While Netflix is stealing the spotlight with House of Cards, another all-at-once release that bucks traditional TV distribution models, Amazon Prime Instant Video is breaking the mould even further by releasing a new set of pilots for Amazon Original TV shows and letting the public vote for which one gets made.
It’s the second time Amazon has turned the commissioning decision over to the viewers, trusting its audience to give the highest ratings to the shows they would like to see. And from detective shows to dysfunctional family sitcoms, this year’s dramatic line-up is a impressively varied mix.
Not sure which series to try out? We give our verdict on the second season of Amazon Original pilots.
“I’m gonna move the body, Don’t worry. I’ll put it back.”
That’s Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver), an LAPD detective with a husky voice and a hard nose. Based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling books, Titus Welliver has a tough job standing out from all the other husky-voiced, hard-nosed cops on our TV screenings. He has a strong commanding presence, with little tolerance for idiots and corruption, both haunted by his murder of a serial killer – for which he is on trial – and sick of hearing about it. The really unique thing, though, is the setting: Los Angeles stretches out on the screen, enjoying its rare chance to be the backdrop for a crime thriller. The result is an occasionally heavy-handed mystery, but one with enough emotional impact to top many ITV and BBC dramas. It’s taken 20 years for Harry Bosch to get to the screen – Paramount first snapped up the rights in 1994, only for Connelly to buy them back in 2011 (no doubt hoping that the novels’ loyal fanbase will give the adaptation the clout it needs to be commissioned). Judging by this pilot episode, the wait could be worth it.
More? Go on then.
Mozart in the Jungle
Gael Garcia Bernal plays a sexy conductor called Rodrigo in this classical music comedy-drama. For many, that sentence would be enough to sell them Mozart in the Jungle. The unusual setting (the raunchy underbelly of the New York classic music scene) is a novel one, even though some of the characters are not. Based on Blair Tindall’s book, we follow Hailey, an oboist (Lola Kirke) who dreams of one day playing with the New York Symphony. Her roommate, meanwhile, is more busy trying to sleep with everyone. As people rattle through stereotypes of what musicians are like in bed, the script (written by none other than Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola) can seem shallow, but Malcolm McDowell brings a welcome depth as the former conductor replaced by Rodrigo – a man who’s as old-fashioned as he is bitter. When he’s on screen, or facing off against his successor, Mozart in the Jungle finds its key, while Kirke’s heroine is more than likeable enough to root for. Any other missed beats are filled by the oboe playing of Lelie Resnick (principal of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra), which is a delight to hear, especially within the unusual surroundings of a TV show. For those less bothered about the music, Mozart in the Jungle should have them at “Gael Garcia Bernal plays a sexy conductor”.
More? We wouldn’t say no.
Perhaps the most understated of the bunch, Transparent features a raft of white, well-off characters with a familiar array of first world problems – par for the course, perhaps for Six Feet Under’s writer Jill Soloway. The head of the family is played by Jeffrey Tambor, who by now must be sick of constantly conceiving self-involved offspring. His performance is subtly engaging enough, though, to cut through the odd note of melodrama – especially when, towards the end of the episode, the show reveals the clever pun in its title.
More? More Jeffrey Tambor? Always.
Without a doubt the weakest of the 2014 pilots, The Rebels is an unfunny comedy about a sports team managed by a former cheerleader (Natalie Zea), who must fight her way to the top against a torrent of sexism, unsubtle jokes, terrible cliches and bad writing. These 30 minutes contain one laugh – and that involves a monkey on coke shooting someone in the foot. When you’re relying on high primates wielding firearms to get your giggles, you know you’re in trouble.
More? This is already far too much.
The After is another one of those high concept sci-fi mystery thrillers that people like these days. Take a pinch of FlashForward and a sprinkle of Lost and you know what to expect. This one, though, has some pedigree behind it: it’s the latest from Chris Carter, the creator of The X-Files.
The MacGuffin? An event that appears to be the apocalypse. Sure enough, we soon meet a typically diverse group of survivors – the drunk Irish one, the French actress one, the calm do-gooder cop and, erm, a clown – who try to work out what’s going on. The connection between them all is intriguing, but in a way, this has the easiest job of all the pilots: it just has to raise a lot of questions to get people itching for more episodes. As TV history has shown, though, there’s no guarantee that the answers will be satisfying. The After asks its questions well enough, despite the occasionally schlocky script, but this is far from Mulder and Scully’s heyday.
More? A bit risky for us, thanks.
What do you think of this year’s batch of Amazon pilots? They are all available to stream and rate on Amazon Prime Instant Video – even for non-subscribers.
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