While the TV landscape has changed significantly over the last few decades, by and large, pilots are still a vital key to a show’s future success. A pilot doesn’t necessarily have to be great, but it does need to show promise. Comedy pilots are notoriously tricky to pull off as it usually takes a few episodes to find the characters, but there’s usually something in that pilot that hints at greatness to come (see: The Office, Parks and Recreation). For dramas, it’s all about setting the stage and ending with a reason to tune back in the next week. Some drama pilots are great but subsequently fail to deliver on the intriguing promise that they set up, and viewers will jump ship quickly if you can’t maintain the high level of quality in your next few episodes.
And while some networks have eschewed pilot season altogether in favor of just ordering a show straight to series (see: House of Cards, True Detective), there’s still nothing like tuning into the first episode of a TV series and being handed a spectacular hour or two hours of storytelling.
As we currently live in the Second Golden Age of Television, there have been a number of memorable pilots since the year 2000. As such, we’ve culled together a list of the best of the best of the 21st century thus far—pilots that stood out for their ingenuity, artfulness, or maybe just happened to give viewers something wholly unique. Not all of these pilots resulted in great series, but regardless of what followed, they served as spectacular introductions to a world, to new characters, and to inventive storytelling.
Without further ado, Adam Chitwood and Allison Keene present the 17 best TV pilots of the 2000s so far.