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Top 10 Pilot Episodes of TV Sitcoms

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Nick Spake Most sitcoms take a while to hit their stride; these are not those sitcoms. Join http://www.watchmojo as we count down our picks for the top 10 pilot episodes of TV sitcoms. For this list, we're taking a look at the first episodes of comedy shows that had audiences laughing right out of the gate. Keep in mind we're excluding shows that are widely considered dramedies like "The Wonder Years." Special thanks to our users mac121mr0, 7AMart and JomerTheGreat for submitting the idea at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Pilot Episodes of TV Sitcoms


Most sitcoms take a while to hit their stride; these are not those sitcoms. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 pilot episodes of TV sitcoms.

For this list, we’re taking a look at the first episodes of comedy shows that had audiences laughing right out of the gate. Keep in mind we’re excluding shows that are widely considered dramedies like “The Wonder Years.”

#10: “Pilot”

“How I Met Your Mother” (2005-14)
“How I Met Your Mother” could’ve easily been just another “Friends” wannabe. However, the first episode established that this was going to be something much more inventive and wise. It accomplished this not only through a clever framing device, but thanks to characters we instantly fell in love with. It would take nine seasons for future Ted Mosby to finally reveal how he met the mother of his two extremely patient children, but the pilot was full of so many laughs, future in-jokes and surprises that we signed up for the long-haul.

#9: “First Day”
“The Inbetweeners” (2008-10)

Will McKenzie might act like a bumbling idiot on his first day of school but his show’s first episode hit the airwaves with 100% confidence and competence. And this pilot only gets funnier upon a second viewing. Part of that’s because it flash-forwards to several hilarious highlights from future episodes, but there are also so many quotable lines that you can’t catch them all in one sitting. It’s a perfect introduction to these incredibly awkward characters, who somehow manage to become even more awkward as the series continues – if you can believe it.

#8: “The Pants Tent”
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (2000-)

Speaking of uncomfortable comedy, Larry David proved himself to be the biggest trouble-magnet since George Costanza in the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” pilot – which is apt as George was based on the real-life Larry David. The opening shot of Larry’s pants tent set the mood for the entire series as a minor inconvenience surges to greater problems. Anyone who was pining for “Seinfeld” to return to TV got their wish with this spiritual successor. However, where “Seinfeld” had to work around network censors, “Curb” was upfront from the start that it would be much more direct about taking “it” out.

#7: “The Good Son”
“Frasier” (1993-2004)

“Cheers” was one of those rare shows where everything immediately clicked from the get-go and it maintained that quality for eleven seasons. Given the high bar the Boston gang set, it was inconceivable that lightning would strike twice with a Frasier Crane spinoff. “Frasier” quickly distinguished itself as the smartest comedy on television, however, with its own unique identity. The title character in particular stepped up from being a fun supporting player to a compelling leading man, desperately trying to preserve his own sanity while reconnecting with – and retconning – his nuclear family.

#6: “Pilot”
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (2013-)

On paper, a sitcom set in a police precinct sounds pretty elementary, but “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” proved itself to be anything but by the book. The premiere episode brought together an unparalleled team of comedic talent with Andy Samberg as the star, creators Dan Goor and Michael Schur of “Parks and Recreation” penning the script, and Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of “21 Jump Street” behind the camera. Throw in a diverse supporting ensemble cast with instant chemistry and you have one of the most arresting TV pilots ever constructed.

#5: “Pilot” [aka “Good News, Bad News” aka “The Seinfeld Chronicles”]
“Seinfeld” (1989-98)

If you’ve seen “Seinfeld” in its entirety, revisiting the pilot is both fascinating and jarring. For starters, originally there was no Elaine, Monk’s Café wasn’t Jerry’s primary hangout spot, and what happened to Kramer, er Kessler’s, dog? It may be bare bones, but “The Seinfeld Chronicles” demonstrates the basis for what made this comedy so funny and unconventional: material based on nothing. A conversation about button placement doesn’t seem exhilarating, but “Seinfeld” showed us that sometimes the littlest things amount to the biggest laughs.

#4: “The Pilot” [aka “The One Where Monica Gets a New Roommate” aka “The One Where It All Began” aka “The First One”]

“Friends” (1994-2004)
The reason so many pilots fail is because the writers have yet to flesh out their characters’ personalities, motivations, and backstories. This wasn’t at all the case with “Friends,” which fully materialized as an ensemble piece from its opening scene. Though it doesn’t closely resemble the fast-paced show it eventually became, by the episode’s conclusion, the audience felt like they had made six new friends and the bond they would share with them would last a long time. Whether dealing with failed marriages or failed weddings, these friends could always confide in each other and we could take comfort in them.

#3: “Pilot”
“30 Rock” (2006-13)

Tina Fey makes it no secret that she thought the first “30 Rock” episode was a mess. While the series only went uphill over the years, itspilot still stands out as a masterful launching point with one great one-liner, visual gag, and character moment after another. Everyone’s given a memorable introduction, from Liz Lemon’s misadventure at a hotdog stand, to Tracy Jordan’s Jedi breakdown, to Jack Donaghy’s triumphant first entrance. Fey should really give herself more credit as most showrunners could only dream of producing a pilot this hilarious.

#2: “Pilot”
“Modern Family” (2009-)

Now among the most popular and acclaimed comedies on television, everybody knows that the Dunphys, Pritchetts, Delgados, and Tuckers are all one big, happy clan. What’s ingenious about the “Modern Family” pilot is that it doesn’t reveal these distinctive people are related forthright. At first, it feels like three completely different sitcoms crammed into one. Although all these seemingly unconnected stories are hysterical, it’s the unexpected way the families unite in the final act that cements this pilot’s place as one of television’s funniest and most well thought out half-hours.

Before we tune in to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “The Gang Gets Racist”
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (2005-)
- “Downsize”
“The Office” (2001-03)
- “Alive in Tucson”
“The Last Man on Earth” (2015-)
- “Chapter 1”
“Eastbound & Down” (2009-13)
- “A Touch of Class”
“Fawlty Towers” (1975-79)
- “Pilot (The Fresh Prince Project)”
“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (1990-96)

#1: “Pilot”

“Arrested Development” (2003-06; 2013-)
Talk about a show that fired on all cylinders right off the bat. In its first episode alone, “Arrested Development” exhibited more brilliant comedic timing, dialogue, buildup, payoff, foreshadowing, callbacks, references, and chemistry than most shows have in their entire run. Despite the pilot winning Emmys for writing and directing, mass audiences didn’t seem to discover the Bluth family until it was too late. Nevertheless, anybody who saw the premiere when it initially aired knew that they’d witnessed a comedic magnum opus that transcended every other sitcom on television, setting a new standard.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite sitcom pilot? For more entertaining Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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