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Another Amazon pilot season

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Amazon Video premieres five new pilots 

The evolution of television consumption has led in some unexpected directions. Streaming services have found ways to not only compete with legacy broadcast networks and cable channels, but to surpass them in some cases. Original programming springs from streaming services found in all corners, not just the familiar network names.

But Amazon’s take stands unique among them.

Amazon’s Pilot Season offers their viewers a chance to see pilot episodes of new series that are being considered for production by the studio. These audiences even get the opportunity to chime in with their own input regarding these potential new shows during the semi-regular launches.

March 17 marked the kickoff of yet another Pilot Season.

This time around, Amazon presented pilots for five new shows – three half-hour shows, two hour-longs – that run the gamut. We’re talking comedy and drama, yes, but also science fiction and animation and period pieces. It’s a wide array of options.

Here’s a rundown, based on the order in which I viewed them.

The Legend of Master Legend

One has to imagine that we’re at least approaching the bursting of the superhero bubble, but this half-hour comedy definitely comes at the genre from a different angle.

Based on a Rolling Stone article about a real-life costumed vigilante – a self-styled superhero – “The Legend of Master Legend” introduces us to Frank (John Hawkes, “Everest”), a regular beer-drinking, metal-loving dude who by night dons a mask and rubber suit to patrol the streets of Las Vegas as the mysterious hero Master Legend.

Frank also struggles to stay connected with his estranged family; he has a daughter Cody (newcomer Anjelika Washington) with Tana (Dawnn Lewis, TV’s “Major Crimes”), but has difficulty maintaining the relationships. He’s also got a brother named Peanut Head (Shea Whigham, “Kong: Skull Island”) whose criminal past presents obstacles to reconciliation.

The show’s creators – Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster – are veterans of this process; they cut their teeth on “Transparent.” The goofy earnestness put forth by Master Legend (and in turn by Frank) leaves him at odds with many of those around him, but there’s room for laughs – “The Legend of Master Legend” is very much of the dramedy school.

But while the pieces of a strong show appear to be present, they simply don’t cohere in the way one might hope. There’s potential here, but the show – at least the pilot episode – fails to figure out the right way to realize it.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

This one is the newest project from “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who wrote and directed the pilot episode. It’s the story of a young housewife living in New York City in the late 1950s whose seemingly picture-perfect life crumbles overnight, leading her to consider moving in a completely unanticipated direction.

Rachel Brosnahan (“Patriots Day”) stars as the titular Miriam “Midge” Maisel. She lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a devoted and loving housewife with a rapid-fire wit who loves nothing more that supporting her husband in his pursuit of stand-up comedy. Wielding brisket and latkes, she bribes club owners for better spots on the bill and painstakingly records audience reactions.

But when her husband abruptly leaves her (and their two children), Midge is forced to confront the reality that maybe her life wasn’t so perfect after all – not to mention the despair of her eccentric parents Abe (Tony Shalhoub, “Breakable You”) and Rose (Marin Hinkle, TV’s “Speechless”). It’s only when she stumbles onto the stage at the very same club that she discovers that maybe, just maybe, she was the funny one all along.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has the hallmarks of Sherman-Palladino - the rapid-fire dialogue, the strong woman overcoming adversity – placed in a lushly realized period setting. Of all of this session’s pilots, this one does the best job of both setting the stage and leaving you wanting more. In my opinion, it’s the best of the bunch.

Budding Prospects

I wanted to like this one. A stoner comedy based on an early novel from T.C. Boyle? With noted weirdo Terry Zwigoff at the helm? Should be a winner, right?

Unfortunately, that simply isn’t the case.

“Budding Prospects” is set in 1983 San Francisco. A trio of down-on-their-luck buddies – bartender/writer Felix (Adam Rose, “Psychophonia”), avant-garde artist Phil (Joel David Moore, TV’s “Forever”) and drug-addled Gesh (Will Sasso, “Army of One”) – are tasked by an enigmatic acquaintance named Vogelsein (Brett Gelman, TV’s “Love”) to head off into the wilderness for nine months and set up a pot-growing operation.

And that’s it. More or less.

There are two major sins committed here. The sheer volume of exposition leaves little room for story advancement or character building. And it’s just not that funny. Combine those two factors and you get an episode of television that doesn’t particularly entice you to return.


As a sci-fi fan, it pleases me that we’re seeing more and more room for episodic prestige science fiction. There’s a lot of storytelling potential within the genre.

“Oasis” is based on Michel Faber’s exceptional 2014 novel “The Book of Strange New Things.” It tells the story of Peter Leigh (Richard Madden, TV’s “Game of Thrones”), a man of God who is enlisted by the leader of mankind’s first interplanetary colony to join up.

In 2032, the planet is falling apart. A massive corporation has set up a colony on a distant world. However, the colonists are succumbing to mysterious, inexplicable accidents. The colony’s mastermind – a man named David Morgan (Jonjo O’Neill, TV’s “The Fall”) – has determined that a man of faith is needed … and that only Peter will fit the bill.

When Peter arrives, it soon becomes clear that there is far more happening than any of them understand. Surrounded by suspicion, the new chaplain must determine who can be trusted, what can be done and what exactly is happening.

“Oasis” has a dynamite cast – Madden is joined by folks like fellow “GoT” alum Mark Addy and Indian superstar Anil Kapoor – and a polished look. It’s hurt a bit by a slow start, but as someone familiar with the source material, I’m eagerly hoping that this one gets greenlit.

The New V.I.P.’s

It’s kind of surprising that it took this long for Amazon to feature an animated pilot. Unfortunately, if this one is an indicator, it might be awhile before we see another.

Created by Steve Dildarian (“The Life & Times of Tim”), this show is ostensibly a workplace comedy, one in which a group of low-level office drones inadvertently kill the CEO of their company and decide to take control.

It’s clearly aiming for edgy, but it mostly comes off as trying too hard. I’m as big a fan of crass humor as there is, but that can’t be all there is. Or if it is, it has to be less repetitive and far cleverer than this. The voice cast is solid, to be sure, but there’s not much to be done when the script comes off as just the word “dong” being repeated over and over.

(I should also note that I find that apostrophe in the title utterly infuriating.)

“The New V.I.P.’s” offers nothing new. And it certainly isn’t very important. To my mind, this one is the biggest misfire of the bunch.

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 March 2017 12:50


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