Five Shows That Start Out Slow, But You Have to Give Them a Chance

With my present occupation, I often find myself asked for movie, TV or video game advice from all manner of people in my life. Be it my friends, family or even you guys, I advise on what’s worth checking out, and what isn’t, and it’s one of the most satisfying parts of my job when I’m able to help someone discover a great show for the very first time.

But sometimes I run into a problem. Someone will say, “Ehhh, I watched a few episodes of that, and I didn’t like it.” Such thinking has allowed them to write off an entire series because certain shows might start out slower than others, or take some getting used to in order to appreciate.

Many classic shows are easy to get into. Series like Lost and Battlestar Galactica, I challenge people to watch the first four episodes and not want to keep going. It works 90% of the time, every time. Sometimes shows even sell themselves on their premise alone. Zombie apocalypse action drama? Deal. Bloody sexy gladiator action? OK. Serial killer who kills serial killers? Done.

But not all shows are so lucky, and these five in particular I’ve found to be amazing series, but often people write them off too soon, as they can tend to need a bit of patience to appreciate.


Firefly stands as one of my favorite shows of all time, despite only having 2/3rds a season full of episodes, and more importantly me HATING the show initially. When I started, I had no loyalty to any of the cast, and recognized absolutely none of the actors. The world that was set before me was incredibly strange, and I couldn’t quite understand how exactly you mashed together sci-fi and a western, and it seemed like an awkward pairing.

I didn’t get why everyone was speaking Chinese every other minute, I didn’t know who Browncoats or Reavers were, I didn’t get why prostitutes were so well respected. Everything seemed upside down, and the show did not seem to be living up to the hype.

But then a few episodes passed. These sorts of questions were resolved, characters became deeper, the humor started being appreciated. Soon, this ragtag bunch of strangers started to feel like family, thanks in part to the unparalleled chemistry between the actors.  By the end of the series, I was almost choked up when I realized a show this good had been killed this early. but then there’s always the movie…

The Wire

It surprises me a lot when people say they’ve tried The Wire and didn’t like it, but then I stop and remember that it really is quite an unusual show, and some might not have the patience for it at first. It does seem incredibly slow initially. Entire seasons are built around catching or killing one or two people, and sometimes even that doesn’t happen. It’s mainly all dialogue, with only the occasional bit of action.

I didn’t have a problem with this myself, but I will advise anyone trying to watch it to go in expecting this format. If you think you’re going to watch some sort of high budget CSI/Law and Order type show via HBO, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Arcs take many, many episodes, and sometimes seasons to come to fruition, if they do at all.

But that is not a bad thing. By taking its time, The Wire has created one of the most authentic settings in all of television. It feels less like a show and more like a documentary some times, and its realistic plot twists where everything rarely works out, and the system never quite changes may be depressing, but it’s hard to say once you’ve seen it all that the show is anything other than a masterpiece.

Arrested Development

“What?” I hear you saying. “How could anyone not immediately love a show as blindingly brilliant as Arrested Development?” Yeah, I know that’s the initial reaction you might have, but it actually makes sense in some cases. Arrested for all its brilliance is a comedy that requires you to pay very close attention to laugh at all the jokes. As the show is spooling up, people might not initially “get” what they’re going for. I don’t think I did at first, but fortunately I kept watching. Some however, do not, and that is a mistake.

This is one that people will also claim to be no good if they happen to wander into the room when their friend is watching episode 12 or 23 or 30. They will barely laugh and think it’s not in fact a good show because well, they won’t get any of the jokes. The show builds on itself, and if you try to come in during the middle, you’re going to have about 60% of everything going over your head at all times. This was also a major contributor as to why the show never built an audience on TV. If you missed even a few episodes, you would be pretty lost with the layers of jokes that had been building, and it was all but impossible to jump in midway through.

My advice? Just sit down and get through the first two DVDs, or eight episodes if you’re a dirty pirate. If you don’t like it by then, you simply have a critically damaged funnybone and you should immediately seek medical attention.


Why yes, another Joss Whedon show makes the list. Like Firefly (and also Buffy, a hill I have yet to conquer) Dollhouse has a very high concept. One higher than either of those, and frankly most shows on TV. The Dollhouse itself is a very strange place, where hot people can be implanted with personalities for jobs ranging from sex slave to assassin.

The shows started out as a kind of procedural, with Eliza Dushku adopting a new persona every week and going on some sort of wacky adventure.  This continues for about six or seven episodes and was almost enough to make me quit as frankly, I freaking hate procedurals.

But then some sort of switch was flipped, and the show went from routine to something unlike anything else I’ve seen on TV. It realized how much potential its concept had, and for the next season and a half, proceeded to simply be smarter and more interesting than anything else on television by a mile. I might be in the minority to think that, but at least get past the first few episodes and give it a shot to see if you agree.

Friday Night Lights

You may think initially that certain shows just aren’t for you. You may think, “I don’t care about football at all, and that Billy Bob Thornton movie just wasn’t that good.” But trust me when I say, neither of those things have anything to do with your eventual enjoyment of Friday Night Lights.

I have no interest in sports, nor do I have time to watch them, but I was made a believer that a show about a Texas football team could be one of the most effective dramas on TV. But it wasn’t always that way. It’s tough to get through the show at the start. A star player is injured and paralyzed, and it’s such an overwhelmingly depressing initial plotline for a show to have, it’s almost tough to keep going.

But honestly, I think the show is best once the focus is finally off of Jason Street. Yes, that takes two seasons or so, but there’s plenty that happens in the meantime to get you interested, and the last few seasons after that are truly amazing. There is more emotion in this show than almost every other program on TV combined, and despite your thoughts about the concept or its first few offerings, if you keep pushing I guarantee you won’t regret it.

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  1. The Wire is by far the best show ever created on television and by the time you get to the final episodes of season 1, there is no going back. You said it perfectly – it’s almost like a documentary and therefore requires the extra time to reach the epic conclusion. The action in this show is all dialogue. Absolutely brilliant!

  2. I watched the entire first season of BSG and couldn’t stand it, so there goes the theory that you want to keep watching after one episode. As for the rest of your list, great job! I had that same problem with Firefly, until I just kept going and love. I watched a couple of random episodes of arrested developmentabd giggled a few times but then some kid I worked with told me to go buy the season one dvd and now its one of my favorite shows. With the wire I usually tell people to watch until that episode where kima goes undercover a d the show ends with the search helicopter, if they’re not hooked by then they never will be. Another show that takes some getting used to is scrubs, watch until “my old lady” and if you don’t love it by then, you have no soul.

  3. I just recently started watching Arrested Development. A friend of mine owns the dvds and made me start from the beginning. What you say is very true – I had tried watching episodes on tv a while back but they were out of order and the jokes that would send other people into hysterics I didn’t get at all…now I’m starting to.
    P.S. I’m so glad I got into Arrested Development, Buster is a hoot!

  4. “and I couldn’t quite understand how exactly you mashed together sci-fi and a western”

    Uhhh what? Sci-fi and westerns tend to go hand-in-hand together (eg (video) Star Wars, Star Trek (games) Fallout: New Vegas, Borderlands (anime) Outlaw Star, Cowboy Bebop).

    Have you never watched Star Wars?

  5. Re: You may think, “I don’t care about football at all, and that Billy Bob Thornton movie just wasn’t that good.”

    Who thinks that?! Friday Night Lights as a movie was excellent, prolly the best football movie ever made. It’s intense and having based off a true story, even enhanced it. Need proof? Watch Varsity Blues after you finish FNL.

  6. I think one of the most excellent examples of starting very slowly but being an excellent show would be the The Tudors. I loved the series when I had a chance last summer to sit and watch the entirety of it, but the first 4 or so episodes took quite a bit to set up.

  7. @Beth

    Yes, those have western themes, but in Firefly they’re freaking firing revolvers and herding cattle. It’s far more overt and can be a little off-putting initially.


    Remember the Titans

  8. I would add Fringe on the list.

    First season starts super slow with monster of the week episodes concept, but then around half the season pieces come together and everything starts to fit! And it’s great!

    Season two follows the same concept but they were more focused on the main plot.

    But holly crap season 3 is brilliant! I have no complaints there. Fringe only gets better with each season.

  9. You can count me in the group of people who couldn’t get into The Wire. Maybe after hearing so many great things about it I had my expectations too high, but it just didn’t seem any better than the million or so other cop dramas out there. I think I made it to the 5th episode. Firefly I loved from the beginning, but then I tried to savor it – knowing I was going to eventually watch the entire catalog. Same with Freaks & Geeks.

  10. Those choices aren’t bad — I am usually not a fan of sci-fi shows so I haven’t even given Dollhouse and Firefly a shot, so I can’t comment on them — but I have a couple more to list.

    Parks and Recreation – You really have to get into Season 2 to appreciate this show fully. It was good in its abbreviated first season, but spun into greatness.

    The Sopranos – While the hook (Mob Boss / Family Man) is an instant-hook premise, the show didn’t strike me as a “classic” until the “College” episode.

    Seinfeld – Of course, this is on in syndication so much that it’s hard to realize that if you watch them in order, the first season is actually not that great. The show didn’t pick up traction for quite a while. But, with syndication, as I mentioned, most people end up becoming a fan of the series before seeing the first episodes anyway.

  11. Oh, and John V., you really need to give The Wire another shot. I am not one to badger people into watching something they’ve already tried and didn’t care for, but I guarantee you’ll eventually come around.

    I force-fed The Wire’s first season to my sister over a week that she was visiting, and she really wasn’t all that into it until (the best episode of the series, in my mind) the penultimate episode of season 1. And it’s hard to convince someone to dedicate 12 hours to something they may not care for, but if someone doesn’t lose a part of their soul when D screams “WHERES WALLACE” then they’re a lost cause.

    In fact, it wasn’t until midway through Season 3 that she finally came to me and said “Okay, you were right, this is the best TV show I’ve ever seen.” So your results may vary, but I really doubt if you watch all of season 1 that you’ll see it as a waste of time.

  12. @Matt: a buddy of mine said the same thing the other day – that I was right on the cusp of things getting really interesting. I probably will start it back up eventually. I guess had I known going in that, as Paul pointed out, it’s more about the dialogue and less about action, I probably would have taken a different approach to it.

  13. Is Weeds like this? I seriously tried getting into Weeds and didn’t find anyone interesting enough to keep going. I finished season 1 and not too much happened. Does it get any better?

  14. @ Patty I really enjoyed the first 3 seasons of Weeds, but then it went way off the deep end. I had to stop watching by season 5, so I can’t say if it got better. I really feel that the show peaked in seasons 2 and 3.

  15. i agree with the wire, it was very slow and i almost gave up on it, but i heard so much good about it that i stuck with it and loved it, as for arrested development, i think people just dont get the jokes that go through multiple episodes, thats why it is a show you need to start watching from episode 1, i first started watching it on tv about half way through season 2 so i didnt get some of it, but like the wire i stuck with it and loved it

  16. I would add Parks & Rec to the list as well. The first season was decent, but not great. I thought it had potential and so stuck with it. Season 2 is a huge payoff. Season 3 was flat out brilliant.

    AD, I would argue, is at least funny right from the get go. Yes, it might be confusing if you jump in from the middle, but if you watch the first 3 episodes, you’re either going to love it or you’re lacking a sense of humor.

    Would Community qualify? I watched the first 3 episodes and quit on it. Everyone keeps saying it’s the best thing since sliced bread, but I haven’t gone back to give it another chance. Caught a re-run earlier in the summer, still didn’t think it was all that, which just reinforced my initial decision to avoid it.

  17. I would say that Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared both take quite a few episodes to pick up steam while you get to know the characters, since they are entirely character driven shows.

    I was hooked on Community and Parks right away (especially Parks), though I know that my GF took quite a few episodes to get into Community (it’s her favourite show now).

    Weeds takes some time to get going, gets really really good in season 2 and 3, then falls of dramatically. I didn’t even watch last season. If I were telling someone to start that show, I’d say consider the end of Season 3 the series finale. The show changes dramatically after that, not for the better, and gets worse and worse.

  18. Pushing Daisies was like that for me. I liked the highly stylized look, but was still cautious for the first few episodes. Unfortunately I got hooked and they cut the series short. But I suggest you watch it on Netflix and stick with it.

  19. Interesting seeing dollhouse on the list. I usually like Joss Whedons stuff but I gave up on dollhouse after 4-5 eps.

    Might go back and give it another shot. Shame that the first half dozen eps are a real bore.

  20. Friday Night Lights is one of the best dramas on television, but I disagree about the slow start. I think it was just as compelling and emotional in the first season. The second season with the attempted rape/murder thing, and the dude have an affair with his grandma’s nurse was were the show went wrong. Fortunately, it found it’s way back in the third season.

  21. if you cant get into THE WIRE your a douche bag…i do admit it starts of a bit slow but turns into the best show ever and has so many interesting characters ..i think for me that needs to be added to this list is game of thrones ( and yes i know its only the first season ) but it started of real slow for me and i couldnt get into it but by the fifth episode i was hooked and it is awesome…

  22. Dead on with “Dollhouse”. The premise was great, but the first few episodes were slow and tough to struggle through. Once they introduced Alpha and started flushing out the characters it became one of my favorite shows.

  23. Dollhouse was hard to get into for the first season, then they showed the finale and it was a Holy Sh**!!! I Must See More!

    Arrested Development on the other hand, most overrated comedy ever. Ever.

  24. My good friend won’t watch television unless someone watches with her. Because of this, I’ve gotten into many shows I never would have tried:
    Firefly took a few episodes, but was brilliant.
    Dollhouse started boring and ended the first season so brilliantly that I had to watch the second season immediately.
    Arrested Development was okay. Then I watched it in order and it is the best comedy ever. It is not overrated, to those that don’t like it, you just don’t get it. Sorry.
    Parks and Recreation lost me during the first season. I watched the beginning of the second while folding clothes just to have something in the background. It is the best comedy on television right now.

    Honestly people, please give these shows a chance. They are all worth it, in my not so humble opinion.

  25. I’m sorry but I disagree. When it comes to Arrested Development, its not that I don’t get it, I understand the humor even if its not my thing. The problem is that fans of the show swear its the second coming of comedy, and they build it up so much that when I actually got around to watching it… the jokes just fell flat because while they were funny, they couldn’t live up to the hype that rabid fanboys build up around it. Like I said, Overrated.

    Personally, I’d much rather sit down and enjoy an episode of the I.T. Crowd, first season Community, or even Scrubs.

  26. “I have no interest in sports, nor do I have time to watch them”
    but time to watch tv-shows of which one single episode has a running time of at least 40 minutes?

  27. Most of these didn’t even start for me because the premise was just sooo dumb. However… Firefly & Dollhouse I did give then every opportunity but they just never got going. I can only guess that Firefly was orgasmic in the last few eps since it has a fanbase for some unknown reason… Maybe it was all nude for the last few eps? Biggest non-starter on the list… how did anyone get past the stage of pitching the idea for Friday Night Lights? I can only guess that the Studio exec was out and they pitched it to the janitor who didn’t speak English and he thought they were asking if the guy was coming back soon…

  28. Can’t agree on dollhouse, that show was a mess. Yes there were good ideas but they were buried beneath poor acting, poor episodes and hardly any likeable characters.
    I was thoroughly disappointed by this because I was really really hoping for something that would replace my craving for more buffy/angel/firefly episodes.

  29. The studio forced Joss Whedon to make Dollhouse more ‘assessable’ by molding into a case-of-the-week, fortunately Joss finally got creative control and made into a FANTASTIC show!

    I also gave up after the first few episode and then found my way back eventually to find it amazing.

  30. Their has to be a way to get Firefly back on tv. Community is my favorite show right now, but you have to have the right sense of humor; as well as a deep appreciation for nerd culture to truly appreciate it. Wilfred is my guilty pleasure, after two episodes i was hooked. Louis is one i’ve only watched twice but cant get into, and my friends swear by it.

  31. I think Sons of Anarchy should have made the list, I mean of course there’s a ton of action very early on but I don’t think the characters and the story are on a sure footing until midway into the second season.

  32. friday night lights didn’t start slow. the first season is the best oft the show, after that it’s kinda mediocre. firefly and arrested development were amazing from Episode 1 as well.
    TV shows that actually start slow: Parks and recreation, community, agents of shield, the office, Buffy and angel. i agree with dollhouse though.

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