Monday, August 27, 2007

Top Ten Episodes #4: 1.01 "The Pilot"

"Guys, where are we?" Rating: 9.46 and 9.43 for Parts I & II respectively (#16 and #22 overall)

Brief Synopsis: Let's do this "We Didn't Start The Fire" style, eh? Any attempt to sing this is thoroughly discouraged by the author. Bold are flashbacks.

Jack. Vodka. Vincent. Beach. Claire falls. Locke walks. Turbine Man. Wing crashes. Boone finally brings the pen.

Jack and Kate, Sewing drapes, 1-2-3-4-5. Marshall down, Monster roars, Cindy brings Jack a drink.

Cockpit hike, Charlie sings, Pilot wakes up. Transceiver found, Charlie high, 1,000 miles off course.

Monster attacks, pilot gets snatched, 1-2-3-4-5 (again!) Jack is safe, Charlie's fine, Pilot's in a tree.

Cindy chases Charlie, Sawyer fights Sayid, Hurley makes a friend, Republican Guard.

Hike number II, Kate's coming too, Jin serves up some urchin. Shannon and Boone, Shannon's coming too, Sawyer joins in the fun.

Walt and Locke, Oldest game in the world, Do you want to know a secret? Radio check, growling attack, "I just shot me a polar bear!"

Marshall's still out, Hurley's bad with blood, Sawyer has the badge. Kate's says she's bad with guns, but an excellent liar, the radio finally works.

Shannon translates, sixteen years, all of them are dead.

Guys, where are we?

Why it's a classic: Think back to all the first episodes of television series you've seen. How many of them stand out in your mind? Furthermore, compared to the overall quality of the rest of the series, how many of them are among the best the series has to offer?

Not many.

When you generally think of first episodes, you think of raw, stilted dialogue and actors trying to find their character and their chemistry with each other. Here are a few famous ones that stand out in my mind:

1. Seinfeld -
As great a show as Seinfeld was, the pilot was a poor representation of the series as a whole and an example of a "true" pilot - an example of an unrefined concept. Not terribly funny, no Elaine, Kramer's called "Kessler." Many of the elements of the show are here, but it's still trying to find it's footing, like it was through much of the first season.

2. Cheers - Better than Seinfeld here - the show is fairly established and it felt like a true episode of the show. I
t also introduced the series well - setting up Diane's predicament when she's dumped by her boss and betrothed.

But it's still not perfect. Who knew Cliff Claven would become such a TV icon from his
couple lines as a throwaway extra? The writers certainly didn't yet. And Sam and Diane hadn't quite gotten their rhythm and banter down. But it still felt like an episode of "Cheers," albeit an ordinary one. In fact, if it wasn't the first episode, there wouldn't be anything remarkable about it at all.

3. Star Trek: TNG - I remember watching this with my parents and brothers the night it premiered. We were all so excited to have another Star Trek series on the air. And it was an event - a big budget, well-hyped show with a thorough plot. "Encounter at Farpoint" introduced Q, one of my favorite Star Trek villains and had a clever, interesting (albeit predictable) plot. A refined introduction to the series to be sure, and one that intended to suck viewers in.

But I remember afterwards thinking how the show could be good, but it didn't really inspire me to watch the rest of the series. I thought Picard was stiff and boring compared to Kirk, Riker was a smarmy, arrogant idiot, and Wesley was just annoying. Granted, I was comparing it to the series that came before (and, for the record, I'm not a Trekkie at all - I just enjoy good sci-fi on TV. Buck Rogers, Bionic Man, etc...), but I really didn't think at the time that ST: TNG would become the phenomenon it eventually grew into. And again, compared to the series as a whole, it was a rather ordinary episode and one that even feels a bit awkward when viewed in conjunction with later seasons.

Complete aside here: If you love ST:TNG and haven't seen the Episode Guide Song, I highly recommend checking it out. :)

But the reason I'm bringing all these up is because I think you could make a case for the Pilot Episode of "Lost" being one of the greatest Pilots (or first episodes) in the history of television.

Yes, it has the advantages of a monster budget and a terrific cast. But let's face it, "Lost" could have flopped from the very start. With weaker writing and acting, "Lost" could have turned into an unfunny "Gilligan's Island" and been canceled well before they even found the Hatch.

Instead, however, not only did the show become a tremendous hit, but in some ways "Lost" has spent it's entire run trying to live up to its first episode. The writers set the bar so incredibly high, it makes you appreciate how good that first season was all the way through. The first real clunker of an episode for me wasn't until the aptly-named "Adrift," the second episode of Season 2.

And while I don't think I was totally hooked on the show until "Special" and "Numbers," when more of the seemingly fantastical aspects of the show reared their psychic and numerical heads, I certainly wanted to keep watching to find out where that transmission was coming from (and give the writers credit here - they answered that question within the first ten episodes).

You also have to give props to the cast, who gelled together quicker than any I can think of in my couch potato history. Of course, filming in a tropical island paradise may help matters there - or, perhaps, force them. Heh.

But there was so much to like about the Pilot as a "Lost" episode itself - the initial scenes between Jack and Kate, Sawyer and the polar bear, the Monster and the pilot, and Danielle's transmission, to name a few.

The Pilot makes my Top 10 list because not only do I think it's one of the best pilots ever made, but because in the context of the show it doesn't feel like a pilot - it simply feels like an excellent episode of "Lost" and one that easily makes my Top 5.

Here's hoping when I rewrite this list after Season 6, the final episode is here alongside it.

: It felt almost cheesy having the first episode on this list. I almost took it out because it was the first episode, but I simply couldn't in retrospect. The Pilot is one of the few episodes I've watched more than twice - it's simply a spectacular 80 minutes of entertainment - one that still gives me chills each time I view it.

So whatcha think? Is The Pilot one of Lost's best or am I simply being just too nostalgic and gooshy? (a definite possibility, BTW)

Barring disaster at work - next week #3!

Previous Reviews:
White Rabbit
The Man From Tallahassee
Man of Science, Man of Faith


Missie said...

I remember watching this the first time and saying to Ed that it felt more like a movie than a tv show. I think that's because it lacks that stilted dialogue and air that you accurately described for a typical pilot. When I rewatched the pilot after the first 2 seasons aired, I thought it still held up and was true to how the characters are still being portrayed. The moment that Jack emerges from the quiet of the jungle and walks out onto the beach amidst the wreckage gave me chills. It was like Dorothy arriving in OZ. Really, Ithink, one of the single best scene sequences in the show. So yes, I definitely agree with The Pilot being on the list. I've also thought that the writer's should have titled the episode The Pilot, Who Gets Eaten.

Carly said...

I agree, the first episode, first scene really was very, very well done. I love Jack waking up like that.
I do remember watching the first Star Trek TNG epi with my parents who were always Star Trek fans and had control of the remote! I was young, but I remember how Picard kept calling Riker #1. It was very impersonal. If the show had stayed like that it wouldn't have been very good. Oh and thanks for that Billy Joel song, now I can't get it out of my head!

capcom said...

I totally agree with everything that you all have written. The Lost pilot should go down in the history of TV and stands up to the Golden Age of TV levels of excellence in drama.