Everyone’s a Critic: Don't judge a series by its pilot?
October 26th, 2011
12:20 PM ET

Everyone’s a Critic: Don't judge a series by its pilot?

With the fall TV season well underway, by now we’ve seen most of the premieres for this year's round of new shows.

I'm sure I'm not alone in having a system for watching pilots: If I like the initial episode, I’m in for the long haul. If I’m intrigued but haven’t been totally convinced, the show gets a three-episode trial.

But if I can’t stand it, I’m never watching anything beyond the premiere.

That last category is where I get into some trouble, because inevitably someone comes back with this argument: Well, it’s just a pilot. You can’t judge it based on the pilot.

To which my response is, why not?!

We’re all taught not to judge a book by its cover, and that's wonderful advice for both literary works as well as people. But when it comes to TV shows, that’s a bunch of nonsense.

Producers have more time to develop a pilot, write a pilot, shoot a pilot and cast for a pilot. Feature film directors are even brought on board to direct them. (You know who directed the pilot for “Boardwalk Empire”? Martin Scorsese. You know who directed episode two? Timothy Van Patten. A great director, but not exactly a household name.)

Pilots are how the networks judge a show and decide whether it should make it to air. Pilots are audience tested and re-worked before their actual premieres. More time and effort goes into that one episode than probably any other episode in a show’s initial season.

Doesn’t that sound like something I should use in order to form my opinion?

That’s not to say a pilot has to knock it out of the park to get me to stick with a show. Very few pilots do, and some of my favorite series took a few episodes to find their groove.

But a pilot has to have SOMETHING that makes me want to come back… or at least lack anything that could actively drive me away. For example:

  • “Once Upon a Time” is using characters that we all know inside and out, but it’s taking an interesting approach to the story, so I’m in for a three-episode trial.
  • “New Girl” was built around the adorableness of Zooey Deschanel, whose character I find pretty grating at times. But the full cast works well together and I’m in for the season.
  • “2 Broke Girls” uses some pretty clunky setups and predictable punch lines. But the two lead actresses bring enough personality to carry the show, and I’m buying in.
  • “Last Man Standing” was actively offensive, unrealistic in its premise and execution, and lazy in its attempt to coast by on Tim Allen’s name recognition. Needless to say, I never made it past the pilot.

I came to all of those opinions after watching the first episodes of those shows, and I feel pretty justified in making the choices I did.

The argument usually goes that you can’t judge a pilot because it has to do so much work to set up the entire series, but I'd like to argue that it actually doesn't. If the creative team does feels the need to be heavy on the exposition in the pilot, they can at least try to find a creative way to do it.

I’m not asking for perfection, but I also don't see why I shouldn't judge a show based on its initial offering. Because if we’re going to trot out clichés, well, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. dumb moe d

    It's DUMBER...idiot.

    October 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cool moe d

    Yeah. Terra Nova had a good pilot episode but now gets dummer and dummer every episode. Pretty soon they will change the name to Diarreah Nova.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |

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