How we watch TV has changed a lot of the years, but one that hasn’t changed is the excitement around seeing some of the best pilots fly by. While some take off and soar miraculously like Tom Hanks in a spacecraft, hoping to make a smooth landing, some just explode moments after they lift off the runway. Comforting thought, no?
We’ve seen many a TV pilot in our day, but when you break it down, there have only been a couple handfuls that have really blown our doors off. From pre-high def shows The Sopranos and The West Wing to some of our favorite comedies, there are some real trailblazers that paved their own way through the small screen, while others who stuck to a safe formula have come and gone like the Grandfathered shows of today, or pretty much anything else on Fox.
Now sit back and read up on some of the best pilots in TV history, some of which went from terrific to terrible in the blink of an eye, while others glided like eagles in the sky. Did we get enough airplane references in for these pilots? Cockpit.
Our first take with Tony Soprano showed us that mobsters, too, have panic attacks. It became the beginning of a long, dark, beautiful obsession of ours. What grown man doesn't get upset when his ducks fly away?
We had gotten so used to being sober at work and smoking outdoors that Mad Men reminded us so eloquently of the good old days.
Whiskey in the morning, cigarettes in the car with the kids. Those were the days.
If you watch the finale of Walter White then dial back to the pilot, you're blown away by how far he progressed (or declined) as a human being in such a short amount of time. Vince Gilligan did such an incredible job telling his story, as well as Jesse's, that we're already blown away again with Mike and Jimmy's origins in Better Call Saul.
The show that opened with the writer getting a blow job in church, the proceeding to drink and bed every beautiful woman he comes into contact with was an inspiring anti-love story for this young, impressionable writer. I'm currently single, slightly depressed and writing this well past my bedtime singlehandedly with a drink in my other hand. But damn you, David Duchovny, you're still the man.
While 24-episode seasons were way too much, and on Fox no less, we were still blown by the explosive opening to Matthew Fox and the survivors of the island. The show went from a simple survival story to some long-winded battle of good versus evil with unspeakably complex side plots with smoke monsters and Greek mythology. Although the pilot was incredible, we were relieved when it was all over, even if it was one of the shittiest endings ever.
Some say it's the greatest TV pilot there is, and who are we to argue? In our mind, the show was just about growing up and a few laughs, but if you watch the pilot, it plays like a documentary whose footage plays like a nostalgic home video but with real-world events tied into the simple suburban family plot. Fantastic, as was Winnie Cooper by the end of it.
Everyone's favorite serial killer took murder mysteries and book adaptations to a whole new level. Never before had we rooted for such a sick, homicidal lunatic, and yet wanted his sweet sister to die so painfully at the same time.
The inner workings of the White House on The West Wing got our political gears grinding. And wow, what a cast! We felt the same when House of Cards started up, only it was like Dexter mixed with Trump took the oval this time around.
Ron Howard brought on a whole new life to TV comedy, and despite rolling quietly underground until its third season ending, eventually the show found its crowd (everyone, all the late assholes). Upon its lackluster reboot, we immediately regretted ever mentioning it to our friends.
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and Cheers wasn't that for us, but it was still funny watching this silly group of out-of-shape white folks have their alcoholic, yet totally clean, fun. We learned about Ted Danson, and now he's one of our favorite human beings. Except for Becker, that wasn't so great.