Amazon Instant Video, which trots out series pilots and then invites viewers to give an opinion of them, has begun showing a new batch of seven new comedy, drama and docu-series programs, and six more aimed at kids. Amazon must be full of itself these days after tons of good press and two Golden Globes for “Transparent.”
The one pilot that should get the most instant buzz is “The Man in the High Castle,” a drama based on the 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick that imagines that the Allies lost World War II and much of the world is now controlled by Nazis and the Japanese. (In the United States, the Japanese have the West Coast, the Nazis the East, with a no-man's land around the Rockies.)
Ridley Scott is among the list of executive producers. The premise is obviously provocative enough, and gee, how neatly it almost perfectly fits the current Amazon footprint, which concentrates on the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. The Web-watching helper, Decider.com, trumpets that “Man in the High Castle” might be Amazon’s “House of Cards.”
Another one, that at least on paper (or computer screen) sounds intriguing is “The New Yorker Presents” which seems to be an attempt to sprinkle parts of the magazine into a series. The pilot includes a short story starring Alan Cumming and Brett Gelman; a poem; a documentary by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme about biologist Tyrone Hayes based on Rachel Aviv’s article in the magazine; and an interview with performance artist, Marina Abramovic, conducted by the New Yorker’s Ariel Levy. (Sounds interesting, and yes, there are cartoons, apparently). Dawn Ostroff, the former entertainment president at The CW and now president the entertainment end of the New Yorker’s parent, Conde Nast, is one of the executive producers. Conde Nast and Jigsaw Productions co-produced the pilot.
Other new things out there, ready to be sampled, are;
“Cocked,” a drama about a Coloradoan who left long ago for the corporate world but is drawn back home to run his family’s historic and well-known gun business; his wife and kids are appalled. Sam Trammell, Jason Lee, Laura Fraser and Brian Dennehy star;
“Down Dog,” about a late-30s guy, playboy son of hippie parents in Southern California who now teaches yoga and begins to confront real life when his older, wiser girlfriend leaves him;
“Point of Honor,” a period-piece drama about a Virginia West Point grad who decides to free his slaves but defend the South in the Civil War, a mix that leaves him fighting his family and fighting his best friend and brother-in-law, a Northerner;
“Salem Rogers,” a comedy starring Leslie Bibb in the title role, as a former supermodel re-entering the world after ten years in rehab recovering from all the destructive things all supermodels apparently do. This comedy also stars Rachel Dratch from “Saturday Night Live,” Jane Kaczmarek from “Malcolm in the Middle,” Harry Hamlin from “Mad Men,” and Scott Adsit, who was Liz Lemon’s second-in-command on “30 Rock.” This pilot came from Amazon’s open screenplay submission process;
And last, “Mad Dogs,” an comedy-drama based on the UK hit series about a bunch of layabout friends in their 40s thrown together at a Belize villa that becomes the stage for murder, lies and ugly, dark realizations. Stars include Steve Zahn, Billy Zane, Romany Malco, Michael Imperioli and Ben Chaplin, who starred in the original on Sky 1.
Amazon tested five other series in September; of those, two of the projects, the weird drama “Hand of God” and the comedy “Red Oaks” have gone to series, but haven’t shown up on the Amazon service yet. Amazon is diligent about seeking viewers opinions, but is less clear about the real usefulness, except perhaps to display engagement. Previously, in the class that contained “Transparent,” Amazon plucked three more series (out of five), “Mozart in the Jungle,” now showing, and “Bosch” which starts Feb 15. After announcing “The After,” a sci-fi drama from “X-File” creator Chris Carter, who envisioned a 99-episode run, Amazon quietly announced it wouldn’t happen at all.