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Most Mind-Blowing Pilot Episodes: Friday Fiver

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Jason Isaacs in Awake

© NBC Universal

Much-anticipated new drama Awake kicks off tonight at 10pm on Sky Atlantic. The show's a bizarre blend of cop procedural and fantasy, following homicide detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) as he's torn between two worlds - one in which his wife died in a tragic car crash and another in which his son was the one he lost...

Tube Talk has already seen the first episode and it's a belter, so to celebrate the arrival of Awake on these shores, this week's Friday Fiver is comprised of our picks for the five most mind-blowing pilot episodes...

Lost - 'Pilot' (Aired September 22-29 2004)
Say what you like about the way this cult ABC drama ended, you can't knock the way it started. The two-part series premiere of Lost really did set a new standard for pilot episodes - at the time, it was the most expensive ever, costing between $10 and $14 million. But every cent went up on the screen, making for a truly impressive visual spectacle as the dazed survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 fought to survive in the aftermath of their crash. Not only that, but both parts of the Lost pilot are packed with strong performances and plenty of plot intrigue - right then, we knew we were hooked.



The Shield - 'Pilot' (Aired March 12, 2002)
This pilot not only launched a ground-breaking and award-winning cop drama but also helped to reinvent the FX network as a home for gritty, well-made adult programming. Throughout its seven-year run, The Shield dealt with many dark and controversial topics in a highly satisfying manner and the pilot episode sets out the show's stall quite clearly. It boasts what is possibly one of the greatest and most shocking episode endings ever and Michael Chiklis is on fire as corrupt cop Vic Mackey - his finest moment comes when he confronts a suspected paedophile with the chilling line, "Good cop and bad cop left for the day - I'm a different kind of cop".



Friday Night Lights - 'Pilot' (Aired October 3, 2006)
Like The Shield pilot, the reason the first episode of NBC's sports drama is so memorable is because it tricks the viewer into thinking they know what to expect before spectacularly pulling out the rug from under them. The Dillon Panthers - a Texas high school football team - are preparing for the beginning of a new season under new head coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), but their first game ends in tragedy as promising young player Jason Street (Scott Porter) suffers a permanent spinal injury from a bad tackle. It's properly shocking, heart-in-your-throat stuff and a good indication of the kind of quality, heart-wrenching drama that Friday Night Lights specialised in.



Twin Peaks - 'Northwest Passage' (Aired April 8, 1990)
Pretty much everything about David Lynch's cult '90s series was mind-blowing, but the ABC drama's feature-length pilot episode stands out as one of the show's all-time great instalments. The discovery of Laura Palmer's body in that fantastic opening sequence, Dale Cooper's arrival, Sarah's unsettling vision - some of the show's most memorable moments can be found here. 'Northwest Passage' is unsettling, creepy and perfectly sets up the key plots and themes of Twin Peaks's first season. It's not surprise that the episode was nominated for eight Emmy awards, eventually winning two.



The Sopranos - 'The Sopranos' (Aired January 10, 1999)
Again, the end of this much-loved and much-missed HBO drama might have stirred up more than a little controversy, but the pilot episode of The Sopranos remains an exemplary piece of work. Written and directed by series creator David Chase - who also helmed the finale - the episode has both style and substance, deftly balancing high drama with moments of brilliantly black humour. A television phenomenon - one that would change the face of US drama - had got off to a very solid start indeed.



What are your favourite pilot episodes? Share your own picks below!

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