Netflix recently proved that is was more than just a place to binge on past seasons of Mad Men with its original series, House of Cards. The inside-the-beltway Kevin Spacey drama was a pricey bet on how we will watch TV in the future. And by all accounts that wager, plus its upcoming resurrection of Arrested Development, has paid off. Streaming TV is on its way to becoming a legitimate contender for America’s eyeballs right along with network TV and cable. At least, that’s what Amazon’s hoping.
This weekend, the online shopping mall is making its boldest gambit yet to get into the original programming game with free peeks at the 14 shows vying to become new “Amazon Original” internet series. There are some bold-faced names attached with these shows (more on that in a minute). But the biggest reason to head over to Amazon right now and check out these episodes is the chance for folks like you and me to vote on whether they will live on. In other words, we get to play the role of TV executive. How awesome is that? I mean, how many times have you sat through an episode of 1600 and thought, ‘I could program better stuff than this’? Well, now’s your chance to weigh in on what you think is the next 30 Rock and what’s the next Homeboys in Outer Space.
Six of the 14 Amazon pilots are for kids. And even though I wouldn’t say that any of them are going present a threat to Nickelodeon fare like Fish Hooks, they’re fine time-wasters as far as these things go. More interesting are the eight comedy pilots, which serve up some familiar franchises and a few familiar faces behind and in front of the camera. Here’s a rundown of the three most high-profile ones.
Starring: Kirk Ward, Tyler Ross Directed by: Eli Craig The pitch: “Four survivors are killin’ zombies and searching for a home.” What happens in the pilot: If you’ve seen the 2009 movie, starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin, you already know the set-up. Two guys and two gals bicker, bond, and try to adhere to the rules of survival while trying to sidestep the walking dead. What’s good: This one probably has a solid chance of being picked up by Amazon just because it will be the most familiar to voters. There are a few yuks and also a pleasantly high body count. What’s not so good: The actors feel like bargain-basement knockoffs of Harrelson, et al. Most of the jokes aren’t very funny and feel forced. You feel like you’re watching a smudged xerox of what was a pretty hilarious movie. No Bill Murray cameo. Grade: B–
*Onion News Empire
Starring: William Sadler, Jeffrey Tambor, Chris Masterson, Cheyenne Jackson Directed by: Todd Strauss-Schulson The pitch: ”A new member of the teams turns a dead-end assignment into a make-or-break moment.” What happens in the pilot: Everybody’s favorite satirical news source, The Onion, sets its crosshairs on Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom with this snarky parody of self-important TV journalists who like to walk while they talk. What’s good: Like Airplane!, the jokes come flying at a rat-a-tat clip. Example: the network’s sage producer (played by Shawshank Redemption’s Sadler) gives an example of the cable news ratings trifecta: “It has to have sex, violence, and animals. Like the bear-mauling of a porn star charity carwash.” Also good, Tambor’s blonde wig. What’s not so good: Some of the gags try a bit too hard, like the writers are getting paid by the quantity of punchlines they come up with, not the quality. Grade: B
Starring: John Goodman, Mark Consuelos, Bill Murray (!) Directed by: Adam Bernstein The pitch: ”Re-election battles, looming indictments, parties…the Party…these senators need a drink. And a new housemate.” What happens in the pilot: Four U.S. senators live together in a rented pig sty in D.C. After one of them gets tossed in jail (Bill Murray), they need to find a new roomie who shares their taste for profanity, pizza boxes, and put-downs. Goodman, playing a put-upon congressman from North Carolina, is terrifically surly. What’s good: A lot. This is easily the best – and most promising – pilot on Amazon’s slate, thanks to ace writing from Doonesbury creator Gary Trudeau. It could easily be a hit on cable. Better yet, it would make the perfect follow-up to Veep on HBO. What’s not so good: Not enough Bill Murray. He gets tossed in jail at the beginning of the first episode. Let’s hope he gets out on good behavior in time for episode two or three. Grade: A–