Pilot episodes can make or break a series, especially in the age of online streaming, because they are often the deciding factor for whether we continue with the series or not. So, here's a look at the best pilot episodes ever aired:
1. Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming
Probably the only time the entire Stark family was together, alive and kicking, the pilot established major plot points--the inescapable threat of White Walkers, Robert's lost love, Lannisters' incestuous relationships--and introduced all major characters, including Daenerys. Despite that, it wasn't complex or overwhelming but rather, the perfect introduction to Westeros.
2. Breaking Bad: Pilot/Breaking Bad
A mild-mannered, overworked chemistry teacher discovers he has inoperable cancer and decides to secure his family's future by cooking meth. It's crazy, ingenious, and entertaining as hell - exactly the tone that the pilot episode sets up.
3. The Sopranos: The Sopranos
Quite possibly one of the most well-loved crime dramas, the pilot episode of The Sopranos is widely regarded as one of the best, most unexpected pilots for a crime show. It starts with an unusual pairing (for the time) - a mobster with his psychiatrist. And proceeds to paint the most unassuming image of a mob family that you can imagine. The entire episode reels you, hook, line, and sinker, into the world of Sopranos.
4. Modern Family: Pilot
Taking the help of the now-famous mockumentary style, the show's creators introduce the three families and 11 main characters. The pilot presents cliches (frazzled mother, pretty, dumb blonde, an older man with a much younger second wife, etc.), only to hilariously and gloriously break them apart - a storytelling technique that defined the show.
5. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Pilot
I can not think of a show, in recent times, that had as entertaining, hilarious, or charming a pilot as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The dresses and Midge Maisel were impossible to ignore but to see her perfect life crumble into a drunken stand-up set is, in my humble opinion, one of the best plot set-ups ever shown.
6. Lost: Pilot (Part 1 and 2)
A plane crash leaves the surviving passengers battling injuries and paranoia on an island that appears to be equally mysterious and inhospitable. In the pilot itself, Lost had established itself as an unmissable drama, prompting fan theories right from the start.
7. Sacred Games: Ashwathama
Few Hindi language web series have managed to make the kind of impact with their first episode itself, as Sacred Games did. Shocking, violent graphics combined with explosive dialogues set up a chase sequence where the co-lead of the story is dead in the first episode itself. Intriguing does not even begin to cover it.
8. The Walking Dead: Days Gone By
Few pilot episodes have the kind of eerie beauty that Days Gone By encapsulated when it showed a recently awake coma patient encounter the undead, as he searched for his family. Zombie horror may not be a novelty but this episode was as unexpected as it was captivating.
9. Homeland: Pilot
Few pilots have managed to hold the attention of the viewers to such an extent, that you felt like you were gasping for breath by the end of the episode. Homeland, with the multiple twists, or rather inklings of twists, that it introduces in the first episode itself, definitely has one of the most engaging pilots on the list.
10. Mad Men: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
No matter what one says, there is no denying that Mad Men was a stylish show. It brought alive the decadence and sexism of the era it was set in, right with the first episode. A young secretary struggles against the workplace sexism, Don Draper delivers a fabulous pitch and the last scene reveals he isn't your usual protagonist. Who wouldn't be interested?
11. Peaky Blinders: Episode 1.1
In the pilot itself, Thomas "Tommy" Shelby appropriates a government consignment, arranges a fake killing, and encroaches on Billy Kimber's territory, all the while looking stylish as hell. If that doesn't set apart Peaky Blinders from all the usual crime dramas, then what does?
12. Desperate Housewives: Pilot
Yes, it turned into the kind of messy soap opera that had more plot twists than common sense. But, when it first aired, the pilot gave you a glimpse of the four main characters, while subtly establishing that in this perfect-looking suburb, nothing is ever what it looks like - a fact proved by the narrator's death. At the time, it gave us chills.
13. F.R.I.E.N.D.S: Pilot (The One Where Monica Gets A Roommate)
No matter how many years pass, I can never get over the unerring accuracy and hilarity of Ross asking for love, and Rachel turning up, drenched in her wedding attire. The pilot firmly established the characters, and their unique traits, while playing on the humor that would ultimately make it a show for the generations.
14. Made in Heaven: All That Glitters Is Gold
One of the finest Hindi web series to come on OTT platforms, Made in Heaven expertly set the tone of the show with the pilot (directed by Zoya). Like most society dramas, even with Made in Heaven, nothing is ever as it seems. But, unlike most society dramas, this show calls out the glaring pitfalls of our typical Indian society, while unraveling the protagonists' stories.
15. You: Pilot
For any thriller, the pilot is of utmost importance because it has to rouse the audience's expectations to the point, that they eagerly seek out an answer to the mystery. But to do that with You, where the lead was obviously a stalker and kidnapper, is an indication of how finely developed the pilot was. Let's just say viewers, especially book lovers, have never felt this conflicted.
Is there an episode you'd add to the list? Let us know in the comments section below.