20 Greatest TV Series Premieres of the 21st Century


A TV series premiere is just as strong as its final moments, if not better. Providing a first-chance look into an exciting world while serving as the foundation for the myriad of stories told, a pilot episode can be a truly exciting experience. Meeting characters for the first time and watching these shows establishes their unique norms and conventions, and gives insight into the minds of the creators and their intentions for the series.




With the ethos of the series weaved into the pilot, these episodes excellently entertain audiences with truly riveting stories waiting to unfold.


20 Lost – “Pilot”

Lost

Release Date
September 22, 2004

Seasons
6

Studio
ABC

Lost carries the reputation of having one of the most divisive series finales to ever air. However, that is in part due to the exciting pilot that laid the foundation for the rest of the series. Introducing the unforgettable group of strangers who find themselves stranded, the pilot episode excels in throwing audiences into a jarring yet intriguing experience.


An Exceptionally Captivating Premiere

The introduction to Lost initially stunned audiences with its gripping premise and a cluster of admirable personalities. As a result, the series earned multiple Emmy Awards for its direction, performances, and cinematography. Leaping back and forth in time, viewers leave with a greater grasp on the complex characters they have come to meet and the mysterious universe they inhabit. Stream on Hulu.

19 The Handmaid’s Tale – “Offred”

The Handmaid’s Tale envisions an alternate North America dominated by Gilead, a Christian fundamentalist theocracy that overthrew the United States and essentially renders fertility, and women who are fertile, as commodities. Audiences learn about Gilead through the lens of June (Elizabeth Moss), a former assistant editor who lost her family during the coup.


An Eerie Omen of Contemporary Times

Much like the novel, The Handmaid’s Tale as a whole predicts and warns of the growing campaigns to pull back reproductive rights. In tandem with the ever-so-present threat of gendered violence, the pilot illustrates the many, unique harms that women continue to face currently and the culpability of institutions in the disenfranchisement of marginalized communities. The suspenseful opener paves the way for a great book-to-TV adaptation. Stream on Hulu.

18 Scrubs – “My First Day”

scrubs

Scrubs

Release Date
October 2, 2001

Seasons
9

Studio
ABC

Scrubs follows the lives of aspiring doctors at the fictional Sacred Heart Hospital and boasts a group of charming students who travel between reality and fantastical moments of the mind while chronicling their work. Despite the series’ straying far from authentic medical practices, Scrubs has solidified itself as one of the most cherished series to grace televisions, and much of the strong fan reception lies in the success of the pilot.


A Comical Chronicle of Life

“My First Day” received particularly bright reviews for its well-paced, humorous approach to introducing audiences to J.D. (Zach Braff) and his colleagues. As the title suggests, “My First Day” both evokes the juvenile yet relatable and amusing look at navigating life and its many stressful situations that many can relate to while transitioning through life’s many stages. Stream on Hulu.

17 Desperate Housewives – “Pilot”

Desperate Housewives presented viewers with four flawed women, their loved ones, and their bitter rivals. On the infamous Wisteria Lane, the series opens with a tragedy that propels four friends to convene and attempt to make sense of everything. However, as they gravitate toward each other one more, the drama of their personal lives spills over into the streets.


A Darkly Satisfying Look Into Suburbia

Narrating the events, Mary Alice (Brenda Strong) provides worthwhile commentary on the personalities of her friends. Nonetheless, she hands the reins over to dynamic women like Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria), Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross), and Susan Meyer (Terri Hatcher), who dominate the screens for the first time in the pilot, and continue to do so until the final moments of the show. Stream on Hulu.

16 Archer – “Mole Hunt”

archer

Archer

Release Date
September 17, 2009

Seasons
10

Studio
FX

Archer is an adult-animated spy comedy that follows the titular agent (H. Jon Benjamin) and his various missions. While friends like the serious Lana (Aisha Tyler) and the presence of his mother (Jessica Walter) at the agency attempt to rein him in, Archer continues to wreak havoc, inadvertently or otherwise.


A Crass and Zany Spy Story for the Ages

Favorably compared to shows like The Office and Mad Men, Mole Hunt” was celebrated as a refreshing addition to FX’s programming schedule. With its sardonic approach to espionage, the series complemented the channel’s typically darker material while offering truly amusing dialogue and scenarios to audiences. Stream on Hulu.

15 The Other Two – “Pilot”

The Other Two is a comical odyssey through the seas of fame, wealth, and family. After their younger brother Chase (Case Walker) transforms into a viral sensation, sibling duo Brooke (Helene Yorke) and Cary (Drew Tarver) decide to try their luck for a time in the limelight. With Chase’s increasing fame and their mother’s (Molly Shannon) return, the two siblings navigate tricky relationships, uniquely shocking experiences, and personal traumas.


A Whirlwind of Fame and Family

Deeply conversational with real world events, mannerisms, and pop culture, The Other Two’s pilot is a marvel that contains quite the message about the chaos of life, weaved into truly comical scenes. Stream on Max.

14 True Detective – “The Long Bright Dark”

true detective

True Detective

Release Date
January 12, 2014

Cast
Mahershala Ali , Stephen Dorff , Carmen Ejogo , Scoot McNairy , Jodie Foster , Kali Reis , Matthew McConaughey , Woody Harrelson , Alexandra Daddario , John Hawkes , Colin Farrell , Vince Vaughn

Seasons
4

Studio
HBO

True Detective is a fascinating anthology that dedicates each season to a different set of crimes. Throughout its four seasons, the series has stunned audiences and critics alike with the intriguing stories and the captivating characters at the center of the investigations.

A Tantalizing Mystery

“Long Bright Dark” finds agents Rustin Cole (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin “Marty” Hart (Woody Harrelson) being interviewed nearly two decades after their infamous investigation of the disappearance of Dora Lange.


Leaping back and forth between 1995 and 2012, the series premiere does an incredible job of introducing two distinct protagonists, a spine-chilling mystery, as well as philosophical outlooks on life, family, politics, and death. Stream on Max.

13 Breaking Bad – “Pilot”


Beloved by many, Breaking Bad introduces audiences to disgruntled high school teacher turned drug lord Walter White (Bryan Cranston). The jaded professional turns to the drug trade, at first, to help alleviate financial issues brought upon by a tragic cancer diagnosis. As the series persists, however, White and his accomplices become roped into an international game of chess that proves to have frightening consequences.

An Unpredictable Classic

The pilot episode of any impactful series can either be a dark horse, secretly carrying some of the best plots to come, or a case of instant gratification that continues to satisfy audiences over time. Breaking Bad’s pilot has been heralded as the latter. Given Cranston’s spectacular performance and the dark, intriguing premise, critics and fans alike were uniquely endeared to the series premiere. Stream on Netflix.

12 The Good Place – “Everything Is Fine”


The Good Place opens with Eleanor (Kristen Bell), a cynical and crude woman who joins the many souls in the afterlife after her painful yet oddly comedic death. There she meets the studious Chidi (William Jackson Harper), the pompous Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and the goofy Jason (Manny Jacinto), and the four attempt to navigate the brave new world that lays before them.

A Jovial, Earnest Investigation of Existence

Alongside the jovial Michael (Ted Danson) and the informative Janet (D’Arcy Carden), “Everything Is Fine” provides audiences with jovial attitudes, exciting lore behind the afterlife, and a basis for the philosophical pondering of its characters. Watching The Good Place feels like receiving a surprising yet comforting hug and just like such a hug, the first time is quite unforgettable. Stream on Netflix.


11 The Leftovers – “Pilot”

After a cataclysmic event known as the “Sudden Departure” sees 2% of the global population disappear, The Leftovers sees the world attempt to make sense of their newfound predicament through a myriad of methods. Officer Kevin Garvey Jr. (Justin Theroux) finds himself confronting his fractured family, a frazzled hometown, and a series of religious institutions and cults threatening to unravel the peace they have been struggling to keep.

A Clever, Eerie Masterpiece

The pilot also manages to hold fully realized discussions about mental health, faith, grief, and the role of the state in a single episode, previewing assertions about existence that have yet to come. Stream on Max.


10 Better Call Saul – “Uno”

Better Call Saul hones in on the life of the titular character (Bob Odenkirk) from Breaking Bad. Covering his transformation from con artist to trusted lawyer. As the series chronicles his ascension into the world of law, Saul’s morality shifts, providing audiences with a nuanced yet dark look at his rise and fall.

Brand-New Series, Same Old Stakes

“Uno” takes viewers to a near future before pulling them back to the moment that is essentially Saul’s villain origin story. Much like the most successful of spin-offs, the series premiere begins in a familiar space but ultimately concludes with the audience acknowledging and respecting the new story told. Stream on Netflix.


Related: Best Pilot Episodes in TV History, Ranked

9 Interview with the Vampire – “In Throes of Increasing Wonder…”

The first of the recently adapted “Immortal Universe”, Interview with the Vampire, sees beloved characters like Loius de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson) and Lestat de Lioncourt (Sam Reid) returning in fascinating ways. Beginning in Dubai, the events of the past are slowly revealed by way of an interview between Louis and middle-aged, inquisitive journalist Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian).


A Gothic Marvel

“In Throes Of Increasing Wonder…” chronicles the exact moment Louis and Lestat first met and introduces each character with the imagination and consciousness necessary to build up two thought-provoking protagonists. Stream on AMC+.

8 The Legend of Korra – “Welcome To Republic City”

The Legend of Korra sees the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender 75 years after the events of the final season. Introducing headstrong Korra (Janet Varney) and the bustling Republic City to fans of the franchise, the premiere breathes new life into an already exciting and beloved series.

An Invigorating Expansion Into New Territory

“Welcome To Republic City” excellently establishes the contrast between Korra and Aang, while also elaborating on their differences in personalities informs or stunts their progress. Similarly, balancing a strong, comedic beat with the dire nature of the Avatar’s predicaments, The Legend Of Korra also stands on its own as a mature, subversive sensation. Stream on Netflix.


7 ‘The Walking Dead – “Days Gone Bye”

The Walking Dead‘s premiere successfully propelled the televised adaptation into mainstream spaces. After Officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is shot on duty, he later awakens in a coma. However, the world he opens his eyes to is nothing like the world he left. Overrun by “walkers”, or zombies, Rick struggles to escape and find a community among the survivors.

A Faithful, Exciting Adaptation

“Days Gone Bye” gives audiences a glimpse into the Rick fans have come to love while also offering a concrete backstory and highlighting characters that would soon become crucial in Rick’s transformation. Shane (Jon Bernthal), Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) not only offer other perspectives but contribute to the drama of the new world with their silent tension. Stream on Netflix.


6 Game of Thrones – “Winter Is Coming”

Game of Thrones saw George R.R. Martin’s literary franchise adapted for contemporary television audiences, which meant plenty of violence, sex, and political intrigue. Despite the tepid reviews of the final seasons and the series finale altogether, the pilot stands as one of the most engaging episodes in recent memory.

A Majestic and Morbid Fantasy

With the silent struggle of power between the Starks and the Baratheons, the troubling dynamic between two exiled Targaryen heirs, and a uniquely dark humor, “Winter Is Coming” amazingly reanimates the many characters and crucial tension that made the novel series all the more tantalizing. Stream on Max.


5 Orange Is the New Black – “I Wasn’t Ready”

Orange Is the New Black is widely considered to be one of the first successes in the streaming era. The series opens with a look into Piper Chapman’s (Taylor Schilling) incarceration and the moments that led up to that fateful day. Once inside, she begins to familiarize herself with her peers before stumbling into a surprise waiting for her in the penitentiary.

A Stellar, Heartfelt Black Comedy

“I Wasn’t Ready” does not hesitate to dive into the uncomfortable nature of imprisonment. Aside from the harsh treatment, the discussions and exploration of identity present in the writing make for a truly engaging premiere. Reflecting reality onto the viewers, Orange Is the New Black is nothing short of a wonderful adaptation of Piper Kerman’s acclaimed memoir. Stream on Netflix.


4 Pose – “Pilot”

Pose

Pose

Release Date
2018-00-00

Seasons
2

Opening in the early late 1980s, Pose sees Blanca Evangelista (Michaela Jae Rodriguez) emerge as a promising housemother in her own right. Between the tense competition in the world of ballroom and the rife homophobia and transphobia that surrounds her community, an unbreakable bond between them inspires astronomical change in spite of medical emergencies and oppression.

A Rich Story About a Chosen Family

Through the pilot, Pose not only expertly illustrates the lives of queer folks in New York throughout the decades-but it also highlights the long-lasting influence of queer communities on every facet of entertainment, language, and activism. Stream on Hulu.


3 Abbot Elementary – “Pilot”

Abbot Elementary chronicles the everyday adventures of Philadelphia educators. Informative and entertaining, Abbott Elementary’s pilot revived the appeal of cable comedies and the power they contain through their affirming plots and multidimensional characters.

A Wholesome, Educational Experience

With fluency in social media discourse and addressing contemporary issues plaguing the country, the series introduces itself as a comedic yet knowledgeable look into the lives of educators, faculty and the surrounding community. Stream on Hulu.


2 Mr. Robot – “eps1.0_hellofriend.mov”

mr robot

Mr. Robot

Release Date
June 24, 2015

Seasons
4

Mr. Robot chronicles the whirlwind that is Elliot Alderson’s (Rami Malek) life. A young and promising programmer, Elliot’s day-to-day experience consists of his hacking hobbies, his labor on behalf of “E-Corp”, and maintaining his mental stability. After “fsociety”, an underground network, reaches out to him with plans to cancel financial debt for all, Elliott becomes embroiled in a war that quickly escalates and forever changes his outlook on life.

A Revolutionary Look Into the Human Mind

Elliott and the series at large capture the disillusionment with the systems and institutions that have exploited their constituents and “eps1.0_hellofriend.mov” perfectly illustrates that frustration permeating among the working class. Stream on Prime Video.


Related: Here’s Why The Wire is Considered One of the Best TV Shows Ever Made

1 The Wire – “The Target”

The Wire poster

The Wire

Release Date
June 2, 2002

Seasons
5

The Wire is undoubtedly a highly coveted series that details the everyday operations of the Baltimore Police Department. With characters like Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn), and Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) at the helm of remarkably realistic and complex stories, the series prides itself on capturing the corruption embedded within law enforcement.


A Touching and Tense Reflection on Crime and Justice

Adopting a novel-like structure, “The Target” holds nothing back as it evaluates the systemic abuses that disproportionately malign marginalized communities. Between tracking the jaded, morally-gray officers and the inner city communities constantly under surveillance, the series premiere expects a level of empathy from its audiences that it would produce by the time of its conclusion. Stream on Max.



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