21 Iconic TV Pilots That Made a Lasting Impression From the Start

A pilot episode can literally make or break a series, so they need to be good if the show is to survive. Someone recently asked online, “Which show has the best pilot episode?” Here are the top 24 answers.

ER

ER - Warner Bros. Television
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

“I remember watching the first episode the original time it aired. So very good; I ended up watching it for years. And we wouldn’t have George Clooney if not for ER.”

“Pre-doctorate Carter joins the staff, Carol and Doug have broken up, Carol then tries to kill herself, and Dr. Greene gives Carter a pep talk when he gets overwhelmed.”

Lost

Lost - ABC Studios
Photo Credit: ABC Studios.

“What an amazing first episode. Plus, seasons 1-3 are some of the best TV ever made. Specifically, the cliffhanger at the end of season 1.”

“This was the first show that came to mind. The pilot HOOKED you and made you desperate to know what was happening. And it did it with style.”

The Walking Dead

Photo Credit: AMC.

“It has one of the best pilots of all time. It falls off after season 2 and gets more and more drawn out and repetitive, but that show was amazing in the beginning.”

“Totally agree! The show as a whole fell off, but people forget just how good Season 1 was, especially the first episode. It had me hooked immediately. I’ll never forget coming home from basketball practice on Halloween night and watching the premiere!”

Stranger Things

Photo Credit: Netflix.

“This is truth. Plus, the whole first season was mind-blowing.”

“It plays out like an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, in the best way possible.”

“The pilot and the first season are a masterpiece. The best season by far.”

The Boys

The Boys - Amazon Studios
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios.

“I watched the first episode not knowing what I was getting into, and that scene hit me hard. Like the A-train hit Robin. Imagine your GF getting vapourised in front of you.”

“The person that convinced me to watch it told me, “Just watch the first 5 minutes, and you’ll be hooked”. They were very, very correct.”

“I rewatched it and was blown away by just how much happens in the first episode.”

Ozark

Ozark - Netflix
Photo Credit: Netflix.

“I remember thinking that this show is emotionally violent. Incredibly well done. The laptop scene, the falling off the building scene. Brilliant.”

“That closing with “Decks Dark” as a drone pulls away from the Byrds all standing on the edge of a cliff is such a perfect summary image for the show’s entire run.”

Futurama

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.

“I think Futurama’s pilot is pretty perfect.”

“You can watch it on mute with no subtitles, and it still makes perfect sense. Great pilot.”

“I love the fact that if you pay attention to when fry falls into the freezer, you can see Nibbler’s shadow under the desk.”

Invincible

Invincible Amazon Studios
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios.

“For about the first 90%, I thought it was okay, but kind of generic and predictable. Then I got to the last few minutes, and I was hooked.”

“Pilot was so good that I watched the whole season through and read the books.”

Bob’s Burgers

Bob_s Burgers 20th Television Animation
Photo Credit: 20th Television Animation.

“I was looking for someone to mention this. I love the line in that episode, “You’re the worst kind of autistic. You can’t even count.” It makes me laugh every single time.”

“The whole “Guess how many toothpicks are on the ground” part is hilarious.”

‘When she says that her crotch is itchy, and he asks if she is asking as his daughter or his grill chef, and then adds that it should be neither.”

Fargo

Fargo - MGM Television
Photo Credit: MGM Television.

” The ending of the pilot was shocking and set the tone for the amazing first series.”

“Fargo is seriously underrated. The first episode was honestly probably the best.”

“What’s extra cool about the Fargo pilot is that it totally works as a standalone short film. You could watch just the first episode and not a single scene more and still walk away, having watched a tightly written, compelling story.”

True Detective

True Detective - HBO Entertainment
Photo Credit: HBO Entertainment.

“I don’t watch many series (because if the pilot is not good, I usually don’t bother watching the rest), but this one got me going from the start.”

“The first season is the best thing that’s ever been on a TV screen, hands down.”

“I never get into TV shows as I did with the True Detective. That show grabbed me by the ears and eyes immediately.”

Arrested Development

Arrested Development - 20th Century Fox Television
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.

“The entire first season is the best first season of any sitcom ever. It’s flawless.”

“I legitimately think that the original run is some of the best TV ever made of any type. It’s just endlessly rewatchable, so tightly made, and fantastic. The pilot was genius.”

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica NBC Universal Television Studio
Photo Credit: NBC Universal Television Studio.

“The first episode, named “33”, is the pilot. Because the miniseries is good and required for the entire setup, but that first actual episode was legendary.”

“That episode is the best and most gripping hour of television ever made.”

“I was hooked after the pilot; it was amazing, and then the series just got better and better. But let’s not talk about the last two episodes.”

Mad Men

Mad Men Lionsgate Television
Photo Credit: Lionsgate Television.

“The pilot ending, when you find out Don is married and lives in the suburbs, is great!”

“Don has spent the entire episode being a sexy guy about town, and then you realize the star of the show is cheating on his wife and family. You just assumed he was a cool single guy, but no, he’s got his own issues.”

Chernobyl

Chernobyl HBO
Photo Credit: HBO.

“The end of one episode, with the Geiger counter screeching in the darkness? That was absolutely terrifying, and this show does a fantastic job of less is more when it comes to the score and the cinematography. Episode one had me hooked for sure.”

“Just perfection from start to finish. Left me wanting more after the first episode, and no show has really come close to repeating the feeling.”

The Good Place

The Good Place Universal Television
Photo Credit: Universal Television.

“The perfect pilot and the perfect finale. And a pretty great middle as well.”

“This was my first thought. I guessed the twist, but it was still so good. And the whole show followed through from that pilot. Really a one of a kind show.”

“Oh yes! I was hooked immediately! Such a wholesome series. It’s my comfort show.”

Heroes

Heroes NBC Universal Television Studio
Photo Credit: NBC Universal Television Studio.

“It was a long time ago since I watched it, but I remember it being extremely good.”

“The pilot and first season were amazing… until the end when they ran out of money to shoot the ending it deserved, and the writing got rushed to finally get everyone together in the same place at the same time.”

“Great pilot that got so many hooked, but that writers strike murdered the show.”

The Americans

The Americans FX Productions
Photo Credit: FX Productions.

“This is 100% my choice. It managed to have the top three best pilots and top three best series finales. Great show all the way around.”

“This really is one the best pilots ever. It immediately asks whether these two spies are loyal Russian agents or possible American defectors. And the answer is neither; they’re loyal to each other over any country. Just an incredible table setting for the series.”

Derry Girls

Derry Girls Hat Trick Productions
Photo Credit: Hat Trick Productions.

“The best part is that it’s Orla who we hear talking first, and when you realize it’s not her diary, it’s hysterical. I think it’s also the most eloquent you ever hear Orla throughout the whole show, which makes it funnier.”

“The pilot is what got me to watch more. The ending scene with the dead nun is iconic.”

“There are so many classic quotes just in that first episode.”

Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under HBO Entertainment
Photo Credit: HBO Entertainment.

“Yes. Love this show so much, and the pilot was amazing. I got so attached to the characters that I was sad for the end to come.”

“The pilot was perfect. I just finished it for the first time, and I cannot get over it. A phenomenal show from start to finish!”

“And possibly the winner of the show with the best series finale.”

Supernatural

Supernatural Warner Bros. Television
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

” Nothing says a good start to a show like a protagonist’s mom becoming their nightlight.”

“I came here to comment on this. The pilot and those first five seasons were perfect.”