By Daniel Carlson and Joanna Robinson | Lists | March 21, 2013 |
By Daniel Carlson and Joanna Robinson | Lists | March 21, 2013 |
Some tremendous shows start strong right out of the gate. The pilot to “Game of Thrones,” for example, is not only massively entertaining, but perfectly captures the tone of the show. Similarly, I find the pilot of “Veronica Mars” enough to hook even the most jaded of watchers. “A show about a high school detective?” they scoff. “I don’t think s-Ooooooooooooh this is so good.” But some solid shows, as you well know, have rocky pilots. Or a rocky few episodes. Or, heck, an entirely bad first season. Because of this, it can be hard to convince your friends that the show you can’t shut up about really is worth watching. So here are a few episodes we might help your cause. Go ahead, show ‘em out of order. These episodes are the shows at their best, episodes that’ll surely get your friends hooked.
“The West Wing” — “Take This Sabbath Day”
The first season of “The West Wing” was wonderful for its wit and idealism, but “Take This Sabbath Day” was the first real sign of the show’s willingness to grapple earnestly with the moral choices bound to the office of the presidency. It’s a quiet episode that unspools over a weekend as President Bartlet debates the political and emotional costs of capital punishment, and it’s far enough along in the show’s debut year that the characters have started to really gel. It’s so good it can serve as a standalone viewing experience.
“Doctor Who” — “Blink”
To quote Nerd God Neil Gaiman, this is all you need to tell your friends about the BBC’s cult classic: “No, look, there’s a blue box. It’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It can go anywhere in time and space and sometimes even where it’s meant to go. And when it turns up, there’s a bloke in it called The Doctor and there will be stuff wrong and he will do his best to sort it out and he will probably succeed cos he’s awesome. Now sit down, shut up, and watch ‘Blink’.” No but seriously, this show can be a tricky one. It’s equal turns campy/cheesy and deeply emotional. If you start at your friends at the beginning, they’ll never make it and even if you start them with the Eccleston “New Who” season, you might lose them. Tennant is the most accessible Doctor and “Blink” the easiest episode to come into. Plus it’s bloody fantastic.
“Parks and Recreation” — “Pawnee Zoo”
The first season of “Parks and Recreation” wasn’t really a season: it was six episodes that aired in the spring of 2009, and half a dozen episodes are almost never enough for a show to find its voice. Certain adjustments were made before the show returned for its first full season that fall, but they weren’t really overhauls, just the gradual tweaks that come with growth. As such, you can ditch the first few episodes and jump right in with the second season opener “Pawnee Zoo,” which gives you everything you need to know abut the show’s characters and their relationships while also setting Leslie Knope on a path to beleaguered glory.
“Buffy The Vampire Slayer” — “What’s My Line Part 1 & 2”
Oh, Season 1 of “Buffy,” you are my most embarrassing love. Poorly lit and woefully low-budget, the whole thing is not what you want to use to sell someone on the “teenage vampire slayer” concept. But by Season 2 everything is in full swing. You’ve got a solid, charismatic villain in Spike, the Buffy/Angel angst is dialed up to 11 and the Whedon one-liners are flying fast and furious. This two-parter with its league of assassins, occult ritual and healthy sprinkling of Seth Green is a perfect intro. Oh yes, even Ken-drah, The Vahm-pire Slayah has her charms.
“The Simpsons” — “Stark Raving Dad”
“The Simpsons” is an institution, and while it doesn’t exactly suck these days, it can inevitably never measure up to the genius of the run it had starting in its third season and lasting for five or so years. “Stark Raving Dad” is a perfect entry point for the absurdity of its premise (Homer meets a giant in a mental facility who believes he’s Michael Jackson) and the James L. Brooksian sweetness of the resolution (Bart and “Michael” pen a birthday song for Lisa). It’s a funny, character-driven episode that kicks of the series’ best years.
“New Girl” — “Bad In Bed”
The pilot of “New Girl” is the perfect example of strong show/weak pilot. There’s a completely different fourth roommate, for chrissakes. It took awhile for Deschanel and the show runners to figure out the Jes character. She’s definitely on the spectrum at the beginning of the season. It wasn’t until a few episodes in that they figured out the show worked best as an ensemble and in the previous episode, “Bells,” they finally got a handle on the Winston character. In “Bad In Bed” Deschanel finally strikes the perfect balance of off-beat but likable. So if you want someone to hop on board, have them skip past the abrasively quirky first episodes and land here.
“Bob’s Burgers” — “Hamburger Dinner Theater”
“Bob’s Burgers” feels like a throwback for its lack of serialization. Aside from a few supporting characters that show up on occasion, there aren’t any real arcs tying episodes together, so you can watch them in almost any order. The fifth episode of the first season, though — “Hamburger Dinner Theater” — is probably the best intro to the series. It’s snappy and funny, taking full advantage of the weird quirks and passions of its characters in ways that didn’t quite come through in the few episodes that preceded it. It also provides a great baseline for the family dynamic that defines the show. These people are a little crazy, but they’ll always have each other. (Bonus: pair it with the next episode, “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?”, for a perfect hour of comedy.)
“Cougar Town” — “All Mixed Up”
You can skip the first season of “Cougar Town” altogether. Seriously. The show jettisons its cornball “MILF on the prowl” set-up almost as soon as it begins, and the second season basically starts a whole new series about a group of supportive heavy drinkers who hang out and pass the time with invented games and low-stakes drama. “All Mixed Up,” the second season premiere, is the ideal gateway into the show.
“Justified” — “Blowback”
The reason “Justified” is one of the finest shows on television right now is because of all the solid world-building the writers have done over the past few years. But, let me tell you, the first season isn’t exactly blowing anyone’s socks off. In fact, the pilot is almost “Burn Notice”-esque. (Not a compliment.) But the pay-off. Oh it’s sweet. This particular episode from Season 1 is practically a bottle episode with Raylan and his crew trying to talk their way out of a hostage situation. (W. Earl Brown guest stars as the aforementioned convict and is one of the first of many “Deadwood” actors to show up.) Plus this is Jere Burns’ first appearance as the magnificent Wynn Duffy. Sure you could start someone on Season 2, because there’s no denying the charm of the Bennett clan, but it’s Season 1 (and particularly this episode) where you really start getting the flesh of the Boyd and Raylan relationship. Once you fall in love with them, there’ll be no going back.