Amazon picks up eight pilots and renews Red Oaks and Hand of God
James R | On 20, Dec 2015
Amazon is stepping up its original content game, ordering full seasons from an unprecedented five out of its six latest adult pilots, as well as renewing two of its new original series.
Amazon Studios has had something of a game-changing year, winning two Golden Globes with Transparent and, since September, premiering a new original series every month. Now, Amazon is moving up another gear in its rivalry with Netflix, commissioning five of its new pilots for full seasons. Dramas Good Girls Revolt and Patriot, plus comedies One Mississippi, Highston and Z will all move forwards to a first season. Amazon bases its decisions on customer feedback from the pilots, which are made publicly available in batches. This is the first time it has green-lit such a high percentage of pilots.
Even Edge, the Shane Black Western that made up the sixth of Amazon’s latest pilots, is not out of the running: Deadline reports that it will have its option extended.
For younger viewers, Amazon has also ordered full seasons from the pilots Danger & Eggs and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. From an earlier pilot season, Amazon has also given a delayed – and much deserved – commission to animated fantasy Niko and the Sword of Light, which we called “eye-catchingly unique” in our review. Tumble Leaf has been renewed too for a third season.
Amazon has also renewed two its of original series that premiered in 2015: Hand of God, starring Ron Perlman, and Red Oaks, starring Craig Roberts.
“By the end of Episode 2, the series has begun to tackle everything from religion and politics to rape and the right to life. Most TV shows wouldn’t dare to aim for such big topics all at the same time,” we wrote in our review of Hand of God. “Held aloft by the volatile presence of Perlman, Hand of God emerges as a confident production that asks such questions with wide-ranging conviction… Despite the occasional flicker of doubt, the show works in mysterious ways.”
“Between the leg warmers and charmingly innocent love stories of the period, this tennis training/growing pains/social divide comedy just keeps serving up the laughs,” we said of Red Oaks.
Following on from Amazon’s renewal of The Man in the High Castle for a second season, that means all three of the Amazon original shows that have premiered in 2015 will return in 2016.
Here’s a quick rundown of the new pilots that have been commissioned – and our verdicts on each:
Good Girls Revolt
In 1969, while a cultural revolution with a soundtrack to match swept through the free world, there was still one place that refused to change with the times: newsrooms. Good Girls Revolt follows a group of young female researchers at “News of the Week,” who simply ask to be treated fairly. The pilot stars Genevieve Angelson (Backstrom), Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect), Erin Darke (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Chris Diamantopoulos (Silicon Valley) and Grace Gummer as Nora Ephron.
“The pilot’s script can be too on-the-nose with its message… but as the focus shifts commendably to solidarity and teamwork, there’s a lot to be said about a show that is smart, sexy and eager to treat “girls” as more than secretaries – especially one that features such a killer soundtrack and a scene openly discussing orgasms and vaginas. A classy period drama with a typing pool that isn’t afraid of men? Mad Women, it is. More please.”
This political thriller, written and directed by Steven Conrad (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Weather Man), follows intelligence officer John Tavner (Australian newcomer Michael Dorman). His latest assignment? Prevent Iran from going nuclear with a perilous non-official cover – a mid-level employee at a Midwestern industrial piping firm.
“Familial drama and perilous plotting make this a show that demands your attention, yet also wriggles around so much that it’s sometimes hard to sustain it. But when it finds its groove, Patriot soars: every time John picks up a guitar, his witty but straight-faced ditties – full of guffaws and knowing tragedy – make you want to hear more.”
A dark comedy, loosely inspired by Tig Notaro’s (Boyish Girl Interrupted) life, One Mississippi follows Tig as she deals with the complex reentry into her childhood hometown of Bay Saint Lucille, Mississippi, to deal with the unexpected death of her mother, the interminable life of the party, Caroline.
“There’s a gentle sway between dark and light that feels very familiar, but still makes for moving – and amusing – viewing, without shying away from the question of finding one’s way in the world in the wake of a huge loss.”
Highston Liggetts (newcomer Lewis Pullman) is a 19-year-old with a wide circle of celebrity friends… that only he can see. His parents, Jean (Mary Lynn Rajskub, 24), and Wilbur (Chris Parnell, Saturday Night Live) force him to get psychiatric help, but his Uncle Billy (Curtis Armstrong, American Dad!) thinks he’s just fine.
The pilot guest stars Shaquille O’Neal (Thunderstruck) and Flea (The Big Lewbowski) and is written by Oscar-nominee Bob Nelson (Nebraska).
“The premise doesn’t seem to go anywhere or have any real purpose – you suspect it would rely on the guests… [but] between its physical comedy and throwaway one-liners, Highston is, despite its unbalanced nature, very, very funny. You’ll laugh more times in this episode than you will in many mainstream sitcoms.”
Z is a bio-series pilot based on the life of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, the Southern Belle who becomes the original flapper and icon of the wild, flamboyant Jazz Age in the 20s. Starring Christina Ricci as Zelda Sayre, Z starts before she meets the unpublished writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (Gavin Stenhouse, Allegiance.
“It doesn’t grab you as a binge-watching must-see – would this be better suited to a feature? – but an intriguing opening monologue about Fitzgerald’s view of life and use of fictional characters suggests there are places for the programme to go. With only 30-minute chunks in which to do it, a whole season certainly wouldn’t be a hard journey.”
Niko and the Sword of Light
Niko and the Sword of Light is based on the motion graphic comic by Imaginism Studios, Inc., the studio behind character and concept designs for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Men in Black 3, and Studio NX (The Carrot and Rabbit Show, Tree Fu Tom). Written by Rob Hoegee (Generator Rex, League of Super Evil, Storm Hawks, Teen Titans) and animated by Titmouse (Motorcity, Metalocalpyse, Turbo FAST, Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja), Niko and the Sword of Light follows ten-year-old Niko who is the last of his kind in a strange, fantastical world. He must embark on an epic quest to defeat the darkness and bring the light back to his land.
“It sounds epic, but Rob Hoegee’s script treats the big events with an adorably small eye: every grand moment is undermined with a silly quip, while Tom Kenny’s vocals are enjoyably enthusiastic, as Niko gets caught up in his own role as the hero, despite never being able to exit the screen in the right direction. Titmouse’s animations are equally dazzling… at the heart of this sweeping story is the infectious excitement of a young boy playing in his own imagination.”
Danger & Eggs
Danger & Eggs follows the endless adventures of fearless D.D. Danger and her ever-cautious best friend, a giant, talking egg named Phillip. D.D., an energetic future stuntwoman, is always chasing her next big thrill. Lucky for her, Phillip is always there with jerry-rigged safety mechanisms to make her thrill-seeking dreams come true. Created by Mike Owens (Yo Gabba Gabba!) and Shadi Petosky (Mad), produced by Petosky and Chris Hardwick’s Puny Entertainment (Yo Gabba Gabba!), and featuring the voice talents of comedians Aidy Bryant and Eric Knobel (Saturday Night Live).
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
When you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll probably ask for a glass of milk, and then who knows what he’ll ask for next? If You Give a Mouse a Cookie follows the adventures of Mouse, Oliver and other familiar friends as they discover that when you’ve got a curious Mouse for a friend (not to mention a Moose, a Pig, a Cat and a Dog), one thing always leads to another, then another, and then another. Based on the books by Laura Numeroff (Dennis the Menace) and Felicia Bond and written and developed by Emmy Award-winning writer Ken Scarborough (Arthur, Doug).