First Watch: Amazon Pilot Season (Fall 2014)

While Netflix (and to a lesser extent, Hulu) Originals have successfully broken into the television discussion in the last couple of years, it seems like Amazon is still struggling to get a word in about their Amazon Originals. At the tail end of August, Amazon kicked off its third “Pilot Season” with three new comedies and two new dramas (the same mix as last year) for viewers to check out and vote on. Last year, four of the five series were picked up for season orders—one of which we will be reviewing when the series officially premieres later this month—and that is great sign of what is to come.

Despite Amazon’s originals not generating anywhere near as much steam as Netflix’s House of Cards (or even the more recent Bojack Horseman), Amazon doesn’t seem eager to throw in the towel. Amazon is willing to give the viewer the power to say whether or not a show should air, something that the outdated Nielsen ratings of standard television programming took away by not evolving with the times. This practice, along with Netflix and other online services saving shows from the dead, are the first steps towards a better tomorrow for television.

Without further ado, let’s dive into Amazon’s third Pilot Season:

The Comedies:

The Cosmopolitans

The main cast of The Cosmopolitans, a comedy about a gang of Americans trying to make it in Paris.

The main cast of The Cosmopolitans.

If you’re familiar with Whit Stillman‘s usual fare The Cosmopolitans will probably feel like a familiar crew in a different setting. The pilot follows a few American expatriates who recently made the move to Paris, France to (presumably) find a culture that better matches their style. The two leading American men, Jimmy (Adam Brody) and Hal (Jordan Rountree), fancy themselves Parisian after only about six months living in France and, boy, does it show. The two men spend the entire pilot spouting overly verbose dialogue that feels very out-of-place in the casual chit-chat between longtime friends.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the biggest problem with The Cosmopolitans.

Where I find the most fault with The Cosmopolitans is that the pilot is too focused on establishing the characters and their relationship dynamics that it forgets to finish with something to hook you in to wanting more. The first episode introduces what seem to be the four main characters (as seen in the picture above), with a special emphasis on Hal’s relationship with an older Parisian woman, and then has them go to a party only to be kicked out within about five minutes and they struggle for about thirty seconds trying to find a way home after the metro has closed.

Great.

The Cosmopolitans is by no means a terrible show, I am sure there are plenty of people out there who would really enjoy this series—but, I am also certain that this isn’t the show for me. There are plenty of other comedies out there that I would rather spend half an hour with, so I can say without hesitation that I’m happy enough without The Cosmopolitans in my life.

Reason(s) to watch: you enjoy shows with Gossip Girl-esque dialogue or even if you just like French stuff.

Should it be picked up: No. While I think that there is an audience for this show, the pilot didn’t go anywhere or give any inkling of a place it would like to end up in the future and I have no interest in jumping on to a ride to nowhere with this cast.

 

Really

Jay Chandrasekhar and Sarah Chalke in Really.

Jay Chandrasekhar and Sarah Chalke in Really.

Really is, if nothing else, a funny show, but it does bring up a question that has to be asked: is it enough for a comedy to just be funny?

Even without bringing in comedies from outside this selection of pilots, Really starts off in the middle of the pack. While Cosmopolitans is a smart comedy with tons of French flair and Red Oaks brings back the ever-loved 80’s with a coming-of-age story, all Really offers is a pleasant, laugh-filled half hour. Really is the simple story of a couple who seems to be running on autopilot a bit at this point in their lives—they are so stable and secure in their relationship by now that it doesn’t matter if Jed (Jay Chandrasekhar) takes a peak at the waitresses underwear or if the kids interrupt Lori (Sarah Chalke) from Jed’s birthday blowjob, thankfully, there is no drama to be found between this couple.

I can watch with glee knowing that there will be no tired “Ross and Rachel” cliche in Really.

The relationship stability seems to end with Lori and Jed, however, and that is where the drama seems to stem from. Throughout the pilot, I was pretty sure that Luka Jones‘ Fred was going to be dead by the end of the episode, but it turns out that he was just getting cheated on by his wife with one of their best friends. I think I would have preferred it my way.

Overall, Really‘s first episode was an enjoyable half-hour and I wouldn’t mind seeing more, but I also wouldn’t be terribly sad if it didn’t come back for a full season order.

Reason(s) to watch: you long for the days when Sarah Chalke and Jay Chandrasekhar were still relevant or you are a fan of the Broken Lizard films.

Should it be picked up: Uncertain, leaning towards yes. I think I enjoyed the pilot for Really, but I came out of it not really knowing what to say about it. The pilot was funny, but other than that I don’t feel strongly enough about it to say anything for or against it. The difference between this and The Cosmopolitans, however, is that I wouldn’t mind giving it a few episodes to see where it goes.

 

Red Oaks

Red Oaks

Craig Roberts and Gage Golightly of Red Oaks.

Ah, Red Oaks.

While Amazon’s two other comedies can rest easy knowing that fans of Stillman or Chandrasekhar will enjoy and support their efforts, Red Oaks is a comedy from a few guys that worked on the Ocean’s films and some relatively unknown actors. That is probably the worst thing that I could manage to say about Red Oaks, so I think it is safe to say that I enjoyed it.

Red Oaks is the story of a young man named David (Craig Roberts) who isn’t very interested in his college career (much to the disappointment of his father), but happens to be a fairly talented tennis player. After being scolded by his father for his slipping grades, his father has a heart attack and gives David a grand speech about how he mustn’t make the same mistakes he made and that he must go out and live his life, which spurs David to do just that.

David manages to grab a job as an assistant tennis pro at the prestigious Red Oaks country club and the pilot chronicles his attempts to make that work out for him so he doesn’t have to go back to college. He hits a few bumps following that path, but ultimately it seems like it is going to work out. The pilot seems to center around a theme of fulfilling your dreams instead of settling for being content and I would really like to see more in hopes that it continues to be both funny and inspiring.

Reason(s) to watch: your obsession with the 80’s wasn’t satiated by The Goldbergs or you’re a fan of coming-of-age stories.

Should it be picked up: Yes. If Amazon were to only pick one comedy this season, my vote would go to Red Oaks for being consistently funny, relatable  and (for a brief moment) somewhat inspiring.

 

The Dramas:

Hand of God

Ron Perlman in Hand of God.

Ron Perlman in Hand of God.

There is no doubt in my mind that Hand of God is easily the best show of the bunch.

Hand of God is a story about morally bankrupt Judge Pernell Harris’s (Ron Perlman) quest to serve divine justice for his son’s “murderer”. There is a lot more wrong with that statement than you might think, however—Harris isn’t religious (prior to the pilot), his son committed suicide and is still “alive” on life support and God doesn’t usually send people on quests to murder people, I think.

The truth of the matter, or at least Harris’s version of the truth, is that Harris’s son PJ spoke to him from his coma and gave him a command to find out who raped his wife and forced him to watch (which supposedly is the reason why PJ shot himself in the head) after Harris was baptized as a born-again Christian at the Hand of God church. The pilot begins with (as seen in the picture above) Harris kneeling naked in a fountain while speaking in tongues while a crowd gathers and videos the scene for everyone to see.

Unfortunately, this causes a lot of political problems for Harris—and more importantly, his wife (Dana Delany) and best friend (Andre Royo)—who need Harris to keep it together so they can lock in some lucrative business deals for the city. It becomes increasingly clear throughout the first episode that things will only be getting worse for them, though, as Harris starts seeing signs in imaginary streams (of justice!) and making questionable calls in the courtroom based on his newly discovered faith. The questionable call that might bring Judge (Maximum) Harris’s career to a halt comes from Harris dismissing a battery charge on parolee KD (Garret Dillahunt)—who just so happens to attend Hand of God and sees Harris as a “modern day Solomon”.

After Harris’s craziness has had a fair amount of time to settle in and everyone gets a good chance to worry about him, things start to get even crazier. Harris’s quest to find his daughter-in-law’s rapist is kicked into high gear and he starts hunting down a seemingly innocent man for the remainder of the episode, burning pretty much every bridge that he has along the way. He alienates his daughter-in-law, forces his best friend (and mayor) to use his political power in exchange for his cooperation in his business deal and has KD (now the “Benaiah” to Harris’ “Solomon”) murder a police officer who has zero evidence linking him to the rape of Harris’s daughter-in-law other than some crazy delusions from Harris.

But, all of Harris’s crazy is justified in the last scene of the episode.

What.

Reason(s) to watch:  Ron Perlman, Garret Dillahunt, Dana Delany, Andre Royo—the cast for Hand of God is exceptional to say the least. If you can’t appreciate this show for the performances alone, then I’d recommend it to fans of vigilante justice and using the Bible to justify violence. It’s like Dexter, but with actors from Sons of Anarchy and a bit more Bible.

Should it be picked up: Yes. The pilot was not only one of the best this season, but of all of the Amazon Originals.

 

Hysteria

Hysteria

Mena Suvari in Hysteria.

I wish that I could say that I had saved the best for last.

Hysteria has the workings of a very interesting story … until about the last few moments of the pilot when you find out why all of these girls are starting to have seizures. The entire episode is spent building up two stories: Mena Suvari‘s Dr. Logan Harlen’s mysterious past and the epileptic epidemic occuring in Austin, Texas today. On Dr. Harlen’s side, it turns out that she has a brother who may have been wrongfully convicted of murder and only has a few months left to live because of it and the case that her brother was involved in supposedly very similar to the events currently happening in Austin.

Well, what is happening in Austin, you ask?

A troupe of high school cheerleaders suddenly are starting to have fits of seizures one by one after going to an old snow globe factory to learn some new dance moves from some creepy (read: rapey) break dancers. The seizures kick off with Cassie Young (Jenessa Grant) at the snow globe factory when one of the dancers gets a little too forceful with her and starts grinding on her against her will. Then, one of the other cheerleaders decides to put it online and everyone starts having a good laugh at the video. Until people start sharing Cassie’s condition.

This was all pretty interesting until, like I said earlier, the reason all of this was happening was revealed in the last few minutes of the episode. It turns out that people are experiencing mass hysteria over the internet because of the way that people consume media today by watching videos and text messaging each other at all hours of the day. Add to it that the whole epidemic started because an underage teenager was getting a little too frisky and you have a recipe that went a bit too heavy on the “social media and sex are tools of the devil” spice that older folks love to toss on everything.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not pro-underage sex or being so involved with social media that you forget how to form a coherent sentence in real life, but when you write a television show where the world is in jeopardy because of it … I think that it is safe to say that it is more than a little cheesy.

Reason(s) to watch: Mena Suvari, or especially if you think that social media and teenagers are the root of all evil.

Should it be picked up: Uncertain, leaning towards yes. Sure, I think this show is heading down a lame path, but I feel like there was enough good in it to warrant a season order to redeem itself.


 

Overall, Amazon had a fairly strong showing this season, especially in the Drama category, which I thought was the worse of the two in their last outing. I would not be surprised if all five of the series were picked up for a full series order after last year, but if I were a betting man, I would probably only count on three (Hand of God, Red Oaks and either Hysteria or Really).

Did you get a chance to watch any of the Amazon pilots? If so, which did you watch and what did you think? Did you agree with me or do you think I am completely wrong? Vote in this month’s poll and hit me up in the comments section below! I’m interested to hear your input!

Tune back in on Thursday for my next review and Wednesday and Friday for Cody’s return to Tonight’s Watch!

It’s good to be back!

 

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About Daniel

I'm a guy who spends way too much time playing board games and watching television with his friends. View all posts by Daniel

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