I Watched 100 TV Pilots So You Don’t Have To

Over the first 100 days of 2020, I watched and reviewed a television pilot each day. They came from all over the television stratosphere. ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, FX, CW, Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and more. Yes, the gang’s all here. I’ve taken the time to break them down into a few categories to help you determine which of these shows might be worth watching next.

The ones I’m most looking forward to continuing. 

After I finished all 100 pilots, I asked myself… so… now what? What do I want to watch? Without consulting any of my old reviews or notes I made at the time, what do I still remember? What am I dying to watch? Of course there are going to factors outside of show quality that impact this. What shows am I hearing other people talk about? Which ones are my streaming platforms giving me ads for? So I DID also consult the list once I got to the point where I simply couldn’t recall any more pilots from memory. Ultimately, this is the list I came up with as my “Top 10.” There’s a lot of different shows here, and if you had asked me to guess what my top 10 would be at the beginning, there’s maybe only one or two shows that would’ve been there. All 10 of these are of shows I had not seen before, as I decided to make ones I HAD seen into another category.

1. Silicon Valley
2. Succession
3. Bodyguard
4. Desperate Housewives
5. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay
6. Catastrophe
7. The United States of Tara
8. Pose
9. Outlander
10. Empire

The ones I’m surprised I liked as much as I did. 

None of these shows cracked the top 10, but many were serious contenders. One thing they all have in common: I wasn’t expecting to like them as much as I did. I thought maybe Dallas and Hill Street Blues would feel too dated to appeal to me. I thought The Fosters and Orphan Black would be good, but perhaps be outside my wheelhouse. These are all shows that pleasantly surprised me, either because I hadn’t heard too much about them beforehand, or because the premise didn’t appeal to me as much as the pilot did.

  1. The Fosters
  2. Teen Wolf
  3. Dawson’s Creek 
  4. Hill Street Blues
  5. The Shield
  6. Better Call Saul
  7. Dallas
  8. Orphan Black 
  9. The Mary Tyler Moore Show

 

The ones that I want to start watching more often, but won’t be super committed too. 

I’m a big believer that liking a show doesn’t automatically mean committing to seeing every last episode of it in order. While this may be necessary for longer serialized shows, it’s not true for less serious, episodic stuff. Watching television isn’t supposed to feel like a chore, so for those of us trying to keep with the gajillion different things that 5 or more streaming platforms are throwing at us, it’s imperative to not put that much pressure on ourselves for every single show we like. I enjoyed these pilots a LOT, but for the sake of my sanity, they’ll simply be shows I watch when I feel like watching them with no pressure to watch every episode. If I get there, I get there, if I don’t, I don’t. I’m glad I reminded myself that they exist and that they are so flippin’ good.

  1. The Goldbergs
  2. Malcolm in the Middle 
  3. Community
  4. M*A*S*H
  5. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  6. Modern Family (IF it comes back to a streaming platform I’m already paying for)
  7. Frasier
  8. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

 

The ones I really didn’t like that much but they probably get better. 

Before this project, I knew that sometimes pilots don’t live up to the overall reputation of the show. What I didn’t know is that sometimes that very reputation becomes a major reason why one might keep watching a show with a subpar pilot. In these cases, I almost have more of a desire to keep watching because the pilot fell so far from the reputation that proceeds the show. I’d be curious to know when and how the show evolves into the show everyone is talking about. 

  1. Search Party
  2. Shrill
  3. Downton Abbey
  4. Ramy
  5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  6. Cheers
  7. Law & Order

The ones I really didn’t like but I promise you, THEY DO GET BETTER. 

These are all shows that I eventually grew to love, but the pilots are not great representations of their quality. The good news is that all are highly episodic so there isn’t really a compelling reason why you’d have to start with the pilot.

1. Sex and the City
2Veep
3. Parks and Recreation
4. Seinfeld
5. Family Matters 

The ones I didn’t like that I don’t have a ton of hope for. 

Look, pretty much every television show appeals to someone and every show that made this list still has its fans. But personally, I don’t get it. Any charm these pilots had was not enough to make me forgive their flaws, and not enough to make me say “oh, I can still see the potential, just give it a few more episodes to grow into itself!” With two shows on this list, Transparent and Twin Peaks, I actually have seen the entire first season, and it still wasn’t enough to win me over.

  1. The Morning Show 
  2. Beverly Hills 90210 
  3. Transparent
  4. Twin Peaks
  5. NCIS
  6. Ozark

Jarring, but not necessarily bad. 

Some shows just need more than one episode to pull everything together. I admire all of the shows on this list because they took risks. Good or bad, these shows strayed from existing television norms. With these types of shows, one episode simply isn’t enough to get lost in the story because you’re still getting over how odd they are. And so, I have neither positive or negative opinions here. But if you’re craving something a little bit different, here’s some options.

  1. Dickinson
  2. iZombie
  3. American Gods
  4. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  5. ER
  6. Dispatches From Elsewhere
  7. The Leftovers
  8. Killing Eve
  9. Arrested Development 
  10. Fleabag
  11. What We Do in the Shadows 

The ones that were perfectly fine, but not for me at this particularly moment in time. 

Everyone has different tastes, and that’s fine! For this list, I genuinely believe that the creators succeeded in making the pilot they wanted to make, and there’s probably an audience out there that would find these shows absolutely amazing. But they’re not going to be on the top of my to-watch list. Maybe they’re just not a genre I care for, maybe I just don’t have the patience to watch enough of the show to fall in love. However, I still have an overall positive opinion of these pilots, and I could still see myself recommending these shows to others depending on their tastes.

  1. The Expanse
  2. Pretty Little Liars
  3. Picard
  4. GLOW
  5. The Mandalorian
  6. Atlanta
  7. Supernatural
  8. Scrubs
  9. House, M.D
  10. The X-Files
  11. Heroes
  12. Black-Ish
  13. Broad City
  14. You
  15. The Knick

The ones that get the job done, but you might be able to do better. 

I didn’t dislike these pilots. But when people ask me for a hangout sitcom, am I going to recommend How I Met Your Mother over That ’70s Show? Am I really going to go out of my way to finish Sons of Anarchy when I found the pilot for fellow FX white boy antihero drama The Shield far more compelling? These shows are not BAD, but they aren’t different enough from other shows I like better to rank higher than this awkward middle ground category where I put them.

  1. Superstore
  2. Sons of Anarchy
  3. 30 Rock 
  4. How I Met Your Mother
  5. All in the Family

They ones I’d already seen and knew I loved, but damn they’re so good pretty please, watch them. 

Some of these are shows I already knew were my favorites. Others were ones I hadn’t seen in years and am pleasantly surprised they held up as well as they did. Either way, they were among my favorite shows on the entire list of 100, and I highly recommend them.

  1. The Good Place
  2. Barry
  3. Derry Girls
  4. Awkward.
  5. Casual
  6. Unreal
  7. Harlots
  8. This Is Us

The ones where my impression is sullied by my experience with later episodes. 

These shows have varying degrees of pilot success. Glee is the only one I was particularly hard on in my initial review. However, I’ve seen more episodes, and eventually fell off the wagon with each one. I have no real motivation to get back on said metaphorical wagon. It’s hard for me to really say ‘yes, these are shows you should watch or ‘no, these are shows you shouldn’t waste your time on’ because the discussion is more complicated than that. Comment if you care for more details on any specific show.

  1. Glee
  2. Once Upon a Time 
  3. Orange is the New Black
  4. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel 
  5. Riverdale

The ones I basically forgot about as soon as I saw them, but hey, they’re there and probably don’t suck. 

When you watch 100 Pilots in 100 Days, it’s inevitable that some just get lost in the mix. None of these were really good or bad, but they didn’t really stick in my brain and make a long-term impression.

1. The Path 
2. Rectify
3. Soap
4. Deadwood
5. Weeds
6. One Day at a Time 
7. Grace and Frankie
8. The O.C.
9. Halt and Catch Fire
10Six Feet Under
11. Boardwalk Empire

Which shows from The List are your favorites? Which ones do you think I need to stick with longer?

 

2 thoughts on “I Watched 100 TV Pilots So You Don’t Have To

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