Tuned In

Good Pilot, Bad Show; Bad Pilot, Good Show

  • Share
  • Read Later

In the comments under my Dollhouse post from yesterday, there’s an interesting (well, to me) discussion about one of the things that make TV reviewing different from film or book criticism: trying to assess the future of a series from a couple episodes, or maybe even just one. 

As I wrote there, one trick to TV criticism is that (IMHO) reviewing a series is about more than watching the screeners and deciding “this hour of video is good/sucks.” There’s an almost psychic element to the job—one that I get right sometimes, one that I screw up other times. You’re trying to gauge, from what you’ve seen, a show’s potential to grow, based on its voice, its premise, its cast, and so on. 

I have a selective memory, of course, so I remember my successes better than my failures. The American version of The Office was an instance of a show that had a so-so pilot—panned by some critics—but my original review, I humbly submit, caught a decent sense of where Greg Daniels was going with the show. I remember getting a similar vibe from Daniels’ King of the Hill pilot (before I was a full-time TV critic); likewise, 30 Rock was an example of a show with a very mixed pilot whose strong points looked like they would overcome the weak ones. 

My failures? When I reviewed the pilot of Firefly, I focused on its weaknesses and its differences from Joss Whedon’s earlier series and missed the kernel of what would become one of my favorite brilliant-but-canceled series. On the flip side, I liked the pilot of Drive last season, but in retrospect should have seen that show was going nowhere fast. Likewise, I was blown away by the expensive pilot of Dark Angel—and not just by meeting Jessica Alba in person on the set, I swear!—and gave it a far better review than the resulting week-to-week series merited. 

What were the most glaring examples to you of a series pilot that proved much better, or much worse, than the series itself?