It's a tough time for a newcomer to break into the world of TV animation. With a number of hugely popular and well established series currently on air, any new show has to be something special to earn a spot on a network's schedule.
The first episode of a new cartoon has lots to do. The animation must be unique and eye-catching to quickly draw young viewers, and the stories and characters must be engaging enough to keep their attention. Bonus points if it can entertain older audiences too.
To celebrate #AnimationDay, let's take a look at some of the best first episodes of our favorite animated series.
1. 'Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire' (The Simpsons)
While the characters had already been introduced in a series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, "Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire," airing in 1989, was the first full-length episode of #TheSimpsons animated series.
The episode does a good job of introducing the characters for those who hadn't seen the shorts, and establishes a family dynamic that has more or less remained in place for the show's entire run. It also manages the perfect mix of humor and heart that, at times, The Simpsons does very well.
2. 'Tommy's First Birthday' (Rugrats)
Opening the episode with a shot from Tommy's point of view was a good move. It lets viewers know immediately what the show is about, and that all the action will be taking place from the babies' point of view. "Tommy's First Birthday" also does a great job of establishing the cast of core and supporting characters that carried the show through the first four seasons, and the story lets everyone know just what to expect from future episodes.
3. 'Darkly Dawns The Duck' (Darkwing Duck)
The beloved two-part series opener, "Darkly Dawns The Duck," quickly manages to set Darkwing Duck apart from the kiddie Batman parody that many may have assumed him to be. Depicting Darkwing's quest to bring down the villainous Taurus Bulba, the episode contains all the humor and heart that one expects from a Disney cartoon, perfectly combined with the action needed for a superhero story. Most importantly, the episode is well written. The heartwarming "Little Girl Blue" sequence, which may initially seem to exist just to further endear Gosalyn to Darkwing, is actually vital to the plot.
4. 'Meet The Reaper' (The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy)
First introduced as a segment in the compilation series Grim & Evil, The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy followed a pair of children who force the Grim Reaper to stay and play with them forever after beating him in a game of limbo. And yes, it is pretty much as crazy as it sounds.
"Meet The Reaper" acts as a perfect introduction to the series, depicting the events of the fateful limbo game. It makes quick work of establishing the three main characters, and sets the tone for episodes to come with plenty of creepy quirky humor.
5. 'Downtown As Fruits' (Hey Arnold!)
Though the character was first introduced in a series of claymation shorts aired in the late '80s-early '90s, the full series, #HeyArnold!, did not arrive until 1996.
The series-opening episode, "Downtown As Fruits," introduces a version of Arnold still resembling the dreamy one seen in the shorts, while also expanding the character to the point where he can carry a full-length episode. It also makes quick work of introducing and establishing the personalities of supporting characters, like Helga and Gerald.
"Downtown As Fruits" shows viewers exactly what they can expect from the Hey Arnold! series as a whole: A fun story, with a few lessons to be learned along the way.
6. 'Left In The Dark' (The Loud House)
Lincoln Loud and his family gained quick popularity in a series of shorts first shown in 2014, but it remained to be seen whether that success could be repeated in full-length episodes. "Left In The Dark," in which only son Lincoln Loud must safely guide his 10 sisters through the house during a power outage, proved that yes, it could. The episode is packed with humor and fun.
Having 11 main characters to introduce could have made things feel cluttered, but this is avoided by introducing everyone gradually over the course of the story. "Left In The Dark" is a perfect example of why The Loud House is one of the better new cartoons from recent years.
7. 'House Of Bloo's' (Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends)
Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends is a perfect example of a show that can truly be enjoyed by all ages. Lots of fun for the kiddies, sprinkled with plenty of jokes and references that only adults will understand.
The pilot episode, "House Of Bloo's," follows young Mac as he tries to find a safe new home for his imaginary friend, Bloo, after his Mother declares that he has grown too old for him. It is a wonderful introduction to Foster's world, quickly making the point that imaginary friends work differently in this universe, becoming real, flesh-and-blood beings once a child imagines them. Hence the need for the titular home, a place where Friends can go when their child no longer needs them.
Though the adventure depicted in this episode is a lot grander than what can be expected later on, due to its movie-length run time, it does everything a first episode should do, featuring characters you will come to love.
8. 'Friendship Is Magic' (My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic)
While not the first #MLP animated series, #MyLittlePony: Friendship Is Magic is almost certain to be remembered as the definitive incarnation of the series, reviving a franchise many believed to be long dead.
In the two-part pilot, "Friendship Is Magic," young unicorn Twilight Sparkle is sent to Ponyville to study friendship, and hopefully make some new friends. Things go horribly wrong when the evil Nightmare Moon wakes from a thousand-year slumber to plunge the land into eternal night.
"Friendship is Magic" is a great opening episode, letting viewers get to know all the characters, and establishing friendship as one of the series core themes.
9. 'The Boy In The Iceberg' (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
Launching a franchise that now includes a sequel series, comic continuations, and one terribly executed live-action film, you'd expect that the first episode of #AvatarTheLastAirbender would have to be pretty amazing.
"The Boy In The Iceberg" quickly lets viewers know what to expect, beginning with a version of the now iconic narration that opened all episodes. We then join brother-sister duo Sokka and Katara on what seems like a normal day, until they stumble upon the titular boy in the iceberg, Aang. Upon freeing him, they learn he has been trapped for 100 years.
The episode excels in introducing key elements of the series (such as bending and the awesome power of the Avatar state) early, as well as establishing many of the main players. This makes "The Boy In The Iceberg" a perfect jumping-off point for the epic adventure that is #ATLA.
10. 'Help Wanted' (Spongebob Squarepants)
Though many fans believe #Spongebob has declined in quality in recent times, most agree that the early episodes are cartoon gold.
The first episode, "Help Wanted," is no exception. Telling the story of how #Spongebob earned his much-loved job at the Krusty Krab, it was a perfect vehicle to introduce the character, and includes one of the series' best scenes as Spongebob skillfully feeds a hoard of starving anchovies. Even now, 10 seasons in, "Help Wanted" remains one of the show's most popular episodes.