TV

Here’s Your Essential Guide To The Latest Batch Of Amazon Pilots

Amazon’s original programming efforts have made quite the statement in their fight for relevancy over the last week, with much credit to their high profile deal with Woody Allen and the Golden Globes success of Transparent. Now they’ve released a brand new batch of 13 pilot episodes that are streaming for free on their site, waiting for viewers to vote on them and choose the next big hit.

Among those potentials are six children’s shows, a docu-series from The New Yorker that features interviews, short-form documentaries, and an excellent short film from the mind of Simon Rich starring Brett Gelman and Alan Cumming.

On the adult scripted television side, Amazon has continued to align itself with high profile talent, releasing six shows that are chock full of familiar faces on the screen and familiar names behind the camera. Is there another Transparent in this batch of pilots? Another show that will help Amazon on its mission to be a destination for talent and viewers? You’ll have to make that determination, but we’re here to assist you before you traverse through these pilots.  Here are six (mostly) spoiler-free reviews of the six adult scripted offerings:

Point Of Honor

From Lost producer Carlton Cuse and Braveheart writer Randall Wallace, Point of Honor tells the story of a wealthy Virginia family that both renounces slavery and fights for the confederacy in The Civil War.

The problem is that with the exception of a brief moment at episode’s end, Point of Honor’s pilot barely focuses on the noxious effect that slavery had on slaves. Choosing to instead keep the slave characters in the background while examining the impact of the war and the end of slavery on Ralston Rhodes (Brett Cullen), his son John, and his three pouty, quarrelsome daughters.

Because of this, Point of Honor feels like an incomplete look at a bloody time in US history. It’s half a show and that half is dominated by syrupy southern accents, wooden dialogue, and poorly developed main characters. Would things get better if this went to series? Possibly, but I don’t think that there is enough here to justify a flood of support or a pick-up.

Cocked 

This is a tale of two brothers who are heirs to a gun company. Richard Paxson (True Blood‘s Sam Trammell) is a straight-laced businessman living the gelded American dream complete with sensible clothes, a fuel-efficient car, and kale salad, while Grady Paxson (Jason Lee) is a coke-fiend, man-whore, gun nut with a big damn truck and an ego to match.

Long separated by geography and mutual disdain, the brothers begrudgingly reunite to help save their father’s company from an eager and violent competitor.

This show is less fun than I thought it would be thanks to a few tense moments, the depths of Grady’s depravity, the predictable nature of the Paxson brothers’ relationship, and the occasional soap-opera tone when a petulant half-sister (Dreama Walker) gets in on the family bickering. Despite that, though, Trammell fits perfectly as a repressed yuppie, Jason Lee was born to play a rule-hating cowboy/wild-man, and Brian Dennehy provides enough growl to demonstrate that he isn’t coasting.

If Cocked gets a series order, it will be based on the strength of those performances.

Mad Dogs

Steve Zahn, Michael Imperioli, Romany Malco, and Ben Chaplin star as a quartet of friends who are either struggling financially or personally when they are whisked off to Belize by another friend (Billy Zane) to celebrate his ridiculous fortune and his amazing beach-side mansion. The smiles slowly start to fade, though, when Zane’s character’s retirement gets complicated and a midget with a cat mask shows up to dinner.

It took awhile for me to connect with this set of characters that at once seem chummy and distant from each other, but as the pilot moves along, it becomes clear that their relationships are more complex than they initially appear to be and it really draws you in. With that said, I don’t see how this could carry-over for a full-season. I feel like I watched half of a tense movie — not the first of 12 episodes of a television show.

The Man In The High Castle 

Based on a Philip K. Dick novel, produced by Ridley Scott and Shawn Ryan (The Shield), and scripted by Frank Spotnitz (X-Files), The Man In The High Castle envisions a world where the Nazis and Japan won World War II and split control over America.

Dan wrote up a full review of this show, so if you have any interest in watching it or if you’re on the fence, I advise you to check that out.

I’ll simply say that the talent involved made this the pilot that I was most looking forward to, and despite a few quibbles about the pacing (I feel like it dragged at times) and a few aesthetic complaints about the early nighttime glimpses of occupied America, this is now the show that I’m most eager to see earn a pick-up.

I’ll also add that the ash rain scene with Joe Blake is a simple, powerful, and complete way to convey the evil of the occupying force, and that the matter-of-fact way that it was addressed was probably the most chilling part of the whole show.

Down Dog

Born stoned and great looking, Logan Wood (Josh Casaubon) finds a way to smile his way out of trouble and into a pretty good job as a yoga instructor and business partner with a live-in girlfriend (a high strung Paget Brewster) that pays for everything. Unsurprisingly, everything starts to fall apart when Logan is asked to make a decision… which could lead to even more decisions.

I knew nothing about this show when I pressed play, but while it isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, it does have enough charm to merit continued viewership and Casaubon is a pleasure to watch in a lead role that could have easily been misplayed as a caricature of an LA surfer/goofball. Casaubon took a cartoon and turned him into flesh and blood. Logan is earnest, not silly and he’s constantly underestimated because of his good looks and his casual attitude. He doesn’t quite know how to get where he’s going, but he knows what he doesn’t want to be and he’s willing to work to break things up a little.

Basically, this feels like a new age version of Shampoo.

Salem Rogers: Model Of The Year 1998

Leslie Bibb plays Salem Rogers, a crude and rude former fashion model who is having trouble accepting the “former” part and the ways that the world has changed in the 10 years that she spent in drug rehab.

Rachel Dratch plays her former assistant/bullying victim and a woman who on the outside has moved on to a career as a small-time young adult self-help guru, and on the inside is ripe to be exploited again by Rogers when she comes back in search of her old running mate.

What follows is a delusional stab at re-capturing past glory filled with awful moments of over-the-top verbal abuse, diva behavior, and party girl hijinks. Basically, Salem is Megan Mullally’s Karen character from Will and Grace, sans the low level warmth, tether to reality, and ability to connect with other human beings. She’s a glamorous alien from another realm and a flame that draws moths, but she’s also a thoroughly unlikeable character and that makes it hard for a sitcom to find its footing.

Like the other Amazon pilots, you can watch Salem Rogers on Amazon Instant Video and then vote on which of those shows deserve the chance to keep entertaining you.

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