Feb 10 2014

Amazon Prime Pilot Season: Should Netflix Be Scared?

Published by at 11:00 am under Editorials,Television

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Around the same time last year, I wrote about Amazon’s first pilot season and most of their offerings were easily forgettable. The best one was Alpha House starring John Goodman, but it wasn’t enough to give Netflix a run for their money. The  much hyped small screen adaptation of Zombieland ended up being a disappointment.

Now, Amazon released a new batch of pilots to their Prime subscribers. Did they do things right this time? Read on for more.

Whenever I talk to my friends about Amazon’s pilots, I always hear the term “web series” being thrown around in a negative light. There’s nothing wrong with web series, but clearly Amazon is aiming for shows that can compete with Netflix and HBO. Jeff Bezos wouldn’t settle for anything less. While some of the shows could be classified as good if it were a web series, the same cannot be said if it was placed beside the juggernauts it tries to compete with.

However, this year’s batch gave me a reason to be cautiously optimistic. I was able to watch four of Amazon’s new pilots and I think that they definitely made a sizeable improvement from last time. Let me run through the shows I watched:

1. Bosch

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They have Herschel (Scott Wilson)! That was actually the first thing I noticed during the opening credits. Anyway, it’s a drama about an LAPD detective Bosch (Titus Welliver). In the first episode, he is trying to unravel the mystery behind the murder of a 13 year old boy while standing trial for shooting a serial killer. There are a lot of familiar faces in this show if you watch a lot of television. You’ll remember the guy beside Bosch was from Fringe.

The characters are compelling and the story is solid. The show was actually based on a series of successful crime mystery books by Michael Connelly. However, there are a lot of moments when it felt so “been there, done that.” Maybe a  bit formulaic? A show can be good, but I’ve seen this type of character and set-up in a bunch of crime novels and TV shows. Perhaps, it will surprise me in the long run.

2. Rebels

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Now, this is one show I’m guilty of liking. I was in my “critical” mode of thinking, but the show broke through it and made me laugh. I was guilty because the humor was just so ridiculous and a bit slapstick. Rebels is a show about a widow (Natalie Zea) of a NFL team owner and how she has to manage the franchise with the help of her late husband’s assistant played by Josh Peck.

It reminded me of the cheap laughs I would get from watching Blue Mountain State. If you watched that show, you’ll get a little treat of in a form of a cameo. I was a bit of disappointed though that Josh Peck plays the usual awkward character, but it was hard to be critical when the show is quite entertaining. The cast is lovable and it’s the type of show I would watch when I need a quick laugh.

3. Mozart in the Jungle

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I have to admit that this is probably my favorite pilot in the batch. Like Bosch, this show was based on a book and thankfully it translated well. Mozart in the Jungle delves into the lives of classical musicians and the symphony scene in New York City. It’s quite exciting since it paints all its characters in a lively light as it forgoes most of the formality that people associate classical music with. Malcolm McDowell plays the role of the symphony’s former star conductor that was pushed out by the edgy Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal). The two female leads and orchestra members are fun to watch as well! I was a bit worried when they had that whole plot line with “hot Julliard dancers” because I didn’t want this to be a Gossip Girl type show. The good news is that the classical scene takes the spotlight instead of some hormonal drama.

This show has so much potential. I do hope they’ll make more episodes!

4. The After

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I think that The After was the most highly rated pilot in the batch the last time I checked. Well, it was advertised as a show from one of the creators of the hit show The X-Files. It has to be good right? No, I’m sorry but I thought that it was absolutely terrible. I’m beginning to think that the reviews for some of these pilots were unusually inflated. The dialogue is so cheesy that I’ve seen B-movies with better ones.  I’m usually gratuitous nudity unless it fits the show’s theme like Spartacus, but one nude scene was clearly out of place and was a cheap trick.

Don’t believe the reviews, avoid this. Heck, you’re probably going to watch it because now you’re curious. Get ready to say “WTF” the entire time and that’s not a good thing.

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In the end, Amazon has a better offering this time around based on what I’ve seen so far. However, better does not mean the caliber of “great.” You could argue that Bosch could be a contender for House of Cards, but it’s not enough. It doesn’t have the same punch as the political drama. Perhaps, it’s better for Amazon to focus on one or two good shows instead of spreading themselves thin with numerous pilots at a time.





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2 responses so far

  • Frothy_Ham

    I’ve only watched Bosch so far, but I dug it quite a bit. I feel like it really needs to play up the hard-boiled, modern-noir element to make it stand out, but Titus Welliver was excellent casting for sure.

  • E. Lee Zimmerman

    Yeah, sorry, but THE AFTER isn’t as terrible as you’d like it to be. I watched it, and I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars. The essential problem I had with it is that it starts out as a relatively interesting Apocalypse drama that, by the second half, morphs into some kinda/sorta bizarre riff on Japanese horror/porn. As I postulated in my short review over there, based on that first hour there’s absolutely no way to know which way the show could possibly go — a plus for some people but a tremendous negative so far as this reviewer is concerned. It’s FLASHFORWARD meshed with RINGU, for lack of a better comparison. And how was the nudity gratuitous? That makes absolutely no sense. But, sorry, it isn’t as awful as some of the other tripe that ends up streaming or on television; that first half is relatively entertaining, and you could do far worse.

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