Amazon's 'Transparent' Success And Its Other Transparent Failures

The fully programmable me:

With good reason, Amazon Instant Video is pretty proud of “Transparent,” the transgender comedy starring Jeffrey Tambor that won two Golden Globes--best actor in a comedy for him and best comedy for the series. This Saturday, Amazon is announcing, even nonsubscribers can watch all 10 episodes, for free.

That might be a good distraction from the new series pilots Amazon recently foisted on its dues-paying members. I don’t like to use the phrase epic fail, because I reserve that for actual epic events, but let’s just say if you received these pilots in an Amazon package, you’d now be sealing up the box and getting ready for a trip to the post office to send them back.

I’m not all alone on this.I don’t think you’ll be seeing many critical raves.

Amazon is letting its subscribers look at five new would-be pilots, with the understanding all of them could become series as Amazon builds up an otherwise good but fairly small stable of originals. It’s had a pretty good track record dumping these things on its subscribers in the past, and asking them to vote for favorites, as if it mattered. 

But because they pretend an election is going on, people seem to watch with a critical eye.

Bad idea this time. There are several classic stinkers in this class, which goes to show that even presumably enlightened digital content providers can be as blind as the network jerks who’ve put TV on for years.

Ordinarily, I’d say, well, they swing, they miss. But online purveyors haven’t built up much loyalty, and to get Amazon, you have to get a set-top or a dongle and really, kind of commit to the whole idea. So, I’d say, your value proposition gets really tested, much more than a Netflix subscription.

That said, “Salem Rogers, Model of the Year 1998,” “Down Dog,” “Cocked” and “Point of Honor” are a special kind of bad, more repulsive because pay-TV always comes self-loaded with groundbreaking potential (like “Transparent” really filled) but liable to be just cheesy, flimsy and kind of embarrassingly “shocking.” And sex, drug and nude scene-wise, these things put the grate in gratuitous.

A special asterisk here for “Down Dog.”  Surprising (to me anyhow), this alleged comedy was produced by Michael Fuchs, the same guy credited with starting HBO toward becoming the programming giant it is now. He would have thrown a tantrum if somehow, this crap ended up on his schedule.

Somewhat better is “Mad Dogs,” based on the British series, and “The Man in the High Castle,” based on the Phillip Dick novel that imagines the Japanese and Nazis won the war and have now divvied up the United States. Finally, there’s “The New Yorker Presents,” which takes the idea of a magazine show just too literally, but gets points for doing something different, which is what I’m paying for, right?

No one asked for this, but Funny or Die today unveiled its Funny or Die Weather app, working with the Weather Underground and available only on Apple devices. The first try is way more Die than Funny. The idea, apparently, is to give you the weather data, with a little wacky witticism on top. Today’s is: “Unless you’ve done it please stop speaking confidently about how easy and obvious it would be to punch a shark in the nose.” One thing is sure about this app. The weather, at least, eventually will get better.

Barack Obama, Appearing Nitely Until 2017, today at 5 p.m. ET talks in a live videostream to three YouTube vloggers, GloZell Green, Bethany Mota and Hank Green and will take questions from other YouTubers via the White House’s own YouTube site. The trio of questioners prompted at least one snarky item from NPR’s politics blog this morning:  “There's a good chance he'll get a question that none of his predecessors have ever had to answer. One distinct possibility: ‘Mr. President, is you OK? Is you good? 'Cuz I wanted to know.’ "

That’s GloZell’s signature greeting, NPR’s Nayana Davis pointed out. Personally, I think there's a pretty decent chance the YouTubers will hold their own and if the president tries too hard or too fast to turn this into the obvious political stunt that it is, it could be painful to watch. More than the outside world may really understand YouTubers are more like persons than personalities. They're not all media junked up.
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