Saturday, June 9, 2007

Pilot Episodes—the Hard Way

Just a little reflection on pilot episodes.

Many pilots use a lot of introductory techniques to pull the watcher into the story. Most commonly, the pilot occurs at a shifting point, where a character is dropped into a new situation, and has to learn about what's going on. See Dean dragging Sam off to hunt demons after Sam's hiatus from the family business in Supernatural, or Farscape, where John Crichton is suddenly dropped into an unfamiliar world, or Buffy coming to a new school. This usually works really well, because the viewer can learn about the new setting along with the central character.

But let's talk about a couple of shows that didn't do that.

Gilmore Girls and House both start in the middle of an established setting. Rory and Lorelai already live and work in Stars Hollow, they know everyone around them, and they've been established in that community for years. House already works at Princeton Plainsboro. In both cases, the viewer was dropped right in the middle, and the pilot episodes felt very much like mid-season episodes. The exposition was kept to a bare minimum, with no voice over to explain things (my issues with voice over should be a separate post because I could go on and on). But in both cases, everything was set out quite clearly, without awkwardness or apology or painfully shoehorned exposition. I found this impressive on both counts. This is probably the most difficult way to approach a pilot episode, and in both cases it was accomplished very well.