Sideshow First!: The Best Television Pilot Episodes

A pilot episode is the very first entry in any television series — and you know what they say about first impressions. There are so many incredible television series, but which shows have the best pilot episodes?

In honor of Sideshow’s First! event, join us as we list our favorite TV pilot episodes below. Plus, see some Staff Picks!

The Last of Us

“When You’re Lost in the Darkness” had the distinct and difficult task of living up to its video game predecessor. Spoiler alert: It succeeds. The Last Of Us pilot pays homage to the game while making unsettling modern updates. Like the game, it also mimics the player’s sheer helplessness when faced with survival and very few actual means to succeed as the first playable character, Sarah. Whether you’re jumping into this world for the first or third time, the pilot will bring you right into the heart-wrenching horror that is The Last of Us.


The Lost pilot is so compelling and well executed. Like, come on — the plane crash? What a way to begin. Then, there’s the story structure using flashbacks to reveal character motivations as well as the introduction of so many bizarre mysteries. Was that a T-rex attack? Why is a polar bear on a tropical island? What on earth is this creepy French message that has been broadcasting on loop for 16 years? Lost immediately captivated its audience like very few pilots have ever been able to do.

Game of Thrones

The first Game of Thrones episode isn’t technically the pilot. That’s still unaired. But we’ll treat “Winter is Coming” like it’s the pilot, and talk about how incredible it is in terms of fantasy world-building and more. Immediately, we see the best and worst of the characters. We understand the main motivations as well as the major goal: to ascend the Iron Throne. It’s so tense. We don’t trust anybody. And that’s how you really compel an audience from the get-go.

The Walking Dead

To many, The Walking Dead‘s “Days Gone By” is considered a masterclass in television making. Of course, we have to agree. We begin before the apocalypse, getting attached to our heroes and their loved ones — and learning all their drama. Then, suddenly, our protagonist is nearly killed and misses the whole beginning of the zombie thing happening. When he wakes up, Rick Grimes has to figure everything out on his own and search for allies in a completely unfamiliar world. Talk about riveting.

Breaking Bad

Flying pants, an RV crashing in the desert, a gas-mask-wearing man in his underwear, and sheer panic. When done right, we love stories that don’t start at the beginning. The Breaking Bad pilot took this to a level that hooked us immediately. While we found the show’s whole run amazing, we’ve never had the first few minutes of a pilot episode draw us in the way this one did. And it only got better after the title card “Three Weeks Earlier” appeared.

Staff Picks

Bob’s Burgers

“Bob’s Burgers is currently on its 13th season! Wow. The fact that the pilot still holds up and doesn’t feel like it’s from a radically different show is a testament to how strong the idea has been since the start. It’s a fast and funny sitcom.

The Belcher family is also the heart of it. The “Human Flesh” pilot really was the thesis statement for their fun and dysfunctional vibe. Plus, it had all those puns in the intro sequence and the Burger of the Day special, which really just kickstarted a fabulous comedy series.”

Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles

“This is a 3D animated series based off Robert A. Heinlein’s novel with Paul Verhoeven (director of the 1997 movie version) serving as executive producer. That immediately caught my attention. I was a fan of the movie already. When I saw the pilot of the animated series with troopers shooting alien bugs I was hooked from the start. At the time (1999) the animation was also state of the art and the action was very similar to how the movie played out at times, minus the gore.

Unlike the movie, the animated show had the troopers wearing combat space suits. That was actually how they were described in the original novel. Funnily enough, the game Halo: Combat Evolved premiered on Xbox shortly after and Master Chief looked striking similar to the soldiers in the Starship Troopers show. Many years later, I realized Halo took inspiration from both Starship Troopers and James Cameron’s Aliens.”

The IT Crowd

“From the beginning, the mix of absurdity and sarcasm in this fictional and poorly run business is jaw-droppingly hilarious. Whether it’s Jen’s qualifications to lead the IT team, including ‘clicking’ and ‘double clicking,’ or Moss’ insistence on getting the latest Harry Potter book in both the child and adult versions to ensure the text is the same, this show is perfect for those who root for the little guy in a giant corporate machine.

The pilot episode highlights the absurdity of Reynholm Industries on so many levels. I challenge you not to find some hint of truth that relates to your own professional experience. Try not to binge it too quickly, though. The series only lasted a few years and won’t be returning.”


“High school is that very special time when you can hang with friends, travel with your soccer team, and … become involved in cannibalistic rituals? A horrific plane crash leaves a girl’s soccer team stranded in the Canadian wilderness, along with their coach, his two sons, and the assistant coach. In their struggle to survive, some fall prey to their own secrets, others succumb to baser instincts, and all live in fear of what it means to make it out alive.

The very first episode of Yellowjackets grabs audience’s attention with the image of a sacrifice in the woods. As the mystery unravels surrounding their survival, the show uses flashbacks to reveal that not everything is what it seems. Mystery and horror are used with excellent technique to create such a gripping tale of traumatic survival. I can’t wait for season 2 of Yellowjackets to begin streaming on March 24.”

What is your favorite TV pilot? Share your picks at, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!