My Rule of Two for Television

Always watch the first two episodes of any new television series before you decide to stop watching. It’s a simple rule but its one that I always use when I’ve found a new television series.

There is a basic reason behind this. Every now and again, a tv show will have a brilliant pilot episode. Lost, Heroes, Prison Break and Flashforward are all good examples of television shows with fantastic pilots. The pilots grabbed your attention, they had huge budgets that meant that they could amaze an audience and pull them in before actually establishing the main themes/format of the series.

Flashforward – A show with a fantastic pilot episode

Unfortunately, most pilots can’t do this. Some pilots have a slightly more complicated story which needs a little bit of establishing before the audience can recognise how the rest of the series will unfold. This means a writer/director has one hour (or actually forty-five minutes) to establish new characters, the main story of the show and tell some sort of contained story. This can usually result in a stunted, slow and often slightly dull thirty-minutes of television. Or worst, it can be very similar to lots of other shows, usually starting at the around the same time, because they are all trying to do slightly similar things.

It’s then down to the second episode to actually begin the story telling process and show what the series will actually be about. It would be a real shame then if the audience decided that they weren’t going to like the series based purely on the first episode, which in most cases, wasn’t a true reflection of the series as a whole anyway.

Person of Interest struggles to establish the series in the first episode.

There are loads of examples where a series starts very poorly but rapidly improves, often with the second episode. The most recent example I can think of is Person of Interest. This starts very slowly, with little sign of what the story will actually be or why the protagonists are even talking to each other. Its only when we reach the end of the episode that we are introduced to the main focus of the series and what makes it different to a lot of other “thrillers.”

In a completely different type of series, The Office (an American Workplace for the UK) has a carbon-copy pilot episode of the Ricky Gervais UK version it is inspired by. I watched this episode and was shocked and disappointed that all the American’s had done was take the brilliant original and copy it. It was only when I watched the second episode that I realised the shows were heading in very different directions. So different that I don’t even recognise the US version’s links to the UK one anymore as its outgrown it completely.

Overall, there are plenty of shows that need more than 45 minutes to get going and establish the main characters, the focus of the series and the direction the season as whole will be going. To make a judgement based on the first episode alone will mean a lot of people will miss a lot of fantastic shows – or worst, they won’t even make it past episode one at all! So next time you see the first episode of a new series and don’t really enjoy it, make the choice to tune in for the second and give it another go. If it still disappoints, don’t waste anymore time, it’s not for you!

The Office started as a copy of the UK version and became one of the best sitcoms on television!

8 thoughts on “My Rule of Two for Television

  1. That’s a really good rule Ben 🙂
    We should give it at least a 2nd chance for bad series and 2nd look for good series.

    I don’t have cable and live far away from UK and US (I would have subscribed cable if they have BBC, to bad they don’t … I have been watching more British series these past few years). What I do is finding the DVD, if it makes me bored after 3series in the row, then I stop it.

  2. Definitely agree – I enjoyed the first episode of Community, but it was the end of the second episode had me hysterically laughing. I also think this can be applied in a slightly different form to specific creators – Joss Whedon, for example, usually needs about half a season to really get going (with the obvious exception being Firefly). Once you get through that half season or so, it’s amazing, but I’ve found that I need to trust him up to that point.

    1. That’s risky because if you haven’t got me at least slightly hooked by the end of the second episode, I’ll strugggle to stay with it!

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