This weekend sees the arrival of Amazon’s latest pilot season, but it arrives at a point when Amazon is preparing to move away from pilots altogether: under the direction of CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon Studios has now been instructed to focus on big, mainstream fare that could become the new Game of Thrones, or the next Stranger Things. With its latest three fledgling projects all unique but also too small to set water-coolers bubbling, are they a last gasp from a studio that won’t develop them further? Or proof that bigger isn’t always better?
We take a look at the trio:
Glenn Close has found herself in something of a groove in recent years, almost always seeming to play sinister scientist types at the head of shady corporations. What a treat it is, then, to see her sinking her teeth into the role of someone entirely different: Bernie, a woman who’s so polite and timid that she forces herself to work when injured and even looks nervous while breathing. In only 30 minutes, it’s a lovely performance, full of tiny gestures of devotion and service – even her lack of dialogue seems tragically apt, compared to the load, brash relatives around her. They’re two self-centred nieces and a nephew (Jack Quaid) who works as a half-stripper, half-historical educator.
The latter gives you a sense of the quirky, indie vibe to George Saunders’ script, which is sometimes too low-key or offbeat to bring instant laughs. But with Hiro Murai’s (Atlanta) direction bringing a deathly pale to proceedings, it’s a world and tone that feels fully realised from the off – right down to the confident twist that occurs near the end, which gives Close a chance to let rip, yelling, barking orders and demanding attention from unsuspecting family who are about to see their every moment haunted by the spectre of their lazy, inconsiderate guilt. You’ve never seen Glenn Close like this before – and you immediately want to see more.
“I think it means it’s my time, or something,” declares Nia (Diarra Kilpatrick), as she discusses a dream she had the previous night about giving birth… to herself. That balance between weird fantasy and daft reality gives you a clue of what to expect from The Climb, which charts the growing pains of Nia and her friend, Misty (Alysha Umphress). There’s nothing strikingly new about two mates having to come to terms with the faceless life of cubicle employment, or even of Nia’s dreams of social media fame, but director Chris Robinson captures the latter in vivid, pink-drenched sequences that provide an eye-catching contrast to the Detroit backdrop. It’s the convincing relationship between the two mates, though, that really stands out, as they deal with incompetent men and boring meetings – “I want to remain ignorant as an act of defiance,” decides Nia, when it becomes apparent that she might need to know what her company actually does. Two well-rounded female leads in a modern dissection of the American Dream? Give The Climb the time to find its reach: modern TV needs more of this.
Love You More
Love You More does almost everything right. It stars Patti Cake$’ Bridget Everett, a genuinely charismatic comedy presence, in a role that’s clearly been designed for her: Karen, a woman who loves Chardonnay almost as much as she loves sex and helping others in her job as a counsellor. She works with young adults with Down’s syndrome (all played by actors with Down’s syndrome). It features a sex scene written by Michael Patrick King in a way that feels funny, sincere and unconventional. It’s directed by Bobcat Goldthwait with a superb balance of generous humanity and compassion and depraved, rude humour. And it all climaxes in a song about boobs. But while there’s so much to enjoy and admire about this candid, big-hearted splash of character, it lacks the unique hook of Sea Oak or the clear direction of The Climb: while it’s commendable for an open-ended project to be driven by character not plot, you sense that Love You More would do better as a standalone, feature-length film than a TV box set.
All three Amazon TV pilots are now available to watch on Amazon Prime Video, for both subscribers and non-subscribers alike.