Most of us have a favorite streaming show and we often want to tell the world about it. Our favorite shows define us and those most pivotal episodes shape our consciousness.
I contend that I learned about life and death by watching Star Trek. Does that make me weird? Yes. But it shows how humans learn life lessons and are improved by the stories we watch.
These distilled (or stretched unnecessarily) presentations of 8, 30, or 200 episodes come to symbolize our own struggles or triumphs in life.
They are the equivalent of what true life experiences used to mean to people in the pioneer days. (And wouldn’t those pioneers love the first season of Yellowstone? They really missed out.)
The Fatal Flaw of Starting at the Beginning
But how do we convince others of our favorite show’s greatness? It seems starting from the beginning is the obvious answer. The first episode. Yet, sometimes, with a series that’s been cranking out stories for years, leading with the first episode is a terrible idea.
Your goal shouldn’t always be to douse potential viewers in a decade-long plot thread or expose them to a long-running relationship “will-they or won’t-they.” You need to get them hooked, but exposing them to too much drama and information might do just the opposite.
First episodes don’t always grab the viewer like they should. With shows like “Lost” that do a great job from the first minute, the pilot episode (no Flight 815 puns intended) is effective and truly essential.
But say you have someone genuinely interested in trying your show, one like Doctor Who. Set them loose on the first episode from 1963 and they’ll never finish it. Even starting them with the first episode of some of the newer seasons might prove disastrous.
Don’t scare them away. Plan your attack on their free time carefully. Consider one particular type of episode to recommend.
The mistake many make is to suggest their absolute favorite episode as a starting point. Or to tell someone to just start at the beginning. These strategies can work in certain situations, but they can also leave your efforts to crash and burn.
Your favorite episode could be your favorite because of your knowledge of the players involved and a payoff that’s been building for several seasons. You appreciate every second, but the uninitiated may become very lost. If your prey isn’t enthralled by that initial watch, you could miss out on a valuable chance to be validated.
Also, know your audience. Find out if they watch shows for romance, comedy, thrills, sci-fi, or jump-scares. Then cross-reference with the many types of episodes your series offers.
One type of great leaping-off point episode is the big action/event extravaganza. For our purposes, they should be somewhat standalone or perhaps introduce a new direction or villain. They show off the main characters and give them something cool to do.
There’s no waiting around for a payoff. It’s all on the screen. A huge culminating war or a giant resolution to a main storyline thread. A revelation that a boyfriend is secretly married. These episodes can define a series and demonstrate big-budget movie-level production eye-candy and drama. Don’t worry about spoilers at this point. The viewer just needs to be dazzled.
Your first recommendation may include this type of episode. It sets the stage in an exciting way. The new viewers won’t understand everything, but their engines will be primed after seeing proof of the very heights your show can reach.
First episodes are one place you may want to avoid suggesting to others. But there’s another type of presentation to steer clear of.
The character and world-building episodes. These 45-minute drama-tighteners may seem boring to someone who is not yet invested in the story or the main characters.
Characters may earn small victories or hit an emotional crossroads. These 45-minute drama-soaked stories can become a part of your most cherished viewing diary. But think of your rookie audience, watching unexplained life events happening to people they don’t know yet.
The Gilmore Girls is thick with relationship drama and heart-warming moments, but maybe those most poignant episodes aren’t the place for a noob to start. Perhaps a more off-the-wall episode like “The Bracebridge Dinner” is the best way to learn to develop a taste for Stars Hollow and its residents.
Avoid recommending these watermark presentations as a starting point, unless they are specifically crafted as a “reboot” or “jumping off” point for new viewers.
The Doctor Who Strategem
So, these ideas swirled in my brain after trying to introduce someone to Doctor Who. The show’s catalog includes decades of episodes with fourteen actors playing the amazing Doctor.
It also has many different types of episodes. Some are space operas and some are history lessons. Some are sad explorations of a character who lives forever, but must also watch as every friend grows old and dies.
Starting from the beginning isn’t really ideal. So, if you’re dealing with a sci-fi fan, I suggest starting with an episode that is the best balance of character introduction and blockbuster sci-fi laser-tossing. It’s the way I got into Doctor Who, totally by accident, and it can work for others.
It’s a two-parter from Series 5, the first season with Matt Smith as the Doctor. (Doctors regenerate into someone else quite often.) Episodes 4 and 5 called “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone” are a great initiation into the brilliance and oddity of the Doctor’s universe.
These selections feature mind-teasing references to the Doctor’s mysterious past (and future). It’s also just a kick-ass sci-fi horror and warfare extravaganza. Like the shows homage to “Aliens,” but with the Doctor’s weird twist on space beasties. You definitely won’t want to “blink.” (That was a pun on the creatures in this episode, which you would understand if you’d only watch.)
From here you can jump to any other adventure and be somewhat prepared for the timey-wimey fun. An episode of Doctor Who can take you into the far future or into the distant past.
Another good jumping on point is the first episode of Series 5. It’s a beautiful introduction for Matt Smith as the new Doctor Who and Amelia Pond as his adorable and troubled new companion. For action fans, it may be bit slow, but your companions who like human drama and mysteries will be drawn in.
If you have an artsy type interested in the Doctor, suggest the time-traveling duo’s visit to Vincent van Gogh in episode 10’s “Vincent and the Doctor.” It’s gloroius and tragic in the same breath. If a friend likes history, look up the Doctor’s visit to Winston Churchill.
Closing Thoughts on Introducing Someone to a TV Series
At this point, you may be wondering if this blog is really about introducing new viewers to Doctor Who. You could be right. I love the show and truly feel uplifted after every episode I watch.
You too may come to love time-fluid doctors with scarves. (Again, you may not even know what scarves are at this point, but after perusing Doctor Who, you most certainly will. Oh, the fabrics and stripes!)
But these strategies can work with any streaming presentation. With any of the newer Star Trek series, perhaps you start infant viewers off with just the Borg episodes. Maybe it works with Sex In The City or Grey’s Anatomy or Mad Men. How should I know? Maybe it’s your turn to suggest a starting point to me on your favorite 42 minutes of edu-tainment.