When it comes to entertainment, it's important to hook your audience early on. A book needs a strong first chapter, a movie needs an engaging opening act, and a TV show needs a great first episode. While some shows can build momentum after a relatively weak beginning (the US version of The Office is a prime example), more often than not a failed first episode will result in a failed series.
It can be difficult to get a first episode right. You have to introduce your characters and their world, and begin to set up the plotlines for your entire series. While some shows have small casts and simple stories, others have dozens of faces to remember and plot threads that interweave and spread out like your nan's dropped knitting. It takes a deft hand to craft an introduction that gives the viewer all that they need while remaining interesting and not overwhelming them.
While this list looks at ten first episodes that absolutely nailed that difficult balance, it should be noted that not all of them maintained that level in quality. Indeed some turned into massive disappointments, starting with a bang and ending with a whimper. But they all began with something special, a pilot that made an impression and left viewers hungry for more.
10. Welcome To The Hellmouth - Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a revolutionary show, with a strong cast, great writing, and plenty of surprises. All of these strengths were on show in its debut episode, Welcome to the Hellmouth.
In its first scene, it showed what a smart, unpredictable series it would be when a teenage boy is shown breaking into a school with a pretty blonde girl. The girl hears noises and glances around nervously, and we expect her to be some monster's first victim. Brilliantly, she turns out to be the monster, morphing into a frightening vampire and killing her male companion.
Welcome to the Hellmouth introduced the core cast of the show: Buffy, her mother, the nucleus of the Scooby gang, and a few key villains. It also cleverly set up Eric Balfour's Jesse McNally as a key player before killing him in its second episode. It gave us hints to the Slayer mythology, the nature of the show's vampires and the evil lurking under the town of Sunnydale, all without too much clunky exposition. It also set the plot of the first season in motion, introducing Buffy to her future love interest Angel and setting up her inevitable confrontation with The Master.
Despite airing over twenty years ago, it remains funny, fresh and engrossing, a truly great start to a truly great series.