Reviewing The 2014 Amazon Studios Drama & Comedy Pilots

By February 14, 2014
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Last year Amazon unleashed its first ever pilot season by allowing the public to view and subsequently vote on 14 original shows. This was Amazon Studios‘ first real effort to get into the original programming game and compete against the likes of Netflix and Hulu. That pilot season brought “Alpha House” and “Betas” to series and both shows are pretty decent. Well, they are at it again! Last week, they released 10 pilots – two dramas, three comedies and five pilots aimed towards children.

At first glance, it looks like Amazon has ramped things up a bit as the caliber of talent behind these shows are names recognized for some outstanding work in both television and film. I sat down the other night and plowed through the dramas and comedies (even one children’s show). What I found was delight, disappointment, and even a little discomfort. Let me break it down for you…

“The After”

theafter

It’s been over 10 years and “X-Files” creator Chris Carter has finally brought a new idea to TV. Like many of you reading this, I too am a huge fan of Mulder and Scully so when I heard he had a pilot up on Amazon, it was one of the first things I watched. “The After” was both written and directed by Mr. Carter and follows a group of what first looks like random strangers who get trapped in a parking garage during some very strange and catastrophic circumstances. Once they escape, they find the world around them crumbling. The power is out, cell phones are down – pretty much nothing is working. Throughout this episode, we’re given some random hints that something more supernatural is going on. First, there’s the fact that every one of these random characters have the same birthday. Oh and then there’s the whole red eyed alien creature guy that pops up at the end. “The After” feels like another program trying to bring back the “LOST” formula that has gotten stale and cliche now. Oh and let’s talk about the characters for a second! There’s a sleazy lawyer, his prostitute girlfriend, a French actress, a Latin cop, a black escaped convict, an old rich lady…and a gay clown (played by Jamie Kennedy of all people!). Of everything thrown together here, nothing really works. The characters are written with only one note for each of them to play. And if these are the people we are to trust while the world is crumbling around us, I’d be happy sticking with “The Walking Dead” or even “Revolution.”

Yes, I said it.

“Mozart In The Jungle”

mozart-in-the-jungle

“Mozart In The Jungle” is a comedy (?) that is about sex, drugs and classical music. At least, those are the words I read when scrolling through the shows to watch. Intriguing. The pilot was written by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Alex Timbers. The show both feels like something that should be airing on HBO right now and something I’d never see on TV. Set in the tawdry world of classical musicians,  “Mozart In The Jungle” stars Gael García Bernal as Rodrigo, the prodigy hired to replace the aging symphony conductor Thomas (Malcolm McDowell). The issue with this pilot is it seems they have yet to find the right balance between the outlandish and the more real moments in the story. However, the concept of the underbelly of the classical music world is an interesting one and this pilot is worth the watch, if for nothing else, the way off-Broadway Styx musical performance of “Oedipus Rocks” featuring Constantine from the 4th season of American Idol. Lest I forget, Paul Weitz (About A Boy) is the director behind this pilot and that man has some decent chops. So go watch it and get back to me on what you think!

“Rebels”

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One of the first things that stood out to me about “Rebels” is Ice Cube’s executive producing credit on the project. My eye roll was only short lived, though, because I actually enjoyed this show. The opening scene features a Jewish funeral that ends with a bunch of football players accidentally dropping the casket holding their old manager into his empty grave. The show stars Natalie Zea (“The Following”, “Justified”) as Julie, the deceased owner’s wife who doesn’t know anything about football but takes over the team anyway. The program also stars Josh Peck from Drake & Josh fame who brings some much needed levity to the show. I’m not quite sure if this will make it to series but there was a raunchy yet light-hearted nature here that reminded me of the earlier episodes of “Californication.” But what do I know? I know nothing of football and may just have a crush on Natalie Zea!

http://youtu.be/bS9xMNBoNJo

“Transparent”

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With a name like “Transparent,” I guess it’s expected there will be some uncomfortable scenes with uncomfortable nudity. I finished watching this pilot and sat there unsure of how I felt about what I just watched. But more and more, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Jill Soloway (“Six Feet Under”, “United States Of Tara”) written project is the best comedy (and maybe the best pilot) in the bunch. The story here follows Mort (Jeffrey Tambor), the father of three self-centered adult children who, unbeknownst to them, is slowly transitioning into a woman. He brings them all together one night at his house to make the announcement but ultimately fails. The somewhat unlikeable siblings are Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), the unemployed slacker sister, Sarah (Amy Landecker), the housewife and mother who decides to reconnect with her ex lesbian lover from college, and Joshua (Jay Duplass), the sleazy A&R rep brother who sleeps with the pretty band members he signs. “Transparent” feels less like a TV show and more like one of those indie movies you’d catch on IFC or Sundance. The episode ends with Tambor in drag coming home to find Sarah making out with her ex girlfriend on his bed. Talk about awkward!

“Bosch”

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I am going to admit something here. I’m probably the exact demographic “Bosch” is being aimed at. The pilot here is an adaptation of Michael Connelly’s popular book series and the script was written by Connolly and Eric Overmyer (“The Wire”, “Treme”). This worth noting as multiple faces from “The Wire” shows up in the hour long pilot. Hell, Scott Wilson shows up in full Herschel beard and ponytail and even that gal from the 8th season of “24” makes an appearance. Whether this is good casting or a trick to get lovers of some great TV to watch, it worked on me!

“Bosch” stars Titus Welliver (“LOST”, “Sons of Anarchy”) as the title character Detective Harry Bosch. The story here follows Bosch while he is on trial for shooting an (un?) armed suspect. At the same time, he has happened upon a case involving the discovery of a child’s bones buried in the woods. While at times this does feel like a procedural one may find on TNT, there’s a modern film noir style that leads me to believe the story here goes a lot deeper and darker. The production value and cast attached also make me think this is the most viable drama option to go to series. But like I said above, I’m probably guilty of being the exact demographic the series creators were aiming for when shooting the pilot.

“Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street”

gortimergibbons

Like I said, I also watched one of the children’s pilots Amazon released. “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street” was something rather surprising to me. The story follows our somewhat nerdy hero Gortimer and his two best friends Mel and Ranger as they exist in a world that is both strange and magical. I know how that sounds, but the first thing this pilot reminded me of was the feel of “Amazing Stories” with the look and nostalgia of Stand By Me. Maybe I’m just being sappy, but the show’s cute quirkiness brought me back to my childhood for a moment. This is not your typical Nickelodeon-style pilot and I truly believe you all should watch it right now! The program stars Sloane Morgan Siegel (“Partners”, “The Neighbors”), Drew Justice (“Enlisted”), Ashley Boettcher (Aliens In The Attic) and Fionnula Flanagan (“Defiance”, “LOST”).

Have you watched the 2014 pilots from Amazon Originals yet? Which ones were your favorites? Seriously, tell me! I’d love to know!

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Aside from throwing words onto your screen here, he has written for the likes of FEARnet, Examiner, Dread Central and MTV Movies Blog. And yes, he was Percy on VR Troopers.
  • Michael D Johnston

    Rebels was actually a great show! I had no idea Cube was an Exec on it though. That’s kinda weird! Transparent was way too much for me at first, then I found myself kinda getting into it, understanding where they were going with it. But still weird.

    • Jon C Vannatta

      So did you end up liking Transparent?

      • Michael D Johnston

        It was just okay. The wifey made me stop watching – said it was creeping her out, but I didn’t think it was that bad.

        • I had the same issue. My fiancee found it too uncomfortable so it took me a while to figure out how I felt about it.

      • David W Bryan

        Don’t know about anyone else but I sure did.

  • Jon C Vannatta

    I had forgotten about most of these – They made such a big deal about it at first, then it seemed like it just stopped. Based on what I’m reading, now I have to watch Transparent whether I want to or not. I’m intrigued!

  • David W Bryan

    I want to check out Mozart for sure!

  • Marvin S Meza

    BOSCH!! I will probably watch this. TNT? really?

    • I said kinda! And hey, TNT has some good dramas…which are mostly procedurals…and it’s too early to tell if BOSCH is a procedural. 🙂