We're just a few days away from the start of the fall TV season in earnest. Tons of new TV shows will be displaying their bright plumage for you. But these days, a TV show has to move fast to hook people. Here are 10 TV shows that won us over in just five minutes — and what they did to grab us.
Note: I decided not to include any pilots that were on our earlier list of "pilots that are as good as most summer movies," as featured below. So if you want to read about even more terrific pilots, check this out:
A lot of live-action superhero shows tried to win us over with heroics, or world-building, or cool costumes, in their opening minutes. But the opening Arrow's pilot is pure style. From Oliver running through the forest to him lighting a bonfire with an arrow to his monologue about turning himself into a weapon, this pilot completely sells the island castaway's badassery.
The moment it hooked us: The mysterious Deathstroke mask on a stick.
2) Batman Beyond
There have been a lot of Batman animated TV shows over the past 20 years. But only one of them starts out with the Caped Crusader's total downfall. Just in the first few minutes of the Batman Beyond pilot, we see the ignominious end of Bruce Wayne's crime-fighting career. And the moment where he's forced to resort to using a gun.
The moment it hooked us: The look on Batman's face as he slinks away into the shadows.
This time-traveling cop show pretty much won us over in the first minute or so, when the fanatical Edouard Kagame sets off a huge terrorist bombing in future Vancouver, just to kill 20 people. The war between Liber8 and the oppressive corporations, in 2077, is fascinating enough to guarantee a season pass, even before Kiera Cameron travels back in time to the bewildering year of 2012.
The moment it hooked us: The devious look on Kagame's face when he gets caught.
4) The Middleman
This show only got better and better over the course of its single far-too-short season, as the characters gelled and the supporting cast (Lacey! Noser!) came into its own. But holy hell, the first five minutes of the pilot are frenetic and wonderful. Wendy Watson talks on the phone to her mom in her terrible receptionist job, as a mutated creature runs wild behind her. Then she meets the Middleman, who's suitably impressive and suave. And then we cut to... Il Mutande Grandissimo restaurant.
The moment it hooked us: "Hentai tentacle monster." Heh.
5) Orphan Black
There's a reason the first few minutes of this show was released online before the show aired — it's impossible to watch the opening and not want to know what happens next. Plus it's incredibly stylish and intense, conveying in a few economical moments that Sarah is a lost soul going nowhere — and then she sees her clone. Who commits suicide.
The moment it hooked us: Sarah steps into her dead clone's shoes without a second thought.
6) Life on Mars UK
Sam Tyler doesn't get hit by a car and wake up in 1973 in the first five minutes of this episode — but it's still thrilling and compulsive. We see Sam and his colleague/girlfriend Maya chasing and then questioning a suspect in a serial-killer case. And then Maya plays a hunch and gets herself into hot water, and Sam's calm is shattered.
The moment it hooked us: The look on Sam's face as he says "preserve the scene" with as much dispassionate professionalism as he can muster.
7) Äkta Människor (Real Humans)
We haven't praised this Swedish TV show enough, so here's a chance to make up for lost time. The first episode starts out feeling like a zombie movie, in which a man is driving late at night only to hit someone who turns out not to be human. And then he finds himself being stalked by a whole mob of inhuman people. Soon, the man is barricading himself and his wife inside their house, but the house is surrounded.
The moment it hooked us: When you first get a look at the "zombies" and see their too-perfect, robotic faces.
8) Person of Interest
Like Arrow, this is another one where the hero has fallen from grace before the story even begins, as signified by a whole lot of extra facial hair and a long shaggy mane. We catch a glimpse of John Reese's happiness, when he was with the woman who made his life complete — and then we cut savagely to what Reese has become, a drunk on the subway. Who takes out a whole gang of over-privileged young dudes, and winds up meeting a curious police detective. It's right around the five-minute mark that John Reese first meets Harold Finch, and by then you see plenty of hints that this guy isn't what he appears.
The moment it hooked us: When you first see the security camera footage of the subway incident, and suddenly John Reese has a curious yellow box around his face. As if he's been... chosen.
9) Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
This 2002 TV show, following up the 1995 movie based on the classic manga series, hits the ground running — pretty much literally. In the opening moments, the cyborg Kusanagi is jumping off rooftops and being super-agile. And it's shockingly violent — pretty much right away, she's shooting a man's foot off. And then she's drawn into a hostage situation where a brothel full of robot geishas has taken the Foreign Minister hostage.
The moment it hooked us: When Kusanagi is trying to organize her assault on the brothel, and her men are too busy making dumb robot sex-worker jokes. The look of disgust on her face is instantly relatable.
10) Sleepy Hollow
Of all the shows returning for a sophomore season, this is the one that fills us with the most exhilaration. And it's kind of amazing to look back at the first episode and realize quite how much awesome it packs into the first few minutes. There's Ichabod fighting in the American Revolution and beheading the Horseman, followed by him crawling out of his own grave and having a moment of disorientation on the road that rivals Sam Tyler's in Life on Mars. Then the Rolling Stones take us into the center of town, and by the 5 minute mark we're already getting to know Abbie through her relationship with Sheriff McDoomed.
The moment it hooked us: Ichabod finds a modern road, and it's suddenly the most foreign thing in the world.
Thanks to Katharine for the help!