100 Pilots in 100 Days: 50 Down, 50 To Go

We’ve made it to the halfway point. I’ve watched and reviewed 50 pilots since January 1. So I thought it’d be fun to take a step back and recap.

In my brief history as a reviewer of television pilots, I’ve realized most fall into one of three categories: the “please give me more now,” pilots, the “sure, this could be cool I guess” pilots, and the “really not feeling it.” As I’ve been watching pilots this time around, I’ve been sorting them. Here’s where we stand now. If there’s an asterisk, it means I’ve seen non-pilot episodes of that show prior to this project. 

Please Give Me More Now:

These are the shows that stuck the landing. Properly developed characters (often more than one), a balanced mixed of resolved and unresolved storylines, and still managed to be fairly entertaining. This list is nowhere close to what I thought it would be when I started the project. If you would’ve told me Desperate Housewives of all things would be one of the shows I’d be most eager to continue, I would’ve been shocked. It’s also funny to me how this list is all over the place. There’s older shows as well as newer shows; comedies as well as dramas; “prestige” shows and guilty pleasures. 

  1. Succession
  2. The Goldbergs*
  3.  Silicon Valley
  4. M*A*S*H
  5. Unreal*
  6. Community*
  7. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay
  8. The Good Place*
  9. Dawson’s Creek
  10. Derry Girls*
  11. Barry*
  12. Bodyguard
  13. Desperate Housewives 

Sure, This Could Be Cool I Guess:

More often than not, shows fall into this second category. Here, I still have some reservations, but I’m intrigued enough that I’d want to see at least another episode or two before I give up on it. Maybe there were characters I loved didn’t have large enough roles in the pilot. Maybe the pilot sets up an interesting premise or conflict without giving me any assurance that it’ll actually do something interesting.  Sure, it’s possible the show will go in a direction I like, but I can also envision other possibilities that I don’t like so much, and the pilot didn’t give me adequate faith that it will pick a path that works.

  1. Dickinson
  2. Halt and Catch Fire
  3. Parks and Recreation*
  4. Six Feet Under
  5. Arrested Development
  6. iZombie
  7. Grace & Frankie
  8. Riverdale*
  9. Ramy
  10. Superstore
  11. Supernatural
  12. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  13. GLOW
  14. The O.C.
  15. Once Upon a Time*
  16. The Mandalorian 
  17. Picard
  18. This Is Us*
  19. Orange is the New Black*
  20. Buffy the Vampire Slayer*
  21. What We Do in the Shadows
  22. Cheers
  23. The Path
  24. How I Met Your Mother*
  25. Outlander
  26. House, M.D. 
  27. The Knick

Shows I’m really not feeling:

Then there’s the pilots that I just don’t like. Most of these fall into one of two categories: boring, or some degree of offensive. I don’t really care to watch much more of Beverly Hills 90210 because there’s just not enough interesting stuff happening. But I don’t want to watch any more of YOU because I really don’t want to live in a world where we look at obsessive, violent stalkers and say “okay, but what about their side of the story though?” And so I don’t want to support media that’s built on that sort of thing.

  1. Glee*
  2. You 
  3. Beverly Hill 90210
  4. Weeds
  5. Shrill 
  6. Boardwalk Empire
  7. The Morning Show
  8. Sex and the City*
  9. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel*
  10. ER

Pilots aren’t everything. 

One of the most interesting findings is that all three lists feature shows that I continued to watch and at least somewhat enjoy. As much as I love tv pilots and talking about them, they’re never the be-all, end-all of whether or not we should watch more episodes. There are many times I’ve continued watching a show largely because a friend recommended it or because it won an award or because of the reputation that preceded it or because Netflix has an autoplay feature. Many times, that leads to wonderful results. In fact, sometimes disliking a pilot for a well-regarded show is a huge motivator to keep watching because I feel like I must be missing something, or the show must get better or else it wouldn’t be so well-regarded. 

There are also many shows where my first impression was NOT the pilot, but later episodes after the show found its footing. Revisiting a pilot after such an experience can be jarring, but often interesting. The moral of the story is that as much fun as it can be to talk about pilots, please don’t mistake my intentions here: a review of a pilot is NOT a review of a whole show. In my normal watching habits, I’ll often make myself watch at least 5-10 episodes before I actually check out of a show. But studying pilots and what makes them work or not work is a great way to help write better pilots, and so I’m going to continue doing it. Hopefully you’ll learn something too. 

Pilots still to come: 

All in the Family (CBS, 1971-1979)
Soap (ABC, 1977-1981)
Dallas (CBS, 1978-1991)
Hill Street Blues (NBC, 1981-1987)
Seinfeld (NBC, 1989-1998)
Family Matters (ABC, 1989-1998)
Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-1991)
Law & Order (NBC, 1990-2010)
X-Files (Fox, 1993-2004)
Frasier (1993-2004)
Malcolm in the Middle (Fox, 2000-2006)
Scrubs (NBC, 2001-2010)
The Shield (FX, 2002-2008)
NCIS (CBS, 2003-present)
Deadwood (HBO, 2004-2006)
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 2005-present)
Heroes (NBC, 2006-2010)
30 Rock (NBC, 2006-2013)
Sons of Anarchy (FX, 2008-2014)
The United States of Tara (Showtime, 2009-2011)
Modern Family (ABC, 2009-2020)
Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family, 2010-2017)
Downton Abbey, (BBC/PBS, 2010-2015)
Teen Wolf (MTV, 2011-2017)
Awkward. (MTV, 2011-2016)
Veep (HBO, 2012-2019)
Orphan Black (Space/BBC America, 2013-2017)
Rectify (Sundance TV, 2013-2016)
The Fosters (Freeform, 2013-2018)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox, 2013-present)
Broad City (Comedy Central, 2014-2019)
Transparent (Amazon, 2014-2019)
The Leftovers (HBO, 2014-2017)
Black-ish (ABC, 2014-present)
Empire (Fox, 2015-2020)
Castrophe (Channel 4/Amazon, 2015-2018)
Better Call Saul (AMC, 2015-present)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix, 2015-2019)
Casual (Hulu, 2015-2018)
The Expanse (Syfy, 2015-present)
Fleabag (BBC/Amazon, 2016-2019)
Atlanta (FX, 2016-present)
Search Party (TBS, 2016-present)
One Day at a Time (Netflix, 2017-present)
Harlots (Hulu, 2017-present)
American Gods (Showtime, 2017-present)
Ozark (Netflix, 2017-present)
Killing Eve (BBC/BBC America, 2018-present)
Pose (FX, 2018-present)
Dispatches From Elsewhere (AMC, 2020-present)

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