Review: Amazon Original Pilots
John Goodman stars as Gill Biggs in this comedy where four U.S senators share a house together. Goodman is a lazy senator who wants to do the bare minimum to get re-elected. His housemates and colleagues played by Mark Consuelos, Clark Johnson and Matt Malloy all have their own quirks. One is a bit of ladies man; another is constantly facing questions over his sexuality and manliness, while Johnson’s character Robert is suspected of some sought of fraud. The pilot episode also features cameos from Bill Murray and Stephen Colbert (of The Colbert Report), whether these two would feature in a full series is unclear. As political comedies goes, its okay but doesn’t live up to series like The Thick Of It. It’s a show that lives off its big actors and maybe with some better writers it could be funnier and do quite well for itself. At present though, I’m not sure it’s really got the legs to make it as a good comedy. I like the concept of Alpha House (four senators living together) so in some ways I hope this show gets picked up to see if it can be made better.
Betas is all about four youngsters (well four youngsters and one older friend) who believe they have the next big internet sensation. The first episode follows the boys attempt to get their new social network app noticed with little money and in a crowded market. In terms of the cast, there aren’t the ‘big names’ like some of the other series available on Amazon Original. The main cast is made up of Joe Dinicol, Karan Soni, Jonathan C Daly and Charlie Saxton. I had high hopes for the series but it didn’t live up to my expectations. In concept it has the feel of a blend between The Social Network and The Big Bang Theory. It doesn’t have the comedy of The Big Bang but it isn’t trying to be either. With a bit of work it could have the endearing and aspirational qualities that made The Social Network so good. At the moment, however, it’s not quite what it should be and in my view it would be a risk to make this into a full series without taking it under the microscope to make it better. Like Alpha House I like the concept, but I think Alpha House is closer to being a good series than Betas (cue pun about the meaning of Alpha and Beta).
This series follows four young people (you see a pattern of four emerging here?) start off their careers as interns at a news website. Not the most original concept is it? But wait there is a twist, it’s a musical comedy. Every menial and everyday task is quite literally made a song and dance of. I like a musical (secretly of course) and when normal sitcoms do a musical number or episode I tend to like them. In particular, I’m thinking here of the Scrubs episode that is a musical. However, I have my doubts over whether a whole series of musical comedy would really work. The songs need to be so clever and well thought out. I can only imagine the effort that went into making that Scrubs episode. Some might argue that Glee is a musical comedy that works. Personally, I’m not fan but you can’t doubt its success. The difference, however, is that Glee’s comedy isn’t the musical part. It’s the bits between the songs that bring the comedy element. The singing and dancing are covers and quite impressively done. Browsers is not on that level, nowhere near. This pilot, falls by the wayside for me. Truthfully, I found it so hard to watch I could only stomach ten minutes of it. The songs and comedy aren’t really funny, while the characters are generic and highly irritating. I’d be very surprised if this series gets picked up. Based on the comments on the website I’m not the only one that was disappointed by this offering.
Dark Minions is claymation sci-fi comedy. The pilot is only half claymation to give an example of the final product, the rest is cartoon. No huge names in this series but a few voices that will certainly be recognised. Fans of The Big Bang Theory will recognise the voices of the two main characters. Kevin Sussman and John Ross Bowie, who play Stuart and Kripke respectively in Big Bang, provide the voices for the main characters. They are joined by relatively well-known comedy actor Richard Kind and veteran voice artist Clancy Brown. Minions follows Andy and Mel, slackers working on-board an evil intergalactic spaceship (it’s the Star Wars death star basically). Taking little pride or effort in their jobs we see the pair end up in a variety of awkward situations. The pilot is strong with clever writing that is actually funny. When claymation does appear in the pilot it is of good quality. It certainly has potential in my opinion and is one of the best pilots released by Amazon. The series is reminiscent of the Star Wars Family Guy trilogy. However, I do have my fears about whether this series will be picked up for a full season. Firstly, there is the fact it is claymation; an expensive and time-consuming form of production. This is perhaps best illustrated by the fact they couldn’t afford to do the whole pilot in claymation. Secondly, there are genre issues. Adult themed animations and cartoons are a narrow market with an often short-lived shelf life. Family Guy and American Dad are the stand out names in this category. Added to this we have the fact it’s a sci-fi comedy, which narrows the audience again. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this gets picked up, but unfortunately market factors could limit its potential.
Onion News Empire
Inspired by the online publication ‘The Onion‘, known for its mocking and comedic takes on news stories, Onion News Empire is a comedy show based on a news network. Along with Alpha House and Zombieland this has been one of the most talked about Amazon pilots. This is primarily because of its strong cast, which features Christopher Masterson, William Sadler and Jeffrey Tambor. It’s got a Anchorman cum The Newsroom feel to it, but with a more news based comedy to it than Anchorman. British readers will find its comedy not to dissimilar to various Charlie Brooker projects like 10’o’clock live and Newswipe. This pilot is one of the best offers from Amazon pilots. It has genuine moments of laugh out loud comedy with clever writing and a strong cast. The best moments come in the form of the actual news related jokes and reports, with the behind the scenes personal interactions not having the same level of humour. It could do with a bit of polishing work, but out of all the pilots, I think this is one that is almost certain to get picked up, even if only initially due to the strong fan base that the original website has.
Supanatural is about two women who work at the mall but in their spare time are adventurers/explorers almost in tribute to Indiana Jones. Lily Sparks and Jameeliah Garrett play the characters of Hezbah and Lucretia respectively. The pair are all but newcomers to this world and it’s refreshing to see some new talent being given a chance. Overall, the pilot is good. The animation is of a decent standard. I didn’t love the pilot but I don’t think it’s really meant for my demographic. It has potential, but like Dark Minions has difficult market to enter. It could get picked up though; with shows like Archer demonstrating that this type of series could work.
Those Who Can’t
The title of the show is taken from the popular saying about teachers “Those Who Can’t, Teach”. It’s a good title, but if I am honest that’s probably the best thing about this show. I could be a tad nasty here and come up with some quip like ‘Those Who Can’t Act, Should Teach”. Instead I’m going to be kind and compliment the series for giving relative newcomers a chance. This comes in the shape of the Adam Cayton-Holland, Benjamin Roy and Andrew Orvedahl. The comedy follows three teachers who are even more immature than their students, so much so that in the first episode they attempt to get a pupil they don’t like expelled. I like the concept and it could be successful in a different form, for example the UK series ‘Teachers‘ starring Andrew Lincoln. However, the execution of this series doesn’t work. There isn’t any particular stand-out comedy moments in the pilot and it all seems rather obvious and generic. The characters aren’t likeable whatsoever and I don’t think the actors were right for these roles. In summary, I’d be very surprised if this gets picked up, at least in its current configuration.
Based on the popular Zombieland film starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, the series follows four survivors in a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies (there’s that rule of four again). I enjoyed the film very much and with the same writer on board for the TV series, the show does a decent job of living up to the film. None of the original cast appear in the pilot, which although disappointing isn’t really unexpected. The characters and ideas of the show are the same as in the film, revolving around the rules for surviving in ‘Zombieland’ devised by the Columbus character. Tyler Ross and Maiara Walsh do a good job of living up to their movie counterparts. Whether or not this series gets picked up I’m confident we’ll see these two again. Kirk Ward and Izabela Vidovic aren’t quite up to the same level when they are compared to their movie counterparts. But, I’m reluctant to be too critical of the pair as they do a good job and should have their roles considered in their own right, not just as copies of the film. Out of all the pilots, this is the one I would be most confident about becoming a full series. It’s got a good writer and cast behind it, while this genre is certainly popular enough to be worthy of a full series.
[Taglines and screen shots taken from Amazon website]
- Amazon Tries to Disrupt Current TV Model by Letting Users Vet Pilots (Watch All of Them Now) (projectathens.com)
- Stephen Colbert Cameos in ‘Alpha House’. (colbertnewshub.com)
- Amazon Original Comedy Pilots Review (soundonsight.org)