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How Many Episodes Should You Give A Show To Win You Over?

By Dan Hamamura | TV | March 22, 2018 |

By Dan Hamamura | TV | March 22, 2018 |


With TV’s midseason finally in full swing, it feels like a good time to ask that age-old question: how many episodes should you give a new show to win you over? Because until those lazy robots finish taking all our jobs, tough choices about what to watch still have to be made.

First, a hard truth: there are some shows you can safely delete after watching the pilot, confident that whether it’s the tone, the execution, or the fact that your career doppelganger happens to work on the show and definitely beat you out for the gig it’s cool you’re very happy for them, it just isn’t for you.

Take, for example, the midseason Fox show LA To Vegas (which Emily already covered nicely), a reasonable enough workplace comedy with a slightly different setting (an airplane!) that hit all the notes when setting up their absurd weirdos we’re going to spend time with in the bar cabin: plucky heroine with vague dreams of something more! Sassy friend! Full of himself pilot! A stuffy brit/love interest! A sketchy kook of vaguely European origins! A smarter-than-she-seems stripper! Hey look they even have an Asian charact-oh never mind she’s being written out after one scene.

All of it was fine. The pinnacle of adequacity! But it didn’t seem like the kind of show that I’d want to watch every week. So, off the DVR it goes.

If you happen to make it past the pilot episode, you should apply “The Three Episode Rule,” which is a very clever way of saying that you should try to watch three episodes before deciding whether to cut a show: after all, pilots are always tough, and often don’t really represent what the show will become. And the second episode, inexplicably, is almost always focused on restating the premise and introducing new cast (it’s also almost always written by the show’s creator(s), so the vision of the full writing staff isn’t as evident yet). So episode three is a nice place to get to, because then you start to really see (hopefully) what the show will become.

A show where I recently applied this test was one that I forgot to stop recording: the midseason comedy LA to Vegas (it’s on Fox), which, after establishing the main characters and the willtheywontthey, immediately leaned into, of course, the most fun thing they could come up with when you have Dylan McDermott in your cast: wondering what happens when you put Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney together! Turns out they mostly growl at each other as the main characters learn their lesson, which is that sometimes the absurd weirdo co-worker you know is better than the absurd weirdo co-worker you don’t.

A fun, universal lesson! And admittedly, there’s more charm and depth to the cast than perhaps you initially thought. But is it enough to keep watching?

If by three episodes you’re still asking that question, perhaps you should try to stick with the show in question at least to episode six. After all, six is an important number for a network television show: it’s about halfway through the initial order (usually thirteen), and by this point, there’s been enough time to establish some running gags and start to expand the world.

Since everyone’s already talking about it here, let’s look at LA to Vegas (Tuesdays, 9:30 pm on your local Fox broadcasting station). By the sixth episode, they managed to set up some fun running gags (like the anachronistic references making everyone question just how old Nathan Lee Graham’s Bernard is) and even concluded a minor storyline (with, of course, the return of Dermot Mulroney!). The show gave every character the opportunity to play both straight and absurd, and also found clever ways to expand the world of the show, like throwing a child’s birthday party at a strip club, or setting up (and betting on) a #pilotfight, two totally normal things that definitely would happen in this world.

But let’s say you’ve gotten six episodes in with a show and you’re still on the fence because you feel like your inner cynic doesn’t want to let you like said show even though you find yourself tuning in week in and week out because even though yes generally the comedic beats applied here have been done before they’re still well-crafted and the cast seems to be gelling much better than your inner cynic expected and in a way that is often difficult for a show to pull off so quickly.

Then you’re in luck! Remember that some shows (especially comedies) can take an entire season to find the right balance. Parks and Recreation, for example, didn’t become the show we all loved until the second season. Neither did Happy Endings. Which means you may yet be rewarded for your patience.

And yet, some shows manage to find a nice stride in the first season, even shows that you initially thought you would pass on, shows like, oh, I don’t know, LA to Vegas (which, if you don’t have access to your local FOX station, is also available on Hulu and FOX dot com and probably iTunes and Amazon or whatever), as they continue to expand the world with peeks into the home lives of the characters, or by bringing in favorite actors from previous shows the writers worked on (Zach Knighton as Dave Rose a chef who just happens to seem an awful lot like a toned down Dave Rose!) and so maybe you should really worry less about your inner cynic and instead if you like a show just like it!


Turns out, I like LA to Vegas. A show I was planning on quitting after the pilot!

Which means, of course, the answer to the original question, how many episodes should you give a show, is that you should give them all of them. Or none! Or something in between. But if it’s bringing you joy, then keep watching, right? That seems reasonable.

But now that brings me to another question: what show did you end up becoming a fan of, despite your best intentions?

Dan is the Comedy Editor and Podjiba Host. You can listen to him scream into the void on Twitter, or listen to him host the weekly TV podcast Podjiba.