Reviewed: Amazon kids’ TV pilots (2015)
James R | On 27, Jun 2015
Amazon Studios’ new TV pilot season is here and there are six new kids shows for your consideration.
The pilots come from an accomplished roster of talent, including David Babcock (Gilmore Girls), Andrew Green (Hannah Montana) and The Jim Henson Company, but what’s more impressive is the amount of screen time given to strong female leads in all shapes and sizes.
As is Amazon’s now established process, the pilots are available to watch for the general public for free here. Star ratings and feedback will then decide which shows are commissioned for a full season – these are then released exclusively on Prime Instant Video, which costs £5.99 a month.
The Adventures of Knickerbock Teetertop (for preschool-aged children)
What’s a Knickerbock Teetertop? He’s a small kid who lives on Wonderpine Mountain and dreams of being as adventurous as his grandad. Together with his sidekicks, Holly and Otto, he’s just the kind of likeable pint-sized hero that pint-sized heroes will like. Pitched firmly between reality and fantasy, this twee pilot has the playtime feel of Rugrats or Adventure Time, something reinforced by Karrot Animation’s deceptively simple visuals (props to the character design by Rhode Montijo). Cute humour and a surreal story that involves gigantic, kaleidoscopic slugs don’t distract from an earnest, admirable theme of persevering and working to overcome obstacles. Bonus points for calling his sled a “Wonderboggan”.
Lost in Oz (for children ages 6-11)
Think you know The Wizard of Oz? Think again. Smallville’s Abram Makowka, Darin Mark and Jared Mark warp L. Frank Baum’s classic universe into a new, modern setting, as 12-year-old Dorothy finds her mum’s old journal, which whisks her away in a green tornado. To where? An Emerald City that is now a bustling metropolis full of young, vaguely recognisable characters. The fact that Dorothy’s mum knows where her daughter’s disappeared to gives an interesting layer to the plot, but what’s impressive is just how much story there is stuffed into this 30-minute opener: it may be aimed at pre-teens, but the narrative could almost sit alongside something for prime time adults. The overall mission is tellingly straight-forward – collect the elements from the Periodic Table of Magic so Dorothy can return home – but the animation (by Gnomeo & Juliet’s Arc Productions) is nicely complex, as magic sparks fly in a world where powerful resources have mostly disappeared. The presence of West, a witch who may or not be as wicked as you expect, is hugely promising.
Lily the Unicorn (for children ages 6-11)
There’s nothing more exciting than reading the words “The Jim Henson Company”, so it’s a shame to see that Lily the Unicorn is not a puppet-driven tale. Instead, it stars a pink animated unicorn – Lily – who accidentally tops the charts after recording a song about falafel waffles that everybody loves. The idea of smartphones and things going viral in a kids’ TV series doesn’t always feel natural, something that’s emphasised by a joking reference to Chumbawumba. But if this lacks the chaotic energy of Henson’s furrier offerings, there’s something to be said for a show that features a main character who is perpetually, irrepressibly happy.
Bear in Underwear (for children ages 6-11)
Imagine if bears wore pants. There’s something in the central premise to Todd Golman’s universe that will likely raise a smile, but Eddie Behr (our protagonist in Shade Glade Woods) isn’t all that happy: after accidentally inventing a marshmallow hat, he finds himself trying to work day and night to meet customer demand. It’s not the strongest, or most substantial pilot in this bunch – and lacks the basic enchantment, say, of Teetertop and his Wonderboggan – but there is some dependable slapstick on show, as Eddie tries to live up to the legend of his dad, the bear who first introduced the Y-front craze. Pants? Not quite.
A History of Radness (for children ages 6-11)
Had enough of High School Music? Middle School Musical is where it’s at. A History of Radness sees young siblings Jack (Isaak Presley) and Tessie (Marlhy Murphy) trying to form a band, despite being outsiders at their school. From the post-modern narration to the trendy haircuts, this is on the glossy, self-aware end of the kids’ TV spectrum, but this opening track is certainly catchy.
The dialogue is snappily delivered by its cast – “Don’t you see the way they’re look for us?” “Nobody’s looking at us.” “Exactly.” – and there are enough wry observations in there to prompt chuckles: one joke about the too-cool-for-school kid (Dalton Cyr) being called Jack Pounder sparks a neat aside about about terrible names (props to “Tom Sillitis”). It’s all played at an easy tempo by Hannah Montana writer Andrew Green, but the secret lies in his fellow band members: he’s got strong accompaniment from Hutch Harris (of indie group The Thermals), who pens the original songs, while The Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha provides the score. Together with the young stars – and eager geek Portia (Cecilia Balagot), who joins them on bass – this rabble of loners banding together make for a promising debut album.
The Kicks (for children ages 6-11)
Nothing says “strong teamwork ethics” like a sports series, but The Kicks takes an impressive punt at the theme. It follows Devin, the former star of her football team, until her family upped sticks to California, leaving her with no friends. The cute boy and his nasty girlfriend stereotypes both make an appearance within 5 minutes, but they grow into something more over the course of the game, as Devin falls into the school team and tries to bring them all together.
The appearance of Olympic Gold Medalist Alex Morgan as herself (ostensibly a coach for a rival team) could stick awkwardly out, but the fact that this is based on her book – and adapted by David Babcock, of Gilmore Girls fame – helps to ground the show in a pleasingly positive message. “I don’t need a crown,” declares Sixx Orange’s Devin, in an opening montage of sports exercises. Subtle? Not very. But by the time you’re watching her pass the ball to score a goal (in a amusingly un-victorious climax), you’re cheering The Kicks on. More TV role models that remind viewers girls don’t have to conform to a Barbie doll image please. Back of the net.
Which pilots are your favourites? To see the full collection for yourself, hit the button below: