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Best Pilot Episodes: Starting a Series Right

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Tulane chapter.

As an avid watcher of TV shows, quite a few episodes always stick out to me. Pilot episodes, the first episode in a series, make or break whether or not I continue with the series. I typically won’t stop watching a show until the fourth or fifth episode, but pilot episodes always set the tone. The shows listed below have pilot episodes that really stood out to me. In my opinion, these shows did a phenomenal job establishing the world within the show and its characters while still remaining shocking and exciting.

Disclaimer: These are the best pilot episodes, in my opinion, based on the shows that I have seen. There are obviously TV shows that I have not seen, so I couldn’t consider their pilot episodes in my ranking.

Spoiler Warning: I will be mentioning the details of the pilot episodes, but nothing will spoil the show as a whole.

Friday Night Lights

Taking place in Dillon, Texas, Friday Night Lights showcases the lives of a town centered around the potential success of their high school football team — the Dillon Panthers. The pilot episode focuses on the team’s season opener game. We meet the show’s central characters and learn about their relationship dynamics. A major character gets injured during the big game, leading to a camaraderie that embodies the “Friday Night Lights” spirit. The relationship dynamics in this show are some of my favorites that I’ve seen in any television show. The pilot throws the audience into the world of Dillon, Texas, which is somewhere you’ll always want to stay.

Where to Watch: Netflix, Hulu, Peacock, Amazon Prime


I randomly came across this show on Hulu one day, and it hooked me from the start. Blindspot follows an extremely tattooed woman that emerges from a duffel bag in the middle of Times Square. Because FBI agent Kurt Weller’s name is tattooed on her back, she is brought to the FBI. The plot continuously intensifies because the woman, Jane Doe, has no short or long-term memory. The mysteries engrained in this pilot episode make this show extremely binge-able. From the very first minute, Blindspot will always keep you guessing. 

Where to Watch: Hulu

Designated Survivor

As an American political thriller, Designated Survivor begins with the U.S. Capitol exploding during the annual State of the Union address. The designated survivor is the individual in the Presidential line of succession that stays in a safe, remote location during any event involving most members of the line of succession. Within ten minutes, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Thomas Kirkman, suddenly gets sworn in as the new president. The pilot episode rapidly takes you through Kirkman’s first few hours as president. The episode’s quick but detailed pace makes it special and leads you to want to continue with the series.

Where to Watch: Netflix

the 100

Ninety-seven years after a nuclear apocalypse, the series follows one hundred juvenile prisoners — also known as the 100 — who get sent to Earth on a hail mary mission from their previous home in a space station. The 100 face the shock of an environment they had only heard stories about while protecting themselves from Earth’s current inhabitants — the Grounders. The pilot episode does a phenomenal job of illustrating the unique dystopian world that the 100 live in. Additionally, you watch the 100 form strong bonds with each other and become leaders of their new reality.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Jack Ryan

A series based on Tom Clancy’s bestselling book series, CIA economics analyst Jack Ryan pushes beyond the role of his desk job to uncover a string of suspicious bank activity. As a character-focused series, the pilot episodes give you a deep dive into Jack Ryan’s personal life and world. The show cuts between multiple interconnected storylines that simultaneously show various perspectives of the same events. So, within the pilot episode, you see bits and pieces of the storyline that keep you wondering about how it all fits together.

Where to Watch: Prime Video

Hi! My name is Morgan McBride, and I'm a senior at Tulane from New York. I am majoring in communications with minors in management and political science. I am so excited to be writing for Her Campus!