Establishing Series Moment
"This is from the first episode of the show. It's like the producers wanted to say, 'This is what you're in for. Strap in, motherfuckers.'"
Some series have a really straightforward premise which they execute immediately. Others play it close to the chest until the very end of the first episode. Either way most shows need to establish their tone and/or premise in their first episode to both make the viewer feel comfortable and filter out the people who wouldn't like the show.
Most of these moments are based on HSQ
or just showing us what either the premise or the execution would be. It's normally done in a straightforward way, with no anticipation or foreshadowing, to both overwhelm and surprise the audience and make them addicted to the show. Note that promotional materials can spoil these moments
May involve beginning the story In Medias Res
before cutting back to a slow-burning set-up once the viewers know the kind of thing they're in for later on.
Can overlap with First Episode Spoiler
, but an Establishing Series Moment doesn't have to be a spoiler. Contrast with Halfway Plot Switch
. Compare Establishing Character Moment
where the purpose is to show us a character's personality in one single moment, and with Growing the Beard
where the quality
of the show is established.
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Anime & Manga
- Transmetropolitan starts with Spider Jerusalem getting a call to get back to work. In his way there, the guy destroys a bar with a Rocket Launcher for the hell of it, establishing the fact that Spider is not only completely amoral, but that the series doesn't shy away from Black Humor.
- In chapter one of All Fall Down, a news vendor comforts a small boy by telling him "Nothin' bad ever lasts in the comics. Death, doom, disaster? There's nothin' they can't fix." Moments later, a superhero plummets out of the sky, destroying the news stand and dying instantly.
- Bone opens with a few pages of amusing bickering by a standard Comic Trio of cartoonish anthopomorphic bones. Cue an attack by a horde of locusts, which splits the three of them up and strands them in an unfamiliar place.
- The title page of the first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man is of Spidey sticking to a wall, with angry people pointing at him and yelling "Freak! Public Menace!", establishing that this is a comic about a Hero with Bad Publicity.
- Run, Lola, Run starts off as a standard crime thriller. Lola hears from her boyfriend that he's a dead man if he doesn't get 100 thousand marks for some mobsters in the next 20 minutes. Lola hangs up and runs out of her apartment to help him. Then, one-third into the movie, Lola gets shot and killed. Suddenly, we're back in Lola's apartment, and Lola hangs up the phone and runs out the door again.
- Shoot 'em Up begins with a close up of Mr Smith. He just stares out into space, then takes a bite of a carrot. This sets up the silly, cartoony sense of humour. Later, at the beginning of the very first fight, Smith shoots a tanker of gasoline, causing it to spill everywhere, runs at it... and uses it to slide along the ground, shooting everyone. This sets up the balls to the wall awesome action we'll be seeing.
- The introduction of the DeLorean in Back to the Future. Prior to that, the film could pass as your standard '80s teen comedy. Of course, it still is a teen comedy, but not exclusively.
- The first few minutes of Kung Pow! Enter the Fist looks like a serious kung fu flick. That is until Master Pain opens his mouth.
- A Knight's Tale begins with a crowd of joust fans singing along to "We Will Rock You" by Queen.
- The Blessed Are the Cheesemakers scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian establishes its trademark Month Python humor, but also its take on the story of Jesus. Tellingly, the scene starts with a dignified portrayal of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount, but it devolves into comedy as soon as the people in the back of the crowd (who have to struggle to hear him) start trying to interpret his message.
- The slow motion shadow boxing intro of Raging Bull shows the beauty inherent even in a brutal sport like boxing. Its also a metaphor for the beauty in the tragedy of Jake's life.
- Shrek starts with him reading a fairy tale book about a prince who rescues a princess who fall in love and live happily ever after. He then tears a page and uses it as toilet paper.
- Judging The Room by the first few minutes, you might think it's just a below-average romantic drama about a boring yuppie couple. But the arrival of Denny—an unintentionally creepy Heartwarming Orphan whose relevance to the plot is never explained—cements the movie as the bizarre, plotless melodrama that its fans know and love. As soon as Denny sneaks into Tommy and Lisa's room to join in on their sexy pillow fight, you just know that you're in for something, uh..."memorable".
- The first chapter of A Song of Ice and Fire is told from the viewpoint of a seven-year-old excited to be going to his first beheading.
- If the first time Harry opened his mouth didn't do it, blowing up the toad demon and breaking into the Varsity did it for The Dresden Files.
- The first chapter of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime is numbered 2, and features the autistic protagonist describing the dead dog in the title in his usual fashion, describing things he observes in great, and often unnecessary detail ("I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds on the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork in a dog after it had died for some other reason.")
- How I Met Your Mother's moment is either the first ten seconds, which establishes that the show is a story Future!Ted is telling his children, or the last ten seconds, which reveals that Ted and Robin's relationship is destined to fall apart, instead of being another Ross/Rachel mess.
- The Wire starts with Officer McNulty talking with a witness and investigating a murder. The subject of the conversation (not about what happened, but about who the victim was) establishes that the series has a rather different outlook than your usual Police Procedural, and the tone of the conversation demonstrates where the show stands on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.
- NCIS: They steal Air Force One in the pilot.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer defines itself as a subversion of horror early on when we are shown two kids (a girl in a Catholic school uniform, and a biker boy) and are led to expect the girl to be the Monster of the Week's first victim. Then she turns into a vampire and kills the boy. Note that at the time, this was one of the first instances of this trick.
- Angel's moment was when he fails to chat up a girl who may be in trouble showing his "brooding, mysterious protector" schtick isn't gonna work. New show, new strategy.
- The Event pilot was building its mysteries (Where's Leila? Who attacked the Buchanan family? etc, etc) but there was no reason to believe that this wasn't a realistic show about a conspiracy. Cue the disappearing plane...
- LOST started with the main characters stranded on a deserted island, and seemed to be about the survival of these people. Then we hear a mechanical roar at night. And later a fucking polar bear shows up.
- Life On Mars has a pretty obvious one in the first episode. It starts as as a normal police procedural, until one of the officers is captured by the supposed killer. When her DCI boyfriend is mourning her in the middle of the road, he gets out of the car, is run over, and well... wakes up in 1973, not knowing if he's mad, in a coma, or back in time.
- The spin-off Ashes to Ashes starts of very similarly. Alex Drake goes to work, gets shot in the face and wakes up in 1981. She's also aware that she's in a coma (in the future/present) and getting stalked by the clown from Bowie's music video Ashes To Ashes.
- The Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood appears to be a normal British police drama, until Captain Jack appears and starts using Alien technology to interview dead people. A few minutes later, Torchwood member Owen is seen using an alien date rape drug to seduce a woman and her boyfriend against their will, very definitely setting the show apart from Doctor Who.
- The revival of Doctor Who had Rose stumbling upon the Autons and then brought in the Doctor to rescue Rose while defining the show in one word: "Run!" And then made the place explode to get rid of the Autons.
- The first fifteen-odd minutes of the first episode of the original series could have been a fairly straight-forward drama about a couple of teachers trying to help a troubled, slightly unusual student who apparently lives under the thumb of her sinister, hostile grandfather. Then those teachers, trying to find that student in a darkened junkyard over the objections of her grandfather, suddenly stumble into a police box — only to discover that it's bigger on the inside than the outside and can travel through time...
- True Blood: The very first scene of the very first episode of this series uses this trope. A goth gas station attendant tricks some tourists into thinking he's a vampire. After they leave a red-neck vampire tells him that if the goth ever impersonates a vampire again he'll kill him.
- Dexter starts with the title character kidnapping a choir master, who's also a child rapist and murderer, and showing him the dead bodies of the victims shortly before killing him. It shows the internal monster in Dexter that loves to kill, while also showing a human side that refuses to kill children, setting the base for the Character Development that is the main point of the show.
- Early on in the pilot of The Black Donnellys, the oldest Donnelly, Jimmy, is about to get in a bar fight. His younger brother Tommy tries to calm him down, but Jimmy just leaps over the bar and bashes a guy with a glass. Immediately Tommy jumps in to help Jimmy out, and their other two brothers disengage from what they were doing — hitting on girls and playing pool — to help their older brothers out. It's a minute-long scene that establishes that this show is about how family comes first and to hell with anything else.
- The various Star Treks pretty much lay it all out in the "Space, the final frontier" opening monologue.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has a quick succession of these:
- The very first scene of the series is a flashback sequence where we see a previous space battle from Next Generation from the perspective of the new protagonist...whose wife is killed by falling debris. It's a new, Darker and Edgier show: Anyone Can Die.
- The obligatory "Meeting the Crew" sequence...which takes place in a dilapidated space station, with a dysfunctional crew who would rather be anywhere else (including one major crew member who openly hates the Federation). It's a new show: Teeth-Clenched Teamwork is the norm, and working in space isn't always glamorous.
- An emotionally tense meeting between the previous protagonist and the new one...which is made a bit awkward by the fact that the former technically murdered the latter's wife. It's a new show: everything has long-lasting consequences, and the battle between good and evil is anything but simple. One exchange between the two characters says it all:
- Star Trek: Enterprise opened with a Klingon crashing landing on Earth in a rural farm with the farmer coming out with something that looks like a cross between a laser rifle and a lever action shotgun, establishing the prequel nature and Twenty Minutes In The Future setting compared to the other series.
- Star Trek: Voyager gave us three: The two ships being flung into the Delta Quadrant some 70 years at maximum warp from Earth, and the destruction of the Array that brought them there (and could send them back).
- Of the Holy Shit Quotient variety, the pilot of Heroes, particularly the scene wherein Claire is seen being videotaped throwing herself off a crane and hitting the ground with a splat. She gets up and promptly pops all her broken bones back into place. She then looks directly into the camera and says evenly, "My name is Claire Bennett, and that was attempt number 6." In fact the scene was so iconic, that when her friend who was videotaping gets Mindwiped, it's used as a callback. It's also repeated in the last scene of the series.
- In the pilot of 24, the same slutty ditzy chick who banged a photographer on a cross-country flight suddenly puts on a pressure suit with a parachute, sets a bomb, and blows a hole into the plane before jumping out. Seconds later the bomb destroys the plane completely. That scene sums up the thriller, Anyone Can Die, Plot Twist nature of the show that will be 24.
- The opening scenes of the pilot episode of Miami Vice feature the lead characters "in their native environment" so to speak. In New York, Tubbs heads into a nightclub with the intent to assassinate a Colombian guy, but is nearly killed in the process. After the credits roll, we see Crockett his partner making small talk about home life before they head off to a meet a drug dealer. All this happens before the two guys meet and before even the audience knows that both men are in fact police detectives. The good guys being bad guys to catch the bad guys nature of the show, along with it's use of Music Video techniques is firmly established. Also counts as Establishing Character Moment.
- The first five minutes of Firefly are an Establishing Character Moment for Mal. The next five minutes serve as an Establishing Series Moment, showing the humour, excitement, and focus on character interaction the series has.
- Xena: Warrior Princess using some serious Wire Fu on the bad guys showed just how Crazy Awesome her show was gonna be compared to Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
- Power Rangers RPM starts off with a prologue of a robotic apocalypse, followed by someone who is wandering the lands. He soon gets hold up by what appears to be a mugger. The mugger seems to be in control... Then the wanderer interrupts him with a Little "No". Cue the mugger losing all composure and leading into a comedic moment, showing that RPM mixes the dark story of a Robot Apocalypse with the comedy of a show with heavy Lampshade Hanging.
- Up All Night had the scene where Reagan says a bleeped swear word while watching a birthing video.
- The climax of the pilot episode of The West Wing, where the episode's plot is abruptly resolved by President Josiah Bartlet promptly (and awesomely) putting some snide Christian fundamentalists in their place, tells you all that you need to know about the spirit of political idealism that made the show famous. The fact that it's also Bartlet's first on-screen appearance makes it even sweeter.
- The first episode of The Shield ends with Vic Mackey using the cover of a botched drug raid to murder one of his own men, established earlier in the episode as a plant from Internal Affairs, establishing Vic solidly as a Villain Protagonist.
- Nikita begins with Alex getting arrested . Nikita has a dream where she's at a pool party. It is a CW show, after all.
- Once Upon a Time begins with the iconic image of Prince Charming waking Snow White from her coma with True Love's Kiss, then cuts to their royal wedding...which is promptly crashed by The Evil Queen, who threatens to doom the whole kingdom and gets a sword pointed at her by Snow White for her trouble. Goodbye traditional fairy-tales, hello Darker and Edgier ones.
- don't take it personally babe, it just ain't your story: the first scene involves John Rook introducing himself to his class, while his students discuss him online.
- Katawa Shoujo does this on several levels. The very first scene in the game has the protagonist, within the span of literally less than a minute, meeting with his high school crush on a beautiful snowy morning, getting confessed, and suffering a nearly lethal heart attack, which ends up taking him out for four months and resulting in basically his entire life falling apart.
- The game proper than begins with Hisao entering his new school, a special school for disabled kids, being astounded by how utterly normal and inviting it it looks... than opening the door to his classroom and finding it full of crippled freaks... which turn out, seconds later, to be completely normal, mostly friendly teenagers.
- His very first serious conversation in the new school (and the game) is between him and the student(s) showing him around, one of which happens to be deaf - but nevertheless charming, helpful and cordial. When he's asked whether there's anything he doesn't understand, one option is to immediately ask her about her deafness, which suddenly turns the discussion far more awkward. This sets up the main theme of the game: that people with disabilities are people first and foremost.
- 8-Bit Theater takes a while to really find its feet, with the first few comics being fairly bland and generic jokes. This strip contains the first use of distressingly logical stupidity that the strip would become known for.
- Princess Pi begins with the eponymous character dueling Godzilla. Soon, the Statue of Liberty shows up and vanquishes the monster, and the series' weirdness truly begins.
- The first story arc of The Adventures of Dr. McNinja involves Doc fighting a child who has turned into Paul Bunyan. It only goes up from there...
- Remus features a suicide attack on the White House on the first page. Things deteriorate considerably from there.
- The very first strip of Ansem Retort had Axel torching an orphanage. It went downhill from there.
- This strip of Kevin & Kell is the first indicators that animals in that world act out their natural roles as predator and prey, as well as indicating how taboo the eponymous couple's marriage is.
- The first joke of Something Positive involves the lead protagonist sending his ex-girlfriend a coat hanger as a baby shower gift.
- Homestuck starts out slow, with the reader slugging through walls of texts and a few flashes with nothing eventful really happening. Then, a meteor starts falling towards the protagonist's house. It only gets crazier from that point.
- A much earlier contender, though much lighter in spirit, comes after the command "John: Quickly retrieve arms from drawer." Within the first few pages, the comic itself is actively Gaslighting the readers. Welcome to Homestuck, leave your sanity at the door.