Ranking Amazon's new pilots, based on plot descriptions alone
Amazon's TV development process is notorious by now: The network greenlights five or so pilots, releases them all at once and sees what the audience likes. 2017 is no different for the streaming service, as it will release five new show pilots this spring. They will hit the service March 17.
Since we've got a couple of weeks to wait, let's break down each of the pilots by their plot descriptions, all quoted from Deadline's report, and decide what's worth our time — and our support to be produced as a full series.
Plot description: "Based on the cult-hit novel The Book of Strange New Things from Michel Faber, Oasis follows a chaplain (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones) who is sent into space to help establish a colony on a distant planet. What he ends up discovering not only puts his faith to the test, but life as we know it."
Our take: Not a great plot description, though the source material is certainly well-liked. The bigger issue here is how tired the concept sounds as a TV show. Space colonization as drama is a familiar concept — J.J. Abrams is producing his own for HBO right now, even. You don't wanna get in a space fight with Abrams, to say the least.
4. The New VIP's
Plot description: "Amazon's first adult animated comedy show, The New VIP's follows a group of low level employees who seize control of a major corporation after accidentally murdering their boss."
Our take: Animated comedy can be great — look no further than Bojack Horseman, perhaps the best show on TV right now — so the genre has promise. But the premise itself feels a bit one-note. This is going to live or die on how funny it is. The cast of mostly lower-profile comic actors — Adam Rose, Joel David Moore, Will Sasso, Brett Gelman — doesn't inspire immediate confidence, but anything's possible.
3. Budding Prospects
Plot description: "In 1983, three hapless city boys move from their comfort zone of the San Francisco counter-culture to Mendocino to grow marijuana. Their expectations of the experience being a back-to-the-land, nurturing adventure in a beautiful rustic setting run up against the harsh truth prior to their arrival at 'The Summer Camp' — a miserably run-down shanty out in the middle of nowhere, where they are bedeviled by rats, snakes, mosquitoes and harsh, unfriendly growing conditions, noisy neighbors, dangerous locals and menacing law enforcement."
Our take: What hath Stranger Things wrought that we'll be dealing with '80s nostalgia for years? This feels like that show plus Weeds, minus Mary-Louise Parker's compelling Nancy Botwin at the center. Throw in a little Holes for the setting, and you've got a kind of confused formula. Not our bet for Amazon's next breakout success, no matter how much we love Ben Schwartz from Parks and Recreation.
2. The Legend of Master Legend
Plot description: "The Legend of Master Legend is a dark comedy about the life of Frank Lafount, aka Master Legend — a homemade superhero whose mission is to protect the people of Las Vegas from evil doers. Master Legend juggles the demands of justice with the even more complicated demands of his real family, who don't see him as a hero at all."
Our take: God, that's a bad title. That said, this seems like a decent take on the superhero genre that's increasingly dominating TV. Deconstructions can work well if they've got the right talent, and John Hawkes as Frank feels like the exact right choice. The last line — "his real family, who don't see him as a hero at all" — is a little concerning, though. If this is just Shameless plus superpowers, we're not as interested.
1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Plot description: "It's 1958 Manhattan and Miriam 'Midge' Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan, House of Cards) has everything she's ever wanted — the perfect husband, two kids and an elegant Upper West Side apartment perfect for hosting Yom Kippur dinner. But her perfect life suddenly takes an unexpected turn and Midge discovers a previously unknown talent — one that changes her life forever. She charts a course that takes her from her comfortable life on Riverside Drive, through the basket houses and nightclubs of Greenwich Village as she storms the world of stand-up comedy ... a course that will ultimately lead her to a spot on Johnny Carson's couch."
Our take: The key here is in the creator: Amy Sherman-Palladino, best known for her series Gilmore Girls. Sherman-Palladino's other work has ranged from the memorable-but-short-lived, Bunheads, to the just plain short-lived, The Return of Jezebel James, so this is a bit of a shot in the dark. But while her inability to come up with a good title returns (seriously, say The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel three times fast), so does her interest in fascinating women. Most interestingly, setting the series in the past will presumably hamper the writer's ability to infuse her dialogue with her signature pop cultural references. Will the strength of her writing shine through without that security blanket? Time will tell, but we'll be tuning in.
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