You only get one chance to make a first impression — and a surprising number of TV shows managed to blow that chance with a pilot episode that just didn’t deliver. Still, while many shows deliver first episodes that don’t necessarily entice us to keep watching, there are plenty of great shows that had terrible beginnings.
Believe it or not, some of your favorite series got off to rough starts. Whether it’s that they failed to set the tone for what the series would become, or the quality just wasn’t there, or watered down, sometimes things simply don’t add up. Luckily, they managed to make the most of it by correcting course and becoming modern classics.
Looking back on far too many shows, Screener’s come up with our 10 favorite TV shows that had bad pilots. We truly love each and every one of these — but it can’t be denied, their introductions to the world just don’t work.
The US version of “The Office” went on to become one of TV’s most beloved comedies and introduced the world to the likes of Michael Scott (Steve Carell), Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), Pam Beasly (Jenna Fischer) and Jim Halpert (John Krasinski). But if you revisit the first episode, it’s tonally a very different show. Its Michael is actually rather mean, and the charisma of the rest of the cast just isn’t as good as it would become — without the accents and trimmings of its UK predecessor, co-created by Ricky Gervais, it all just feels rather hopeless.
‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is an iconic genre show that launched a number of careers, but the pilot’s still a little tough to watch. Creator Joss Whedon clearly hadn’t figured out the Angel (David Boreanaz) character yet, and everything else — from the stylized language to the look of the show itself — still come off too over-the-top. (It’s not the last time things would get weird with Angel, though.)
Before “30 Rock” became the zany comedy juggernaut it was, it had a very uneven pilot that barely made sense within the confines of the show. The chemistry between the characters isn’t there, the jokes bounce from mean to too-random, and overall it’s just not that funny. Of course, once they figured out the formula, it was game on.
The word “schmaltzy” comes to mind when you think of the “Arrow” pilot. The cast is clearly loaded with good actors, of varying degrees of experience — but so much of the dialogue hits with the emotional impact of a soap opera parody. Once Oliver suited up as the Hood, and began killing no end of people, it brought the stark realization this wasn’t going to be another “Smallville,” and fans took a while to catch up. In the end, of course, we’re grateful: The show “Arrow” would grow to become has launched a whole universe.
‘Parks and Recreation’
The problem with the pilot (and first season) of “Parks and Recreation” is how hard it’s trying to be “The Office.” You can’t blame them for waning to copy a wildly successful show — but the beauty of “Parks” as we remember it now is how different the cast, and characters, are from anything else on TV. Even Leslie Knope’s (Amy Poehler) natural, inspiring charm is largely absent — but we are so happy it was installed for Season 2.
Another pilot ruined by “Buffy’s” Angel, who as the lead of this spinoff was essentially rebuilt from the ground up as the lead — complete with Irish demon buddy Doyle (Glenn Quin) and fellow “Buffy” transplant Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter). Unfortunately, the pilot can’t seem to decide if Angel is Batman or just an everyday guy who happens to kill vampires at night. The problem is, of course, that he was neither. Luckily, the show eventually found the right balance for Angel himself, and surrounded him with a stellar cast of newbies and “Buffy” veterans.
“The 100” pilot’s only true fault is that it was not very indicative of where the show was heading. The first episode has a very “rebellious teens in space” vibe that it pretty swiftly drops in favor of life-or-death stakes, gruesome acid burns, and mass murder. Going by the pilot alone, it’s comparable to watching an episode of “My Little Pony” slowly devolve into “Game of Thrones” — it’s not that it isn’t awesome, it’s just not exactly what you signed up for, you know?
The show about nothing had a pilot that was also about nothing — but not in a good way. While “Seinfeld” was known for its lightning-quick humor, the pilot feels like it’s happening in slow motion. And the characters as we meet them just don’t hold a candle to the icons they’d become.