is left wondering what is going on, and what could possibly be revealed next. None of it seems to connect, but we’re left wanting more and more of this strange place. While the series fizzled out after two seasons (before the third season came back as a limited series on Showtime in 2017) it delivered week after week in all its weird glory.


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