By now, you’ve likely already heard about Amazon’s customer-control approach to pilot season. They order a handful of pilots, they post them online and based on customer response and feedback, they order a couple to series (This year they’ve ordered five adult and five childrens’ pilots—I believe they’ll be ordering two of each to series, but I can’t remember where I read that and couldn’t find confirmation when searching just now so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).
It’s certainly a novel idea that makes Amazon look like a company that truly cares about the voice of the viewers, whereas other networks and broadcast entities take on pilot season in a bubble and it often seems like the final decisions lead to lesser shows getting picked up and gems being never aired and quickly forgotten. I’m not sure if customer response is the only gauge by which Amazon is determining the viability of a series, but there’s no doubt that making viewers feel so involved in the process is good PR—even if last year’s “winners”, Alpha House and Betas, didn’t exactly catch on.
This year’s crop of pilots look more promising and polished than the past—boasting impressive players behind and in front of the camera. It’s exciting to see such ambitious projects getting a shot and I have to wonder—if the response warrants it—if Amazon might be willing to bring more than just a couple to series. There’s honestly only one show here that I wouldn’t give a second episode to. Would love to hear your thoughts on Amazon’s pilot season, here are mine:
Clearly, I showed a little favoritism here, having written a full review for this one about a week ago. You can’t blame me—and several other publications—for approaching this one with an added dose of curiosity. It’s the return to TV for The X-Files’ Chris Carter and that fact alone will make you watch this one with either added expectation of extra nostalgic-induced grace. I may fall in the latter category, really enjoying this pilot despite widespread criticism that I can’t really argue with. The biggest of which being that the group of characters we’re introduced to all fit into some stereotypical character type (Irish drunk, high-priced call girl, angry, wrongly convicted black man), but from my perspective, they flourished despite those restrictions. I’m not saying there’s not a hint of cheese infiltrating this otherwise compelling post-apocalyptic thriller, but I’m saying that there’s a whole lot more good than bad and I watched this episode with baited breath, dying for a second episode as soon as it finished.
I think it’s fair to say that Natalie Zea has the uncanny ability to be appealing even when she’s handed subpar material, and that’s true to a large degree here. The Rebels is certainly the only pilot among this bunch so willing to go after the low-hanging fruit. It follows the story of a wealthy widow who assumes ownership of her husband’s football team after he passes away, despite not knowing a thing about football. There are a number of silly components that don’t work (how does a former cheerleader/NFL owner’s wife not know that uniforms are not called costumes?), but overall, the broad, low-brow humor was kind of charming in this particular instance. Josh Peck is hand-picked as Zea’s new, unqualified GM and I think he does a very effective job being humorously nervous, easily embarrassed and quite funny when he’s called to be. They get a lot of mileage out of a monkey who has a prominent role in this episode and I’m not ashamed to say that I laughed out loud at a good bit of it. I can’t fault anyone for not liking this one, but for a show not exactly aiming to be the next “smart” comedy, I was pleasantly surprised by it.
Jeffrey Tambor stars in this new series that’s premise is hard to talk about without spoiling a number of surprises in the pilot, but it’s basically one of those shows that’s billed as a comedy because it’s a half hour despite not actually being funny (or even trying to). Instead, Transparent spends most of the time being boring and pretentious, operating by the Lena Dunham playbook that believes making characters mopey and ludicrously self-absorbed is the only way to make characters seem “real”. Aside from Tambor, there’s not a single character I’d want to spend another second with, if I’m being honest. It just feels like a bad indie movie that gives indie movies a bad name; so in love and impressed with itself because it dares to be dull and portray characters that don’t possess a single likable trait. I would give this show a second episode due only to Tambor’s character and the potential there for some interesting interaction with the other, insufferable character, but it would be on an awfully short least for me.
Mozart in the Jungle
I’ll admit, I didn’t have high hopes going into this one. When I hear about the combination of classical music and Jason Schwartzman (who serves as a writer/producer on the show), I’m not exactly struck with anticipation. My expectations were not exceeded, in fact, I liked it less than I even imagined. I thought it might be the type of series that has an appeal I can understand, despite not being my cup of tea. That wasn’t the case; it was just boring and uninspired in every imaginable way. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to want another second of this show. In Transparent, at least enough emotion is sparked to make you hate the characters; everyone you meet on Mozart is bland and instantly forgettable. I’ve read someone compare it to a classical music version of Smash, but that’s too kind. As often as Smash veered towards train-wreck status, at least it was trying something. Mozart in the Jungle seems like someone just phoning in a script that hits all the premium cable comedy check points (sex, drugs, cynicism, pretentiousness, etc.,) without develop a single defining characteristic that makes this world or these characters memorable—and no, classical music doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter that you’re making a show about an unexplored subject matter if you’re doing it in the laziest possible way.
The biggest issue with this series is that Bosch is not as defined as a character as he needs to be. From what I understand, Bosch is based on a book series where the character has a decidedly harder edge and no qualms about being abrasive. I get that they’re attempting to depict that here while also not making him un-likeable, but in their attempt to pull off that balancing act, I think they’ve watered down the character too much. That being said, my first impression of this show was that it was gonna be a CBS procedural with cursing and it ended up being much better than that. It’s not a crime show as gripping or ambitious as True Detective, but it does lay the groundwork for an intriguing case and Titus Welliver does a good job finally taking on a leading man job (even if the character itself needs to be fleshed out a bit more). I expected this to be the most forgettable of the bunch but I actually thoroughly enjoyed it and was pretty engrossed by the end of it. I don’t know that it would be one of my favorite shows if it continues, but I’ll definitely be watching.