17 TV Episodes That Sell A Show To Newcomers Better Than The Pilot

List Rules

Vote up the episodes that are better pilots than the actual pilot, introducing the shows more entertainingly and persuasively than the actual first episodes.

A long-running TV series is often – though not always – the sign of a good show and something worth watching. The problem is that after a time the pilot may not be the episode to sell the show that it once was. Pilots often have a lot of responsibilities – introducing characters, explaining the hook of the series, etc. – that it's hard to always walk away with a great episode. An episode later in the run when a show has settled into itself and figured out the stories it really wants to tell can often have a better chance of getting new viewers to stick around than just the pilot.

From legendary runs like Doctor Who to lauded shows like Sopranos that just might not have stuck after an episode or two, these are the episodes we recommend to get your friends and family hooked on the same great TV you are.

  • Season 1, Episode 12

    After a botched hunt leaves Dean (Jensen Ackles) on death's door with a damaged heart, the Winchesters head to Nebraska to visit a faith healer with an astonishingly high success rate. Supernatural hosts any number of episodes that could hook a new viewer but "Faith" is a series best that also features a number of firsts that will carry out through the entire 15-season run. Not only do you have Sam (Jared Padalecki) risking everything to pull Dean back from the brink of death – something the brothers will do time and again through the series – but "Faith" is also the first episode that really finds the two grappling and disagreeing about heaven, hell, and the afterlife. In a show known for its classic rock needle-drops, the episode also features a series highlight with a runner being chased along a trail by a reaper set to Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." If "Faith" can't get you into Supernatural, nothing will.

    - Jacob Bryant

  • Season 3, Episode 4

    Time and time again, Community proved that whether they're facing a paintball attack, a rousing game of "lava monster," or running a mob-like chicken finger business the story all boiled down to the characters of the study group and how much they need each other. The early Season 3 episode "Remedial Chaos Theory" encapsulates all the show's values – including its love of the "concept episode" – to great effect. Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) host the group for an apartment-warming party and when the pizza arrives Jeff (Joel McHale) says they'll roll a six-sided die to figure out who goes. Abed's concern that they're creating multiple timelines with the roll is well-founded as the episode continues to explore what happened when each member of the group was the one to get the pizza. The episode's ability to showcase the group interacting in different pairs and also as a whole throughout the episode will give newcomers great insight into how important each relationship is to the other in the series.

    - Jacob Bryant

  • Season 3, Episode 10

    It's difficult to introduce a series that's been around for over half a century, but such is the case with Doctor Who. Thirteen Doctors, nine Masters, dozens of companions, and hundreds and hundreds of stories. So, how do you pick? But picking the best. "Blink" is not only highly regarded as one of the best episodes of the Whovian universe with arguably one of the best Doctors (David Tennant). Standing outside of the Doctor Who mythos, "Blink" is a bottle episode that actually contains very little Doctor Who or his companion Martha. Instead, it focuses on Sally Sparrow (guest star Carey Mulligan) as she attempts to help the Doctor who has been trapped in the 1960s. The episode also introduces one of the series most terrifying villains: The Weeping Angels. Thrilling, hilarious, and absolutely terrifying at times, the episode is perfect for newbies who are not yet schooled in the timey-wimey elements of the series.

    - Erin Maxwell

  • Season 2, Episode 1

    The short first season of The Office feels almost like an entirely different show compared to what comes after – the dry humor is cranked to desert qualities and the characters seem bland with the exception of Michael. Most die-hard fans of the series say to skip the season entirely, and when the Season 2 premiere episode is as good as "The Dundies" is it makes sense. The episode goes to great lengths to reintroduce the employees of Dunder-Mifflin all while Michael drags them out to a bar to award them pointless and humiliating office awards. The show's penchant for cringe-inducing humor is on full display while also showcasing the heart mixed in that made the series such a runaway success.

    - Jacob Bryant

  • Season 2, Episode 23

    Parks and Rec ironically had a very similar trajectory as The Office did as it worked to find its own voice – both featured short first seasons that felt like half-baked versions of what they really wanted to be. Parks found its footing in Season 2 but something was still missing in a way that The Office didn't lack after making alterations in its own sophomore season. The series found the missing ingredients in Season 2's penultimate episode with the introduction of Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe). The two arrive in Pawnee as state auditors checking out the city's budget deficit and just never end up leaving. The show overall is much improved throughout the second season but with the addition of Ben and Chris, Parks and Rec hums along at a brisk pace that rarely – if ever – misses a step for the remainder of its run.

    - Jacob Bryant

  • Season 2, Episode 3

    With seven seasons and 145 episodes, entering the freaky world of Sunnydale for the first time can feel a bit formidable for the casual viewer. Should curious viewers just start from the very beginning? No.

    As with many television shows, Buffy The Vampire Slayer struggled to find its voice throughout the first season. Sure, the blend of humor, horror, and action was there, and there’s the “big bad” threat - a main villain who appears throughout the entire season and whose actions build to a climactic battle, a staple of the series. But overall the episodes are all pretty cookie-cutter, “monster-of-the-week” entries that don’t much develop the characters. Buffy wouldn’t really find its footing until season 2, and that’s exactly where newcomers to the series should jump - specifically, episode 3, “School Hard.” The title pretty much sums up what to expect: it’s Die Hard, but in a school, with vampires instead of international terrorists. The straightforward plot and confined quarters of the setting create new tensions and amplify pre-existing beefs between the characters, which instantly shows new viewers just how the relationship dynamics among the “Scooby Gang” really work. Plus, this episode introduces two of the series’s best characters, Spike and Drusilla, the “big bads” of season 2 - or are they? The arrival of these two in Sunnydale sets up so many classic elements that linger throughout the rest of the show’s run, as well as one of the most devastating season finales ever broadcast on television. If “School Hard” doesn’t hook a newcomer on Buffy, chances are, nothing will.

    - Chris Shultz