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Sci-fi/Fantasy Shows With Terrible Pilot Episodes

Sci-fi/Fantasy Shows With Terrible Pilot Episodes


You might love a certain show, cosplay as all the characters, and have infinite conversations with your friends about the top 5 or 10 or 50 best episodes. But what you might not know is that some of your favorite TV series started off on a very wrong foot. Here are a few excellent sci-fi/fantasy favorites that just didn’t make a great first impression.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (“The Movie”)

The animated cartoon network Star Wars show now has more hours combined than if you were to watch all six movies back to back, four times in a row. If you didn’t know what the “real” Star Wars was, you might think the sheer quantity of The Clone Wars made it totally legit. And, in the course of its run, this show did become more mature, and in some ways better, than all the prequels put together. But you wouldn’t have known that from the start. As a lead-in to the TV show, a two hour “movie” (which was really just a couple of episodes stuck together) was released. It seemed like a mad-grab for cash, and when you watch it, it still feels that way. Anakin and Asoka have to rescue a little tiny “huttling,” which is Jabba’s baby or something. Gross.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (“Encounter at Farpoint”)

Star Trek has a long and troubled history with first episodes–so much so that it could almost be called a curse. Infamously, the original Star Trek required two pilots before settling into its regular mojo, and even then, the “real” pilot (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) ended up not even being used as the first regularly aired episode. This is not the same TV show we ended up loving for years and years. True, all the characters are interesting and the omnipotent entity Q threatening to destroy humanity is pretty great, but this particular Trek lacked something essential: characters who were more than just mouthpieces for the ideas. This problem was fixed, but it took nearly two full seasons to really get there.

Battlestar Galactica (“The Miniseries”)

The opening episodes of Battlestar Galatica are by no means “bad,” but they’re not nearly as good as the show would end up being. For one thing, the miniseries that launches this show is overly long, and a little too concerned with making sure to pay enough homage to the classic 1978 show. Furthermore, the music is all wrong. Bear McCreary’s score would be an essential part of what made BSG so uniquely awesome, but here, it’s just weird, flat military drumming. The lighting of everything is too bright, and Starbuck’s haircut is super weird. If you want to get into Battlestar Galtica, skip the miniseries “pilot,” and just start with the first regular episode “33.” Don’t worry, it will all make sense.

Babylon 5 (“The Gathering”)

We say with caution that the pilot of Babylon 5 is bad, because we really  don't want to turn you off to the show altogether! Rest assured that it is VERY GOOD. At the time it aired, the show's serial big-long-story-arc format was revolutionary. The first episode, however? Nearly unwatchable. The makeup hadn’t been figured out, and the various plot lines seem sort of aimless. This first episode is so bad that years and years later, a TV movie called Babylon 5: In the Beginning was made to serve as a “corrective pilot.” Watch that if you want to get into the show. It’s awesome.

Torchwood (“Everything Changes”)

You have to sort of like Torchwood to get down with this selection, but the very first episode is not so great. A regular cop named Gwen working in Cardiff gets recruited by a group of alien-hunters. There’s a lot of walking around in the rain here. Start with the first regular episode, “Day One,” and skip this one. You don’t need Gwen’s back-story, trust us.

Unaired Pilots That Probably Suck Too

TV pilots are are usually created to get a taste of what the audience might be like and how successful a show might be. But sometimes they're never even made public. Supposedly the unaired pilot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer features a totally different person playing Willow and is only twenty minutes long. Meanwhile, the unaired Sherlock pilot is said to be terrible from numerous, numerous sources. Apparently, there’s a knife’s edge of an alternate universe in which everyone is not totally in love with Benedict Cumberbatch. Probably best not to think about it.

What are you favorite TV shows that got off on the wrong foot, webbed-foot, or tentacle?


Tags: tv, star wars, lists, star trek, pilots

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About the Author
Ryan Britt

Ryan Britt is the author of Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths, forthcoming from Plume (Penguin) Books on 11.24.15. He's written for The New York Times, Electric Literature, The Awl, VICE Motherboard, Clarkesworld Magazine, and is a consulting editor for Story Magazine. He lives in New York City.

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