UPDATE (9/10): Final 4 voting is now open!
Welcome to the second round of our Best TV Pilot of the Last 15 Years competition! After seven days of voting and debates in the comments, we had ourselves a few blow-outs, a few upsets, and one race whose contenders were at times only separated by a single-digit difference in votes. As such, we have our Elite 8 and now it's time to consider who deserves a spot in the Final 4. Here's the updated bracket:
In an attempt to avoid repeating myself, this week I'll provide slightly more explicit reasons for why I think one pilot should defeat another—you know, so you guys can just ignore my advice and vote for Arrested Development and Breaking Bad anyway. But remember: You should be thinking about the quality of the pilot alone; the next 60-100 episodes aren't relevant to this discussion. With that in mind, let's break down the four regional finals. Like last time, you have a full week to vote.
Arrested Development (defeated Glee in Round 1) vs. How I Met Your Mother (upset Modern Family in Round 1)
WHY ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT SHOULD WIN: We were really just being nice by including other comedy pilots in this bracket, weren't we? Arrested Development is the best American comedy pilot of the last few decades. It rightfully bulldozed Glee in the first round, and it should do the same thing to How I Met Your Mother. AD has lived a long, interesting life, but that probably couldn't've happened without this fascinating, legitimately funny opening 22 minutes. Everybody in the cast was so on right from the jump, it's amazing.
WHY HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER SHOULD WIN: Arrested Development gets all the love for its twisted narrative and its even more twisted characters, but How I Met Your Mother's pilot was inventive in its own right and managed to pack much more of an emotional wallop. The core characters were surprisingly fully formed, and Ted's initial pursuit of Robin ran the gamut of emotions in rapid fashion without ever sacrificing any jokes or beats. Much like AD, HIMYM has lived quite a life on the air, but it deserves votes for introducing a fun conceit that could be sustained for nearly a decade and that appealed to many more people than AD ever could.
Lost (defeated Alias in Round 1) vs. The Walking Dead (defeated 24 in Round 1)
WHY LOST SHOULD WIN: Come on, bro. Lost is the big dog in this yard. It trounced a very awesome Alias pilot in Round 1 and received more votes than any other pilot in the competition. The opening two-parter is better than most summer blockbusters (especially this year): It's thrilling, mysterious, moving, and well-directed and well-acted from top to bottom. The flashback structure provides great insights without taking away from the supremely intriguing island action, just as all the opening questions don't undercut the episode's sense of a completed mini-story. The Walking Dead looks great and features some scary moments, but that's about it. Does anybody even really act in that thing?
WHY THE WALKING DEAD SHOULD WIN: In a lot of ways, this pilot feels like the spiritual successor to Lost. It's supremely cinematic in its visuals and its scope, and it immediately drops us into a world that we don't completely understand but never want to leave. Although Lost got through its first few hours by introducing so many characters that only a select few stand out, The Walking Dead immediately—and successfully—asked us to care about one man with a singular drive to find his family. While the show is tremendously simple in premise, it's also one that could have easily been ruined in execution. The pilot could have been loud. It could have been stupid. It could have been overly violent. It was none of those things. If there's one pilot that deserves to upset Lost, it's this one.
CABLE ANTI-HERO REGIONAL
Breaking Bad (upset The Sopranos in Round 1) vs. The Shield (defeated Mad Men in Round 1)
WHY BREAKING BAD SHOULD WIN: In retrospect, we shouldn't have considered Breaking Bad to be anything resembling an underdog. Although I'm still smarting over its beatdown of The Sopranos in Round 1, and although I don't necessarily think the pilot holds a candle to most of the rest of the show, the debut episode is a marvel in its own right. BrBa's audacious premise wouldn't have worked without such a masterfully executed opener; even in the contemporary cable environment, this was a risky proposition, but Vince Gilligan and company pull it off. The Shield? It's a cop show. Meh. The Shield pilot really waits until its final moments to beat the audience in the gut, but Breaking Bad comes out of the gate firing.
WHY THE SHIELD SHOULD WIN: First of all, Breaking Bad doesn't even belong in this round for unseating The Sopranos, which is on the shortlist for the greatest TV pilot of all time. Second of all, Breaking Bad's pilot relied quite a bit on its admittedly intriguing gimmick and one singular performance. The Shield pilot worked within the longstanding and thus inflexible framework of the police procedural, and managed to implode it from the inside and give a number of characters early life. Third of all, Michael Chiklis is just as good as Bryan Cranston, and working just as much against type. It's easy to forget that now. And fourth of all, without The Shield, FX wouldn't exist in its current form. Breaking Bad was just riding Mad Men's coattails anyway.
THE GENRE-BENDING REGIONAL
Pushing Daisies (defeated Awake in Round 1) vs. Freaks and Geeks (defeated Friday Night Lights in Round 1)
WHY PUSHING DAISIES SHOULD WIN: Have you watched this pilot lately? There's next to nothing like it in television history. Bryan Fuller's creation was supremely bright and warm while still providing an underlying current of sadness to Ned and his predicament. This is the genre-bending regional; Pushing Daisies personified the notion genre-bending. Was it a comedy? A procedural? A romantic dramedy? A musical? It was all those things. Freaks and Geeks' pilot was lovely and all, but it was also very straightforward in premise and execution. It only narrowly beat Friday Night Lights in Round 1; Pushing Daisies wiped the floor with Awake. The cast and crew went on to do amazing things and maybe we now overrate it more than we should. But we've already forgotten Pushing Daisies' greatness; stop that from going any further.
WHY FREAKS AND GEEKS SHOULD WIN: It's one thing to do a crazy show that we've never really seen before. It's something else entirely to take one of the most retreaded premises ever (the high school drama) and make it simultaneously specific and universal. No shots at My So-Called Life, but Freaks and Geeks is the best high school series of all time, and that applieds to the pilot as well. There are a half-dozen great performances here, from people who went on to be more famous but probably didn't do better work. Sure, it only barely beat FNL in Round 1, but every competition with the Dillon Panthers boiled down to the final seconds. Pushing Daisies is special in its own right, no doubt. But this is a pilot that everyone can appreciate, and more importantly, fundamentally understand. That matters.
Alright, I've said my piece, folks. You know the drill. You have a week to vote in these four battles. Will there be any real upsets, or will last week's big winners (Arrested Development, Lost, Breaking Bad, and Pushing Daisies) strut right into the Final 4? It's totally up to you.