My friend Jody Wheeler over at DoorQ posted a very interesting question this week on Facebook: “What’s your particular favorite TV pilot?”
I didn’t hesitate and shared “Lost.” And it was a good pilot for me, because many times, pilot episodes are bogged down with exposition and introductions — designed to help bring you into the overall story and universe.
But “Lost” started right with the action. The moment Matthew Fox’s character Jack Shephard opens his eyes, we are brought into a world that is part “Survivor,” part feature film. It was a bold pilot that wasn’t afraid to introduce science-fiction-like elements, although it would be a couple years before the producers admitted “Lost” was indeed science-fiction.
And then I thought a little more, and it’s hard to discount the backdoor pilot for the reboot of “Battlestar Galactica.” In just four short hours, Ronald D. Moore and his team were able to not only reboot a popular name in science-fiction, but make it relevant to a very young post-9/11 world. There was so much we, as a society, could relate to when it came to “Battlestar Galactica,” and it was probably one of the first real attempts Syfy made to become a deep-thinking producer of science-fiction.
However, as much as I love the pilots for “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica,” there is one that I love even more. I don’t remember seeing it as a kid, but I watched it on Netflix a few months back, and wow, was I blown away. I mean, this was a show that I only thought about as being a bit corny, even for a comic book adaptation, but the pilot suggested it could’ve been so much more.
I’m talking about the pilot for “The Incredible Hulk” — yes, the 1978 series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, where the latter would have his body painted green with some clown-like prosthetics applied to his face. But 1970s makeup work aside, the first episode of the “Hulk,” written and directed by Kenneth Johnson, not only stands the test of time — it could be a great pilot today.
The pilot aired Nov. 4, 1977. I was barely a toddler at the time — I wouldn’t get into the “Hulk” until a bit later in its run.
Dr. David Banner (changed from “Bruce” in the comics) finds himself motivated in his research through the tragic death of his wife, an incident where he wanted so badly to tap into the super strength he felt all humans had, but just didn’t know how to reach.
But people were showing signs of super strength, and it seemed to coincide with solar flares spiking gamma radiation. Banner is convinced there’s a link, and deliberately blasts himself with gamma radiation to prove his belief.
However, someone forgot to check the dosage levels (I’m looking at you, Banner), and instead of getting a smaller dose, he got a huge one. Still, nothing happens, and Banner heads home dejected — until a flat tire helps him redefine road rage for a new generation, and the Hulk is born.
This plot summary really does the episode no justice. The scenes were shot not in a funny, light-hearted way — but in a deeply brooding theme, one that Johnson would try to maintain throughout the entire run of this comic series. The pain Banner is going through, not just in the losses in his life, but now burdened with the responsibility of keeping this creature deep inside him under control.
And, of course, making sure he wears pants a few sizes too big, so he doesn’t get confused with Dr. Manhattan.
“The Incredible Hulk’s” contribution to the future of comic book adaptations, I think, gets overlooked a lot. I mean, “Superman” wouldn’t even come out for another year — yet, here was CBS taking a serious and non-campy approach to a popular comic icon, and doing a good job of it.
The “Hulk” pilot also became an early example of what pilots are like today — amazingly strong, usually with a big-name director attached, but little to show for that level of quality in the later episodes. And because of that, I think the “Hulk” pilot gets lost in the discussion.
But if you get a chance, look up the pilot to “The Incredible Hulk,” and watch it with fresh eyes. And let me know if you agree with me that it should definitely be a part of any amazing pilots list.