TV on the Amazon – Part I

It blew my mind when I realized that, before they had a VCR, my parents had no way to watch TV that they missed…unless the station re-aired it at a later date and they were available to watch it then. Yeah, that probably shouldn’t be mind-blowing, but I have taken for granted that I can watch my favorite TV shows any time. I am never limited to the exact time they air. In fact, I can wait years to watch it. (I only watched Twin Peaks this summer.) I didn’t watch Arrested Development until 2008 when the entire series was (one of the first to be) available on Hulu. Arrested Development is perfectly suited for online binge-viewing. Which made its resurrection on Netflix, the ultimate binge-viewing machine, an ideal partnership. 

Arrested Development Poster (courtesy of Netflix)

May 26 cannot come soon enough.

Netflix isn’t the only website taking on original programming. Hulu has created some original series and Amazon’s taking it to the next level, presenting its pilots to the world, and letting us help decide which shows will get full orders. As the networks struggle to keep their viewing numbers up, Amazon’s strategy is a risk that’s well-worth taking, and it lets the internet do what it loves to do: have opinions. Yesterday, I watched all of the comedies that Amazon’s offering up to the masses, and here are my thoughts. In the order I watched them…

Alpha House – About 4 Republican Senators who share a house in D.C., this “comedy” satirizes conservative politicians. Or, that’s what it was trying for. The show is well-made and grounded in reality. So grounded, in fact, that it’s exhausting to watch because it’s too much like real-life. The characters aren’t surreal or funny enough to actually be characters…I’m pretty sure that John Goodman’s character (hinted to be a former UNC basketball coach) might as well be one of N.C.’s actual congressmen. Also, maybe it’s just me, but after this last electoral season, the LAST thing I want to watch are a bunch of senators (Republican OR Democrat). The whole thing just felt tired (the premise was tired, the setting was tired, the actual actors seemed tired)…and I’m sure that’s how it actually is in Washington. And because it’s exactly like Washington, it’s not exactly what I want to watch. Verdict: Unless you want a stress-headache, don’t watch this one if it gets picked up.  

Betas – Another show about 4 men, Betas brings us the tale of app developers in Silicon Valley. If you are not a male, ages 18-35, this show is not for you. I am confident that the creators of Betas used Reddit as their number one source material, and that definitely wasn’t a bad strategy … dudes/bros make up a huge chunk of the streaming/downloading audience. However, it made for a show that was a giant struggle for me to get through. It was lewd in a mildly misogynistic way, and it relied way too heavily on that lewdness. Also, the app they were developing was essentially Facebook Graph with a way more unfortunate name: BRB. (I wish the writers had spent as much time on the name of the app as the must have spent on all the lesbian jokes).  In its look and attitude, Betas is trying a little too hard to be a hipster…and by trying too hard, they can no longer qualify for hipster status. Verdict: If you have a uterus, and/or are above the age of 35, you’re probably not gonna like Betas

Browsers – If you don’t know going into Browsers that it’s a musical, it comes as a bit of surprise. I believe that part of the “success” of Glee and Smash is that, even if it’s far-fetched, the singing will always make at least some sense, because the shows are grounded in musical worlds. With Browsers, however (a show about interns at a straight rip-off of the Huffington Post a fictional web publication, GUSH), the all-original music comes out of left field and has a low-budget Dr. Horrible vibe, but without the cute and clever lyrics that the Whedon bros so easily crafted. Instead, we get lines like this one, in a song about viral content titled “Going Viral”: “Everywhere I look I see a chipmunk on a water ski.” If that’s the best they can do for the pilot, what would the songs be like in episode three? Would they even have any song-writing left in them? They found great singers (who would get better at lip-syncing as time went on), and they even got Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers, Frasier, Broadway fame) involved. It was an ambitious, if misguided, effort. Verdict: I’d at least watch the second episode to see if they improved their song-writing, but they need to either really embrace the weird, or they need to drop the f-bombs and reach an ABC Family audience if they want to last. 

Dark Minions – Before you start to think I didn’t like any of these, I’ll say up front that I LOVED Dark Minions.  It reminded me of the short-lived but absolutely wonderful Better Off Ted. It’s workplace comedy meets the Death Star (or, what I imagine was going on in the background on the Death Star. You know all those storm troopers had to be talking about something when they weren’t standing in silent fear of Darth Vader or fighting the rebels.), and it focuses on two temps hired by an evil empire. The characters are instantly likable schmucks, and the dialogue is just the right amount of silly and sarcastic. This pilot had me laughing out-loud more than all of the others, and I already want to quote the show. Here’s one of my favorite lines: when the evil general thinks he celebrated his last birthday by blowing up a planet, his minion replies, “No sir, last year we launched a puppy into the sun, as per your instructions.” 

In this rave review, I’ve only left out one important detail: the show is supposed to be claymation. Claymation is so expensive however, that they couldn’t actually animate the whole pilot, so part of it is story-boarded animatics. That didn’t detract from my enjoyment in the least. It was barely noticeable because the story and characters were so fabulous. Verdict: PLEASE, Amazon, for the love of all that is decent, option this show for a (million) season(s) (at least)! 

Since there are 8 pilots, I’m going to stop here and break this down into two easier-to-digest posts. Stay tuned for my review of The Onion‘s first half-hour comedy and the sit-com version of Zombieland.

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