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VOICE OVER: Sophia Franklin WRITTEN BY: Kim Dionne
First impressions are important! Welcome to MsMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the best first episodes of various TV shows that set the scene for the rest of the show, and had us hooked right away. Our countdown includes shows “Mad Men”, “Modern Family”, “Game of Thrones” and more!
Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the best first episodes of various TV shows that set the scene for the rest of the show, and had us hooked right away. Did one of these pilots leave its mark with you? Let us know which one in the comments!

#10: “Northwest Passage”

“Twin Peaks” (1990-91; 2017) Is there a better way to start a David Lynch creation than with an intriguing murder? This show opened with the discovery of Laura Palmer’s body, which jump-started the story surrounding the eccentric Twin Peaks residents and the mysterious detective who tried to piece it all together. You couldn’t watch this first episode without having to know more. From the discovery of several potential suspects and motives to the sprinkling of supernatural elements, it was a web of intrigue tangled within a colorful cast of characters. Lynch’s style of storytelling is so bizarre that you can’t look away, and this episode laid the foundation for the twists and turns that would come about over the next seasons.

#9: “Winter Is Coming”

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“Game of Thrones” (2011-19) This series was an epic story from start to controversial finish, and the pilot episode set the stage in the best way possible. The dynamics of the vast cast of characters can be a lot to grasp, but it was broken down in a digestible and entertaining manner in this series premiere. We were introduced to the Stark family, the direwolves, Daenerys Targaryen, and the concept that, of course, winter is coming. The audience was given a sneak peek at the complex politics that were at play in this supernatural world, and it’s fair to say that that final scene left us dying to know more about this twisted and fantastical show.

#8: “Everything Is Fine”

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“The Good Place” (2016-20) This quirky sitcom pilot introduced Eleanor, and us, to the good place, and we all immediately needed to know what it was all about. We were shown the intricacies of this angelic afterlife as Michael showed Eleanor where she’ll be living, how she ended up there, and who her soulmate is. There’s just one little problem. Eleanor’s hilarious realization added a delightful angle to this pilot and had us begging to know what would happen next. The pilot left us wondering how this below-average human was going to blend in amongst, seemingly, some of the best people to have lived, and the remainder of the show kept this intriguing pace going right up until the finale.

#7: “1:23:45”

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“Chernobyl” (2019) We knew this dramatized depiction of Chernobyl would kick off in dramatic fashion and this entire episode left us with chills. We were shown the initial explosion as well as the direct aftermath, as firefighters, residents of the town, and workers at the plant tried to understand the severity of what had occurred. We were left breathless as we watched everyone respond without taking the precautions we now know were necessary to keep them safe. Not to mention, watching the radiation snow down on the bystanders on the Bridge of Death was nothing short of gut-wrenching. Despite this show being based on real events, by the end of the episode, we were still dying to know what would happen next.

#6: “Pilot”

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“Modern Family” (2009-20) It’s rare that a pilot manages to be as hilarious as all of the following episodes while keeping up the same format and tone, but that was exactly what happened with “Modern Family.” The first episode introduced us to the Dunphys, a typical suburban family, and the patriarch Pritchett, Jay, with his new wife Gloria and her son Manny. We also met Cam and Mitch, a couple who recently adopted a daughter from Vietnam. And her introduction to the family instantly became an iconic sitcom moment. These characters pulled us into a story filled with chaos and heart. By the end of the episode, we had to keep watching as they immediately made us feel like part of their modern family.

#5: “The Sopranos”

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“The Sopranos” (1999-2007) A show considered to be one of the best of all time definitely started out on the right foot. Tony Soprano is one of the most interesting anti-heroes in television history, and we got to know what he was all about right away. In the pilot, we saw him battle with his mental health and his wife as she tried to figure out how to navigate Tony’s dangerous lifestyle. We were introduced to the Soprano family and saw what Tony’s life was like through his therapy sessions, his interactions with his family members, and his day-to-day happenings in the world of organized crime. The series started as abruptly as it ended, and we were instantly hooked.

#4: “Pilot”

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“This Is Us” (2016-22) This show left us in tears many times, and the first was during the pilot. We were introduced to Rebecca and Jack, who were about to have triplets in the past, as well as Kate, Kevin, and Randall, who were celebrating their birthday in the present. The time jumps let us know a lot about the Pearson clan, as we got to see how in love their parents were and how the triplets' lives turned out as adults. The different time periods created an intriguing story for the audience, as they wanted to keep watching to fill in the blanks. But, if that wasn’t enough to sell this series, it was the twist at the end that really captivated us.

#3: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”

“Mad Men” (2007-15) The world of advertising in the mid-1900’s is as intriguing as it is sexy, and it was nearly impossible to not be drawn in from the very beginning of this series that dove deep into this world. Don Draper is the mysterious main character, a talented creative director, and the genius behind many campaigns throughout the show. Developing a campaign for a cigarette company in the pilot, we get to see his twisted but brilliant mind at work for the first of many times. Between that and meeting the other captivating characters we’d grow to know and love, like Peggy and Joan, we were spellbound instantly.

#2: “Pilot”

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“Lost” (2004-10) This two-part pilot packed in enough action to keep us wanting more while establishing the tone and character dynamics that would carry on throughout the show. Starting with the plane crash that brought the survivors together, we were quickly introduced to this group of strangers that would grow to depend on one another like family. We got our first glimpse of the monster, which led the audience and characters alike to realize that there was something off on this island. Several of the ongoing storylines were set up in the pilot, and you simply couldn’t stop watching after this two-parter reeled you in. Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Pilot,” “The Leftovers” (2014-17)

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“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers,” “Stranger Things” (2016-)

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“Pilot,” “Abbott Elementary” (2021-)

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“The Name of the Game,” “The Boys” (2019-)

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#1: “Pilot”

“Breaking Bad” (2008-13) Walter White was almost unrecognizable by the end of this first episode, both to the audience and to his own family. The transition that happened in just one hour was groundbreaking. The complexities that would be unraveled throughout the series were all introduced in this pilot, from Walt’s DEA brother-in-law to his complicated relationship with former student Jesse Pinkman, and there was a lot to unpack. Walt thinking he was caught near the end of the episode stirred a feeling of anticipation and anxiety that became all too familiar when watching this show. He went from struggling teacher to underworld drug manufacturer, and something about this episode really told us that we were about to watch something great.

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