It’s a universally understood truth that sitcom pilots are , if not the worst episodes of a comedy series, then at least not in anybody’s top ten. Writing and performing (and, if you have to, animating) comedy is a process that has to be refined. So the Community pilot is an incredible anomaly, a testament to how tight Dan Harmon’s craft was at that point in his career. Community‘s plotting is definitely the thing that grabbed me about the series – not just how fast it is, but how weird the directions it can take are. Jeff wants to sleep with Britta, and the only way he can do that is to unite the group, so he pulls a brilliant monologue out of nowhere that blows everybody’s nips off and creates a community… but then it convinces Britta that Jeff is a shallow asshole and she kicks him out of the group. The absurd plausibility of the story lands immediately, creating never-ending farce that I always care about. And, of course, it’s already pitching hilarious and incredibly quotable dialogue (“I’m a Professor! You can’t talk to me that way!” / “A six year old girl could talk to you that way!” / “Yes, because that would be adorable!” / “No, because you’re a five year old girl, and there’s a pecking order!”). I like it when I actually care about people that make me laugh, and Community delivers that straight away.
One of the little things that fascinates me about The Shield is that the pilot seems better each time I rewatch it. As wallflower observed, the first time through, you see clunky dialogue, cliche characters, and overblown situations. Each rewatch, though, reveals another layer of the Shieldian ethos buried in every moment. I notice that the show follows through on every character moment, no matter how ridiculous it seemed on the first run. I notice that every part of Vic’s identity is in one scene or another. I notice the empathy and humanity granted to all people, no matter how evil or idiotic they are. I notice that each of the child abusers follow fairly basic patterns I recognise, taken in a monstrous direction. I notice that the logic of the guy who slashes his girlfriend’s tires makes an internal sense even if he’s missing a few key pieces of information. Part of the problem is that the dialogue is sloppy and the story choices are obvious. But a lot of it is that I didn’t know what I was in for.
What are television pilots you fell in love with? What are shows you love with terrible pilots, or pilots you didn’t get straight away?