The Amazon Prime bake-off is back. As it has done before, the online pay service is offering subscribers five new series pilots they can vote on.
Eventually, Amazon picks winners (supposedly based on those votes) to produce as full series, a system that may now work better since Amazon decided to look to more established producers rather than rely on more untested suppliers for their pilots.
(The one good one from the first batch, and it’s very good, was the political comedy, “Alpha House” exec. produced by “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau and Newsweek Washington scribe Jonathan Alter. It will return in October.)
But Amazon Studios, with director Roy Price, has gotten more serious, and has more money, too. Amazon says it’s plowing $100 million into programming.
But this voting thing: On one hand, how democratic! On the other, how let’s-throw-this-against-the-wall.
Whatever. The pilots, from what I’ve seen (and they’re now available on the service) seem to prove the system is at least presenting better thrown stuff to vote on. All five rate, by my discerning taste, between pretty good and very good.
Most of them also feature one staple of pay TV: The gratuitous sex scene—often intimations of fellatio-- is a pay programmer’s way of assuring you your money is well spent. You can't see that on CBS. Amazon hardly invented stupid sex on TV; it’s just following the script.
That said, of the three comedies, two are clearly better:
The pilot for “The Cosmopolitans,” written, directed and produced by Oscar nominee Whit Stillman, is a sitcom about young ex-pats trying to find love in Paris. There’s no great plot device, but stars Adam Brody, Carrie MacLemore and Freddy Asblom, and guest star Chloe Sevigny and others, carry off this buddy-romance thing nicely. The script is funny, and genuinely smart. And it looks good.
-- “Red Oaks” is a lot like TV but altogether wittier. Set in New Jersey in 1985, it’s the coming of age story of David Myers (Craig Roberts), a college student/assistant tennis pro for the summer at the country club. This pilot has a different, sort of endearing heartbeat, and it’s exec produced by Steven Soderbergh, which, if nothing else, would be a good selling point right there.
--“Really” gets my attention because it’s produced by Jamie Tarses, who was the first woman to head a network entertainment division (ABC, from 1996-99). “Really” seems to be setting itself up as GenX-relatable, starring Jay Chandrasekhar (who wrote it and directed) and a large cast. But it’s nothing new and despite raw, very raw, language, it’s the most like TV, and no that’s not a compliment. But its rawness might also appeal. Not to me, not enough.
--The drama pilot, “Hand of God” is appropriately pay-TV-weird, about a mentally unhinged, vengeance-bent judge, played by Ron Perlman; his protective wife played by Dana Delany; a devious preacher; the rape of the judge’s daughter; a would-be suicide by her husband who was forced to watch the assault; a call girl-confidante; and shady politics in a mid-sized city. It’s hard not to pay attention. It produced by filmmaker Marc Forster, best known for “Monsters Ball.”
--The other pilot “Hysteria” gets lots of curiosity points: First, it was written by Shaun Cassidy, and secondly, it seems to be based on a real-life event in upstate New York in 2012, in which several girls from the same high school began to experience violent, random shaking and jerking episodes. But in this telling, social media plays a part when a girls’ dance team in Austin suffer similar symptoms. Cellphone video seems to help it spread around town. Lots of familiar faces in this one, including James McDaniel, Josh Stewart, Laura San Giacomo and T.R. Knight.
From an earlier round of pilots, Amazon chose two kids shows and four prime-time like shows, “Transparent,” “Mozart in the Jungle,” “Bosch” and “The After” to turn into series, some of which will be debuting soon. Of those, the only one that really seemed worth the trouble of voting for was “Transparent,” in my book. But I’m not Jeff Bezos. He can move firstname.lastname@example.org