Amazon pilot season: I watched them all, so you don’t have to

A little background

[Updated 18.2.15]

For ages, the process of selecting TV pilots for network and cable [and even Netflix] has been an obscure enterprise. All we know is that, during “pilot season”, the powers that be use some sort of logic to pick the programs that the audience “will most certainly love”. Or so they think…. Truth is 9 out of 10 new shows are cancelled. So… whatever the programming executives have been doing can hardly be called a “bullet-proof system”.

Amazon decided to have a more “transparent” system [no pun intended]. Instead of a few executives deciding which pilots should go into production, they concluded that the consumers know best. Amazon posts its pilots online so users can watch and rate them. The pilots that receive the best feedback are ordered into series. No-one was thinking much of Amazon and their bizarre programming strategy, but they just won two Golden Globes for Transparent, so…

Of course… skeptics of this system abound. Criticism goes from “there is no such thing as wisdom of the masses” to simply not believing Amazon pays attention to the feedback. I really don’t know. I am the first to admit the “masses” sometimes prefer mindless entertainment instead of clever, innovative series [just look at the ratings of Duck Dinasty vs. Orphan Black] . However… Amazon is not broadcast nor cable, now is it? A show that is going to be streamed on Amazon will reach its users and it is in the company’s best interest to please them. Plus… someone that actually goes through the effort of watching and commenting on the pilots must have an above average interest on good TV shows… So… I am choosing to believe in the system. For now.

Having said that, this is what I thought of the latest batch:

No idea how many shows will get full series orders, but I chose my favourite drama and comedy. The first one was easy and I pretty much knew the answer before even watching it. My favourite new Amazon drama is:

The Man in the High Castle

This science fiction show is based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name [and apparently Philip K. Dick is in]. The story transports us to an alternate reality in Nazi-occupied North America, where freedom is only a distant dream. “What if the Nazis won World War II?” If the premise isn’t intriguing enough, the show had plenty of other great features. The cinematography was beautiful, casting was good [IMO] and the entire episode had the dark and paranoid feel well-known to K.Dick’s fans. Plus the people behind it had a pretty good track record creating sci-fi (the show was written by Frank Spotnitz from The X-Files and produced by Ridley Scott known for other PKD’s adaptation Blade Runner)

I’ve been craving an intelligent intriguing sci-fi show [especially now that Fringe and Almost Human are gone and Continuum is ending soon]. This has all the potential to become one of my favourites. It also has the potential to create a cult following, which could benefit Amazon. I think cult-hits are fundamental for streaming services; even more so than for broadcast [where they focus on big numbers rather than engagement, but that’s also beginning to change].

So… if you love science fiction head over to Amazon, watch and rate this great show! [Update 18.02.2015 This show was officially picked up by Amazon!]

And now, for my favourite comedy, I picked an unexpected one:

Down Dog

[Update: 18.2.15 This show wasn’t picked up for a full season. The chosen comedy was Mad Dogs, a result I predicted. R.I.P. Down Dog]

This dramedy tells the story of Logan Wood, the son of a marihuana-growing-hippie. Logan skated through life relying on his charm and good looks. Suddenly after an unexpected break-up, he is forced to prove that he can handle a business and succeed by actually working.

I had zero expectations for this show. It has a couple of familiar faces: Kris Kristoffeson, Lyndsy Fonseca from Nikita and the lead guy is one of those actors that makes you go “where have I seen him before..?” Unfortunately, the show doesn’t have as many big stars as some of the other shows (Mad Dogs and Cocked e.g.) [which is a pity because it may generate less interest than the other shows].

Based on the name, I was expecting a Hangover-type comedy and it turned out to be something else entirely. Down Dog is actually an uplifting story about a guy who needs to come into his own. A growing up story of sorts… Almost like a male Eat Pray Love. I loved the fact that the characters worked against stereotypes. The leading character is the classic player; nevertheless, he was committed to his girlfriend and got dumped due to a misunderstanding. The inversion of roles made me root for the player and hope he would show his career-woman ex that he can be successful [and not just pretty]. The sentiment was akin to what we all felt for Elle Woods back in the day.

Another fun fact about this show: it uses the quirky narrator Jane the Virgin recently resurrected, but I actually thought Down Dog did it better [I am not comparing the shows which are vastly different, just the irreverent narration]. Down Dog’s narrator was funny, clever and had perfect comedic timing [it wasn’t as masterful as the Pushing Daisies narration, but it was pretty good]. I thought the style worked for the show and what they were trying to do.

I hope this doesn’t get buried by the other comedies with bigger and better known actors. [guess it did 18.2.15]

So what about the rest? Here are my thoughts on the rest of the pilots in a sentence or two:

Salem Rogers: A comedy about a 40-something model trying to revive her career after being in rehab for a decade. It made me laugh… all right. But there was nothing original about it.

Mad Dogs: Billy Zane got old… was Titanic that long ago? Guess it was. But seriously, this was a good show. It started out like your average buddy movie and turned into Scarface meets Breaking Bad somewhere along the way. [Full disclosure, I have not watched the original, but Philip Glenister was on it, so I bet it was awesome] [Update 18.2.15 This show was picked up by Amazon]

Cocked: A comedy about the owners of a gun-empire family business. I found it funny enough; it is clearly a show that targets a male demographic. I wasn’t impressed and I am not interested in seeing more, but it has a great cast and I have the feeling this is the comedy that will become a series. [Guess I was wrong 18.2.15]

The New Yorker Presents: You know the magazine? Well… they basically filmed the segments [including someone drawing the cartoons]. Not the worst idea and it was… informative. But feels like something that should be on PBS… I don’t think a streaming platform is the place for it. [This show was also picked up by Amazon 18.2.15]

Point of Honor: Think Gossip Girl meets Gone with the Wind… A soap opera in civil war times. This show was so bad… I wanted to like it… It had pretty people in pretty costumes and an interesting setting. I can’t believe Carlton Cuse was involved in this.

[And that’s it for this batch of pilots. Looks like the right choices were made. I am sad about Down Dog, but I could tell it wasn’t generating much interest. On the other hand SO excited about The Man in the High Castle! New sci-fi obsession for sure]
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The TV Empress is a Media Management graduate, screenwriter in the making (and financial engineer in the meantime). She has serious plans to take over global television. You can follow the TVEmpress on twitter @TVRepublik

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