“So you’re telling me after 21 years at this label, if I don’t open for your little ingénue, who wouldn’t even make it as one of my back-up singers, that you’re not going to support me? Well…you can kiss my decision as I’m walking out the door.”
Earlier this week, thanks to Hulu, I watched the pilot for Nashville, which premieres tonight at 10/9C on ABC.
As a woman, a native Nashvillian and a rabid Connie Britton fan (TEXAS FOREVER), I AM the core demographic that Nashville was written for. I was sold on the show from the moment I read the summary after it was announced in the spring. My hopes for the show were boosted even higher when most TV critics named it among the best new shows of the fall. I was desperate for the pilot to live up to expectations.
I’ve already season passed it on the DVR. I already have a ship (shippers gotta ship, y’all!) that is sure to be deliciously angsty, as one of them is married. And before you judge me, there is a scene between these two characters where the chemistry is SO ridiculous, you’d have to be dead not to ship it. I’m not going to go into anymore detail than that. When you watch it, you’ll know what I was talking about. The cast, lead by Britton and Hayden (Save the Cheerleader) Panettiere, is universally strong, and the characters, while there are some soap opera archetypes (the power-hungry daddy, the struggling waitress with a dream), are strongly defined. And the music is great, especially the Civil Wars-esque ballad that closes the show. All in all, the pilot is a must see, and I hope that the series continues to build from here.
After I watched Nashville, I got to thinking about pilot episodes. They are definitely a tricky thing, which is why I am so impressed when one is excellent. Pilots have to introduce all their characters, set up the storyline so that the audience CARES about the characters (so they are often overstuffed with exposition), and at the same time show the Network Suits what the show is capable of and how it could bring them all the money and acclaim that they desire. It’s a tall order.
So can you/should you judge what a TV series will be just from its pilot episode? My general rule of thumb over the past few TV seasons is to give a new show three episodes because you HAVE to see what the showrunners and writers do once their series gets picked up. Will the show be like Smash, which had a FANTASTIC pilot and then devolved into a hot mess by the end of its 13 episode season, where I only watched to #SmashBash it on Twitter with my friends? Or will the show be like Parks and Recreation? I remember watching the first couple episodes of Parks and dismissing it, thinking it was a poor imitation of The Office (which, quite frankly, it was in its first season). Flash forward a few seasons later, and everyone is RAVING about it, and I am wondering what the heck I am missing. At the urging of Sage and other friends, I went back and persevered through the first season…and lo and behold, Parks found its voice a few episodes into the second season (“The Practice Date” is the episode that turned it around for me). Now, Parks ranks among the finest comedies on TV and is a “can’t miss” for me every week. I swear, my heart grows three sizes every episode. Perhaps that is why I have so many feels?
While you shouldn’t judge a series fully on its pilot episode, some pilot episodes can sell you on the series IMMEDIATELY (much like Nashville). The two that come to mind for me are the pilots of Lost and How I Met Your Mother. I was already intrigued by the premise of Lost when it was announced and I was a fan of J.J. Abrams’ previous shows Felicity and Alias. But holy CRAP…the pilot of Lost blew my ever-loving MIND. Within the first five minutes I knew I was watching something special, something that had never been seen on television before. When Sawyer shot a freaking polar bear in the jungle, I was pretty convinced that I was in for the long run. And by the time Charlie Pace said his iconic “Guys…where are we?”, I knew it. I was in love. Yes, Lost got a little muddled with its storytelling in the middle seasons (The Tailies. Nikki and Paulo.), but its pilot episode (and the entire first season) was television at its finest.
The pilot of How I Met Your Mother plays like a traditional sitcom episode. Except it doesn’t FEEL like a pilot, it feels like a well oiled machine of a sitcom that has a couple of seasons under its belt. The characters are all sharply defined, and there is already a great chemistry between the cast. One the most enduring catchphrases of the series, “Suit Up” is introduced in the pilot. The recurring gag of Ranjit the driver starts in the pilot. Ted Mosby’s journey for the series is spelled out in a sweet monologue, delivered perfectly by Josh Radnor. And then of course there is the fantastic twist of “And that, kids, is how I met your Aunt Robin.” As soon as Grown-up Ted said that, I knew that this was a series I was going to love.
What about you, dear readers? What pilot episodes were love at first sight? Which shows failed to live up to their promising pilots? And which shows got better after a ho-hum pilot? Share your feels!