The Best (And Worst) Series Premieres

by thethreepennyguignol

So, ever since that Preacher premiere, I’ve been thinking about other interesting series openers- they’re a hard thing to get right, but such a vitally important one in a TV landscape that’s already overstuffed with other things trying to get your attention (see also: me throwing a strop over how much I hated the Mr Robot premiere and how no, I wasn’t going to give it another episode because I don’t want to WASTE MY TIME on stuff so infuriatingly hackneyed). And after taking a look at the best and worst season finales a few weeks back, it seems only fair I have a poke about their counterparts. So I’ve dredged through my memory banks to find the best-and worst- TV series premieres in recent memory.

Best: Natural Selection, Orphan Black

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Yes, maybe this choice is based on the whole of the phenomenal first season of my favourite sci-fi show currently on TV. But this is still a cracking episode- the kind of forty minutes that leave you groping for the “next episode” button because if you don’t know what happens next you might just DIE. It’s got the novelty of the excellent Tatania Maslanay playing a bunch of very different clones, a shocking and instantly engaging opening, and a solid supporting cast (my love for Jordan Gavaris will never die) that throws the plot into breakneck action.

Worst: The First Seventeen Hours, Jericho

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Look, I did persevere with Jericho in the end, and it’s a pretty good show. But this pilot…yeesh. It has it’s moments (but then, I’m a giant sucker for post-apocalyptic sci-fi and Lennie James), but is generally packed with missteps, thunderingly boring characters, and catastrophically misjudged character introductions. Take Skeet Ulrich-he plays Captain Generic Jake Green, the best man who ever did live, and in this episode gets a character opening that sees him literally bring a child back from the dead while the show expects us to view him as a grizzled, bad-boy anti-hero. It’s the kind of first draft that would scrape a passing grade in undergraduate English class because the tutor just wanted to be done with marking already.

Best: Days Gone Bye, The Walking Dead

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I’m not going to pretend I haven’t had my problems with The Walking Dead- and, to be honest, most of them stem from the fact that it’s never managed to top this mind-bogglingly excellent series opener. Packed with brilliant imagery- the Sheriff riding on to a zombie-infested ghost-town on the back of his trusty steed being the one that I always come back to-a pretty special performance from an pre-beard Andrew Lincoln, and a well-deployed sense of unease punctuated with bursts of horrible violence, this is zombie media at it’s best. On the other hand…

Worst: Pilot, Fear the Walking Dead

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Yeah, well, sue me. I’ve written about this one before, but it’s worth bringing up again- it just boggles my mind how a show with this much time, effort and money poured into it could possibly have turned out a pilot so unremittingly shit. Aside from the fact that it’s based around the performance of the catastrophic Frank Dillane, I can’t get over how terrible the writing is, how hard excellent actors Cliff Curtis and Kim Dickens are having to work just to keep that thing afloat. It’s no surprise at this point that the people behind The Walking Dead and all it’s offshoots are putting in medium effort at best, but come on. 

Best: Pilot, Glee

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Now, wait, come back, let me finish! You’ve probably never watched Glee (keep it that way) but there’s a reason this show had a brief sparkle in the spotlight of critical goodwill. And that’s this episode- it’s the show that Glee always could have been, yet never was. Focusing in on Matthew Morrison’s Will Schuester as he tries to start up the Glee club he was so fond of in his youth, it’s a show about what happens when your dreams of adulthood don’t turn out the way they want, about a kind of pathetic guy trying to reclaim his high-school wonder years, and the kids who might face the same fate as him. Yes, it’s sugar-coated and packed with cliches- Ryan Murphy is involved, after all-but it’s got an edge of something smarter and more sour than the eventual saccharine slop we were served up.

Worst: First You Dream, Then You Die, Bates Motel

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Christ, just look at that title. I don’t mean to pick on the little guy here (okay, I already have, but moving on), and I’m led to believe that this show got heaps better as it had time to mature. But this is still a bizarrely dissonant and inexplicable venture- bringing Norman Bates into the 21st century feels all kinds of wrong, especially with the show lifting shamelessly and lazily from Psycho for hipster points. Oh and make sure to chuck in a random rape just to make sure we know we can’t have strong female leads if they’re not constantly threatened with sexual assault (glares pointedly at Game of Thrones). If this is what they think compelling, nuanced television is, I may have some bad news to deliver.

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