It won't come as a surprise to anyone who's heard anything about THIS LIFE that the premiere episode doesn't pull any punches -- literal or otherwise. It also won’t be the first series to leave audiences breathless... with that in mind, here's a look at some of TV’s most gut-wrenching series premieres.
(If you haven’t seen the series outlined below, consider yourself SPOILER warned.)
Game of Thrones - HBO, 2011
As a semi-avid reader of George R.R. Martin’s riveting series of novels, I was fully prepared to witness the gut-pounding exercise that was its pilot episode. When Jaime Lannister, heir to the Lannister riches, pushes a small boy out of Winterfell's tallest tower towards his death, many were understandably shaken up. The series is as unforgiving as the books it’s adapted from, and that sublime moment in the pilot was only to be the first domino in a series of terrible events that would transpire.
Kids in The Hall - CBC, 1988
When Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson hit CBC’s airwaves in October, 1988, I don’t think any Canadian was quite prepared for the ingenious, surreal, and gender-bending comedy to be propelled their way. I wasn’t around for the series’ inception but, many years ago, a good friend of mine sat me down and screened the “Crush Your Head” sketch from the Kids pilot episode. I cried with deep guttural laughter. Kids in The Hall created a new kind of weird and its first televised sketches forever shifted the unorthodox face of comedy -- can we please get more now?!
Lost - ABC, 2004
This sci-fi, action-thriller, soapy-laden pilot directed by JJ Abrams delivered an instantaneous knockout blow. We start in the eye of protagonist Jack Shephard looking up at palm trees, blue sky, paradise. The camera cuts to a bottle of liquor in his pocket and tracks until we reach your everyday plane crash nightmare. In the first act, things go from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds and we’re soon launched into a bloody crusade for survival as Shephard tries to pull people from the burning wreckage. This thrilling transition captured an audience's imagination and swiftly implanted Lost as one of TV’s most gut-wrenching shows.
Mad Men - AMC, 2007
When Don Draper, a troubled middle-aged ad man, stepped out of his car and into his “white-picket fence” of a home in Matthew Weiner’s pilot episode, it delivered the lowest hit of all. The man who slept around, drank and worked to death was also a married man? The final scene of this classic pilot subverted pent up expectations and lay the groundwork for one of TV’s most complex anti-heroes.
The Shield - FX, 2002
Shawn Ryan’s dirty cop series probably takes the cake. When Michael Chiklis’ character Vic Mackey says, “I’m a different kind of cop” we still had no idea what was to come. In the pilot episode’s last sequence, we discover that Vic’s morality is “relative” when he kills his enemy in a by-the-book drug raid, shocking audiences and flipping expectations in the process. That moment single-handedly reestablished the audience-protagonist relationship within the cop drama. The Shield did away with the cop code and replaced it with a much darker portrayal of what law enforcement is about.
Twin Peaks - ABC, 1990
You don’t have to be a baby boomer to know how powerful and gut wrenching of an experience it is to witness David Lynch and David Frosts’ feature-length pilot episode. Unlike the other legendary series that populate this list, Twin Peaks’ doesn’t offer one impactful scene; it constantly produces an eerie feeling below its plainspoken facade. You’re left feeling unbalanced and downright ill from the moment Pete Martell discovers Laura Palmers’ body onward. Expect more damn fine cups of coffee when Twin Peaks returns in 2017.
Can you think of any others that should've made the list/were aired before my time?
Oh, and I’m Max Morin, Story Coordinator for THIS LIFE. Stay tuned on this blog for many more thoughts and exciting behind-the-scene material!
And if you made it this far and haven't watched the first episode of This Life yet, then check it out here!!
Watch a video about themes explored in THIS LIFE below: