We’re coming up on a nice little four-day weekend here in the U.S., thanks to a buncha hungry pilgrims and some unfortunately doomed indigenous peoples, so I thought this might be a good time to hammer out a little post about Amazon Pilot Season.
Amazon just launched its new slate of pilot episodes for kid shows, comedy, and drama, and now’s the time when we get to try them out, vote for our favorites, and watch with dismay when Amazon selects the wrong one to produce (well, not always, but often enough). I don’t always bother with Amazon pilots, but I’d read some interesting reviews of a few of them this round, and decided to check out all the grown-up options last week. In my experience, a good 90% of the pilots Amazon puts out are insanely terrible, which is why I’ve never bothered writing about them until now. But we got pretty lucky this round — this is a fairly decent crop, with only one total stinker. Now THERE’S something to be thankful for!
Here they are, and if you’ve watched these yourself, I’d be curious about your thoughts, so hit the comments! (p.s. I think everybody can watch these pilots, not just members of Prime, but correct me if I’m wrong about that.) Here’s the link where you can find the full slate: http://www.amazon.com/b?node=9940930011.
One Mississippi — Man, I wanted to like this show so badly. I’ve been a huge Tig Notaro fan since forever, and this series should’ve been complete gold. Alas, it is not. Based on the last several years of her life in-real-life, Tig plays herself, a breast cancer survivor who, as the episode opens, is also recovering from a terrible bout of C.diff just as she lands in her hometown for her mother’s funeral. She’s got nutty brothers and a nuttier stepfather, setting us up for what should have been the perfect dark little situation comedy. Only, the writing is just. . . not good. And the acting is even worse, I’m afraid. Notaro’s stand-up style is very one-note, and it works tremendously well for what she does in that arena. But here, it just doesn’t translate quite right. Additionally, the dialogue frequently comes out sounding like stand-up routines desperately scribbled into script format instead, which never, ever works. It’s too bad, too, because it’s a great concept. Here’s hoping she tries again soon, and with better writers (i.e., anyone but Diablo Cody).
Highston — Of the two comedies, this one is definitely my pick, and not just because One Mississippi so obviously isn’t. It’s the story of a young man named Highston who suffers from a delusional disorder that manifests as celebrities popping in and out of his life, hanging out and offering him advice. In the pilot, the celebrities involved are Shaq and Flea (from Red Hot Chili Peppers), and though both were surprisingly endearing (especially Flea; who knew?), for this show to work, I think they’re probably going to have to recruit from a higher tier. That said, the story was really engaging — in the pilot, Highston is having to choose between getting a job or committing himself to psychiatric care, as per ultimatum from his folks — and I just loved the kid himself. Funny and sweet. I’m definitely game for more of this one.
Z: The Beginning of Everything — All but one of the four dramas I’m about to describe were surprisingly good; I’ll be saving the worst for last. This one was the weakest of the three I liked, but it was still entertaining, just not terribly solid in concept. It’s based on a biography about Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (here played by Christina Ricci, who appears not to be aging at all, which means I automatically hate her), and in the timeline of the series, she’s a young woman teetering in between two very incompatible worlds: Southern manners and modern feminism. She goes to parties, she drinks, she flirts with boys, she flaps (or whatever flappers do), and, just as the pilot wraps up, it looks like she’s about to meet the man who changes everything (for better or for worse; mostly for worse, I suppose you could argue): Mr. F. Scott. The problem is, despite the fact Zelda Fitzgerald is a fascinating woman, most of what is fascinating about her is distilled here into something that feels quite ordinary in the modern era. Part of the problem is that this “drama” is weirdly only 30 minutes, like a sit-com, and so there isn’t enough time to establish her character more deeply. I’m going to need more for this one to really pull me in. Especially since the next one I watched is about an even more interesting feminist writer. . .
Good Girls Revolt — . . . Nora Ephron. This series, based on a non-fiction book of the same title by Lynn Povich about a sex discrimination case involving a group of female writers at Newsweek, is about the staff of the magazine News of the World in 1969. Women in this particular newsroom served as “researchers,” partnered with “reporters,” all of whom were men. As the episode opens, in walks newly hired “researcher” Nora Ephron, and along with her, a ripple of change about to roar into a tidal wave of revolution. In the pilot, the men are battling over whether to write a story about a rock festival gone wrong (the famous riots at the Altamont Speedway concert) or keep doing cover after cover on Vietnam, while the women are working behind the scenes, doing what appears to be all the actual reporting. When Ephron ends up rewriting one of the reporter’s pieces, only to see it published without her byline, she walks out the door — and the good girl revolt begins. This show was really entertaining and fun (and I love Anna Camp, who plays Ephron here). That said, it also needs to smarten up a bit for me. The dialogue is really heavy-handed and it definitely worked way too hard to cram every 1969 reference it could think of into the single 60-minute episode. Too much, ladies and gentlemen. Still, I would absolutely watch a whole season of this series, no hesitation. EXCEPT. . .
Patriot — That this show is EVEN BETTER. By far my favorite in both categories, Patriot is a weird, darkly comic story about a family of spies, with sharp writing, a serious knack for farce, and an extremely kooky sense of humor. The main character, Michael, has been undercover for years and is taking a break in Europe when his father (also his CIA handler) contacts him to redirect him to a new job. It’s got something to with Iran and nukes; we’ll learn more as we go. What I loved about the main character is not just the fact that he’s a spy (love me some good spyin’), it’s that, in his spare time, he vents his pent-up spy angst by composing and then singing dreadfully sincere folk songs revealing all kinds of state secrets (“I got some really bad intelligence / Shot an old mail hotel maid / Who was just making the physicist’s bed. . .”), something that’s really starting to freak out his father and brother. The songs are hilarious, and the show is clever and smart. Also, the main guy? Is cute as hell. My fingers are really crossed this one wins. Go check it out and vote, wouldja? I could use a little more of this kind of thing in my life.
As for that one unwatchable pilot this round? Believe it or not, it was . . .
Edge — . . . A WESTERN, of all things! Set immediately post-Civil War, of all things! You guys, those are like two of my favorite genres of anything (Westerns, Civil War stuff). Not only that, it stars ex-Boyfriend of the Week Max Martini, albeit almost wholly unrecognizably. Nevertheless, this is one of the worst shows I have ever tried to slog my way through, hands-down. It’s loaded up with cliches, all the women are total throw-aways (not unusual for the classic Western, but this is 2015; could you at least try?), and the story is about as boring as they come (main character out to avenge death of brother). I’ll put up with a lot of dumb stuff for a Western — let’s face it, a good 80% of Westerns are kind of dumb (okay, okay, 85%). But you have to at least try to do something interesting with it. Outside of keeping track of the number of variations on the angst-grimace Martini could contort his face into, there just wasn’t much here to latch onto entertainment-wise. Total disappointing dud (full disclosure: I gave up 30 minutes in and never looked back).
There you have it! A few things definitely worth checking out this weekend, if you need a break from your crazy uncle and 19 nieces and nephews all under the age of 8. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!