These 12 TV Shows Have the Best Pilot Episodes According to Fans

A TV show pilot is designed to get viewers hooked, or a series picked up by a network, but they’re also usually rough around the edges. Especially as characters, plot, and staff/actor chemistry are still getting warmed up. But some TV show pilots are also fantastic! Here’s which 12 TV shows have the best pilot episodes according to fans.

It’s hard to believe some of these were even the pilot episodes of shows!

The X-Files

David Duchovny in The X-Files (1993).
Image Credit: Fox Century Television.

The first episode of The X-Files is a perfect example of how a pilot that’s rough around the edges can still introduce a series perfectly. The characters, story, and show’s “hook” are all introduced. Even though the show does come into its own as it goes on, The X-Files never feels like a different show than the one in that pilot episode.


Alison Brie and Danny Pudi in Community (2009)
Image Credit: AGBO.

Community’s pilot episode does an exceptional job of introducing all the characters. Mirroring the show’s story, it really does feel like you’re meeting a bunch of folks on their first day of post-secondary school.


Image Credit: Walt Disney Television.

In case you haven’t watched the first episode of Lost, I’m going to skip the spoilers on this one because it’s so good. Unlike most shows that use the pilot as an introductory episode, Lost begins with a mystery and slowly drips the characters and backstory through a series of flashbacks. I was immediately hooked.

Lost was also one of the most expensive pilot episodes in TV history.

The Walking Dead

Kim Dickens as Madison Clark - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 6.
Photo Credit: Lauren “Lo” Smith/AMC.

You may love or hate it now, but it’s undeniable that when The Walking Dead came out, it started off extremely strong. The pilot episode opens in the middle of zombie apocalypse action before showing us how we got there in a series of flashbacks. The intensity is captivating, and you can’t help wanting to know what will happen next to the characters.

The person who suggested this show also added, ”I lost interest later in the series (like season 4 or something), but that first episode is awesome.”

Arrested Development

Will Arnett in Arrested Development.
Image Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix.

Like most sitcoms, the pilot of Arrested Development needed to introduce the characters, story, and comedic style all in a 20-minute episode – and it definitely succeeded with all three. So much happens in the first episode that sets up the show and draws you into the characters.

“Arrested Development had a perfect pilot in my opinion. Funny from the start and introduced all the characters.” someone commented.


Thandiwe Newton HBO Westworld Season 4 - Episode 7
Photograph by John Johnson/HBO.

Another super expensive pilot episode (even more pricey than Lost) Westworld’s first episode truly felt cinematic from beginning to end. If you hadn’t read the book before watching, then the way this episode opened was truly mind-blowing. While some fans stopped watching after season 1 or 2, there’s no denying this was one of the best TV pilot episodes ever made.

Prison Break

Wentworth Miller in Prison Break (2005).
Image Credit: Fox Television.

This pilot episode had a lot of pressure to get the story going, given the plot of Prison Break. Not only did it introduce the characters and set up the reason behind why they had to break out of prison, but it also drew viewers into the conspiracies and “long game” plots that made this show so unique.

Sherlock (BBC)

Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock (2010).
Image Credit: Masterpiece.

The BBC version of Sherlock came up a few times from fans and casual viewers alike. While some folks are bummed about how this show ended, it’s easy to see how the pilot episode got us all hooked in the first place.

Bob’s Burgers

H. Jon Benjamin, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman, Dan Mintz, and John Roberts in Bob's Burgers (2011).
Image Credit: Bento Box Entertainment.

As someone who watched Bob’s Burgers from the pilot episode, I totally agree with this one! It achieves everything a good comedy pilot should, especially when it comes to conveying the show’s unique sense of humor.

Fans agree, with one saying, “They came right out of the gate with the fully developed characters and humor that are still going strong.”

Battlestar Galactica (Remake)

Battlestar Galactica.
Image Credit: SYFY.

Another one that came up a lot from fans, the remake of Battlestar Galactica, is often considered to have one of the best openings. While you could argue that the 3 hour, 2-part miniseries that kicks off the show doesn’t really count as a “pilot episode,” it’s definitely worth mentioning because of how flawlessly it set up the show.

Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan
Image Credit: Mappa.

Something for the anime fans! Attack on Titan was a super popular show when it came out, both in Japanese and again when dubbed into English. Even though the show does end up serialized and a bit dry after you get further in, the opening episode of this anime is unexpected and amazing.

Twin Peaks

Ian Buchanan in Twin Peaks (1990).
Image Credit: Lynch/Frost Productions.

I’m not sure I always understood what was happening in the pilot episode of Twin Peaks, but I’m pretty sure that mystery combined with a fever dream vibe is the point of the show.

Something super interesting about the Twin Peaks pilot is it really was a true pilot episode, and the creators weren’t sure it would be picked up. That led to an extra 20 minutes of footage being filmed where they solved the murder, just in case they released it as a TV movie instead.

The longer ending wasn’t shown on US TV, but it can be found in the “International Pilot” version of the episode. In true Twin Peaks form, both episodes also have different endings.

Referencing the show, someone commented, “Darn, fine pilot episode.”

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Kim Dickens as Madison Clark - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 6.
Photo Credit: Lauren “Lo” Smith/AMC.

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Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson in Mad Men.
Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC.

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Timothy Olyphant, Drew Barrymore in Santa Clarita Diet Season 2
Image Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix.

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Outer Banks. Rudy Pankow as JJ in episode 303 of Outer Banks

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Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. Sarma Melngailis in Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Netflix.

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Everett has been writing about media, technology, and parenting since 2014. His work has been featured on MIT Technology Review, HuffPost, and various blogs. When not writing or binge watching TV shows, you'll find him playing video games or spending with with his kids.