UPDATE (9/3): Elite 8 voting is now open!
As of today, we're about three weeks away from the official start of the fall TV season. Before long, we'll all be abuzz about the glut of new pilots. Lots of them will be pretty bad, and a select few of them might turn out okay, but based what we've seen so far, we're not expecting any all-time greats to emerge.
Anyway, this year's relatively sorry prospects got us thinking about the TV pilots we do consider to be all-time greats—and then we decided to ring in the start of the new season by naming the best pilot of the last 15 years. That's where you come in: We've engineered a bracket-style race featuring the 16 best pilots of the last decade-and-a-half, as chosen by your trusty TV.com editors. We'll do our best to convince you of each one's merits, but then it's all up to you. Your votes will determine which pilots advance in each round, until we've crowned a winner.
Here's the full bracket:
Before you flip out, remember that we're just talking about pilot quality here; it doesn't matter whether the series went on to delight or disappoint. And as these things go, there several contenders that just missed the final cut; the bracket could have easily expanded to 32.
So let's get to it, shall we? This post contains the first four match-ups, and you can find the next four right here. You have a full week to vote in this first round.
Arrested Development vs. Glee
THE CASE FOR ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: Very few contemporary comedies come to us as fully formed as Arrested Development did. It's amazing how many of the series' long-running gags are established in the opening 22 minutes: the banana stand, Lucille's winking, Tobias's outfits, and on and on. Although AD became an even better show once the jokes and storylines began to weave together and on top of one another, the pilot still told a sharp story about Michael's inability to escape his family's slimy, criminal activities.
THE CASE FOR GLEE: Remember when this show had all sorts of promise? Back before behind-the-scenes tragedies, overcooked plots, and all that hype took over, Glee was a simple story about a few people trying to chase their dreams in a dead-end town. At the pilot stage, Will Schuester was an admirable, lost man looking for a way out, and the goofballs in New Directions were his salvation. In the four years that've passed since Glee's debut, the show has run "Don't Stop Believing" into the ground—but by the end of the pilot, that performance was more than earned. It was an easy mission statement to buy into.
Modern Family vs. How I Met Your Mother
THE CASE FOR MODERN FAMILY: One of the best comedy pilots ever—we even named it the best thing about TV in 2009, the year it debuted—Modern Family's opener borrowed elements from ultimately better shows (most notably the mockumentary style of The Office) and combined them in a slick, populist package. The characters were efficiently introduced, the jokes were well-timed, and Ty Burrell and Eric Stonestreet delivered great comedic performances.
THE CASE FOR HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: Nearly a decade after HIMYM's series premiere, you're probably burned out on the show's signature brand of timey-wimey humor and the mystery surrounding the Mother's identity. But when you first saw the pilot, so many years ago? It was a breath of fresh air, from the clever conceit to the reveal that Robin wasn't the Mother. Like all the best episodes of the now long-running sitcom, the pilot was smart, witty, and heartfelt, but the beginning of the story was so charming and thrilling that it's really no surprise we got hooked so many years ago.
Lost vs. Alias
THE CASE FOR LOST: May I remind you of that opening sequence, with Jack running around the beach, saving various people from the carnage of the plane wreckage? May I remind you of Jack and Kate counting to five? May I remind you of the polar bear, the noise in the woods, the trip to the cockpit, the rain, Shannon screaming, etc.? All of the pilots in this competition are great; Lost's pilot is almost certainly the greatest.
THE CASE FOR ALIAS: JJ Abrams' work on the Lost pilot is something to behold, but it wouldn't even have happened if not for the things he did with the first episode of Alias. The openers of both Lost and Alias benefitted from an extended runtime, but Alias's took advantage of the additional length by speeding through a whole lot of stuff. It was easy to invest in Sydney's various relationships, only to watch the pilot blow them up and start again, something Alias would keep trying—ultimately to lesser effect—as the series progressed. Jennifer Garner's star power has diminished quite a bit over the years, but watch this pilot again and you'll remember how fantastic she was in the role.
The Walking Dead vs. 24
THE CASE FOR THE WALKING DEAD: There's something lazy about comparing TV to movies, but I'm going to do it anyway: The Walking Dead pilot looked, sounded, and felt like a feature film, and a very good one at that. The way Frank Darabont used the southern setting and minimal dialogue to establish the horrifying and eerie aftermath of the zombie outbreak was so special. Rick's journey down to Atlanta showcased a handful of iconic shots, and the set piece in the tank proved that the series knew how to craft intense action. Even though the pilot was followed by meandering and sometimes lackluster content, you can't hold that against it.
THE CASE FOR 24: It's been so long since 24 first debuted that the series eventually became a parody of itself, and now it's somehow being resurrected despite that fact. And yet, 12 years ago, this opening effort gave us a number of fascinating markers that have yet to really be emulated successfully. The real-time element was a cool gambit in its own right, but the split-screen simultaneous storytelling was wonderful, too. Most importantly, it was nice to see that Jack Bauer was actually once a human being, and not a breathing, growling superhuman.
You have a full week to vote on the regional match-ups—it's up to you to decide you moves on to the Elite 8. This was Part 1; click here for Part 2.