Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pilots, Pilots, Everywhere!

Starting next month, we'll see a whole slew of new TV shows appearing. Only the best/worst/mediocre will survive.

You sit down to watch a new show. The previews looked pretty good. But the first episode...

Isn't what you expected.

Feeling all your hopes for a new show this fall crushed? Never fear! Just like you can't always judge a book by its cover, you can't always judge a new show by its first episode.

Sure, there are signs. If the pilot makes you want to tear your brains out, it's probably safe to say you'll want to avoid any future episodes.

But what if it's just 'okay?'

'Okay' is actually the norm for pilots. If a pilot is the best thing since sliced bread (where'd that expression come from anyway?), you might actually have something to worry about. We all remember Heroes, right? It started off so strong that it had no place to go but down. But most pilots aren't 'great.' They're starters--an introduction to characters, a universe, and plotlines, and none of them are fully developed. You will see inconsistencies in the character portrayals, and you may see changes in certain plot details as you get further into the series. Ignore these as best you can--they're common, even if they may be a little annoying for the hardcore fan.

What you're looking for is improvement. Does a show get better or worse after the pilot? You may not want to judge this until you're about 6 episodes in, unless it's getting consistently worse.

Two separate examples, both on the CW: 90210 (the new one) and The Vampire Diaries.

I watched the first dozen episodes of 90210. It started off okay, and maintained that level of 'okay-ness' for a little while. Then, it became obvious that the bad writing and poorly developed characters were only getting worse, until it got to the point of no return: I wanted to jump out of my skin and run away every time it came on screen. That's not a point you want to get to, and, if you do, it's clearly time to bail.

The Vampire Diaries was a different story altogether. I watched the pilot and found it to be okay, but didn't continue watching. Later, I was able to catch up, starting with episode 2. The first six episodes, like 90210, maintained a level of 'okay-ness.' But, unlike 90210, after that it picked up and started getting better with each episode. I blew through the entire season in a week. Most of the characters got stronger, and the plot became incredibly intriguing.

So, this fall, lower expectations for pilot episodes. Don't expect them to hook you into the show. Look at them as a starting off point; if they have something that sparks your interest, stick with it and see if you start to enjoy the ride. Shows need time to come into their own. They rise and/or fall with time; unlike a movie, they will never stand on the merits of a single episode. The overall picture is much more important.