The pilot is a weird and wonderful thing, simultaneously the birth of a television show and often one of its worst efforts. Most importantly though, a pilot is a chance to introduce the potential audience to the world of the show and to give them an idea of the major themes the show will explore every week. A great pilot should put us in the world of the series and leave us clamoring to come back next week. Sometimes, however, that feeling is replicated by something in pop culture that is not intended (or in some cases on this list, not directly intended) to be the pilot for a television series. Sometimes we are left wishing that something we just encountered was actually going to be a television show, and thus give us the opportunity to continuously come into contact with these characters and enter the world. Here are ten instances where we were left wishing something was a tv pilot:
10. The American President
Ok, so technically Aaron Sorkin wrote The American President as sort of a test balloon to prove to networks that he could make people interested in the day to day lives of White House staffers and thus enable him to create his magnum opus, The West Wing. But it worked. Ostensibly a romantic comedy, the film follows President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), a widowed Commander in Chief who falls for lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening). And while thir courtship is the perfect example of the sort of romantic tension Sorkin would utilize perfectly after his move to television (and would have probably worked about as well extended to a season or seasons long relationship), its the stuff around the edges of the film that left us begging to get back in that White House next week. From the complex and endearing relationship between Shepherd and his Chief of Staff (Martin Sheen, who would go on to play President Bartlet on The West Wing) to the smarmy but charming Lewis Rothschild (Michael J. Fox, clearly a Josh Lyman prototype), to the President's relationship with his precocious teenage daughter Lucy (Shawna Waldron, who would later be Elizabeth Moss on The West Wing), the film is filled around the edges with characters and relationships that simply beg to be fleshed out. And, when the President prepares to deliver the State of the Union at the film's end, it is bound to give you chills and leave you wishing there was more where that came from. Fortunately, in this case, there was.
9. "Amends," Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Another example where our dreams of a pilot came true (and was in fact planned before this episode), "Amends" acts as a sort of pre-pilot for Angel, delving into his past, exploring his tortured soul, and ultimately giving him a reason to stay alive and keep fighting the good fight. Joss Whedon brought Angel back from a Hell dimension for the sheer purpose of prepping him for the spin-off the WB had offered the character, but "Amends" is perhaps the first time that Angel, a compelling character and an excellent performance by Boreanaz, seemed like he could really carry a show that wouldn't have his romantic tension with Buffy to fall back on. One of the best episodes Buffy ever did, "Amends" exists as the series' only Christmas episode, true, but more importantly it puts Angel once and for all on his own path toward redemption for his past sins. And while we had to wait nine long months for the show's actual pilot (which used footage from "Amends" in its theme song), Angel proved well worth it.
8. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Pretty much any of David Sedaris' books could be adapted into a television show (and in fact any such show would probably draw from every one of his books), but Me Talk Pretty One Day seems to lend itself most readily to serialization. Imagine a show built around Sedaris' move with his partner Hugh to France, and his bumbling attempts to fit into the French culture and learn the language while adapting to a totally new lifestyle. Unlike Outsourced, though, the show wouldn't devolve into a series of xenophobic gags so much as it would likely be a witty fish out of water story. Plus, any Sedaris centered show would be rife with flashbacks to his dysfunctional childhood and his life back in America (many of which could be drawn from the essays in the first part of Me Talk Pretty One Day) and just begging for visits from his family to his new home. The show could be completely episodic, but could also easily develop a serialized narrative as Sedaris slowly reconciles his childhood and the life he had in America with the man he is becoming in France.
7. "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase, " The Simpsons
Actually a parody of the idea of spinning off characters from a hit show for little apparent reason, "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase" is successful in mocking how terrible and contrived many spin-offs are, but also left us wondering if any show could possibly have more fruit for a spin-off than The Simpsons. Along with "22 Short Films About Springfield," this episode is a reminder of how strong many of the supporting characters on the show are, and while all of the spin-offs presented in this episode are intentionally awful, there's a chance that during its heyday, the show could have come up with something brilliant to do with its humongous cast of characters. Now, though, its probably best they stay on The Simpsons to give the writers enough material to keep the juggernaut running for another 45 years.
6. Gun, With Occasional Music by Johnathan Lethem
People love procedurals, right? Well, if Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music became a TV series, it could singlehandedly merge prcedural television with more experimental, David Lynch-esque fare, and draw in fans of science fiction to boot. The novel follows Conrad Metcalf, a pretty standard hard boiled private-eye type, except for the fact that he lives in a dystopian future where some children, called babyheads, are hyper-evolved to be more intelligent, and thus more cynical than most adults, where animals can also be bioengineered to possess the intelligence of humans, where psychology is seen as a fringe belief that makes adherents akin to Jehovah's Witnesses, where asking questions is seen as rude, where everyone is on some type of behavior modifying drug, and where people can trade erogenous zones in order to experience sex as someone from the opposite gender (a procedure which has left our hero with his ex-girlfriend's parts after she skipped town with his). If this doesn't sound like the weirdest possible twist on the detective procedural you've ever heard of, there's plenty more strangeness at hand in Lethem's brilliant book. Taking the standard noir tropes and throwing them into the future has been done many times before (and has a whole genre, neo-noir, pretty much dedicated to the idea), yet never with such transcendant absurdism as in Lethem's book. Tuning in every week to watch Metcalf solve a mystery would be a blast, but watching the world he lives in become more fully realized and the conspiracies behind it slowly unravel would make for the perfect masterplot to back up the show's procedural elements.
5. Boogie Nights
Paul Thomas Anderson's sprawling epic about the porn industry in the '70s and '80s examines a huge cast of characters and spans decades, giving it more than enough scope to hold up as a full television series. The film centers around Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), a naive young guy with a "gift" that makes him best suited for the industry. And while Diggler's loss of innocence and growing ego would hold as a compelling center for a series, there are pretty much infinite possibilities for character development and storylines already built into the movie. The family dynamic of Jack Horner's (Burt Reynolds) band of misfits, the friendship between Diggler and his new best friend/partner in crime Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), the dysfunctional and ultimately futile marriage between cuckolded Little Bill (William H. Macy) and a porn star (Nina Hartley), the maternal tenderness of Amber (Julianne Moore), who comes with a tragic backstory involving a failed marriage and lost custody of her children, and the sexually free Rollergirl (Heather Graham) would all have plenty of conflict to examine more in depth, and if the show ever got tired of examining the porn industry, there are already other avenues to look into available to it, like the dynamics of Maurice Rodriguez' (Luis Guzman) club, the music industry and Dirk and Reed's attempts to break into it, and even the growing drug market, with the compelling Rahad Jackson (Alfred Molina) just begging to be allowed to grow as a character. Just writing about it makes me pine for the movie to be expanded to series length.
4. "The Cowboy And The Frenchman"
Made for French television as part of the series The French as seen by... (a five part show that asked major filmmakers including Werner Herzog and Jean Luc Godard to exhibit their views on the French and French Culture), David Lynch's "The Cowboy And The Frenchman" has such a unique blend of iconography and absurdism that it will leave you wishing it was the first episode of a show. The short follow the capture of a Frenchman (Frederic Golchon) by a Cowboy (Harry Dean Stanton) and his ranch hand (Jack Nance) who are shocked by his strange ways until they see the french fries he is carrying and determine he must be from France. While the short concludes itself by having the Frenchman find success in America as a country singer, a series could easily be drawn from the completely insane and often surral farm on which the short takes place, whether the French character stayed around and the show became a twisted parody of culture clash television (like Perfect Strangers and Outsourced) or whether he disappeared after the pilot and left us with the almost entirely deaf Cowboy and his incompetent, doltish ranch hand, just following their adventures in David Lynch's hyper-stylized mockery of the American iconography of the Wild West.
3. "5 Years" by David Bowie
Imagine a pilot in which newscasters came on the air and announced that scientists had discovered the planet earth only had five years left before it would explode, killing everything on it. Pretty dark stuff, right? And yet, a show based around the opening track of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust could go in absolutely any direction with that premise. It could follow an average man trying to decide how to spend his last five years on Earth. It could follow government officials trying to keep order in a society that has no reason left to play nice. It could follow a team of scientists trying to save the Earth. It could follow a team of inventors trying to develop a way to get us off the planet before its destruction. It could even intersperse all of these stories. Any number of science fiction books and movies have taken place after the destruction of the Earth, yet following humanity as it faces the spectre of its certain demise, and documenting how people, and society at large reacts to the news could make for compelling television.
2. "Gone to Texas" Preacher
Garth Ennis' stellar comic book series would make a fantastic television show. Following Jesse Custer, a preacher who's lost his faith, but gains immense power when he is bonded to Genesis, a half-angel half-demon that gives him The Word of God, an ability that forces everyone to do exactly what he says. Along with his gun-slinging ex-girlfriend Tulip O'Hare and a hard drining Irish vampire named Cassidy, Jesse decides to take his greivances to God himself, but not before coming up against a litany of maniacs and supernatural forces desperate to get their hands on Genesis and use Jesse's power for their own sick ends. Pitch black, depraved, hilarious, complicated and flat out bad ass, Preacher would make for an excellent examination of the role of religion in America, the iconography of the south, and the unique brand of American insanity. The series' first arc, "Gone to Texas" introduces the series main characters, puts them up against a terrifying killer, and gives us a glimpse of both the quorum of Angels desperate to stop Jesse and the weapon they plan to use, the immortal, unstoppable Saint of Killers. Basically, it sets up everything you might need to launch a series that would be controversial, sure, but also intelligent, quick witted, scary, and all around incredible.
1. Star Trek (2009)Star Trek, you may or may not know, was already a series back in the '60s that has launched countless spin-offs, movies and fan conventions. Yet in the age of the reboot, its kind of shocking that J.J. Abrams film-reboot wasn't just made as a reboot of the original series. Written and directed by a man who cut his teeth in television (with Felicity, Alias, and Lost under his belt), Star Trek spends its runtime getting the crew of the Enterprise together and sending them on their first adventure. The film ends with the crew finally all in the places we know they belong, and with the newly christened Captain Kirk commanding the crew to head off toward their next adventure. We're not even Trekkies, here at Review To Be Named, but we left the movie so jazzed on the mythos and the dynamics that we couldn't wait to see where it went next. Sure, the budget would have been drastically smaller in a television version, but if Abrams nailed the character dynamics as well as he did in the movie, we would have been watching the series eagerly every week, probably reviewing it rhapsodically here, and maybe even becoming converts to perhaps the geekiest cadre around. And Sam probably would've gone to a few conventions. Just Sam though...
Read more Random Pop Culture Top Ten List here