In the wake of recent sea changes at Amazon Prime Video – the resignation of vice president Roy Price amidst sexual assault allegations; a reported $150m splashed on the TV rights to the Lord of the Rings – comes a surprisingly quirky Amazon pilot season.
Each year, the streaming service launches three new pilots and leaves it up to their subscribers to decide which of the three should be put to series. Fruit born from previous years include flagship dramedy Transparent, Peter Serafinowicz’s The Tick and gritty drama Bosch.
While recent chatter from Amazon studios has suggested a lunge towards big drama, that ambition could not feel further away here, with three small-scale female-led comedies on show. Notably, however, the number of pilots has been significantly whittled down since the 2016 season, suggesting the majority of Amazon’s commissioning for the latter 2018 season will take place behind closed doors.
Still, though, there’s plenty of star-power behind these three pilots to get excited about, even if they’re not exactly “the next Game of Thrones”. Check out our verdict on the three potential series below.
Spoiler alert: towards the end of this introductory episode, notable and respected actress GLENN CLOSE BECOMES A ZOMBIE. I’m sorry. There’s just no way to discuss this incredibly odd comedy(?) without mentioning it.
The six-time Academy Award nominee stars as Bernie, an introverted Catholic in her twilight years. Bernie lives in Sea Oak, a low income housing estate plagued by violence, with her unemployed loser nieces and her doting nephew – who works in a perverted tourist attraction as a living mannequin with James Van Der Beek playing his sleazy boss.
One day, a man breaks into the house and literally scares Bernie to death. A few days after her funeral, she claws her way out of her grave and finds her way back to her chair; a little roughed up, and full of a spiteful rage that she had been too bottled-up to let out during her lifetime.
With an abundance of talent on-screen and off, including Hiro Murai, who helmed Donald Glover’s nuanced Atlanta, and writer George Saunders, whose experimental novel Lincoln in the Bardo was given the Man Booker Prize earlier this year, Sea Oak feels too big and bizarre to end here. But the only thing that would bring me back to a full set of episodes would be curiosity to see just how they pull it off.
Love You More
Comedian Bridgett Everett recently received the greatest plug imaginable ahead of the launch of her comedy pilot Love You More. Jerry Seinfeld, creator of one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, gave her show an incredibly rare shout-out on Twitter. Consider most critics’ expectations considerably heightened.
The show couldn’t be further from Seinfeld if it tried – though for a forward-thinking, female-led comedy free of the shackles of broadcast television, it does tend surprisingly towards sitcom territory.
Everett stars as Karen Best, a mental healthcare worker who, in the over-long 33-minute episode has a hilariously graphic sex scene, is touched inappropriately by one of the children with down syndrome in her care, and sings an entire song about breasts.
Helmed by comedy director Bobcat Goldthwait (of Police Academy and Chappelle Show fame), the show is an odd mix, juxtaposing Everett’s admirable lack of self-consciousness when it comes to all things sexual with a series of interactions with mentally handicapped children. It’s subject matter feels real and relevant, yet it has the glisten of well-trodden comedy.
You need to be comfortable with people speaking in hashtags, quoting Sheryl Sandberg at the dinner table and waxing lyrical about “fulfilment” to get the most out of The Climb.
Diarra Kilpatrick stars as Nia, a millennial twenty-something who clearly spends far too much time on the internet (and more tellingly, is more than ok with it) outside of her stuffy office job. She wants to do something more meaningful, but throughout the pilot doesn’t give us any inclination as to what that may be.
The Climb might have been great – groundbreaking, even – if it had appeared in 2010, but a lot has happened in seven years. The minute traumas of millennial life have been skewered very effectively (Master of None, Haters Back Off), and hilarious black women have led genre-defining comedies (Insecure, Chewing Gum) with gusto.
Kilpatrick is a warm, likeable presence, and there are some funny, insightful moments – it opens to her describing a dream, in which she gives birth to herself, to her friend, but on the whole The Climb ultimately feels too derivative to leave a lasting impact.
Sea Oak, Love You More and The Climb are now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.