What Was The Best TV Show Pilot Twist?
Today, I ask you folks to name your picks for the best TV show pilot twists.
Pop Culture Theme Time is a feature where I put a question to you to see what you think about a particular theme. I might later revisit the theme for a future Drawing Crazy Patterns or Top Five.
Last week, I asked you all what TV shows were never as good as their pilots, but now I thought I’d turn it around and CELEBRATE the pilots of great shows, especially the typical thing that pilots do (especially over the past few decades) of doing a major twist to try to get people to want to keep coming back to watch more. So what TV show pilots had the best plot twists in them?
Some notable ones include This is Us revealing that three of the four stories on the show are set in the present and one of them is set in 1980, showing the births of the other three adults (with the added twist that all three of the adults are siblings), How I Met Your Mother revealing that the love interest that Ted meets-cute in the first episode is categorically NOT the mother of the kids in the story and Journeyman having Dan actually prove to his wife Katie that he really HAS been traveling through time throughout the episode (as opposed to dragging that reveal out for a maddening amount of episodes like most other shows would do).
My pick, though, would be the reveal on the pilot of The Good Place that Eleanor Shellstrop, allowed into “The Good Place” (basically heaven) because of her good deeds on Earth during her life, was in the Good Place by MISTAKE…
Of course, that show had a whole OTHER twist later on (best season finale twists would be a good future Pop Culture Theme Time, right?), but that initial twist was still excellent.
That the sirens at the start of Breaking Bad are fire engines responding to a fire and not cops there to arrest Walter White is a good one, too, and, of course, the murder at the end of The Shield. Lots of good choices, people! Let’s hear your picks!
Feel free to suggest other topics for future Pop Culture Theme Times to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
8 thoughts on “What Was The Best TV Show Pilot Twist?”
The one that pops into my head is “Mad Men”. We’ve seen Don at work and with a lover and then we see him come home to his family.
I’d also consider “The Wonder Years”, which has a gut punch of Winnie Cooper’s brother dying in Vietnam.
I’ve seen others mention that in articles about pilot twists, but it’s funny, I must have read an article about Mad Men before it came out that mentioned Don’s wife as a character, because that bit didn’t surprise me when I first watched it.
Not so much a plot twist – but the shootings of Renko and Hill at the end of the Hill Street Blues pilot was pretty dramatic. The twist, of course, is that they survived due to behind the scenes discussions.
Does the note about the number of Cylon models Adama finds at the end of the Battlestar Galactica reimagining count? Or that Boomer is a Cylon? Or is that the end of a two part movie? and not the “pilot”.
I think the reveal at the end (or toward the end) of Modern Family that they’re all linked is a pretty good one. It wasn’t jaw-dropping, but the “faux-doc” style they were using could lead us to believe that the three families were just three families, but then they brought them all together nicely at the end. It was pretty well done.
I think, like the Mad Men one, that I must have known it was about an extended family before I watched the pilot, because I saw someone else mention that one in another article and I didn’t remember that being a surprise at the time. But I could just be misremembering, as you’re right, the episode definitely IS designed for that reveal to be a twist.
Not a full episode twist, but I love the beginning of Freaks and Geeks with the stereotypical sensitive jock and cheerleader on the bleachers before the reveal that our heroes are the freaks under the bleachers.
I don’t know how to count this, but I’d take Firefly’s twist of what was in the box. You have this cold, aloof doctor carrying a box that people are willing to kill for. Then to find out that it’s his sister that he’s trying to protect was a bit of a punch.
Now the reason I don’t know if it counts is because the pilot wasn’t the first episode aired, but it was the first one I saw, and it did catch me by surprise.
The This is Us pilot is an obvious choice but that’s because it told us how to watch the series.