Amazon Pilot Season
Amazon has renewed an annual tradition — Pilot Season. They produce a crop of new pilots then open them up for the public to watch and vote on. This year's pilot season features two 60-minute series and three 30-minute offerings (due to the fluid nature of TV it's impossible to classify series as drama or comedy based on run times). Below is my take on all five. Be sure to check them out and vote for yourself!
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
About: This show hails from Amy Sherman-Palladino ("Gilmore Girls"), who wrote and directed the pilot. It boasts a strong cast led by Rachel Brosnahan, Tony Shaloub, Marin Hinkle and Alex Borstein. It's set in the 1950s and kicks off at the wedding for Miriam "Midge" Maisel (Brosnahan). The opening gives you a feel for Midge and her personality, as well as the template for the style of the series. Flash forward four years, and Midge is happily married with two kids and a husband who dabbles in stand up comedy. Midge does nothing but support him and thinks her life is perfect, but she's wrong. Soon, her husband heads out the door and she finds herself drawn to the stage as comic, because she was the one with the real talent, perspective and chops anyway. The series will set itself up as a story of Midge trying to break into the male-dominated profession and putting her life back on track in the 1950s. I liked this the best of all the pilots. There were some rough spots, and I thought it was slow to get started, but man did it finish with a flourish. Sherman-Palladino has a strong track record, and brings plenty of style to this pilot. I could see this being a successful series for Amazon, and one that walks the line between drama and comedy quite well. That's also due in large part to Brosnahan, a familiar face from a number of high-profile shows who gets a chance to shine in a lead role here.
Pilot Grade: B
About: This was the other 60-minute series, and it couldn't be any different in terms of tone. This is a sci-fi series of sorts, set in the near future where the hope for a dying planet is a mining expedition on a planet out in space. Or is it? Richard Madden — late of "Game of Thrones" — is the lead here as a minister summoned to the expedition site. He has his doubts about the project, and when he arrives he discovers things aren't as they appear. But he might hold the key to finding the project leader — lost somewhere on the planet — and finding answers about what's happening before it's too late. The supporting cast includes Haley Joel Osmet, Anil Kapoor and Mark Addy, and the series is based on Michael Faber's book "Of Strange New Things." The pilot was directed by Kevin MacDonald ("Last King of Scotland"), who gives it an interesting pace and style. This feels like the kind of thing that would be fascinating as a film, or even a mini-series, but I'm not sure how it is sustainable over a longer form of a series. Still, I was interested in the pilot and enjoyed the performances. This is something different than the current stable of Amazon shows, which could be a plus.
Pilot Grade: C+
About: This series is set in and around San Francisco in 1983 and is based on the book from T. Coraghessan Boyle. It's about a group of down-and-out friends that look for a leg up by going in on a marijuana grow in the country near San Francisco. The pilot was era-appropriate and seemed to be going for an off-color brand of humor. It was directed by Terry Zwigoff ("Ghost World," "Bad Santa"), with his wife writing the pilot script. I liked some of the performances, with Brett Gelman stealing scenes and Adam Rose serving as a great every man, but I didn't care for the plot or the characters. This felt like a miss to me, and not a series I would be interested in seeing continue. But for a specific kind of comedic taste, it might work better.
Pilot Grade: C-
The Legend of Master Legend
About: This is another series that walks the line between comedy and drama. It's based on an article about real life individuals who identify as superheroes. In the series Master Legend (John Hawkes) patrols the strip in Las Vegas, while estranged from his wife (Dawnn Lewis), teenage daughter (Anjelika Washington), and brother (Shea Wigham), who was recently released from prison. This felt a little sad to me, too sad to be something I'd invest in as a series. It seemed to be a series about a lost soul who was confused about his role in life, and the wounded lost souls left in his wake. Hawkes gives a great and understated performance, but this just didn't feel like a series I could get into.
Pilot Grade: C
The New V.I.P.'s
About: This is the final series from Amazon this pilot season and is, by far, the worst. It's an animated series that aims to be edgy like those on Comedy Central or "Family Guy," but ends up being gross and a little sad. It's about some disgruntled office workers who confront their boss only to have him die on the spot. Instead of reporting it, they decide to hatch an elaborate plan to cover it up and have a security guard take his place. Yeah, it's dumb. This was a painful 25 minutes to watch.
Pilot Grade: F