It’s that time of year again where Amazon presents its best and brightest pilot episodes to the world. Voting is currently under way and of the six new dramas and comedies available, there are high hopes for everyone involved that one of them may break out and be this year’s “Transparent.”
Some of these have promise and a couple are clear standouts from the pack. Here’s a breakdown of what episodes to watch and skip as the exploration commences on Amazon’s 2015 fall pilot season.
Cast: Michael Dorman, Kurtwood Smith, Michael Chernus, Terry O’Quinn and Gil Bellows
“Patriot” is an odd show, let’s get that stated right away. From Steve Conrad, the screenwriter behind movies like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “The Pursuit of Happyness,” when reading the synopsis on Amazon, this pilot sounds a lot like something that has already been seen with the likes of “Homeland.” But it’s not, and that’s a good thing.
Dorman stars as John Tavner, a guy just struggling to stay sane in this world who pursues a professional life in N.O.C, or Non-Official Cover. Basically, he has to nab a job he is most-definitely unqualified for in order to follow through on a secret mission for the Government in Iran. His assignment is to make sure the country doesn’t go nuclear and while that sounds like a story of intrigue and suspense follows, it’s worth noting that Tavner is no Jack Bauer and things go awry from the get-go.
Feeling like something Wes Anderson might do if he wrote for the small-screen, “Patriot” is a delightfully weird — and let’s not forget violent — standout from the bunch and will hopefully move forward with more episodes.
Cast: Mary Lynn Rajskub, Chris Parnell, Flea, Curtis Armstrong, Shaquille O’Neal and Lewis Pullman
“Highston” is the “Little Miss Sunshine” of the group. It’s quirky and feels like an Independent movie one might see on Sundance. The story centers on 19-year-old Highston Liggetts (Lewis Pullman) who is pretty much a normal dude … who has celebrities as imaginary friends. Flea and Shaquille O’Neal follow our hero around as he tries to navigate the challenges life throws his way while other view him as downright crazy — and he might be.
The writing here is pretty stellar and the performances from the ensemble cast helps to life this pilot to a level above the others on the list. It’s an odd show to be sure, and if Amazon does decide to move forward with it, concerns do arise regarding keeping the hook of the show fresh. Still, watching Shaq and Flea play off of each other is something to behold.
On The Fence:
Cast: Max Martini, Ryan Kwanten, Yvonne Strahovski, Alicja Bachleda and William Sadler
Any Western on TV is a good thing and that was the notion going into “Edge.” From director Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “Iron Man 3”) and writer Fred Dekker (“Tales from the Crypt,” “Robocop 3”), comes this small-screen adaptation of the George G. Gilman-penned book series of the same name. There’s a benchmark shows of this ilk need to hit now that landmark programs like “Deadwood” have seen the light of day but the result with “Edge” is something way more tongue-in-cheek and cheesy than one would expect.
Martini stars in this typical revenge story of a man out to right his brother’s murder. The town sheriff, known as “Big Bill,” is played by Sadler in a manner that consistently felt reminiscent of Gene Hackman’s “Herod” in the Sam Raimi flick “The Quick and the Dead.”
There are enough genre names attached here that will bring “Edge” some decent attention. While the dialogue tends to take the hackneyed route throughout the hour-long episode, there is enough sex and violence to keep one’s attention — if you’re into that sort of thing. If Amazon decides to move forward with more episodes, here’s hoping they rely less on the shock-worthy over-the-top violence and one-liners and more on character development and story.
But with the original subject matter the series is pulled from, it’s probably safe to say it will not.
‘Good Girls Revolt’
Cast: Anna Camp, Grace Gummer, Chris Diamantopoulos, Genevieve Angelson, Hunter Parrish, Teddy Bergman, Daniel Eric Gold, James Belushi, Erin Darke and Michael Oberholtzer
If you’re looking for a pilot in this mix that has a huge ensemble cast, “Good Girls Revolt” would be it. Based on Lynn Povich’s 2012 book of the same name, this series follows the story of the lawsuit brought to Newsweek by a group of female researchers. The show takes place in 1969 and explores the issues of sexism in the workplace in a very “Mad Men” style. Obviously, Amazon is looking to bank on such period dramas but while the AMC drama may initially come to mind, the pilot is more reminiscent of recently failed fair “Pan Am” or even “The Playboy Club.”
Gummer stars as Norah Ephron, although she doesn’t have too much screen time in the pilot (which may be a good thing). The story is intriguing enough as it is inspired by a true story and everyone here is playing someone who really existed. That said, the music can be a bit distracting in that it seems to constantly want to remind the viewer that this is the late ’60s. And, let’s not forget the clunky dialogue. Sounding forced and contrived throughout, if Amazon moves forward with “Good Girls Revolt” as a series — and they probably will — they really need to work on making these characters feel much more … human.
Cast: Tig Notaro, Noah Harpster, John Rothman, Beth Bervant and Casey Wilson
Comedian Tig Notaro is not striving for the laugh-out-loud type of funny in this very dark comedy “One Mississippi.” Inspired by Notaro’s real life struggle with her mother’s death after battling both C-Diff and breast cancer, this show takes the viewer into the comedian’s life as she returns to the small town in Mississippi where she grew up. The main concept explored in this pilot is grief and the other tumultuous waves of emotional states that comes with it. Yeah, this is a dark show.
Executive produced by Louis C.K. and written by Diablo Cody (along with Notaro), “One Mississippi” feels honest in a way most comedies on the small-screen are not. And while it’s beautifully shot, written and acted, the subject matter may be difficult for many to swallow as while the pilot is labeled a comedy, it may bring many viewers to tears.
‘Z: The Beginning of Everything’
Cast: Christina Ricci, Gavin Stenhouse, David Strathairn, Kristine Nielsen, Holly Curran, Scott Rosenfeld and Sean Bell
There always seems to be at least one of these in the bunch and in this new pilot season Amazon has delivered, “Z: The Beginning of Everything” is a program that has left many viewers scratching their heads. Why is this even a show?
Starring Christina Ricci as Zelda Zayre Fitzgerald, the story here tells the story of the historical figure’s life before she meets struggling writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s worth noting that this half-hour pilot (which felt like an hour) is being categorized by Amazon as a comedy. While the production value works well enough to transport the viewer back to 1918 and the performances work enough to drive home the pilot’s story, the pacing is slow and does not deliver any sort of fell that would remotely put it even close to being called a comedy.
Zelda here became the first ever flapper in the Roaring 20s and was known to be a muse to Fitzgerald. However, she also battled mental illness and her famous relationship with the writer wasn’t always sunshine and roses. Still, it looks like Amazon is trying their hands at a period drama lavish with an attempt at bringing authentic looking costumes and the like to the platform.
However, if you want to watch something featuring the famous character in a medium that is both well-written and acted, why not just turn on Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris?” That may be a much better use of your time.