Not so long ago, reality TV promised us that anyone could be a famous singer,
or chef, or alligator wrestler, or Amish craftsman. Now it’s not enough to be onscreen talent: We want to be development execs, too.
We have that chance with Amazon presenting its third round of pilots, which can be found on Amazon Instant Video. Viewers can watch, rate, and review the five new shows, and their feedback will help the streaming site decide which pilots to pick up as original series. (Last time around it ordered six series, including Chris Carter’s The After and Jill Soloway’s Transparent.) Here’s our guide to what to watch and what to skip—because, as a busy exec, you need a lowly assistant to do the dirty work.
Creator: Whit Stillman (Damsels in Distress)
Premise: Young American expats (Adam Brody, Chloë Sevigny) look for love in Paris.
Prospects: This is the best of the bunch, especially if you’re partial to laughing at (or with) rich kids who have way too much time to ponder what’s on their prep-school-educated minds. It’s funny, and tender, and brimming with sharply observed conversations that cement Stillman’s rep as “the WASPy Woody Allen.” He really understands the loneliness of expat life—he lived in Paris for years—and it can’t be a coincidence that he cast Dree Hemingway, whose great-grandfather once roamed the same streets. It’s a preppy twist on A Moveable Feast. A
Creator: David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express)
Premise: It’s 1985, and college kid David (Craig Roberts) has taken a summer job as a tennis instructor at a New Jersey country club.
Prospects: If voting is dominated by (a) adults who appreciate ’80s coming-of-age movies ironically and (b) teens who appreciate breasts unironically, then this comedy should survive. Everything about it is retro: the characters (one’s a dead ringer for Dazed and Confused-era Matthew McConaughey), the pop culture debates that David’s friends wage, the gratuitous nudity. The amusing Ennis Esmer is the best thing here, as David’s sleazy co-worker Nash. But it’s sometimes hard to tell if Red Oaks is a clever dissection of old, reactionary sex comedies, or if it’s just a reactionary sex comedy itself. B+
Creator: Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers)
Premise: Four Chicago couples try to “grasp on to their dwindling youth.”
Prospects: Depends on voters’ tolerance for jokes about sorting the recycling. To be fair, many viewers will relate to the likable main couple, played by Sarah Chalke and Chandrasekhar. They’re undersexed, overworked parents who attend dinner parties where they complain about “glamping” and reality TV. But the references are dated—they gripe about an America’s Next Top Model knockoff—and the biggest problem with their relationship is also the problem with the show: There’s nothing unexpected about it. B–
Creator: Shaun Cassidy (Blue Bloods)
Premise: When a teen gets afflicted with involuntary tics, other girls on her dance team come down with similar symptoms.
Prospects: Inspired by a real case, the story is already rife with intrigue: Is the illness psychosomatic? Does it tell us anything about the way teenage girls “feel” each other’s pain? But with Mena Suvari playing Logan, a neurologist with a “tragic past”—her childhood best friend was murdered—the plot flirts with ridiculousness. Are the girls’ tics tied to the murder? Maybe. But was Logan’s friend’s body really found in a tree that happens to be directly outside the hospital? (Cue Suvari gazing out the window at it, all crazy eyed.) Isn’t the genuine mystery of the real-life illness enough? C
Hand of God
Creator: Marc Forster (World War Z)
Premise: A corrupt judge (Ron Perlman) suffers a mental breakdown, which makes him believe that God is sending him messages. He relies on these “visions” to guide his vigilante hunt for the rapist who destroyed his family.
Prospects: With so many bleak antihero dramas on TV, it’s hard to dredge up excitement for another one that’s focused on a hard-living, call-girl-loving patriarch who’s navigating the criminal underworld alongside his Lady Macbeth (Dana Delany plays his wife). The spiritual twist is somewhat novel, and the acting is strong, but the emotional blows feel cheaply sensationalistic. By the time the cops forced a rape suspect to pull down his pants so that the poor victim could identify his genitals, I was hearing voices myself—and they were saying, “Turn this off.” C+