Email Roundtable #1 – Pilots

In honor of the start to the new Fall TV season we attempt to chat about shows we loved right from the pilot.

Kerri: I am officially opening up our roundtable discussion about shows we love from the pilot.
Who wants to start?

Katie: I don’t think there has ever been a show that I loved from the pilot. Actually, the only one that I can ever remember watching from start to finish, while it was on air, was Lost. Even when I didn’t have cable anymore, I still found a way to stream the show the next day.

That being said, I think it’s pretty hard to LOVE a show from the first time you see it. Most pilots are pretty bad. The exceptions that immediately come to mind are Treme and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Actually, Lost had an amazing pilot. I think it might have been Lost’s best episode. That plane crash was so exciting! And different from anything else I had seen on TV.

Jane: I loved Freaks and Geeks from the pilot. Looking back though, I think the fact that Kerri had really talked it up and the fact that I had a giant crush on Seth Rogen helped.

Kerri: That’s interesting, Katie. And, not to get too much into it, but you are a bit younger than me and Jane. Maybe it has something to do with the way we watch TV now. We are less excited about the start of any TV season because we know we can watch shows in full on DVD or Netflix or other less legal ways.

The show that I’d like to talk about is My So-Called Life. I was 11 when it aired and no show (or movie for that matter) spoke about my life in quite the same way. No television family came quite as close to my own in almost every way as the Chase’s. My older sister was so similar to Angela that it almost felt like mockery. I was very much like the younger sister. From the pilot episode, where Angela shirks her old life and old friends for new more interesting ones, it was very apparent that the show was keenly aware of the teenage experience and especially the teenage girl experience.

I’ve gone back to it since, and it is WAY more painful and awkward (in a good, purposeful way) than I remember. Kinda like remembering your own painful adolescence.

Katie: I wish I would have known about Freaks and Geeks when it came on. I was the perfect age to make sweet, sweet imaginary love to James Franco.

Kerri: Yes. Freaks and Geeks is easily my favorite pilot episode of all time. It is bang on perfect in every way. It is so good that it almost isn’t a pilot episode. There are no “growing pains”. It is really all there. Frankly, I would say that Freaks and Geeks probably has one of the closest to perfect entire runs in television history.

Yep, I’m just going to say it. There is hardly a false note in any minute of that show

Katie: Getting back to you, Kerri — Yes, I definitely agree that how we watch TV has changed. Right now, the only show that I desperately try to find a TV to watch the night it comes on is Mad Men. The show is an event for me, and it’s fun to dissect it the next day when it’s still fresh. I seem to recall a semi-heated discussion about “Zou Bisou Bisou”…

Anyway, back to pilots. Did you ladies stick with those shows throughout their run?

Jane: Shoot, I didn’t watch Freaks and Geeks when it came out. Come to think of it I can’t really remember any show that I saw the pilot for, when it first came out. The only exception is Party of Five but it was so long ago I don’t remember why I loved it so much. I think it had something to do with the family. I loved the fact that those kids stuck together and did all this great family stuff together. I was kind of obsessed with other families.

Katie: Ha! You both answered my question before I asked it!

Kerri: Yes, going back, my memory gets pretty fuzzy too, Jane. I also had a soft spot for Party of Five and would watch it weekly with my friend Lindsay.

I agree, Katie, appointment viewing has mostly vanished. Although, I think live events like awards shows and sports are still things people like to watch live. Twitter helps with that. I like the sense of community that can build around an event on Twitter.

So, what do you look for in a pilot? Do you usually give a pilot episode more “room for improvement”? I know that I rarely judge a show on the pilot alone.

Jane: I’m super judgmental. Like crazy judgmental.  I think it is because I know another TV series is just a download or a walk to the video store away. I think what I look for in a pilot is authentic characters. If the actors are being to “acty” or the situations are too farfetched I rarely continue to watch.

Katie: Yes! I definitely do not expect a pilot to be perfect. There is no delicate way to explode that much information on our faces. I prefer that a pilot leaves enough information out that we are curious about the characters and setting, etc. etc.

This is a weird thing (maybe only specific to me) but I like it when the characters look different from one another. I remember watching some pilots and not being able to tell one character from the other. Mad Men was especially bad… All those guys in suits. C’mon.

Kerri: Oh, yes, Katie. Casting is a HUGE part of a successful pilot episode. I think that if you are immediately aware of each character and they are unique in some way it is incredibly helpful. I can’t stand it when I’m like, “who’s that guy again?” every five minutes. Maybe it is because I have just started watching the new season, but it seems like Survivor constantly has that problem. It’s only by the fourth or fifth episode that we know who everyone is and that’s also because the cast has dwindled.

Katie: I have the same requirements, Jane. Authentic characters. I can believe any type of reality, no matter how far-fetched, as long as it’s grounded in strong characters. That’s why I finished the first season of Luther even though I didn’t care for the pilot.

Kerri: Can you think of a show that you stopped watching after the first episode? I’m curious…

Katie: Outsourced.

Kerri: I can understand that.

Jane:  I totally can!

Sons of Anarchy: Too violent for me. Although, I love Katy Sagal.

Hotel Babylon: Pretty fake people doing nasty things to each other in a fancy hotel. The actors barely looked at each other and the situations were formulaic and lame.

The Big Bang Theory: I couldn’t stand Johnny Galecki’s fake nasal nerd voice and Steve Urkel snort. Although, I’ve seen recent episodes and he’s toned it down.

Kerri: I had a pretty adverse reaction to Game of Thrones after I watched the first episode but kept plugging away. I also hated True Blood right off the bat and kept watching in hopes that it would get better. It didn’t.

I kind of love how this started as a chat about pilots we loved and has turned into a chat about pilots we hated.

Katie: I HATED the pilot for Sex and the City. But I’d already bought the DVD so I had to keep watching… then I watched the entire series. It got better.

Then it got worse.

Jane: Yes, I agree about Luther, Katie. I honestly don’t think I would have continued on with that show if I hadn’t seen The Wire and wasn’t in love with Stringer Bell. I think loyalty for characters from other shows I’ve loved plays a big part in whether or not I continue with a show. It takes a lot for me to commit to a show, so once I do I’m loyal to its actors and writers.

Kerri: Agreed, Jane! That’s the only reason I stuck with Justified, too, and that turned out to be a pretty great decision on my part!

Well, thanks for this gals. Unless there is anything you want to add, I think we will sign off!

Katie: I would like to add that this made me want to watch a whole bunch of the shows you mentioned!

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