The Best TV Pilot of Last 15 Years, Elite 8: Vote Now on Lost, The Walking Dead, Freaks and Geeks, Breaking Bad, and More

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-outsa 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. 


COMEDY REGIONAL 

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 ADHIMYM 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.


ACTION-ADVENTURE REGIONAL

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 DevelopmentLostBreaking Bad, and Pushing Daisies) strut right into the Final 4? It's totally up to you. 

Comments (170)
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i think fringe has the best pilot, but after that..Lost :D
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Lost, end of story
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LOST!! BEST Pilot ever!!!
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walking dead versus lost..... ohoh.
those two and breaking bad are my favourites. at least with thos contestants.
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SON'S OF ANARCHY ENOUGH SAID
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AD, Lost, BB and PD... in the end, it will be Lost vs BB and Lost will win it all.
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Lost....hands down!
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After this is all figured out or should I say Lost is chosen as #1. Do a Best finale one. That shows true quality in a series when it can have a fantastic finale.
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In a few years Pushing Daisies will be relaunched and it'll be a great success. But we won't even recognize it as it'll be a much darker version directed by Christopher Nolan...
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Alright, Breaking Bad's pilot was great... but it is beating The Shield's!?

Yeah, sure, right... it certainly has nothing to do with the fact Gilligan's show is about to end in a couple of weeks. Of course not.
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This will be a battle between the pilots of Lost and Breaking Bad and I gotta vote for Lost, as it got me hooked on the show and that's what a pilot is supposed to do. I almost skipped Breaking Bad due to the slow paced pilot, as awesome as it was.
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Monk!
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The West Wing had the best TV pilot ever. The scene at the end where Martin Sheen first appears still gives me goosebumps.
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Lost and Breaking Bad..
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Lost had the best pilot ever - I was hooked from the start. I think True Blood deserves an honorable mention. There was something timless about it. Also Boardwalk Empire was brilliant and Sons of Anarchy!
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I feel like people aren't properly remembering the Breaking Bad pilot. It was crude, awkward, and difficult to watch. It didn't start out with the refined storytelling and impressive cinematography we watch to day.
Walt teaches chemistry to disinterested students and gets walked all over at the carwash (at one point he tells his boss to "wipe down this" and grabs his crotch), Skylar throws him a putdown birthday party then gives him a handjob while watching an ebay auction, Jesse tumbles out of a window after some gratuitous full-frontal from the girl he was with, and there's veggie bacon involved.
Choosing to cook meth and not be the snivelling doormat he is was the big choice that set the series in motion and the most compelling aspect of the pilot. But overall it wasn't great a pilot.
Don't get me wrong, it set the stage for what became an amazing transformation and my personal favourite television series of all time, but while it was a strong premise, it wasn't a particularly strong pilot.
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The pilot received critical acclaim. but every has their own opinion. IMO its the best pilot behind lost.
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I loved Lost and I like The walking dead... so my choice was easy.
Breaking bad is awesome but the pilot wasn't that good. But when u compare it to the shield.... easy choice... Man I hope in my life, I will be able to see another TV show that gives me the same feeling that I got with LOST. I still watch it every year as a treat for my b-day :)
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Where's Six Feet Under or Boardwalk Empire? Seriously?
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I can't possibly agree with the notion of the Sopranos' Pilot being one of the best all time.
Not hating on the series, but Pilot was really nothing special.
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Pilots of HIMYM and Lost, of course!
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I find the choices on this list lacking and questionable.
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why?
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Because I watch more tv than most people and believe there are arguably better choices. I agree with some choices though I just think it should have been bigger in scope to include more options. This could have been epic and the win even sweeter having conquered a wider ran
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I wonder how many pilots the poll would need to have included to make everyone happy...
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because Firefly isn't on here(also quite a lot of other shows. Actually non of my favourites are here, and while I'm not saying I'm the avarage TV watcher I still think that's a shame)
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i just come to these things, vote for lost and then i am gone,... no other show can measure up
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Arrested Development, The Walking Dead, The Shield, Pushing Daisies. The hardest was Lost vs The Walking Dead, because they're two really awesome, and very different, pilots. Landed on The Walking Dead because the Lost pilot was still mostly a plane crash/survivor story, and TWD was waking up from a coma in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. That was freaking crazy!
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Definatily getting tougher to choose.
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If the three hour Battlestar Galactica miniseries would be considered a pilot, it is arguably the finest made (close contender with Lost).
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Lost had the best pilot, but the worst finale episode as well.
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IMO The final 2 need to be Lost and Breaking Bad, and then i dont know.
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My favorites were lost, the

Shield and Sopranos.
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Lost was a fantastic show (despite the ending), but I wouldn't say the pilot was anything really special. To me it felt like a simple story of crash survivors on an island. A good drama, but nothing new there. Only later we would see it was something special. So, I'd vote for Lost as a show, but not pilot. Too bad The Walking Dead is doing so poorly.
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Arrested, Lost, Breaking & F&G. That's my picks. The last poll was the hardest imo.
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If I were just looking at the pilots (and NOT the entire shows), I would say that Arrested Development should win ("I don't care for Gob"! ), it was just so good. But the Lost pilot episode was truly groundbreaking, and so different from everything else... I don't know, as long as one of those two pilots wins, I'm happy!
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As previously stated this list incomplete.
Where is GOT ???
and for that matter Battlestar Gallactica pilot was sensational IMO.
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Game of Thrones isperhaps my favorite show currently on television (Depends on my mood. Sometimes I will say Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, or Orange is the New Black.) The first episode Winter is Coming is a fine episode like any other installment of the show. It's beautifully shot, has enormous production value and amazing acting and loads of love and attention put in.

However it's a bad pilot because it does not make it easy for people who have never read the books. We are dropped into an alien setting and bombarded with dozens of characters with weird names across multiple locations. Aside from the opening and ending there isn't much to keep someone's attention with exposition and dialogue moving at a snail's pace. I couldn't tell Robb Stark, Jon Snow, Theon Greyjoy, and Jory Cassel apart until the 3rd episode. I was ready to give up on it, because I felt no pressing plot, no conflict or emotional investment until a certain character pushed a certain character to their apparent demise at the end. Thank the old Gods and the new that I persisted.

That said why weren't any cartoons included? Surely Futurama, and Avatar: The Last Airbender are worthy shows with worthy pilots/1st episodes that can go toe to toe with the finest live action series.
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I am happy to disagree with your point.
I was one of those viewers who did not have a clue about the novels before I watched GOT on HBO.
The pilot ensured I watch the entire run and then read the first 3 novels in the series.
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Can't include them all. Sorry.
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thats a pity!
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And The Shield's pilot was so much better than Breaking Bad (Remember the ending, guys?!) Breaking Bad is a beautiful show but The Shield is a masterpiece.
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As much as i love the Shield, I prefer Breaking Bad, (although the Shield does have season 5)and aside from that ending, i really dont remember much from the Shield pilot, but of all the shows ive watched, The Shield has the greatest finale of all time.
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How I Met Your Mother, Lost, The Shield and Pushing Daisies.
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The reason BrBa won over the Sopranos (and most of the other ones that were expected) was because people are thinking about the series overall and not, just the pilot. It's hard not to!
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Yeah, for sure.
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I knew that shows with bigger fanbases and droolness would end up forgetting what the poll was really asking. It's Pilots, people! Not series overall.
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I can't watch How I Met Your Mother, I've tried but the laugh track is very distracting.
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same here that is my problem with all sitcoms
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I'm gunning for Pushing Daisies to take the title. If there's one show that was perfection in the past ten years it has to be that, and the pilot is no exception.
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Obviously Breaking Bad.
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Arrested Development trounces the HIMYM pilot in my mind, a better cast, a better foundation with better characters in a better scenario that had more places to go, and it was also shot and scored better. HIMYM was "cute" but didn't really feel clever the way AD did.
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Needs a SciFi/Fantasy face off and just to even it up I would throw in an animation face off. My vote would be for Smallville and I don't care about the animation.
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Got to say, even though I think Arrested Development is better as a whole, HIMYM had a much better pilot. I actually didn't like the first episode of AD that much, it took years before I finally caved to the pressure of the internets and watched further (for which I am glad).
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I don't think LOST is beatable. Forget how the show ended up tripping over itself with it's increasingly convoluted "mysteries" that never quite panned out, that pilot worked on nearly every level to get you ready to take that journey. Some of the other shows here ended up far better but when it comes down to an effective pilot, LOST did it all right.

I do love Pushing Daisies getting love, though. It was a brilliant show that, even with ABC trying to stick by it for a little bit, just doesn't work for a lot of the TV audience at the time. It was unapologetic in its sentimentality. It wasn't subversive or self-aware. It had a darkness to its edges, but it wasn't dreary. Honestly, nearly any Brian Fuller pilot could work here as he's a unique voice in the TV landscape.

Both AD and HIMYM took more than a pilot to get to full steam, but AD laid the bedrock for the future.

I don't think BB's pilot was the BEST, but I never could get into The Shield. Never been a Chiklis fan, but maybe someday I'll give it a shot again.

Also, glad Sopranos went down. I don't care about being in the minority but I never liked it. I recognize the talents involved, but Tony Soprano never really made me want to invest in his life.
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Sopranos is a classic I love breaking bad but its not sopranos......
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I think it SHOULD go to Arrested Development vs. Freaks and Geeks and Breaking Bad vs. Lost, but then I wouldn't personally be able to choose a winner. Well, Breaking Bad is the winner for me. I guess it wasn't that hard.
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there's no question that lost should win. That pilot signaled the end of my sanity i swear. It's like it heralded the complete mind *&%$ the rest of the show would give me. I swear I understood as much as what was going on in the series finale as I did in the pilot episode. *sigh, oh Lost.
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Lost should/will win. Case closed.
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It's fair to say the voting is biased towards shows currently on air or ones that voters have actually watched. Having said that I think it's more important in how a show carries forward then concludes vs. how it starts. BrBa was a pretty good pilot but the show itself has gotten better as its gone along, with only 4 eps left should finish strong. Can't say the same for LOST, great Pilot, the best on this list in my book, great first 3 seasons but a decline from there to the point the entire series in my book is "Good" rather than "Great"...
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This is a terrible time to be doing this - Breaking Bad's coming to its end this season, so everyone's out in full force to show off their fandom. I don't consider it in the running at all, given the timing circumstances, and find it unspeakably unfair to the other pilots in this tree.
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Current shows definitely have the edge but the BEST PILOT was LOST. Unfortunately they lost their mojo along the way and finished up pretty weak. BrBa was a good Pilot but definitely not one of the highlights of the series. Lost's Pilot really sucked you in and they did a great job the first 3 seasons, after that? Not so much unfortunately.
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I think everyone is able to separate their current fandom when it comes to discussing just the pilot episode. And Breaking Bad's pilot was pretty awesome.
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Except that everyone can't. You give people a poll and a vast majority of the time, they'll vote on their favorites, what they're familiar with, what's in the forefront of their minds. And that's exactly what and where BB is right now.
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I'd like to hear your argument why the Breaking Bad pilot is not one of the best ever.
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Way too Fear and Loathing, loses originality points there. The acting leaves so, so, so much to be desired that it was physically painful at times and that's detrimental when it's coming from the main character. It felt too much like a movie, didn't hook me in for more.

It glorifies the main character in its opening scene in a way that is inauthentic to who he is - it's incongruent with his growth over the three weeks covered and such becomes obvious when they return to the present. Continuity within a single main character is one of the most basic staples and they failed.

If you'd like me to keep going, I can, about the more social aspects. I could say things about how it encourages people to take the easy road out when life gets hard. I could say things about how it encourages sexism in how it silenced the wife at the end.

tl;dr: It fails to hold my attention, it doesn't deliver a character I care about and it doesn't promise anything beyond itself save a bunch of cooking and death.
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